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Trump Says He Has Power to Pardon Himself; White House Dodges Questions about Changing Story on Trump Tower Meeting. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired June 4, 2018 - 17:00   ET



[17:00:08] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Above the law. The White House says no one is above the law after President Trump suggests he is, tweeting he has the absolute right to pardon himself and slamming the appointment of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, as unconstitutional.

Refusing to answer. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders dodges questions about why she told reporters the president had no role drafting a statement defending his son's meeting with Russians when his lawyers say he dictated the entire thing. Why won't the White House admit that it changes its story?

First appearance. After more than three weeks out of the public eye, the first lady, Melania Trump, is scheduled to attend a White House event this hour honoring Gold Star families. Why has she waited until now to appear in front of others?

And replacing Kim's generals. North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un purges three of his top military leaders ahead of the summit with President Trump. Tonight, new details of their upcoming meeting and how it may be influencing Kim's decisions.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news. The White House peppered with questions about a false statement it made and about President Trump's claim that he has what he calls the absolute right -- his words -- absolute right to pardon himself.

We'll talk about it this hour with Congressman John Garamendi of the Armed Services Committee. And our correspondents and experts are also standing by.

Let's get straight to the White House first. Our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is standing by.

Jim, some very pointed questions for the press secretary just a little while ago. But very few answers?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The White House spent much of the day making some questionable constitutional claims about the president's powers that he has the power to pardon himself and that the appointment of the special counsel is unconstitutional.

But the White House didn't devote much time to explaining those claims. And when asked why the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, gave false information to the public, incredibly, she referred that question to the president's outside legal team. Even though it was her own bogus statement. It was one of the days that made you say over here, "Beg your pardon?"


ACOSTA (voice-over): At the White House today, there were more talking points than actual answers. When asked about the president's tweets that he has the absolute right to pardon himself and that the appointment of the special counsel is "totally unconstitutional," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders repeatedly turned to prepared responses.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Thankfully, the president hasn't done anything wrong and wouldn't have any need for a pardon.

Once again, thankfully, the president hasn't done anything wrong and, therefore, wouldn't need one.

ACOSTA: The questions came in response to the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, a former federal prosecutor, who initially made that claim over the weekend.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Do you and the president's attorneys believe the president has the power to pardon himself?

RUDY GIULIANI, LAWYER FOR DONALD TRUMP: He -- he's not. But he probably does. He has no intention of pardoning himself. But he probably does.

ACOSTA: Not only do fellow Republicans disagree --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I were president of the United States and I had a lawyer that told me I could pardon myself, I think I'd hire a new lawyer.

ACOSTA: Back in the 1970s, the Justice Department wrote just before the resignation of Nixon that a president cannot pardon himself, adding, "No one may be a judge in his own case."

The White House also sidestepped questions about its own explanation for Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian attorney offering dirt on Hillary Clinton. At the time, both the president's lawyer and Sanders said Mr. Trump did not dictate a response to "The New York Times" about the meeting.

JAY SEKULOW, LAWYER FOR DONALD TRUMP: That was written by Donald Trump Jr. and, I'm sure, with consultation with his lawyer. So that wasn't written by the president.

SANDERS: He certainly didn't dictate. But, you know, he -- like I said, he weighed in, offered suggestion like any father would do.

ACOSTA: Now Mr. Trump's lawyers say just the opposite, telling the special counsel's office in a January letter the president dictated "a short but accurate response" to "The New York Times" article on behalf of his son. When asked to explain her own false statement, Sanders dodged big-time.

SANDERS: This is from a letter from the outside counsel, and I direct you to them.

It's also pertaining to a letter from the president's outside counsel, and therefore, I can't answer.

ACOSTA: Giuliani conceded the Trump Tower meeting demonstrates why the president may not ever talk to the special counsel.

GIULIANI: This is the reason you don't let the president testify. It's -- you know, every -- our recollection keeps changing.

ACOSTA: The White House also didn't want to touch this outlandish comment from Giuliani to "The Huffington Post," claiming the president cannot be indicted while in office. "'I don't know how you can indict while he's in office,' Giuliani said, 'no matter what it is. If he shot James Comey, he'd be impeached the next day. Impeach him, and then you can do whatever you want to do to him."

