Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With California Congressman Eric Swalwell; White House Targets Leaks; North Korea Suspends Talks With South Korea; Uber Changes Policies After CNN Investigation; Judge Refuses to Drop Charges Against Manafort. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired May 15, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news: summit threat. North Korea says joint military drills between the U.S. and South Korea are jeopardizing the upcoming meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un.
Evacuating South Korea. CNN has learned that President Trump wanted to order U.S. military families out of South Korea, but was dissuaded by the defense secretary and his own chief of staff.
White House hang-up. President Trump calls his own staff traitors and cowards, as he obsesses over embarrassing leaks that continue despite extreme measures by top aides.
And going to trial. In a big win for the Russia special counsel, Robert Mueller, a federal judge says Paul Manafort's case will go to trial, shutting down an attempt by Trump's former campaign chairman to have charges of bank fraud and conspiracy against him thrown out.
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: Let's get to the breaking news tonight.
North Korea's threatening the United States that the summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un may be in jeopardy because of joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea that are now under way.
We will talk about it with Congressman Eric Swalwell of the intelligence and Judiciary Committees and also with Leon Panetta, the former defense secretary to President Obama, former chief of staff to President Clinton. Our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's get the latest from CNN chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.
Jim, the White House clearly was caught off-guard by this.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
And we now have the full statement here from North Korean state media on this, and just damning language here, threatening that planned summit between the U.S. President Trump and the South Korean and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.
It says the following: "The U.S. will have to think twice about the fate of the DPRK-U.S. summit now on high agenda before a provocative military racket against the DPRK" -- this is North Korea -- "in league with the South Korean authorities there."
The statement goes on to say that they will closely watch the ensuing behavior of the U.S.
Initial reactions from the White House and the State Department, the State Department says they have not heard of any changes so far to plans for that summit and not heard of any changes to this North Korean reaction to those previously planned military exercises.
The White House issued a statement saying that they're still looking at what they called a South Korean media report, but, in fact, it's not a South Korea media report. It is a North Korean -- comes from North Korea state media KCNA, which, as I noted, is viewed as speaking for the North Korean government here.
And, Wolf, we have noted this before. These exercises were planned. They were scheduled. They're annual exercises. They were delayed for the Olympics, but they were resumed in April, and at the time South Korean officials told their U.S. counterparts that the North Koreans were surprisingly -- quote -- "flexible" in response to these exercises, so it's not clear what changed North Korean's reaction now.
Why are they now taking this much harder stance? And we should note that they made a threat to the U.S. summit with North Korea. They have already canceled North Korean/South Korean talks that were scheduled to begin tomorrow there, but, as you said, White House appears to be taken off-guard by this and still trying to figure out if this is a real threat or is it just more brinkmanship from the North.
BLITZER: What's the message they're sending the United States right now?
SCIUTTO: They're certainly sending a message that they're not happy with these military exercises. The fact is, they never have. They have been going on for decades. The U.S. views them as defensive.
But the North Koreans have often made provocative statements around this time. And they have often scheduled in the past, for instance, missile tests or nuclear tests around this time. So that upset is not new. What is different is, it's certainly a change in tack in what we've seen the last couple weeks between the U.S. and North Korea.
BLITZER: Good point. Very important development. Let's see what happens. Thanks very much.
I want to get some more now on the breaking news.
Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is monitoring developments.
Barbara, this drill that North Korea calls a deliberate provocation, it is clearly an annual military exercise. Thousands of American and South Korean troops are involved.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: And right now, Wolf, in fact, there are two sets of exercises going on.
The one the North Koreans are focusing on is called Max Thunder. That is an air exercise between U.S. and South Korean air forces. But there's another one going on that's even larger, as you say, several thousand U.S. and South Korean forces right now involved in those drills, something the North Koreans are well aware of.
They know they're routine. They know they're scheduled. The North gets upset about them every year, but have vowed for some flexibility, as Jim was just saying, with this rapprochement between -- with South Korea and with the United States.
