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Interview With Virginia Senator Mark Warner; North Korea Fears; Longtime Trump Confidant to Testify in Russia Probe; Republicans Struggling to Pass Health Care Legislation; Trump's Relationship with Obama Deteriorates; Final Push Against ISIS in Mosul Approaching. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 28, 2017 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Urgent threat, a new warning tonight that the danger posed by North Korea is much more immediate. President Trump's national security adviser publicly discussing his escalating concerns and preparations for possible military action.

A little more time, the president predicting Republicans will get their act together on health care and pushing a stalled bill through the U.S. Senate. GOP leaders setting a new deadline as more members of their party reject the legislation and suggest Mr. Trump deserves some of the blame.

In denial? Sources tell CNN the president seems unwilling to accept that Russia's election meddling still poses a threat to the U.S., even as top advisers try to convince him. We are learning more this hour about growing fears that the president isn't taking the Russia problem seriously.

And never-ending campaign. Just 160 days into his first term, Mr. Trump holds his first reelection fund-raiser tonight. Why is he in such a rush to focus on 2020?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, the president's national security adviser is publicly warning that the threat posed by North Korea is much more immediate right now. General H.R. McMaster telling a defense group that Mr. Trump has asked for a range of options, including possible military action to respond to Kim Jong-un's nuclear ambitions and defiance.

Also tonight, Senate Republican leaders are giving themselves less than 48 hours to come up with a health care compromise. They're desperate to tamp down a Republican revolt that is endangering the bill and embarrassing the party. The day after delaying a Senate vote, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is aiming to get a new draft by Friday before members leave for the July 4 recess. Also tonight, President Trump is acknowledging it will be tough to get

enough conservative and moderate Republicans together to pass a bill, but he's predicting they will pull off what he is now calling a big surprise.

Also this hour, multiple sources tell CNN that the president's top advisers are struggling to convince him that Russia's election interference still poses a threat. We're told there are few signs that Mr. Trump is paying attention to Russian cyber-attacks, even as he slams President Obama for not taking a harder line against Moscow's meddling.

This hour, I will talk with Senator Mark Warner. He's the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.

First, let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, with more on the North Korea threat.

Barbara, we are hearing new urgency from the president's national security adviser.


The language growing tougher, growing indeed more urgent. A couple of days ago, President Trump suddenly said that the North Korean threat might have to be dealt with rapidly. That's the president's words. Now we know why. CNN can report that two defense officials say military options have recently been updated and are ready for the president if he were to make a decision to proceed with military action.

They are ready because now the U.S. is watching very carefully every ballistic missile test, the possibility of an underground nuclear test, and watching all of this to see when North Korea is able to make some significant advance in its ability to have a weapon that could attack the United States.

The national security adviser, General H.R. McMaster, laying it all out just a short time ago.


H.R. MCMASTER, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The threat is much more immediate now, and, so, it's clear that we can't repeat the same approach, failed approach of the past. The president has directed us to not do that, and to prepare a range of options, including a military option, which nobody wants to take.

There is a recognition that there has to be more pressure on the regime, and I think what you will see in coming days and weeks are efforts to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP) STARR: Look, General McMaster making the point everyone hopes for a diplomatic solution, that China's pressure on North Korea can actually work.

But at the same time, North Korea is making some advances that worry the U.S., and a defense official tells me tonight one of those is its ability simply to move faster, to be able to test missiles, to conduct underground nuclear tests with little warning time.

The U.S. finding it much more difficult to keep track of what North Korea is up to because they are better able to disguise their moves. It is increasingly likely that Donald Trump will be the president in the Oval Office when the United States has to deal with North Korea one way or the other, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thanks very much. We will have much more on this story coming up.


But I want to quickly get to the stalled Senate health care bill and the Republican leadership's new self-imposed deadline.

Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly. He's up on Capitol Hill for us.

Phil, for Senate Republicans, the clock now is ticking toward Friday.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that is exactly right, Wolf.

Look, there is no question there is a release valve of sorts of the pressure that had been them to try and get a vote this week. And there is some optimism that came from that, that they can figure out a way to hammer out a deal. But the reality remains they are still far apart on central issues.

And the question becomes, as they try and finalize a draft by the end of this week, will they ever get there?