(on camera): Is that appropriate language coming from the president's outside lawyer, to be talking about the president shooting Jim Comey in that fashion?

[17:05:03] SANDERS: You would have to ask Rudy Giuliani about his specific comments. But thankfully, the president hasn't done anything wrong, and so we feel very comfortable in that -- Josh.

ACOSTA: If I could ask a follow-up question. Sarah, if I could ask a follow-up question.

SANDERS: Josh. Sorry, I'm going to keep going.

ACOSTA: Ask a follow-up question. Who were these --

SANDERS: Not today, Jim.

ACOSTA: We have a long briefing sometimes, Sarah.


ACOSTA: Now, one of the president's outside lawyers, Jay Sekulow, released a statement to CNN about that Trump Tower meeting, saying, quote, "The statement in the January letter to the special counsel's office reflects our understanding of the events that occurred."

But Wolf, even that statement does not explain the false statements initially given to the public about the Trump Tower meeting.

Wolf, if the president likes to say there was no collusion, that this is a witch hunt, then why are they giving these false statements about the Trump Tower meeting? And then when asked about why the president dictated that meeting [SIC] and why they covered that up initially, why did they give false statements about that, Wolf? False statements covering up false statements, in most people's minds, those are considered lies -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Why won't she take follow-up questions from reporters? I've been covering White House briefings going back several presidents, and every press secretary always takes follow-up questions. Why won't she?

ACOSTA: Wolf, I think it's because they just don't want to answer these questions. And this has been happening gradually over time, where we're having fewer briefings and the briefings are shorter. And then Sarah Sanders is just going around the room, taking one question from each reporter.

I think what we need, Wolf, is perhaps a new strategy on the part of the White House press corps to start asking the question from the previous reporter who was cut off by the press secretary, because clearly, this is a strategy designed to not give information to the American people, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jim Acosta over at the White House, thank you.

Let's dig deeper into all of this. Our justice correspondent, Evan Perez, is joining us.

Evan, President Trump tweets that he can pardon himself and that the special counsel appointment is unconstitutional. Are those arguments part of his legal team's strategy?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Look, I think the pardoning yourself argument is not going to be one that they're going to pursue very much longer. I think Rudy Giuliani sort of got himself into a little corner there that I think even the rest of the legal team is not really willing to pursue.

But the question of whether or not the Mueller investigation is constitutional, I think we're going not see that surface again, especially if they can't reach a deal with regard to a voluntary interview with the special counsel, Wolf; whether the president has to sit down with him and the special counsel has to resort to a subpoena, we may yet see that argument.

And let's keep in mind, Paul Manafort's lawyer, the former chairman for the Trump campaign, his lawyers have tested out this whole idea that Mueller was illegally appointed by Rod Rosenstein, and so far, one judge has already ruled that that is not true.

BLITZER: The January 29th letter -- 20-page letter. "The New York Times" first published this letter from the president's former lawyer, John Dowd, to Robert Mueller. Lays out a pretty aggressive strategy against Mueller, but that was in January. Has it escalated since then? PEREZ: Yes. I think it has escalated. I think they now, if you

listen to the president's legal team, they view this as less of a legal case and more of a political -- political case. This is something that Rudy Giuliani certainly -- he's not much of a president -- he's not much of a lawyer for the president. He is more of a political mouthpiece for the president. There's not much lawyering happening there.

The lawyering is being done by the Raskins and by Jay Sekulow. Those are the people who are handling the interactions with the special counsel. And if there is a deal for a voluntary interview for the president, that's where it's going to come. Rudy Giuliani is really just to do television.

BLITZER: The first person to serve actual jail time in connection with the Mueller probe was released today after 30 days for lying to investigators. Does that mean that there's a new start now of the beginning of the end? What?

PEREZ: I don't think it's the beginning of the end. I think one phase of the investigation certainly is closing, is nearly closing, I think. Certainly, the president and whether or not he sits down with the special counsel is what everybody is waiting for.

And it appears that the strategy -- at least for -- from the part of the president, is to drag this out. It appears they've now decided that they want the -- this to be a political issue for the midterms. And so this is why six months after this -- this began, this whole -- the discussion of whether or not to do a volunteer interview, we still don't know whether he's going to sit down with the special counsel.