So, now for the Pentagon, the question is, what is really going on here? Is there something inside the North Korea regime that is pressuring Kim Jong-un that we are not aware of here in the United States? Is he feeling some sort of pressure, or is he looking for more leverage against the Trump administration, which has certainly been almost nothing but optimistic about the prospect of the summit, believing that they will be able to convince North Korea to engage in full denuclearization?
He may be trying to flex his muscle one more time -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you.
We're also learning that President Trump wanted U.S. military families evacuated from South Korea ahead of the Winter Olympic Games, a move administration officials feared North Korea would interpret as the United States preparing for war.
Let's go to our White House reporter, Jeremy Diamond.
Jeremy, you have some details. Top officials clearly changed the president's mind.
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf.
We know that, despite this latest apparent setback, the president in recent days ha said that he believes this summit with Kim Jong-un could be a diplomatic breakthrough that could end the threat of North Korea's nuclear program.
But we have now learned that, just a few months ago, the president nearly undermined the possibility of a diplomatic breakthrough. Four current and former administration officials tell me and my colleague Kevin Liptak that the president ordered his top national security officials to prepare to evacuate the families of military officials stationed in South Korea.
That's nearly 8,000 U.S. civilians who would have been evacuated if the president's order had gone through. This came just weeks before the Olympics, which, of course, proved to be a crucial diplomatic opening.
And national security officials believed that this order would have been a provocative step that could have potentially sent the U.S. spiraling closer to war with North Korea.
The concern, Wolf, was really how North Korea would potentially interpret this. And experts we spoke with said that they believed that Kim Jong-un and other leaders in the region would have seen this as the U.S. preparing to go to war or strike potentially North Korea.
The move was thwarted, however, Wolf, and that's because White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and the defense secretary, Jim Mattis, were very alarmed at this prospect and crafted a compromise that they convinced the president to accept, which would be to change the future policy for future deployments to South Korea to prevent civilians from joining their families who are stationed there.
That move was also not ultimately taken, but, as you can hear, Wolf, there was a lot of concern inside the administration at that time about what this move might signal to the region.
And so, clearly, by averting this and by ultimately not following through with this, it appears that we could've avoided a significant escalation and perhaps not seen the kind of diplomatic breakthrough that we saw at the Olympics in South Korea -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very good reporting. I remember this was unfolding before the Winter Olympic Games, about 30,000 U.S. troops on the ground in South Korea right now.
Jeremy Diamond, thank you very much.
More breaking news. A federal judge here in Washington has just rejected former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort's attempt to dismiss special counsel Robert Mueller's criminal case against him.
Our justice correspondent, Evan Perez, has been working the story for us.
Evan, Manafort says Mueller's probe has overstepped its legal authority. The judge disagrees.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
Wolf, the federal judge, Amy Berman Jackson, says that Manafort's claims that the special counsel's overstepped his bounds are completely without merit. She says that Paul Manafort should prepare to go on trial in September here in Washington. Remember, he's facing charges both here and -- both here in Washington
and in Northern Virginia.
And let me read to you a little bit of what Judge Amy Berman Jackson had to say about this.
She said: "Who had connections to the Russian government? Who attended meetings on behalf of the campaign? Given the combination of his prominence within the campaign and his ties to Ukrainian officials supported by him operating out of Russia, as well as to Russian oligarchs, Manafort was an obvious person of interest. The special counsel would have been remiss to ignore such an obvious potential link between the Trump campaign and the Russian government."
Look, Wolf, this case has garnered a lot of criticism of the special counsel, simply because it predates a lot of the campaign. It has nothing to do, per se, with the Russian government. Manafort's lawyers and some of the president's supporters have pointed out that, you know, there's no allegation in here of him directly in contact with people from -- with people associated with the Russian government.
The special counsel counters that by saying that he was working for the Ukrainians, for Ukrainian interests, some of which had ties to the Russian government, people who were working as undercover spies, so to speak, for the Russian government.
Again, he's facing trial here in Washington in September. A judge in Virginia is going to hear similar -- is hearing similar requests from Manafort to dismiss those charges. He's scheduled for trial there in July. Manafort has pleaded not guilty in both courts on these trials -- on these cases -- on these charges.
