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THE SITUATION ROOM
Kellyanne Conway Describes Alleged October Assault in Restaurant; Senators Raise Concerns to Trump Admin About Yemen After CNN Report U.S. Arms Supplied to Iran & Al Qaeda-linked Militia; Political Turmoil in Virginia; Interview With Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D- WA); Did 'National Enquirer' Try to Blackmail Jeff Bezos?; Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker Grilled Before Congress; Virginia LT Governor Denies New Sexual Assault Claim, House Judiciary Chair Renews Threat To Subpoena Acting Attorney General, Calls Him Arrogant After Testimony. Aired on 6-7p ET
Aired February 8, 2019 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: contentious hearing. The acting attorney general trades jabs with Democrats, as he's publicly questioned by lawmakers about the special counsel probe he oversees. We're following all the fireworks and the fallout from Matt Whitaker's testimony.
Prime exposure. As Amazon's CEO accuses "The National Enquirer" of extortion and blackmail, a source tells CNN that a slew of similar accusations are likely to follow. We're going to tell you why federal prosecutors are investigating.
Proposed gag order. Indicted Trump ally Roger Stone is battling with Robert Mueller, as the special counsel tries to stop him from talking publicly about the case. Will the self-proclaimed dirty trickster be muzzled?
And time running out. There's still no deal to avoid another government shutdown, as an unofficial deadlines or reach an agreement is coming and going tonight. As negotiators keep on working, the wild card is the man in the White House.
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: Breaking news tonight: Tensions over the Russia investigation explode at the first big oversight hearing since Democrats took control of the House.
Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker in the hot seat, denies he's interfered with Robert Mueller's probe or that he's talked to President Trump about it. Whitaker, often defiant, opened the hearing by declaring that he would not discuss his private conversations with the president to protect executive privilege. Also, breaking: Federal prosecutors in New York are looking into
allegations by Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, who says "The National Enquirer" tried to blackmail and extort him. The feds want to know if "The Enquirer" violated an immunity deal in the investigation of hush money payments linked to the president.
This hour, I will talk with a member of the House Judiciary Committee who questioned Matt Whitaker, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's go to our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider. She has details on the acting attorney general's very dramatic testimony.
Jessica, this was a fiery hearing.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A very heated hearing.
And, Wolf, this hearing highlighted the deep partisan divisions on Capitol Hill. Republicans called Whitaker's appearance unwarranted, while Democrats dug in. And tonight, after hours and hours of questioning, the committee chair, Jerrold Nadler, says he's still not satisfied, and not sure he believes all of Whitaker's testimony, even after several back-and-forth, testy exchanges.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker making his first appearance before the House Judiciary Committee.
REP. DOUG COLLINS (R), GEORGIA: This hearing is pointless.
If this is the way we're going to go, then we will have plenty of stunts. We're going to have plenty of theatrics. Bring your popcorn. I'm thinking about maybe we just set up a popcorn machine in the back, because that's what this is becoming.
SCHNEIDER: And igniting a political firestorm.
REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: It's our understanding that at least one briefing occurred in December, before your decision not to recuse yourself on December 19, on Christmas Day. Is that correct?
MATTHEW WHITAKER, ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: What's the basis for that question, sir?
NADLER: Yes or no.
WHITAKER: Mr. Chairman, I -- again, what is the basis for your question? You're saying that it is your understanding.
NADLER: I mean, I'm asking the questions. I only have five minutes. So please answer yes or no.
WHITAKER: No, Mr. Chairman, I'm going to -- you are asking me a question. It is your understanding. Can you tell me where you get the basis...
NADLER: No, I'm not going to tell you that. I don't have time to get into that.
SCHNEIDER: Whitaker at one point trying to cut the chairman off.
WHITAKER: I see that your five minutes is up. And so...
WHITAKER: I'm -- we -- we -- we -- I am -- I'm here voluntarily.
I -- we have agreed to five-minute rounds. And...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that's a fine place to end the five-minute rule.