So look, I think they're -- they're lengthening this out, because they believe, politically, this works for the president. Once the president sits down, then we'll see whether there's another phase of the investigation which will focus on the Russians and what they did in the 2016 election.

BLITZER: Evan Perez, thanks very much for that explanation.

Let's get some more on all of this. Democratic Congressman John Garamendi of California is joining us. He's a member of the Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, thanks for joining us. Let me get your reaction to the White House press secretary. She says the president isn't above the law, but the president says he has the absolute right to pardon himself. How do you see it?

[17:10:05] REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, the president is absolutely wrong. The framers of the Constitution did not want a king. They didn't want a monarch that had absolute power, and they very carefully designed the Constitution in such a way as to make certain that the president was not a king and did not have absolute power.

Now the president has a responsibility to faithfully execute the laws of the nation. And if he breaks the laws, then it seems to me that he is subject to the full indictment against breaking the law. And besides that, he's there to honor and preserve the Constitution.

BLITZER: The president's legal team believes this will ultimately come down to the question of whether or not Congress decides to pursue impeachment. If the president were to pardon himself, do you believe Republicans in Congress would line up behind an impeachment effort?

GARAMENDI: Well, there'd be something ahead of an impeach -- ahead of a pardon, and that would be an indictment. And at that point, it would seem to me that Congress has to act. It's the -- impeachment is misdemeanors and high crimes. There's an allegation of a crime even before there's a pardon.

Now if there's a pardon, you just add that on top. And absolutely, under that circumstance, there should be an impeachment and there should be a trial in which the president would be found guilty.

Now all of that is off in the future. We'll see what happens. But there should be no doubt -- no doubt in anybody's mind that if the president purposely disobeys a law, for example, obstruction of justice, which is a law, then indicted and, if found -- and at that point an impeachment would be absolutely in order.

BLITZER: The president also tweeted this morning that the special counsel, Robert Mueller's, investigation, in his word, is unconstitutional. Does that line of attack have any legal basis at all?

GARAMENDI: Well, I'm not a constitutional lawyer. But I'll tell you, it has no political basis. It seems to me that what we have here is the Department of Justice setting up a special counsel to investigate a special set of problems, and that's what Mueller is doing. I don't think it is a question of constitutionality; it's a question of process. We have a prosecutor and an investigation underway by a special counsel. Let that go forward. Let the -- whatever it's going to be, let it show its hand.

Was there a crime? Yes, no. Was there obstruction of justice? Yes, no. Was there collusion? Yes, no. When those answers come out, that may lead to an indictment; may not. And it may lead to an impeachable offense; it may not. We don't know.

But we have to get this investigation not only underway but completed; and the president and his cronies have to keep their hands off of it. Justice has to be found.

BLITZER: Yes, I'm just wondering why a year after this investigation started, all of a sudden the president is saying the whole thing is unconstitutional, even though the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, named Robert Mueller to lead this special investigation.

Let's turn to another explanation --

GARAMENDI: Sure. BLITZER: -- about that misleading public statement regarding the 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Trump campaign officials and Russians, including the president's son.

The president's legal team now acknowledges that the president himself dictated that public statement which was released by his son Donald Trump Jr. This comes after months of denials that he had anything to do with it at all.

Should those misleading denials, repeated once again over several months by multiple White House officials, play a role in Robert Mueller's obstruction investigation?

GARAMENDI: I would think that they would. An obstruction is an effort by an individual or parties to derail, to obstruct an investigation. And it seems to me this is something that Mueller will clearly want to look at.

And particularly, keep in mind that, if you're looking for the truth, don't look to Trump. And don't look to his team. There's been one lie after another since -- even before he was sworn into office. And it's continued on at about nine lies a day right now. That seems to be the average number of lies, either in tweets or in words, that come from the president or directly from his tweets.

BLITZER: In that statement that the president dictated, he said the meeting was not a campaign issue at the time, but we know the meeting was largely the result of a proposal from these Russians that they had so-called dirt on Hillary Clinton they wanted to share with the Trump campaign. So that statement was not a campaign issue, at the time, that it simply had something to do about adoptions, clearly was erroneous.