BLITZER: She pointed out the federal judge, Amy Berman Jackson, that he not only had ties to these Ukrainians who had connections to the Russians, but also with Russian oligarchs themselves, so that was one of the reasons she said that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, has every right to pursue this case.
PEREZ: Right. Exactly.
And, look, she points out that there's a lot of this that has not -- obviously, they haven't presented all the evidence. This is a case that obviously is going to have to be proven in court.
She says obviously the -- Paul Manafort is innocent until proven guilty, but the burden is on the government to prove its case, which is that Paul Manafort was in business with these Ukrainian interests, that he violated the law, that he committed bank fraud, money laundering, as well as other financial crimes, in his years of doing these dealings with Ukrainian government officials, Wolf.
BLITZER: Evan, thank you very much, Evan Perez reporting.
Let's get some more on all the breaking news right now.
Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California is joining us. He's a member of both the Intelligence and the Judiciary Committees.
Congressman, we are going to get to the developments on Paul Manafort's case in a moment.
But, first, did President Trump, do you believe, make a mistake in all of his optimism about his upcoming summit with Kim Jong-un?
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Yes. It was quite amateur, Wolf. We weren't even at the 50-yard line yet on denuclearizing North Korea, and the president was practicing his end zone dance.
We need to stay focused. If we stay focused, and remember the objective here, get nukes out of North Korea, we can achieve that. But the president and his impulsive behavior will now threaten that. So, if he can stay focused and remember our greatest strength is our allies, if we remember to bring in South Korea, Japan, China, who has worked with us in this effort, I think that we can get North Korea to come to the summit.
And we can say to the American people we did all we could to make sure that North Korea did not have nuclear weapons.
BLITZER: What's your reaction to our CNN report, Congressman, that the defense secretary and the White House chief of staff had to intervene to stop President Trump's order to evacuate U.S. military families from South Korea before the Winter Olympic Games?
SWALWELL: It's heartening. It's heartening to hear that he listened to, you know, cooler heads, because that would have been seen, I think, as quite provocative to the North Koreans and would have unnecessarily escalated the conflict there on the peninsula at a time that is supposed to be joyous and celebrating sport.
Instead, the scene that we got, because of what Secretary Mattis recommended, we're seeing the North Koreans and the South Koreans coming together. And so let's continue to try and seek more moments like that.
But, Wolf, we have to be wide-eyed about this. The North Koreans, they are not to be trusted. They are one of the worst regimes when it comes to human rights. And so this president, I hope this is a wakeup call that, you know, a lot of work is going to have to go into this.
BLITZER: Do you believe all this will threaten the summit between Kim Jong-un and President Trump that's scheduled for June 12 in Singapore?
SWALWELL: Only if the president acts on his impulses. And those impulses, as I said, they have proven in the past to have been childish.
If he remembers -- and the same minds that convinced him not to pull our troops out of -- or to pull our troops' families out of South Korea, if they can impress upon the president the need to stick to what our strategy is, I think we can get Kim Jong-un to the table.
And, again, who knows where it's going to go, but this is a great step if we can have this summit, and we should all be rooting for it.
BLITZER: Let me ask you about this Chinese company ZTE, a telecom company that was supposed to be punished for violating U.S. sanctions on North Korea and Iran.
Why do you think President Trump is now trying to help ZTE get back into business, in his words, fast? What do you think?
SWALWELL: Well, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.
It looks like he's financially benefiting from China giving a loan to an Indonesian theme park property that he's invested in. The timing is quite suspicious, Wolf.
Remember, he is now putting Chinese workers who are working to undermine the United States and also who pose a security threat to our troops, he's putting them ahead of American workers and our own security.
So, the only explanation I can come up with is he financially benefits from it. And we have seen this before. Why did he draw so close to Russia? He has been so close to them in investments. Why is he such a fan of President Erdogan in Turkey? Well, it's because he has got a Trump property there.
And if you start to look at this, it really comes down oftentimes to dollars and cents.
BLITZER: What about the argument that he may want to just simply improve relations with China in order to get China to squeeze the North Koreans more sternly?
SWALWELL: Well, I will just take him plainly by his tweets. His tweets said that he wanted to help China and make sure that ZTE wasn't hurt.