MATTINGLY (voice-over): For Senate Republicans, more time, but still no clear path.

SEN. SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO (R), WEST VIRGINIA: I think we also know that it's the art of compromise here in the Senate, and so, at this point, we haven't reached that critical point of compromise.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: After a multiday frenzy, public attention and debate, the process now back behind closed doors.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pressing his members, nine of whom have already publicly announced opposition to the draft bill, to find a way to get to yes.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: We know that we cannot afford to delay on this issue. We have to get this done for the American people.

MATTINGLY: But senators and top GOP aides tell CNN that roadblocks to the 50 votes needed are far deeper than simple pet issues or interests, instead, a debate that lays bare the deep ideological divides inside the Republican Party. How much of a role should the government have in health care?

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: The opposition comes from various quarters and the ideological spectrum is really wide. So it's going to be a challenge.

MATTINGLY: Senators from states heavily dependent on Medicaid issuing stark warnings about the bill's effects.

CAPITO: The 184,000 West Virginians, I have said repeatedly, I'm not going to drop you off the edge of a cliff. And in my view, the Senate bill was too much of a cliff.

MATTINGLY: As Senator Rand Paul sent a letter with his four primary requests for changes to the bill to McConnell today, and reflecting the view of many of his conservative colleagues with this:

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: We have given moderates in our caucus lots of money to keep spending. They get to keep the Obamacare subsidies. They get to keep the Obamacare regulations. So, there are all things that big-spending Republicans want. Now, if they want conservatives to be on board, they have to start talking about, you know what, we promised repeal.

MATTINGLY: The president, though congressional aides tell CNN he stays away from the in-the-weeds details, keenly aware of the existing dynamic.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Always tough. It's probably the toughest subject the standpoint of approval because every state is different, every state has different needs.

MATTINGLY: Even still, as it stands, GOP aides tell CNN there is an ongoing effort to try and thread that needle with money for opioid treatment and support for the Medicaid program and rural hospitals in the short-term, while searching for a way to give conservatives more options for states to cut back on Obamacare's existing insurance regulations.

The issues well-known. The path to 50 votes still unclear.

CAPITO: We're all strong-willed people, and at the end of the day, I have to go back to my state, as they go back to theirs, to defend my policies and my decisions.


MATTINGLY: And, Wolf, just to give you a sense of what was happening today, senator after senator after senator going in for private meetings with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and a very key player attended at least some of those meetings, someone who is probably under appreciated in this process.

CMS Administrator Seema Verma, the individual who over sees Medicaid and Medicare, she was extremely important in the House process, assuaging a lot of concerns of wary Republicans, even promising regulatory action CMS could take to ease the transition if this new bill came into law.

She was there today, walking through skeptical senators, trying to get them on board, another key component as they try and get people to a yes. The reality remains, though, they can do a lot administratively, but legislatively, they still have a lot of work to do, Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point. All right, thanks very much, Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill.

Also tonight, new developments in the Russia investigation. The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee says he's confident that the FBI will grant his request and give the panel access to the memos of former FBI Director James Comey.

Let's go to our senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju. He's up on Capitol Hill for us also.

Manu, what more are you learning?


Senator Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the committee, said that he did have a conversation with Robert Mueller, the special counsel, about the special counsel's investigation in an effort to make sure that their investigation can move forward in the Senate, and that the special counsel's inquiry can also move forward, Burr saying earlier to our colleague Jeremy Herb that he's confident that actually that they can get access to those memos written by fired FBI Director James Comey about his interactions with President Trump.

Now, this comes as the committee is still looking into the issue of collusion, if any collusion existed between Russian officials and Trump officials. There is a question that is still outstanding as they try to interview some Trump associates and dig through records that are being provided to the committee.


Richard Burr addressed this just earlier today.


RAJU: Do you believe we're any closer to that key central question about collusion at this point?

SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Well, I would only say that there have been comments, public comments, that suggest that there's been no overwhelming evidence to suggest that there was collusion.

But we have to chase down every potential -- every potential pathway that we see. When we conclude all those, we will make a final report.

RAJU: Do you still feel like there is no overwhelming evidence of collusion at this point?

BURR: Well, it's not for me to judge before we end. I can only address it with the milestones of what we know as of today.