GARAMENDI: There's no doubt about it. And you also have the president's son, with his very famous statement. I think something like "Bring it on," something like that.

No, they knew exactly what they were looking for. They were looking for some dirt on Hillary, and the Russians who were offering it. There's no doubt about that.

[17:15:06] Now whether the -- and now the question arises, was there effort to derail, to misdirect the investigation? Was that obstruction? That's what Mueller undoubtedly is going to be looking at.

BLITZER: Congressman Garamendi, thanks so much for joining us.

GARAMENDI: Glad to be with you.

BLITZER: There's more breaking news ahead. The president slams the Mueller investigation once again as unconstitutional but says he will, quote, "play the game."

Plus, more on the president's claim that he can pardon himself. Why is he floating the idea if he has no intention of doing it? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:20:07] BLITZER: The breaking news this hour, the White House facing a barrage of questions after President Trump tweeted about his power to pardon.

Let's dig deeper with our specialists and our analysts. And Joey Jackson, you're our legal analyst. He tweeted that he had absolute power to pardon himself. The White House press secretary just a little while ago, Sarah Sanders, said the president is not above the law, but she reiterated that he hasn't done anything wrong.

Do you have a clear sense where his lawyers are heading right now with all these various statements?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, Wolf, I think what they're doing is what lawyers always do, and that's argue in the alternative. What does it mean? It means the president hasn't done anything wrong, so what would be the basis for pardoning himself? That's argument one.

But argument two in the alternative, if he did, he could pardon himself.

And so here's where it stands. The fact is, is that it would be legally questionable and politically untenable. To the legal issue, we know that a president can presumptively pardon. We saw it with Ford as it related to Nixon. He presumptively pardoned Nixon, thereby avoiding any type of indictment.

The question then becomes, if you do that, what does the Constitution say? It's silent as to the issue of whether the president can pardon himself. And we know that it is a vast and virtually unlimited ability the president has. However, turning that to himself, I don't think that the Constitution would permit or otherwise allow it. It offends our notions of justice. It offends the notion that the president would be above the law or equal to the law of everyone else. It offends notions of separation of government in a democratic process. And so I think it becomes very problematic whether it can be done.

Final point, and that's this. From the political -- politically untenable position, if you're pardoning yourself, how would, in any -- any stretch of the imagination, the Congress permit that? That would be a basis, I think, finally for Congress to intervene and to draft articles of impeachment, which would thereby remove him. I don't think anyone, right, as it went through the court of whether the president could pardon himself because he did, would permit that. It would institute proceedings of impeachment, and I think that's the fastest way for him to get himself out of office is to sign something that says, "I'm hereby impeaching myself."

BLITZER: Yes. Good point. Susan Hennessey, where does the Justice Department stand on this whole issue of presidential pardons?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, there is an opinion out of the Office of Legal Counsel from the 1970s that says no, the president cannot pardon himself. No man can be the judge in his own case. That was issued shortly before Nixon resigned, so about three days in advance.

It does give an interesting little loophole, saying, well, under the 25th Amendment, you could be temporarily disabled, get the V.P. to pardon you and then you can come back. But they really were clear.

I think one thing worth noting is the way that the president's legal team wants to have it both ways on OLC opinions. The OLC opinion that a president can't be indicted they treat as though it's practically a religious document. It's just -- it's a statement of fact. This OLC opinion, they're less faithful to. You know, so they really are trying to play this one both ways.

BLITZER: Why is the president raising this whole issue when he tweeted this morning, "I have the absolute right to pardon myself"? All of a sudden, if he doesn't intend to pardon himself, if he's done nothing wrong, why is he even talking about this?


Longer answer, my guess is -- Joey touched on a little of this. I think it's politically untenable to pardon yourself. Full stop.

That said, I think what you have seen in the last three, four months is an attempt -- and Rudy Giuliani is the leading edge of this -- an attempt to discredit Mueller, the probe. Donald Trump has weighed in: 13 angry Democrats, et cetera, et cetera. So that's that piece, the findings.

Then I think this -- if there is a political calculation, is to soften the idea of pardon. Right? That if he needed to do this, well, it would only be because this group of angry Democrats -- again not true -- but angry Democrats found that he had done things. So again, to sort of float the idea out there to his political base.