It was very weird. It was almost as if he was, you know, write -- or someone else had written that for him. It didn't sound like the America-first president that we so often see, which makes me wonder, is there a financial benefit that he seeks to derive here?
BLITZER: Yes, that tweet that he posted over the weekend: "President Xi of China and I are working together to give massive Chinese phone company ZTE a way to get back into business fast. Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done."
That caused a lot of concern, a lot of confusion, as you point out.
But let me move onto another sensitive issue that we're now reporting on. I want to get your perspective on the federal judge here in Washington denying Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman's motion to dismiss charges against him. She went further, calling him an obvious person of interest.
She also said -- and I'm quoting her now -- "The special counsel would have been remiss," her words, "to ignore such an obvious potential link between the Trump campaign and the Russian government."
What's your reaction to that?
SWALWELL: This is a serious investigation, and the judge recognizes this, and hopefully this, for the administration, there's some recognition that a foreign adversary attacked our election, that they had relationships, whether it was their own people or cut-outs in other countries like Ukraine, with people at the highest level of the Trump campaign.
Now, remember, the foundation of Donald Trump's relationship with Russia is money. And the people that he put on his team, from the chairman in Paul Manafort, to Michael Flynn, who had gone over to Russia in 2015, to Carter Page, his senior foreign policy adviser, to George Papadopoulos, who was meeting with Russians during the campaign, it seems like he liked to have people on his team who had ties to Russians.
And if you didn't have a tie to Russia before you joined the Trump team, you started to like them once you joined the Trump team. And we saw that in Attorney General Sessions, who for years had derided Russia's escalating role in the world, and, then, all of a sudden, starts taking all these meetings with the Russian ambassador.
So, of course we would want to understand these relationships, and I think the judge was correct in her ruling.
BLITZER: Congressman Swalwell, thanks so much for joining us.
SWALWELL: Yes. My pleasure.
BLITZER: We have breaking some news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.
Take a look at this. These are pictures from Grand Central Terminal in New York City, where there's a major incident right now. We are going to take a quick break. We will update you on what's going on right after this.
BLITZER: We got some breaking news.
Look at the crowd there. A rush hour storm forced the suspension of all commuter train service in and out of Grand Central Terminal in New York City. People can't get home because downed trees are blocking the tracks on the Harlem, Hudson and New Haven lines. Some three-quarters-of-a-million people move through Grand Central
every day. People are being asked to avoid the terminal because it's so crowded, as you can see. We are going to keep you posted on the breaking news.
In the meantime, there's other news we're following.
North Korea's threatening to cancel the summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un, citing U.S. military drills with South Korea that the Kim regime calls -- and I'm quoting now -- "a deliberate provocation."
Let's get some more with Leon Panetta. He served as defense secretary and CIA director during the Obama administration. He was White House chief of staff for President Clinton.
Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us.
Let me get your quick reaction. President Trump, as you know, he has been so optimistic about his meeting with Kim Jong-un, scheduled for next month, about possible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Watch what he said lately on all of this.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Kim Jong-un was -- he really has been very open and I think very honorable.
We want to thank Kim Jong-un, who really was excellent to these three incredible people.
He was nice.
I appreciate Kim Jong-un doing this.
I will be meeting with Kim Jong-un to pursue a future of peace and security for the world.
And the relationship is good.
Kim Jong-un did a great service to himself, to his country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, did President Trump give up important leverage by making those kinds of comments?
LEON PANETTA, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, you know, it's been disturbing that a summit at this level has involved so much hype, that it sometimes takes away from the seriousness of bringing both leaders together for a summit.
I don't think anybody should have been surprised by what the North Koreans did. The reality is that, for 70 years, they have had a history of accommodation and provocation. And we have seen that happen time and time again.
And I think it's important now for the White House not to overreact to what the North Koreans are threatening here, but to hopefully have Secretary Pompeo, who seems to have a good relationship with the North Koreans, pursue exactly, what were the reasons that the North Koreans raised this concern at this time, hopefully try to put things back on the right track.
BLITZER: What do you believe North Korea's trying to achieve with this latest threat? Are they trying to embarrass President Trump, or is there something else they're getting out of these kinds of threats?