NADLER: The committee will end -- will come to a -- and I will point out that we didn't enforce the five-minute rule on Attorney -- acting Attorney General Whitaker.
SCHNEIDER: Whitaker denied any conversations with the president or other White House officials about the special counsel's investigation, which Whitaker oversees, either before or after he took over the top spot at DOJ.
WHITAKER: At no time has the White House asked, nor have I provided any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel's investigation or any other investigation.
NADLER: It's a yes-or-no question. Have you communicated anything you learned in that briefing about the investigation to President Trump, yes or no?
WHITAKER: Mr. Chairman, as I said earlier today in my opening remarks, I do not intend today to talk about my private conversations with the president of the United States.
But to answer your question, I have not talked to the president of the United States about the special counsel's investigation.
SCHNEIDER: Whitaker has come under fire for denouncing the Mueller investigation as a commentator before he joined the Justice Department, which Republicans quickly pointed out was not the reason for the hearing.
REP. DEBBIE LESKO (R), ARIZONA: It's nothing but character assassination, harassment of our witness.
[18:05:08] SCHNEIDER: Whitaker, who said he has been fully briefed on the Mueller investigation, declined to specifically condemn the label witch-hunt used by the president to describe the Russia probe.
WHITAKER: I have not interfered with the special counsel's investigation.
REP. STEVE COHEN (D), TENNESSEE: Are you overseeing a witch-hunt? You would stop a witch-hunt, wouldn't you?
WHITAKER: Congressman, it would be inappropriate for me to talk about an ongoing investigation.
SCHNEIDER: And Whitaker giving no specific indication how much longer it will last.
WHITAKER: We haven't received the report. Bob Mueller is going to finish his investigation when he wants to finish his investigation.
SCHNEIDER: And this isn't the end of the inquiry.
Committee Chairman Nadler read a list of questions he still wants written answers to, including when Whitaker was briefed on the special counsel investigation, and whether Whitaker had conversations with the president after those briefings.
And Nadler is once again threatening a subpoena if it is necessary to get those answers -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very important stuff.
Jessica, stick around.
Shimon Prokupecz is with us, our crime and justice reporter.
Shimon, Whitaker specifically stated he hasn't been forced to take any action, make any decisions based on actions by Robert Mueller and his team. So what does that tell you?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: So it could mean, Wolf, that any of the heavy lifting, any of the big decisions that the special counsel has had to make, certainly about whether to subpoena the president, whether or not to indict particular people, whether or not to open more investigations, have already been done.
And it could signal that we could be coming to an end here, and that Whitaker came in at the end of this investigation, where a lot of the investigative steps and a lot of the indictments and other things may have already happened.
Most key here, everyone's been wondering about whether or not they would subpoena the president. And since that has not happened and has not been discussed, certainly, it seems, by Whitaker, that it's unlikely that that's going to happen now. BLITZER: What was the reaction of Jerry Nadler, the committee chairman, after the hearing? It was six hours of really dramatic back and forth.
SCHNEIDER: And Chairman Nadler came right out and talked to reporters. And the first thing he said is, Whitaker was arrogant.
Obviously, he wasn't very happy when Whitaker quipped back to the chairman of the committee you have five minutes left. So Nadler laughed at the time, but it's clear that he wasn't pleased. He also says he wasn't pleased with Whitaker's answers.
He said that he didn't give a lot of answers. But then he said he will. So, obviously, Nadler making good -- or he may make good on that subpoena threat.
Nadler says that there were inconsistencies with Whitaker's testimony. In particular, he's really concerned with when Whitaker went to the White House numerous times in the summer of 2017 to interview for the chief of staff position for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as well as a position on the White House counsel's team that would be this response position to the Mueller investigation.
And Nadler, saying how could you not have talked with the president or people in the White House about your feelings about the Mueller probe?
So now they're really taking issue with that, zeroing in on that, and promising to get answers about that.
BLITZER: What did he say about his conversations with the president involving Michael Cohen?
PROKUPECZ: Yes, he wouldn't get into that, right? He kept insisting that he's not going to talk about the conversations that he has had with the president.