That said, I just don't -- sure, some people in the base would say, "Well, he's only pardoning himself because he was -- this is all a witch hunt." I just don't think that even all of his base who would agree with that.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: There might also be a power component to this, as well. It reminded me of Donald Trump's tweet to Kim Jong-un that his button was bigger than his. This is him saying his button is bigger than Mueller's, essentially.

HENNESSEY: I think this is about the president testing the boundaries, right? He makes these really bold statements, and then he waits to see what kind of pushback. We've seen some pushback from congressional Republicans but frankly, it's more muted than you might expect, considering the really astonishing claim that he has made.

CILLIZZA: And again, I always liken President Trump to a basketball game. If, in the first quarter of the basketball game, you go out and you foul the other team relentlessly, the referees have two options: foul everyone on the team out and basically end the game, make all the fans unhappy, or change the way in which the game is called. Make fouls be -- you have to foul even harder.

[17:25:05] I feel like he has already done that over this first 16 months. He has moved the goalpost, to Susan's point, repeatedly on what is acceptable, how far congressional Republicans are willing to go.

Remember back in the campaign, Wolf, it would -- he would say something offensive, and Paul Ryan would say, "That's it. I'm out. I'm not campaigning anymore." Well now, Paul Ryan signed on full form to a tax plan that increases the debt by $1.7 trillion.

BERG: I think, importantly, this is not moving the goal post on a policy. This is moving the goal post about whether he is a president or a monarch.

BLITZER: And very quickly, Joey, the president says the whole Mueller investigation is now unconstitutional. All of a sudden, a year into this investigation, he says it's unconstitutional. I see a little smile on your face?

JACKSON: I don't think that there's any merit at all. I mean, that is a political calculation. What he has to do is to continue to attack, attack and attack the legitimacy of the investigation itself in order to establish what he loves to say, Wolf, "Witch hunt, witch hunt, witch hunt."

The fact of the matter is, is that there's no question about the collusion. The issue is -- or excuse me, the interference with regard to the election. Now you have to get to the question of whether there was collusion. That is a proper form and source of investigation.

There's a special counsel that's investigating it. It was -- they were properly promulgated to move forward.

I know he hates the investigation. He hates the Department of Justice. He can't stand Sessions. But the fact now that you assail as unconstitutional, maybe you don't like it, maybe it's really bothersome to your agenda. But the fact is, is that that's an argument that I think he loses.

BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. There's much more we're watching. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're back with our political and legal experts.

[17:31:24] And Susan Hennessey, I want to play for you some of the statements that were made by Trump lawyers and political officials in the aftermath of "The New York Times" disclosing that Trump Tower meeting in June of 2016 between the president's son, son-in-law, campaign chairman and Russians. Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY SEKULOW, LAWYER FOR DONALD TRUMP: That was written by Donald Trump Jr. and I'm sure with -- in consultation with his lawyer. So that wasn't written by the president.

The president didn't sign off on anything. He was coming back from the G-20. The statement that was released on Saturday was released by Donald Trump Jr. and, I'm sure, in consultation with his lawyers. The president wasn't involved in that.

The president was not involved in the drafting of the statement and did not issue the statement. It came from Donald Trump Jr.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He certainly didn't dictate, but you know, he -- like I said, he weighed in, offered suggestion like any father would do.


BLITZER: But in this 20-page document that John Dowd, the president's former lawyer, wrote to Mueller in January, here's a couple sentences. "The president dictated a short but accurate response to 'The New York Times' article on behalf of his son, Donald Trump Jr. His son then followed up by making a full public disclosure regarding the meeting, including the public -- his public testimony that there was nothing to the meeting and certainly no evidence of collusion."

Your analysis?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Right, so I do think it goes to the core question of obstruction of justice. Now we have this, really, an incredibly important admission, the president of the United States admitting that he sought -- he personally was involved in attempting to conceal the purpose of this meeting. That he lied repeatedly to the American people, directed other individuals to lie to the American people.

That raises the question of whether or not he just did so in order to -- to mislead the public or whether he also -- he was also attempting to mislead investigators.