RAJU: Now, also, Wolf, earlier today, the Senate Intelligence Committee did hear testimony from a number of officials talking about Russia's intervention in a number of European elections.

Now, one of the persons who testified, Nicholas Burns, a former State Department official, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO, raised some serious concerns that President Trump is not doing enough on Russia.


NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER U.S. UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: I find it dismaying and objectionable that President Trump continues to deny the undeniable fact that Russia launched a major cyber-attack against the United States, regardless of what party he launched it against.


RAJU: Republicans across the board do seem to echo those concerns, wanting the president to take a tougher line on Russia. Still uncertain about why the White House has not done just that, as Congress tries to move forward on a new Russia sanctions bill that the White House is not really embracing at this point, Wolf.

BLITZER: Manu, we are also learning, what, that Roger Stone is also expected to testify next month?

RAJU: Yes, that's right, before the House Intelligence Committee. Now, this is going to be done in a closed session. Now, this despite Stone's own request to do this in a public setting, but the House Intelligence Committee is rejecting that.

Adam Schiff telling our colleague Tom LoBianco earlier today that the reason they are doing it in a closed session is to ensure that they can interview eyewitnesses behind closed doors. They don't want to give them that public forum.

Now, also, Wolf, we are learning that J.D. Gordon, a former national security adviser to the Trump campaign, was actually scheduled to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee today, but that interview was actually abruptly canceled because of a scheduling conflict. Gordon telling me earlier that he is more than willing to go before the House Intelligence Committee to answer any questions they may have about his -- what he says are brief interactions with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.

It all shows you, Wolf, that these investigations over in the House and the Senate side to interview these big-name Trump witnesses are starting to move forward here in the coming weeks and months, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Manu, thanks very much, Manu Raju on the Hill for us.

As the Russia probe escalates, we are also learning about growing concerns within the Trump administration about the president's lack of a response to Moscow's election meddling.

Let's bring in our White House correspondent, Sara Murray.

Sara, you have been doing great reporting on this. What are you learning?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we are hearing that there are multiple senior officials who are saying they are struggling to convince President Trump that Russia still poses a threat to the integrity of Americans' elections.

One official told me there is -- quote -- "no evidence" to show Trump is actively engaging on the issue. Now, the president is still getting his daily briefing. And of course that includes updates on Russia. But beyond that, an administration official says there is really no paper trail, no schedules, no readouts, no briefing documents, nothing to indicate the president is convening meetings or roundtables on this subject, the way he has with other threats, for instance, threats against the U.S. power grid.

And on top of that, sources tell my colleagues Dana Bash as well as Jim Sciutto that National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers actually expressed to lawmakers how frustrated he is that he can't convince Trump to even accept U.S. intelligence that Russia meddled in the election.

BLITZER: Sara, as you know, top officials are describing this as a major threat to the United States. So, here's the question. Why is the president so reluctant to address it?

MURRAY: Well, it's a good question, Wolf.

And people who have spoken with the president about it say he's struggling to separate the investigation into his campaign's possible collusion with Russia from this investigation into Russia's meddling in the election itself.

So, one source close to the president said, Trump basically sees everything regarding Russia as being organized as a challenge to him, essentially everything is a move to undermine his presidency.

BLITZER: What are you hearing from the White House about all of this?

MURRAY: Well, the White House pushed back on the notion that Trump is not engaged on the issue. Sean Spicer insists Trump is taking the threat seriously and Sean says the White House is taking action, they're just doing it quietly.

So, in a statement too CNN, Spicer said: "The United States continues to combat on a regular basis malicious cyber-activity and will continue to do so without bragging to the media or defending itself against unfair media criticism."


Now, Spicer also pointed to the fact that Trump upheld those sanctions against Russia that the Obama administration put in place, but we have heard from congressional sources they are worried the White House is trying to water down this other package of sanctions that Manu was referencing that's already passed the Senate and is now awaiting action in the House, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much. Great reporting, Sara Murray, doing a great job for us. Thanks very, very much.

Let's get back to the breaking news on North Korea right now.

We're joined by Senator Mark Warner. He's the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Senator, thanks for joining us.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, we all heard the president's national security adviser, General H.R. McMaster, say today that the North Korean threat is immediate. He used that word. He's warning of more pressure in the coming days and weeks.