PANETTA: Well, it's hard to tell.
They do have a history of erratic behavior. And, in particular, they have always gotten a very excited about these exercises. These are exercises that go on every year. They have gone on for the last 10 years.
The North Koreans knew that they would go on in April as well. They might very well have been offended, because there's a great deal of firepower involved in these exercises, probably 100 planes, F-16s. There are bombers that are involved. It involves a great deal of firepower.
And when they saw that, it could very well have upset them all over again. So, it's hard to tell. I think we do need to find out just exactly what their concerns were in order to see whether or not we can put this summit back together again.
BLITZER: CNN has learned, Mr. Secretary, that President Trump actually ordered the evacuation of U.S. military families from South Korea before the Winter Olympic Games, but eventually was dissuaded by the defense secretary, his White House chief of staff from completing that withdraw.
What would have been the consequences if that kind of order had actually been carried out?
PANETTA: Well, it would have obviously been very provocative.
To have suddenly started moving those families out would have sent a clear signal that the United States was threatening some kind of military action against North Korea. And so I'm pleased that General Mattis, John Kelly, others hopefully, made clear to the president that to take that kind of step at that point in time would have been extremely provocative and could have resulted, frankly, in even worse relationships between the United States and North Korea.
BLITZER: Let's get to some other issues.
All this is playing out, Mr. Secretary, as Iran and European leaders are now in talks to try to maintain the Iran nuclear deal without the United States. The Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, he says they're on the right track, his words.
What does this say about America's standing in the world right now?
PANETTA: Well, I think the United States has pretty much isolated itself from our allies and from the role that the United States traditionally plays as a world leader.
The fact is, the United States ought to be the one working with our allies to try to see whether or not we could add additional provisions to the agreement with Iran to deal with the concerns that we have.
My understanding is that we were close to having that happen. I regret that the president went ahead and withdrew from the Iran agreement.
What he should have done, very frankly, is extended it for another 90 days in order to see whether or not our allies and the United States could put together some kind of revised agreement with Iran.
That's what should have happened.
BLITZER: Let me ask you about that rather offensive comment made by a White House official as far as Senator John McCain's brain cancer was concerned.
First of all -- and you know Senator McCain well -- what does it say to you that a comment was even made in the first place, that it leaked out, and they still have not publicly apologized?
PANETTA: Well, it's disgraceful that someone in the White House, a staff person, would make that kind of really repulsive comment about Senator McCain.
Whether you agree or disagree with him, he certainly does not deserve that kind of abusive statement. And, frankly, that staff person should have apologized a long time ago. We're still a number of days since that comment was made. There's no apology from the staff person. There's no apology from the White House.
And, frankly, that just adds to the disgracefulness of that comment.
[18:30:00] BLITZER: Leon Panetta, thanks, as usual, for joining us.
PANETTA: Good to be with you.
BLITZER: There's breaking news. A federal judge deals a blow to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and a big win for the special counsel, Robert Mueller. Why this judge tonight is calling Manafort, quote, "an obvious person of interest" in the Russia probe? We have breaking news. Details just ahead.
[18:35:10] BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories tonight, including a federal judge rejecting former campaign chair Paul Manafort's attempts to dismiss Special Counsel Robert Mueller's criminal case against him.
Let's get some more from our specialists and our analysts.
And David Swerdlick, the federal judge, Amy Berman Jackson, she denied Manafort's motion to dismiss the case, went on to say this -- and let me read from her decision -- "Who had connections to the Russian government? Who attended meetings on behalf of the campaign? Given the combination of his prominence within the campaign and his ties to Ukrainian officials supported by and operating out of Russia, as well as to Russian oligarchs, Manafort was an obvious person of interest. The special counsel would have been remiss to ignore such an obvious potential link between the Trump campaign and the Russian government."
Big -- a major blow for Paul Manafort and his legal team; a win, at least today, for Robert Mueller.
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. The statement from the judge seems pretty clear that what she's saying is -- is that the questions swirling around Manafort go to the heart of the Russia collusion investigation.