Why this is so important is because of the reporting that CNN has done about conversations that the president may have had with Whitaker concerning the SDNY, the investigations out of New York, and that the president was concerned, was upset over being named as Individual 1 in the charges, being implicated by the Department of Justice in those crimes as it relates to the hush money payment.
And it could be also that Whitaker really doesn't know anything that's been going on at SDNY. SDNY has this habit of doing its own thing, and where they don't tell the Department of Justice what they're doing. So it could be that. But he certainly would not go anywhere near any conversations, Whitaker, that he has had with the president.
BLITZER: U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, SDNY.
Shimon, one other thing before I let you go.
Roger Stone, all of a sudden, the judge is threatening a gag order on Roger Stone, the president's longtime friend and associate.
BLITZER: A gag order on Roger Stone?
PROKUPECZ: Well, it's interesting.
So this all started last week when he was in court and the judge wanted to hear from both sides, the prosecutors and his attorneys. She's thinking about putting a gag order here.
But what's interesting to me -- certainly, obviously, Roger Stone doesn't want this gag order. But if you have seen in the last week or so, we haven't really heard from Roger Stone. So I think he's trying to show the judge that he could behave, hoping that she doesn't gag him, because it's going to hurt him.
He feels, Roger Stone, that if she places a gag order on him, he's not going to be able to fund-raise off of this, right? He's out there. He's talking about how he's being treated unfairly. And part of it is to raise money for his defense.
So that has certainly been an order -- something that he's wanted. But the other thing that they have asked for -- and I think this is also interesting -- is, they want a new judge. They're asking for another judge. We will see how the judge responds to that.
BLITZER: If he gets a gag order, and he violates the gag order, he could wind up like Manafort, in jail.
PROKUPECZ: That's right, certainly a big concern for him.
BLITZER: All right, Shimon, Jessica, guys, thank you very much.
Hours before Matt Whitaker's testimony, President Trump said he thought his acting attorney general would do a good job.
Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
So, Jim, do we know how Whitaker's appearance is playing with the president?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the president just arrived back here at the White House after his annual physical with the White House doctor.
But officials over here at the White House were very interested in a different examination taking place up on Capitol Hill, and were watching me to see how the acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker, performed at today's hearing.
Despite those fireworks that we have been seeing all day long, a White House official told me earlier this evening that they believe that the hearing went about as expected. One question in particular that they were interested in hearing over here is how Whitaker responded when asked whether he had briefed the president on the Mueller investigation.
One White House officials said Whitaker's denial that he had spoken with the president was consistent with what Mr. Trump has said in the past, so they felt pretty good about that answer.
But, as you said, Wolf, the president has said he was confident in how Whitaker was going to perform. And here's how he put it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would say, if he did testify, he'd do very well. He's an outstanding person, a very, very fine man.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Now, Wolf, the president, just as I said, arrived here back at the White House after that physical up at Walter Reed.
He did not answer reporters' questions. So he did not weigh in on how he felt Matt Whitaker handled himself today. But the feeling over here at the White House is that, I guess in medical terms, that Matt Whitaker did not do any harm when he was up on Capitol Hill earlier today, Wolf.
BLITZER: Took the physical today. The White House didn't put out a very brief statement about the president's physical checkup. Tell us what they said.
ACOSTA: Oh, that's right.
It was not as glowing a review as we heard from Dr. Ronny Jackson at that briefing that we saw about a year ago, but this is what the White House physician said about this examination with the president earlier today.
It says: "This afternoon at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the president participated in a second periodic physical examination. Over the course of approximately four hours" -- this is according to the doctor -- "I performed and supervise the evaluation with a panel of 11 different board-certified specialists. He did not undergo any procedures requiring sedation or anesthesia. The president is very grateful for the outstanding care he received today. And he especially wants to thank all the doctors nurses, enlisted and civilian staff who participated.
"While the reports and recommendations are being finalized" -- and that's important, Wolf -- "I am happy to announce the president of the United States is in very good health."