What do you think that pressure should look like? Are there any good options right now for the U.S.?

WARNER: Well, I have not been briefed on Mr. McMaster's use of the word immediate. I'm sure we will get that brief immediately.

But, clearly, I think there's more that China can do. China has the ability to really squeeze North Korea. And while we have seen some efforts, we have not seen China, in effect, all in.

My hope is that we can make it very, very clear to the Chinese that this is going to have ramifications on our trade policies, on other policies if they don't step up and try to rein in North Korea.

BLITZER: Yes, he says McMaster, the president wants some options , including potentially a military option as well. And we all know how dangerous that potentially could be.

Senator, let's turn to the Russia investigation right now. Has your committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee, been given confirmation that you will receive former FBI Director James Comey's memos about his conversations with the president?

WARNER: As Chairman Burr said, we have that confirmation. We are going to get a chance to review those memos, which I think is extraordinarily important. Like Comey or just like Comey, this is a guy who had 20-plus years in

law enforcement, worked with lots of presidents of different parties. He felt so bothered by the nature of the conversations with this president and fearful that this president might lie about those conversations that he had to create contemporaneous memos.

I want to see those documents, and it will give us, again, I think further guidance as we move forward.

BLITZER: Who gave you the commitment that you will get those documents, the FBI?

WARNER: Wolf, I'm not going to get into how we get them and who we got them from or who we will get them from. We don't have them yet, but we will get access to them.

BLITZER: When do you think you will get access to those memos?

WARNER: I think very shortly.

BLITZER: Well, we'd love to invite you back on the show whenever you receive those memos.

The chairman of your committee, Senator Burr, he also told our CNN reporter Manu Raju today that, on the Russia investigation, public comments indicate there has been no overwhelming evidence to suggest that there was collusion. Do you agree?

WARNER: What I would say is, I would thought we would have been further along in the investigation. But who could have ever expected that the president would have fired the guy that was heading up the criminal investigation, Jim Comey?

That took us down a path that has required a lot of time and work. It also took us down a path of trying to bring in front of our committee the attorney general, again, who had to recuse himself because of his nondisclosed contacts with the Russians.

Today, we had a hearing where we had, again, a series of experts confirming what we already know, that the Russians intervened in our elections, intervened in the French elections, other European elections. And it became clear, as Ambassador Burns said, the only elected official in Washington that seems to still deny that basic fact is Donald Trump, which in my mind raises a host of questions why he won't listen to his own intelligence leaders.

He won't listen to other world leaders about the clear and imminent threat Russia poses, the fact last week that we saw that DHS has acknowledged that 21 states had their electoral systems at least attempt to be hacked into, and we have got no organized plan on how we're going to improve our defenses in terms of 2017 in my state and 2018 across the country.

We have got to go through all that. Now we're actually, in terms of the names of the individuals that have been bandied about, Trump associates that have been bandied about as having ties with Russia, we are actually getting to the time, having received documents from many of those individuals, where it's actually time for us to bring them in and question them.

And I think then we will be able to answer these very real questions about collaboration, collusion, or what level of communication took place. Boy, there are a lot of questions to be answered.

BLITZER: Well, I just want to be precise, Senator, because the chairman, Senator Burr, he says that there has been no overwhelming evidence to suggest that there was collusion.


Based on everything you have seen and heard over these many months, have you seen any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians?

WARNER: We have been receiving a number of documents that we have not fully gone through yet. I don't want to judge -- respond to that question until we go through those documents and then we get a chance to talk to those witnesses.

I said a number of weeks ago that there's a lot of smoke, and every week, there's new smoke, smoke that we have got to sort out. I said at that point I hadn't seen fire. That's probably still where I'm at, but I can assure you I would not have even expected to see any of that evidence until we move into this next phase. So, I don't want anybody drawing conclusions.


BLITZER: You disagree, at least at this stage, with your chairman, Chairman Burr. Once again, he says there's been no overwhelming evidence to suggest that there was collusion.


WARNER: The chairman and I are working very closely. We may be the last bipartisan group in town that's working on a project together. I'm going to continue that bipartisan effort.

I am going to simply reserve answering that question until we get through some of these, particularly some of the more recent documents.