He's innocent until proven guilty. He still has to have a trial. He gets a fair day in court, but when you look at Rick Gates's former associate pleading guilty; Alex Vander Zwaan, the Dutch attorney -- or the British-Dutch attorney, who was connected to Rick Gates and Manafort and the Viktor Yanukovych government, having pled guilty; Manafort's ties to the pro-Russian Yanukovych government, it's clear that she's saying this is not something that can just be dismissed. We have to get the facts out, have a trial, hear the case.
BLITZER: You know, Dana, Michael Flynn, the president's former national security adviser, is cooperating with the special counsel. He's already pled guilty to the charges against him.
He's now written the foreword to a new book, praising President Trump, encouraging pro-Trump candidates in the midterms. Let me read a portion from the Flynn foreword: "I was inspired by all that President Trump delivered during the entire campaign, but I am awed by what he has achieved for the nation since taking over the Oval Office from his predecessor. Despite the unrelenting attacks and opposition at a level no previous president has faced, he has taken his campaign promises and turned them into realities with lightning speed."
What do you make of what he has written and his motives?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: First of all, he speaks fluent Trump. There's no question. Because the president himself could have written that easily.
And look, I mean, this is, I think, a classic example of how and why the president has people around him who are unfailingly loyal, even Michael Flynn.
Now we don't know exactly when he wrote this, but the fact of the matter is, it has to have been pretty recently. You know, you can try to parse it a million ways and think, well, is he trying to send a signal to the president, "I got your back"? Or is he just explaining that he is a diehard supporter of the president and of the ideals and the policies that he's been pushing?
BLITZER: He's trying to send a signal, maybe, that he wants a pardon.
BASH: Or maybe -- or that he wants a pardon. But you know, we'll see. Unclear if he would get a pardon if he actually ends up really, you know, turning on the president.
BLITZER: At the same time, you know, Gloria, we're getting all these new details on what top White House officials are doing to stop the leaks, enormous amount of leaks going on. You've seen our latest reporting, what they're trying to do.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It sounds like you've got people with Geiger counters walking through the hallways of the White House, trying to kind of sus out where the cell phones are.
Or you can decide to put your cell phone in a little locker and then keep the key with you all day, like you sometimes do at a doctor's office with your clothes when you're having an exam.
And so, you know, you walk by, apparently, you walk by these little lockers, and they're beeping and making all kinds of noise, because people in the White House are -- have to be separated from their cell phones.
To answer your question, I don't think it improves morale. I think, you know, people understand that they are not being trusted and that they are continually having people who are looking over their shoulders when they know, in fact, that one of the largest leakers from this White House is perhaps the president himself, who talks to his friends, who talks to reporters, even though says he doesn't.
And so the president tweets about leakers. There's upset about it. People have separate agendas. They are trying to move those agendas along if they differ from the president. And so maybe there is disloyalty, and maybe they do have to figure that out. But I think working there must be very, very tough.
BASH: And just to add to that, you made the point, this isn't a security issue.
BASH: You don't have to give over up cell phone because it's not secure. It's a trust issue.
BASH: Which is remarkable. These are all people on the same team.
BASH: I mean, they all -- allegedly.
[18:40:04] BASH: And obviously, the answer is they're not.
BLITZER: And the president tweeted, Ron, he said these leakers are, in his words, "traitors and cowards." Does he realize, though, that these leakers are people he actually hired and brought into the White House?
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's pretty striking condemnation when you put it in those terms.
Well, like you, Wolf, I've covered a lot of White Houses, and my experience has been that leaks are the most pronounced when you have two conditions. One is when there are divisions, when you have different camps in an administration, which is almost always the case.
But what really sends it into orbit is when you have a feeling among the staffers that the policy process is just not fair, is chaotic, that alternate arguments are not being fairly heard. And that is when they often try to circumvent the process by releasing information to the public.
You know, this whole episode has been triggered, obviously, by the revelations about the comments about John McCain, and in that sense, it is not only indicative of what's happening in the White House but what's happening in Congress. Because today, the president met for lunch with Senate Republicans, and he was not -- incredibly, not asked about whether there will be any sanction against the staffer who made those comments, even though it affected and concerned one of the most senior Republicans, who has one of the longest records of service in that body.