I also think it speaks to sort of guilty knowledge here. They clearly understood that they had something to hide. I think Rudy Giuliani did sort of give the game away this weekend whenever he said, "Well, that's why you don't let the president testify."

Really, what he's saying -- you know, they call it perjury trap, perjury trap. What he's saying is the president of the United States cannot be trusted to comply with the law. He can not be trusted to tell the truth. And that itself is really an incredibly consequential statement.

BLITZER: And today the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, who in August of last year said he certainly didn't dictate, referring to the president, that public statement in the aftermath of that "New York Times" story. She refused to answer questions why she said that, which clearly wasn't true.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: It's -- OK, I was going to go a little crazy. But it's beyond ridiculous, Wolf. This is -- this makes no sense.

You cannot deny that he dictated it from the same place that you then say, "Oh, I have to refer you to the Office of Legal Counsel." You can't do that.

Susan is right, there is zero question now. This is not anonymous sources. This is not Democrats. This is Donald Trump and Donald Trump's lawyers proving that Jay Sekulow and what Sarah Sanders said is wrong. I'm not going to accuse those two people of lying, because my guess is the information that they were getting was incomplete or simply false. Where were they getting that information from? Susan touched on it. Donald John Trump.

We know all of that. That is beyond dispute. It's not partisan. That is beyond dispute.

The only question that needs to be asked and, I think, answered now is why? Right? Why was Donald Trump not telling the truth? Why was he -- why did he say he didn't dictate the statement, and he did? Why was the statement to say, "Well, this is a meeting about adoptions," when in fact, a simple phone call to his son would have said, "We actually set it up because they had promised dirt on Hillary Clinton."

BLITZER: And that was a political element --

JACKSON: Consciousness of guilt.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Joey. Make your point.

[17:35:00] JACKSON: The issue is consciousness of guilt. Right? If there are things that, you know, are going to be helpful to you or otherwise don't hurt you, what are you lying about? So if you're lying, there's a consciousness of guilt, guilty knowledge that you have.

And just, Wolf, briefly, we're in a strange era. We're in an era of alternative facts. I used to think that a fact is a fact is a fact is a fact. Now it's an alternative fact. It's almost a fact. We saw the president teasing the media about a letter: "Oh, wouldn't you like to see a letter. I didn't open the letter yet." Really?

I mean, I just don't know how -- you lie with impunity, lie about things that don't need to be lied to. If you don't like the news, it's fake news. I just think it's a strange era.

And it's difficult in my business, because everyone, you're supposed to go to court, tell the truth, nothing but the truth so help you. Now, I don't think people know the distinction between a fact, a lie, an almost a fact, a true fact, an alternative fact. It's -- it's very strange.

BLITZER: Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer, said today it's just a case of, quote, "changing recollections." That's what he said.

But we do know that Mueller is clearly looking into this whole public statement that was released that the president dictated as a potential source of obstruction.

You know, Rebecca, let's turn to another story today that's developing today. The former president, Bill Clinton, he was on TV earlier today, talking about Monica Lewinsky and this new age of the #MeToo movement. Listen to this exchange.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I like the #MeToo movement. It's way overdue. I think that -- it doesn't mean I agree with everything. I still have some questions about some of the decisions which have been made.

CRAIG MELVIN, NBC NEWS: Looking back on what happened then, through the lens of #MeToo now, do you think differently or feel more responsibility?

CLINTON: No. I felt terrible then. And I came to grips with it.

MELVIN: Did you ever apologize to her?

CLINTON: No -- yes. And nobody believes that I got out of that for free.

MELVIN: Do you feel like you owe her an apology?

CLINTON: No, I -- I do not -- I've never talked to her. But I did say publicly on more than one occasion that I was sorry. That's very different. The apology was public.


BLITZER: What's your analysis of that?

HENNESSEY: It's just -- the reason that this is getting so much play, Wolf, is because it's just completely tone deaf. It's stunning. And you can see why the Clintons have been sort of sidelined by Democrats in this era. Not only because Hillary Clinton lost her election, but because Bill Clinton, to say something like that, you have to be completely oblivious to where the Democratic Party and, really, where the country is today.