BLITZER: All right, Senator. Stand by. There is a lot more we need to discuss. We are following all the breaking news. We will take a quick break. We will be right back.



BLITZER: We're back with the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Democrat Mark Warner.

Senator, the former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns testified before your committee today. I want you to listen to his assessment of President Trump's responsibilities to counter Russian meddling. Listen to this.


BURNS: It is his duty, President Trump's, to be skeptical of Russia. It is his duty to investigate and defend our country against a cyber- offensive, because Russia is our most dangerous adversary in the world today. And if he continues to refuse to act, it's a dereliction of the basic duty to defend the country.

And Russia's going to do this again.


BLITZER: You agree, Senator, that not taking this seriously is a dereliction of duty?

WARNER: I agree with the ambassador.

I just don't understand why this president won't accept the unanimous conclusion of his entire intelligence community, the experts we had today, foreign leaders, who will acknowledge -- I'm sure President Macron has acknowledged the Russians tried to intervene in the French elections.

Every Democrat and Republican senator I know totally accept that fact, yet for some strange reason, the president, who is obsessed about this investigation, at least from his tweetage, but still calls this whole effort fake news and a witch-hunt, when instead we should be having a whole-of-government approach on how we're going to take on this threat.

For example, how we will engage the social media companies, the Facebooks, the Twitters, the Googles. Facebook, which became much more responsible after the 2016 U.S. elections in France, they took down 30,000 fake accounts before the French election to try to limit the amount of fake news.

The fact that we have 21 states who the Russians tried to at least probe in terms of their electoral system, why don't we have a national policy? First of all, that information ought to be shared with all the state election officials. It hasn't. So that every state is fully prepared to make sure that the Russians who are going to be coming back and trying to cyber-attack us again in our electoral systems, unless we have this comprehensive approach.

I don't understand why the president is unwilling to acknowledge what everyone else in the intelligence community and the community of leaders abroad, and, for that matter, every Democrat and Republican that I know of will acknowledge. Russia massively intervened. They didn't do it because Putin's a Republican or a Democrat. It was because Putin felt it was in Russia's best interest for this individual to win.

And next time, though, he may have a different candidate. So, we have to be on guard.

BLITZER: Do you think it's advisable that President Trump should meet with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, at the end of next week at the G20 summit?

WARNER: What I wish would happen, and wish would have happened would have been that the administration would have supported the overwhelming vote, 97-2 out of the U.S. Senate, that -- on a strong Russia sanctions bill, to send the message that we won't allow that kind of intervention.

Instead, this administration has actually been trying to weaken that legislation or slow it down in the House. I don't understand that. If you send a strong message, let's put that Russia sanctions legislation in place and then have the president meet with Putin, so coming in with a strong hand and a strong bipartisan hand united against these type of Russian interventions.

BLITZER: And if he does meet with Putin, you want him to read him the riot act and bitterly complain about all of this or ignore it?

WARNER: Absolutely, absolutely.

This was an assault on our basic democratic process. There was no effort decide for one team over the other. But it was a basic assault on our democratic process, from hacked information to fake news to an assault on our electoral system. We cannot allow that to stand.

If you look Pat what President Macron did in France in terms of his first meeting with Putin, it was very frosty because of the -- because I believe Macron read Putin the riot act in terms of what Russians had done on the French elections.

We ought to at least have that same kind of strong message coming from an American president.

BLITZER: Senator Warner, thanks so much for joining us.

WARNER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead: President Trump is ramping up his war against the news media. Again, we're going to talk about the fall-out for the White House, for journalism, for the American people.

And their seemingly warm moment in the Oval Office, is it a distant memory? Take a closer look at the president's open and unprecedented hostility toward former President Obama.


[18:35:12] BLITZER: President Trump is back on Twitter once again after beginning his day with multiple tweets against a familiar target, the news media.

Let's bring back our analysts and specialists. David Chalian, in the past day or so, the president has used Twitter to go after several major news organizations, attacking by name CNN, "The New York Times," "The Washington Post," NBC, CBS, and ABC. What's his strategy here? Why is he doing that?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, the strategy is to create enthusiasm among his base, because they agree with him on this point. They don't think he gets a fair shake from the mainstream media.