And it was another reminder of how difficult it is for Republicans in Congress to establish any kind of restraint or check on President Trump and his behavior.
BLITZER: This White House staffer, David, Kelly Sadler, who made these ugly comments in a private meeting -- maybe it was a joke, maybe it wasn't a joke -- does she believe that, if she apologized privately to Meghan McCain, the daughter of Senator McCain, but she hasn't done so publicly. Is she afraid if she were to apologize publicly, she would lose her job?
SWERDLICK: I don't know, Wolf. But if the reporting is correct that she told Meghan McCain she was going to apologize publicly, and since hasn't done it and the story has continued for the last several days, it suggests that, yes, she's caught in this decision where she either has to apologize publicly and get a clear sort of slate on this, versus keep her job at the White House. And if that is the case, it's unfortunate, because she's making a choice that's going to keep her sort of boxed in.
BLITZER: But Gloria, you know the president doesn't like apologies. BORGER: No. He doesn't like apologies. And if he had wanted her to
apologize, she would've apologized. But it's very clear the president didn't want this to happen.
But can I remind everybody of Michael Wolff's book, "Fire and Fury," whatever it was called? That full of leaks, actually, on the record leaks, many of them, and, you know, the president was in a tirade over that. And yet, this continues. This continues in this White House.
These are the president's people who, as Ron says, may feel left out, may disagree and may feel this is the only way to get the president's attention is to leak something publicly so he will know about it and then listen to it.
BLITZER: Go ahead. Quickly, Ron.
BROWNSTEIN: Yes, and Wolf, real quick, you know, I think it's not only personal but political reasons why the president is so reluctant to apologize, even in this instance.
I think they believe every time they break a boundary, shatter a norm of civility, they are sending the message to their base that they will fight by any means necessary to defend their interests against all of the established political leaders who oppose them. And they think that's worth the price of voters in the middle viewing this as kind of an overly volatile presidency and behavior.
BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. There's more news we're following. A CNN investigation leads to major policy changes by Uber about how it handles sex crimes against passengers.
[18:48:18] BLITZER: Uber is announcing big changes about the way it handles sex crimes against passengers after a CNN investigation found more than 100 drivers in the United States had been accused of sexual assault or abuse.
Our senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin first broke this exclusive story for us. He's joining us now.
Drew, update our viewers on the latest.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I just want to point out, these changes are coming just two weeks after and directly because of an investigative report we aired on your show, again just two weeks ago, outlining the number of sexual assaults that we uncovered and how difficult it is for some victims to take Uber to court.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): She went out for a night drinking, passed out in the backseat of her Uber ride home and this happened. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was already penetrating me and then I
remember him performing oral sex, and then after that, I don't really remember.
GRIFFIN: She was with a friend called an Uber from a bar, blacked out and woke up to find she'd been raped by her Uber driver.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The next morning, I woke up and both my pants and my underwear were on the floor.
GRIFFIN: Both women sued and Uber tried to force both out of a courtroom and into arbitration, a quiet settlement and a nondisclosure agreement that according to their attorney would keep their stories silent.
JEANNE CHRISTENSEN, ATTORNEY: Uber's goal all along has been to prevent the public and consumers of which 50 percent are female riders from finding out how many incidents of sexual assaults happen in Uber vehicles.
GRIFFIN: Now following a CNN investigation exposing more than 100 Uber drivers accused of sexual assault or abuse in the past four years, Uber announced big changes on how it's handling sex crimes, no forced arbitration.
[18:50:08] No confidentiality agreements to keep victims silent and what the company promises as turning the lights on to the problems of sexual assault.
Uber will commit to publishing a safety transparency report, including data on sexual assaults and other incidents.
TONY WEST, UBER CHIEF LEGAL OFFICER: It's a journey. We're in the middle of that journey. We're seeing great results as we're moving forward to actually make sure we're doing the right thing.
GRIFFIN: It is a big change for Uber, which refused to release any data to CNN during our months-long investigation, but attorney Jeanne Christensen who has sued Uber on behalf of assault victims thinks it's just a first step.