It's an amazing moment when Bill Clinton, who was -- you remember his speech to the Democratic convention a few years ago, that went on and on, was heralded as this amazing speech that lifted up President Obama's candidacy. It's amazing to see him in this situation, where he's instead this huge liability when he opens his mouth.

CILLIZZA: How did it get -- what does he -- I don't understand what he means. What does he mean, like, that's a very different thing, a public -- I mean, he's right. A public apology is a very different thing than calling the person or writing the person a letter. But he seems to suggest it's a better thing than a private apology.

I just think Monica Lewinsky is the best -- or among the best voices on this stuff. Read -- go read the piece she wrote in "Vanity Fair" a few months ago in which she talks about how she has reassessed their relationship in the context of the #MeToo movement, given that he was the president of the United States and she was a White House intern.

Rebecca is right. There is a reason why -- Bill Clinton is -- is not going to be out on the campaign trail for a very specific reason. Because he -- it's not just that he says stuff like this, he thinks stuff like this. And that is so out of step with where we are as a country, particularly within the Democratic Party at the moment.

BLITZER: Caused an uproar today, this whole -- this whole exchange.

CILLIZZA: Rightly so.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Stick around. Coming up, Melania Trump is scheduled to make her first appearance in weeks. But why isn't the White House allowing any cameras inside?


[17:43:40] BLITZER: This hour at the White House, Melania Trump is scheduled to make her first appearance since she was hospitalized for a kidney procedure last month.

Let's go to our White House reporter, Kate Bennett. She's working the story for us. Is this event a milestone for her? Walk us through the decision for her to participate.

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So she actually did this event last year with the president. So it's not that unusual that she's honoring Gold Star families. This was something she's done before. She's very supportive of the military.

However, of course, we haven't seen or heard from her in person in about -- I think, 25 days. Yesterday marked 24 days. S

So I just got a statement, Wolf, from -- from the first lady's spokesperson, and I'm going to read that to you here. "Mrs. Trump has always been a strong and independent woman who puts her family and, certainly, her health above all else, and that won't change over a rabid press corps. She's confident in what she's doing in her role and knows the rest is just speculation and nonsense."

So clearly, she's still defending against these stories and rumors that have popped up since that kidney procedure she had over two weeks ago, and this is certainly fallout. I don't think it's just the press who were rabid, to be fair. I think there are Democrats, Republicans, fans, you know, there are lots of people just wondering where is the first lady of the United States.

BLITZER: How is she doing? Because we haven't seen her, as you point out, in 25 days. BENNETT: Right. So her spokesperson tells me she's doing well and

doing great, and she's been taking meetings at the White House. But clearly, I think, you know, this wasn't a minor procedure, considering what we all saw. She stayed in the hospital for five days. She recuperated at the White House. She hasn't had a public appearance until tonight's event. So certainly, it may have been a bit more serious than that initial statement let on.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Why is this event at the White House right now closed to the press? No cameras? Why not just let the cameras in at the beginning?

I mean a lot of people are saying that, Wolf. And I -- you know, it's hard to argue that when you haven't seen her in so long.

However, these are Gold Star families. They have lost somebody, you know, in war and the military. There are about more than 40 families there. And out of respect for them, this is a closed precedent with the President and first lady.

BLITZER: She's not going to Canada for the G7, not going to Singapore next week for the summit with Kim Jong-un. She's staying here.

BENNETT: Right, and I don't think we should read into that too much. I think anyone who has had a medical procedure, I think, you know, typically, they are advised not to travel for a whole bunch of reasons. I'm not a doctor.

But I -- her office tells me that, certainly, there is nothing to read into with this. You know, people are going to speculate. She needs to get back out there. I think we need hear from the first lady.

BLITZER: And we wish her only, obviously, the best full recovery from that kidney procedure.


BLITZER: Thanks so much for that good reporting from Kate Bennett.

Still ahead, new questions after the President's attorneys reveal he dictated that misleading statement his son issued about that meeting at Trump Tower with Russians during the campaign.

Also, Kim Jong-un suddenly purges three of his top generals. What does that mean for the upcoming summit next week?


[17:51:06] BLITZER: This afternoon, the White House announced President Trump's first meeting with Kim Jong-un will be at 9:00 p.m. Eastern a week from tonight. That would be Monday. That would be Tuesday morning already in Singapore.