This is actually -- this is not new to Donald Trump. Taking on the media as a tactic, it's something Richard Nixon made a lot of use of back in the day, and several of -- presidents since then.

But what Donald Trump is trying to do is help program talk radio on the right, conservative media outlets by saying this, and then entering the echo chamber back to his supporters to gin up support.

BLITZER: Because Phil Mudd, there's a lot of major issues facing the U.S. right now. But at least on Twitter -- and these are statements from the president of the United States -- he seems to be obsessed with going after the news media.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, and still, his spokesperson, who was out today echoing the same things.

Look, there are issues to discuss. You saw the national security advisor today talking about North Korea. There's a conversation that's relatively new that we need to be having about Syria, including safe havens and how to deal with the Iranians. There's obviously conversations about things like immigration.

But I would object to this differentiation we have between fact and fiction, between fact and fake news. Let's talk about three stories in 60 seconds or less, and note, Wolf, how many times I use the word "media" or anonymous source.

One, Russia, that's the executive branch. It's the CIA and others, executive branch, who talked about Russian meddling. It's the FBI, executive branch, who opened the investigation. It's the Department of Justice who said we need a special counsel.

No. 2, immigration. It's the judicial branch who said repeatedly, "We do not agree with Muslim bans, and we will severely limit your capability to impose a Muslim ban."

No. 3, let's continue down this road. Legislative branch. It's the legislative branch, including Republicans, who said, "You cannot move forward on what you wanted to do on health care."

So, people keep saying this is fake news. It is the executive, legislative and judicial branch that have told the president, "You can't do this."

I mean, all these crocodile tears. I feel like we're watching "Titanic" on Netflix.

BLITZER: Yes. MUDD: These are facts, and they're important to face. They're not fiction.

BLITZER: Ryan Lizza, how do you see it?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Can I just say one point about -- about -- to add to what David said about why a president attacks the media?

You know, I mean, if you think about it, in a democracy where we have the First Amendment, the government's only tool to sort of go after we in the press is verbally to attack us. And why do they do that? To discredit us, right?

If you're in a country that doesn't have those kind of protections, you just shut down the press, or you make it very hard for journalists to do their job in other ways. Fortunately, our president doesn't have those tools.

So, what you do is you attack it to discredit independent sources of information, because politicians want themselves to be the only real sources of information.

Trump has taken this to a level that no other president has taken it to. Usually, most presidents previously had their surrogates. Even Nixon's vice-president was more of an attack dog than he was. Trump does this himself, often through social media.

I think the worrying line that we have seen recently is he has taken this to -- in the few tweets over the last week, is he has suggested some kind of government action perhaps. And he did this when he talked about Amazon and "The Washington Post" in a tweet and suggested that there was a relationship between "The Washington Post's" coverage and protecting Amazon, because "The Washington Post" is owned by the head of Amazon, Jeff Bezos. And he sort of hinted something I thought that was very odd.

BLITZER: Let me read it.


BLITZER: The hashtag, "#Amazon 'Washington Post,' sometimes referred to as the guardian of Amazon not paying Internet taxes, which they should, is fake news." That's the tweet you're referring to.

LIZZA: Yes. And look, have there been any government actions associated with that? No, but he's starting to connect policy, federal policy with the news media's role and that is dangerous and that is a line that has now been crossed that we have not seen previously.

BLITZER: There was an incident yesterday when the president was on the phone with the Irish prime minister, and there was a photo op in the Oval Office. He interrupted the conversation with the prime minister to call over an Irish journalist. Watch this.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, we have a lot of your Irish press watching this. They're just now leaving the room. And where are you from? Go ahead, come here. Come here. Where are you from? We have all of this beautiful Irish press. Where are you from?


TRUMP: Caitriona Perry, she has a nice smile on her face, so I bet she treats you well.


BLITZER: What was your reaction to that?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I'm sure that reporter and others would prefer that the president is taking their questions and answering their questions instead of schmoozing with them.

[18:40:06] It was a classic Trump moment, though, Wolf. I mean, this is the way he talks to people, the way he talks to women. He was trying, I think, to be friendly and to create a light moment and to call attention to this Irish reporter while he was speaking with the Taoiseach, which makes sense in the context of that call.