CHRISTENSEN: Uber's announcement today doesn't go far enough for me because they're saying essentially, OK, we know the risk is still there. They're saying it's going to happen. And when it does, it's OK now for you to file your claim against Uber in court.
GRIFFIN: Christensen has filed a class action lawsuit against Uber, which the ride share company is still fighting. She also wants them to do a much more thorough job of vetting drivers. As part of its new announcements, Uber says it will now require rescreened driver's background checks every year.
GRIFFIN: But the company will still handle its own background checks through a private company, no finger prints. Critics say that's not enough.
BLITZER: What about Lyft, the other big ride-sharing company?
GRIFFIN: Shortly after Uber made its big announcement today, Lyft said we will do the same thing, so the transportation network industry has conform today this new way of thinking.
BLITZER: Drew, great reporting. Excellent, excellent job. Thanks very much.
We have much more news coming up. We'll be right back.
[18:56:27] BLITZER: Finally tonight, a look at a new political thriller set in the McCarthy era.
And joining me now, the author of the brand-new book, "The Hellfire Club". CNN's Jake Tapper is with us.
This is a novel, Jake. It's already a "New York Times" best-seller. Congratulations. Appreciate it very much.
You've done an enormous amount of research --
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Yes.
BLITZER: -- what Washington was like back in the '50s and there were some tumultuous times then. As compared to now, give us a little comparison.
TAPPER: Well, it was believe it or not, swampier back then because after Watergate, there were a bunch of reforms that required transparency and set limits in terms of campaign contributions. These were actually worse in terms of hiding things from the American people, again, even though people might not believe it, the press is much better today, as an institution.
We are more aggressive. There's a lot more competition. More things are disclosed. So, the Washington, D.C. of 1954, I think with a couple of exceptions was a murkier and more unethical place than the 2018 Washington, D.C.
BLITZER: Really because it's pretty amazing when you go back to that time, how murky it was and how ugly and disgusting, especially during the McCarthy period.
TAPPER: That's right and Joe McCarthy is a character in the book. One of the fun things was having my fictional characters interact with the real life people from that time, Senator John F. Kennedy, President Eisenhower, Joe McCarthy, Roy Cohn. You know, Joe McCarthy's presence loomed large back then and actually there are low sons for us today about Joe McCarthy.
You go back and you read about the era. You know, they say history doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes. There's a lot of rhyming. There's a lot of smearing, a lot of lying, a lot of indecency and not a lot of people in Washington at the time stood up against it, against what they thought was wrong.
BLITZER: Worse then or not? The lying.
TAPPER: The lying was, that's a tough one, because there's a lot of lying today. Joe McCarthy was a pretty big liar and he smeared a lot of innocent people.
BLITZER: He ruined a lot of people's lives.
TAPPER: Ruined a lot of people's lives. There were communists trying to infiltrate the government. I mean, that's true, but J. Edgar Hoover at the FBI was finding that McCarthy wasn't. There are a lot of lies and a lot of smears going on now. And again, I think we have a repetition of a problem. Not enough people who know better are standing up and calling it out.
BLITZER: What has it been about politics here in Washington, life in Washington that has inspired you?
TAPPER: Well, first, I just thought it would be fun to write a thriller, taking about things in Washington that took place back then. But then also, I think one of the things about living in D.C. is you see good men and good women come to town trying to do good and then they make these compromises, compromises of their principles, not just political.
And bit by bit, they dip a foot in the swamp then another one. Next thing you know, they're up to their neck in swamp. I thought it would be interesting to try to capture that in the character.
My main character is a congressman, he comes to town with his very strong zoologist wife, and he gets ensnared with this. He wants to do good. But little by little, he's asked to compromise his principles. And I thought it would be a good way to look at D.C. and what you and I observe on an individual, nonfictional way, except do it in a fictional way.
BLITZER: Well, you really did an amazing job. This book, "The Hellfire Club", really excellent. So proud of you. So happy it's a "New York Times" bestseller. Keep it up.
TAPPER: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Look forward to the movie.
TAPPER: You just want a cameo.
BLITZER: Maybe, if there's something in there.
All right. Jake, thanks very much.
TAPPER: Thank you.
BLITZER: All right. That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.