As the summit approaches, we're also learning of some important and sudden changes taking place inside North Korea. CNN's Brian Todd has been working his sources. Brian, what are you hearing?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're told tonight that Kim Jong-un has just purged three of his top generals, the people at the highest levels of North Korea's million-man army.

U.S. officials telling CNN Kim was likely concerned about potential corruption among the three generals and might have wanted to get rid of them possibly in anticipation of some new investment coming into North Korea if he can strike a nuclear deal with President Trump.


TODD (voice-over): Tonight, Kim Jong-un is moving swiftly and ruthlessly, purging his top generals ahead of a planned summit with President Trump.

According to several media reports, North Korea's top three military officials have been replaced by younger men believed to be firm loyalists to Kim.

MICHAEL MADDEN, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR, NORTH KOREA LEADERSHIP WATCH: These are the guys that Kim Jong-un brings in because they will implement his policies, they will be loyal to him, and they won't resist.

There won't be any resistance. There won't be any opposition. And they share -- to a certain degree, share a worldview with Kim Jong-un.

TODD (voice-over): As Kim Jong-un expands the portfolio of top leaders he is meeting with, analysts say this new crop of top generals has better experience dealing with foreign dignitaries and tend to handle themselves better than the old guard.

MADDEN: They know how to sit up straight in their chair when they have a meeting. They know not to doze off. And they know not to carouse and get drunk if they're visiting a foreign capital and cause a scandal for the DPRK. They know how to behave themselves.

TODD (voice-over): But U.S. officials who marched on North Korea tell CNN they believe Kim was also concerned the three generals he just tossed out could possibly skim off the top and take advantage of outside investment which might flow into North Korea as a result of a possible nuclear deal with the U.S.

Analysts say the North Korean People's Army controls trading corporations and other businesses which could be involved in future trade deals or infrastructure projects.

KEN GAUSE, DIRECTOR OF THE INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS GROUP, CNA: Any officials that had been in their place for any amount of time are tied into a lot of the hard currency operations which bring in money and hard currency into the regime. And so, therefore, they would have been skimming.

With this newer generation, I think Kim is trying to enforce greater discipline.

TODD (voice-over): But U.S. officials tell CNN, Kim also wants to make sure he and his loyalists get their cut.

GAUSE: The people that Kim is putting into key positions of power now really are people who will really follow the rules in terms of paying the loyalty payments to the Kim family.

MADDEN: You have North Korean elites that operate businesses, especially in the military, in the upper echelon of the military. They operate businesses, whether they're construction companies or bus companies or trucking companies, and so they pay a tax to Kim Jong-un.


TODD: Analysts say another possible reason Kim might have undertaken this purge now was maybe to avoid a repeat of what happened shortly after he took power when members of North Korea's old guard led by Kim's uncle, Jang Song-thaek, reportedly built up their own bases of power separate from his base. That internal fight eventually led Kim to execute his own uncle -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And, Brian, you're also hearing that there could be some concern among Kim Jong-un and his inner circle about this being out of the country, for the summit with President Trump.

TODD: Right, Wolf. There's been speculation that Kim does not want to leave North Korea for an extended period of time. That if he does during this summit, it might encourage potential opponents back in Pyongyang to stage a coup.

Now, analyst Michael Madden says he believes that's another reason why Kim put those new generals in place tonight, to have his loyalists there in place in Pyongyang if something might happen.

BLITZER: Very interesting. Thanks very much. Brian Todd reporting.

[17:54:59] There's breaking news next. The White House is forced to fend off tough questions about President Trump's claims that he has the power to pardon himself. We're going to get reaction from Senator Richard Blumenthal of the Judiciary Committee.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Absolute right and wrong. President Trump declares he has the power to pardon himself, unleashing new fears about his response to the Russia investigation and the possibility of a constitutional crisis. Does he think he is above the law?

Changing stories. The President lawyers admit that Mr. Trump dictated the initial statement about the Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer after multiple denials that he was behind the misleading spin. Can administration officials be believed?

[18:00:07] Questioning the law. The President insists that Robert Mueller's investigation is, quote, totally unconstitutional.