But using the word "beautiful," complimenting her smile may be a little too far for a president.

BLITZER: Yes. A lot of people are suggesting it was inappropriate. David, what did you think?

CHALIAN: I think the reporter described it as bizarre. I think that was her word. So you know, far be it from me to impose my own assessment on that, if she thought it was a bizarre interaction.

But I agree with what Rebecca is saying. I think that the Trump charm offensive, if you will, to try to disarm reporters and woo people to his side, is something that we've seen time and again. That's sort of part of his playbook.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody stand by. There's much more we need to discuss, including what's driving President Trump's almost constant attacks on his predecessor.


[18:45:51] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Tonight, we're following an unprecedented rift in one of the most elite clubs in the world. President Trump is refusing to back down from his verbal attacks on former President Barack Obama, and the former president is refusing to take the bait at least publicly.

Let's bring in our White House correspondent Athena Jones.

Athena, the relationship between the current and former presidents has grown very chilly.


The Trump Obama relationship is rather unusual one. The two men haven't actually spoken since the inauguration, but President Trump has spent a lot of time tweeting and talking about President Obama. In fact, never in modern times has there been such a sustained public display of animosity by a president towards his predecessor as we are seeing now with Trump's frequent attacks on President Obama.


JONES (voice-over): Online and on the air --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just heard today for the first time that Obama knew about Russia a long time before the election. And he did nothing about it.


JONES: President Trump making it abundantly clear that more than six months after replacing President Obama, his predecessor remains top of mind.

TRUMP: We've been talking about this for a long time.

JONES: Not content with simply undoing parts of Obama's legacy like pulling the U.S. out of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal and the Paris climate accord, Trump is increasingly using Obama as a political foil, blaming him for not doing enough to stop Russian meddling in last year's election, despite calling such meddling a phony story for months.

TRUMP: The CIA gave him information on Russia a long time before they even -- you know, before the election. And I hardly see it.

JONES: President Trump even accusing President Obama of criminal acts, from collusion and obstruction, to spying on him in Trump Tower, a baseless claim he made in March that was widely refuted. That was also when Trump called Obama a bad or sick guy, a level of public nastiness not seen in modern presidential history.

TIMOTHY NAFTALI, PROFESSOR, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: These personalized attacks are unusual and unfortunate, and sets a very bad precedent.

JONES: Trump has a long history of antagonizing Obama as one of the loudest proponents of the false conspiracy theory that America's first black president wasn't born in America.

TRUMP: Why doesn't he show his birth certificate?

JONES: A campaign that eventually led Obama to release his birth certificate to the press. He later had some fun with the issue at Trump's expense.

OBAMA: No one is happier, no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest to the Donald and that's because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter. Like did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?

JONES: And while 44 has mostly pulled his punches since 45 took office, he made his opinion known on the campaign trail last year.

OBAMA: Donald Trump is uniquely unqualified to be president. No, I'm not joking. You laugh. I'm not joking.

JONES: And he infuriated Trump when he told former aide David Axelrod --

OBAMA: I'm confident that if I -- if I had run again, I think I could have mobilized a majority of the American people.

Because if you succeed, then the country succeeds.

JONES: After November's election, the pair made nice in an Oval Office meeting, but they have not spoken since inauguration day.

TRUMP: He was very nice to me with words but -- and when I was with him. But after that, there has been no relationship.


JONES: Now, one former Obama official told me that one of the President Obama's attributes is he's a pragmatist. And while he disagrees with most of the Trump agenda, he doesn't want to see him fail as president. When they met, Obama treated Trump as his successor, offered him candid advice and his perspective on a range of issues.

But in this person's words, Trump never struck Obama as a particularly deep or intellectually curious guy, and we're seeing that in real time now -- Wolf.

[18:50:08] BLITZER: All right. Athena, thanks very, very much.

Let's get to the panel.

You know, it's very fascinating, not only the relationship between the current president and the former president, but the current president tonight within the next hour or two, he's going to leave the White House, head over to the Trump International Hotel down Pennsylvania Avenue. You're looking at live pictures coming in from there, and have a fundraiser. A lot of fat cats are going to be there.

A fundraiser for his re-election campaign in 2020. That's years down the road.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right. He has not yet hit the six-month mark of his presidency. He filed for re-election on inauguration day in January 20th. He has been doing small dollar fund-raising over the Internet, selling his hats and other things throughout the entire presidency so far. And now, the first big hotel ballroom kind of fundraiser to, as our

Jeff Zeleny was reporting, according to Republican sources, to ward off a potential primary challenger. At least say, hey, I'm not going anywhere. I am running for re-election. But two years earlier than we saw George W. Bush do this or Barack Obama do this.

BLITZER: It's interesting. We hear some protesters already outside the hotel, Ryan. Originally, there was going to be some cameras allowed inside but apparently now, none.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, all day, the White House seemed to go back and forth on this. First they said, no cameras, which breaks with the precedent of most previous presidents.

And then they said they were going to bring in a pool. And that's a small group of reporters that travels with the president. And then a couple hours later, the White House, no, we're not doing that. No press at all.

So, another confusing day in the relationship between the White House and the press. And I don't know if you heard, David, but someone in the White House obviously decided that they just put the kibosh on having a pool there after the press was told they could go in.

CHALIAN: They're blaming logistical reasons, which, of course, does not hold -- doesn't wash at all.

LIZZA: Yes. You can always open the door. It's not too hard to get a reporter in there.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The press has been in that hotel many times for Trump campaign event.

LIZZA: So, I mean, this is highly unusual. One, this president running for re-election, raising money a few months into his administration. Two, he's having the fundraiser at his private hotel, just dismissing all of the arguments that the watchdogs said about that and, three, no transparency, no press in that building. So pretty unusual.

BLITZER: All right. We'll try to cover it as best as we can.

LIZZA: It will leak out, though.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, thanks very, very much.

An important note to all of our viewers: please be sure to join us tomorrow here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll speak live with John Podesta, the former Clinton campaign chairman, and a prime target of Russia's election hacking. That's tomorrow in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Just ahead, the final push to drive is out of its former stronghold in Iraq.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:57:11] BLITZER: The battle to recapture Iraq's second largest city from ISIS is now nearing its final days. Tonight, Iraqi troops are on the verge of pushing the last of the terrorist forces out of Mosul.

CNN senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh takes us inside the fight.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over) The end is near for ISIS. You can just feel it. And normal life is springing back out of these pancaked buildings. Yet, turn one corner in Mosul towards its old city and the nihilism of the very final chapter in this war emerges.

Liberation leads little life behind. Bodies still where they fell in the scorching heat.

Senior commanders take us in in the calm before their final storm to wipe ISIS off the map.

(on camera): And how many more days do you think ISIS have in Mosul and in Iraq?


WALSH: Three, four?

(voice-over): Brigadier General Asadi (ph) beckons us on to see their prize. These are the last rooftops ISIS own in Mosul, rarely hundreds of meters to go now. In the distant left, the river bank marking where ISIS's world ends.

And in the dust, the ruins of the sacred al-Nuri Mosque. ISIS blew it up, rather than let it to be captured. A terrifying omen for civilians held underground as human shields here.

(on camera): Well, that mosque has always been a distant target for Iraqi forces, and now, they literally are able to see it from neighboring rooftops.

(voice-over): U.S. trained Major Salam (ph) took us into Mosul eight months ago, and now he's here to see the end.

(on camera): We're at the beginning. And now, we're at the end of it all.


WALSH: So, we seeing on the screen?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This digital camera that we try to recon the enemy, where are they located, and we try to find where are the civilians also. Nobody is sure exactly how many civilians there are. They located and saw many different houses. Many families in one house.

WALSH: Are you getting enough help from the Americans now? Because when we first met eight months you --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: More than enough. I am so happy for all the support from Australian (ph) side, from American side.

WALSH: There is the occasional stench of death here from the bodies of ISIS fighters like this one below me here left behind and also at times an eerie silence when the gunfire subsides. But it's in these dense streets that you can really feel how hard the fight against ISIS has been in these final moments, but also, too, how many few meters they are away from kicking the terrorist group out of Mosul, but also out of Iraq entirely.

(voice-over): Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Mosul, Iraq.


BLITZER: Don't forget, it's been three years, three years, since ISIS took over Mosul, a city that once had a population of nearly a million. Look at it now.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.