And this according to the physician there, Sean P. Conley: "I'm happy to announce the president of the United States is in very good health, and I anticipate he will remain so for the duration of his presidency and beyond." So, almost very Dr. Ronny Jackson-esque there in the very final sentence of that review from the White House physician, Sean Conley, saying that he expects the president to remain in good health, not only for the duration of his presidency, but also beyond, which obviously, Wolf, that's the kind of review or analysis we would love to hear from any doctor for all of us.
It sounds like the president, according to the White House physician, is doing just fine -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Well, let's see when they release all the specifics, all the numbers, as they often -- as they almost always do.
ACOSTA: That's right.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta, thanks very much. Jim's over at the White House.
Let's hear now from one of the Democrats who questioned the acting attorney general.
We're joined by the House Judiciary Committee member Pramila Jayapal.
Thanks so much, Congresswoman, for coming in.
REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D), WASHINGTON: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: It was a dramatic six hours. You were there for the whole time.
The acting attorney general, he testified -- and I want to be precise -- that he never spoke to the president about the Mueller investigation.
Do you believe him?
JAYAPAL: He was very evasive. He didn't answer.
He said, I'm not going to answer that question. And then he answered the question. And I don't understand why he didn't just say no. And so -- and there were inconsistencies. He was inconsistent about his answers around that 2017, December 2017 White House meeting.
He refused to answer questions around Cohen. I mean, he was incredibly difficult to watch, I will just tell you, sitting there in front of him, so disrespectful, so arrogant, telling the chairman of the Judiciary Committee that his time had expired, then telling us that we had five minutes to ask our questions.
Every time the chairman had to direct him to answer our questions, and not to go off on his own -- on his own comments, he seemed to not understand that the Judiciary Committee actually has jurisdiction and oversight and that he is accountable to answer those questions.
I think the most troubling thing was around executive privilege. I mean, Chairman Nadler had sent the questions well in advance. He told him to please determine which questions the president wanted to exert executive privilege around.
And at the beginning of the hearing, he started by saying, I will exert -- I will be using executive privilege here. So there were many things that were just deeply troubling.
Now, the guy is going to be gone in...
BLITZER: In a week.
JAYAPAL: In a week.
And we really wanted to try to get information from him about the Mueller investigation and his communications.
BLITZER: Was it a waste of time, the hearing?
JAYAPAL: I don't think it was a waste of time, because the guy is the acting attorney general. I mean, this is the acting attorney general.
I think he showed over and over again that he should not be the acting attorney general. He didn't know the answers to most of the questions, even if they weren't about Mueller. He couldn't answer Cedric Richmond's questions.
BLITZER: Your Democratic colleague Steve Cohen of Tennessee, he said he thinks Whitaker is lying about several of these points, including that he never discussed any of the Mueller probe with the president of the United States.
That would be a crime, if he's under oath, lying before your committee.
Do you think Whitaker perjured himself today?
JAYAPAL: I don't know. But it was very difficult to fully believe him, because he did not come across as truthful.
So, if I had to guess, I would say that he's hiding something. Did he have a conversation and not tell us about it? Did he sort of -- did he instruct somebody else to have a conversation? He could answer the question that he didn't have a conversation, but did somebody else?
Did he tell information to somebody else? So that was the sense I got too, is that he wasn't truthful.
BLITZER: As a private citizen -- and he will be a private citizen after next week, when Bill Barr will be sworn in as the new attorney general -- do you think Jerry Nadler and your House Judiciary Committee should subpoena Whitaker to come back as a private citizen and do another deposition, do another round of Q&A?
JAYAPAL: If he doesn't answer these questions, then he will.
But I think we have given him the opportunity over and over again to answer those questions.
BLITZER: One of the most dramatic moments was an exchange you had, Congressman -- Congresswoman, with Whitaker on the Justice Department's so-called zero tolerance policy that has led to the separation of children from their moms and dads.
And I want to play a little bit of the exchange you had.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAYAPAL: So these parents were in your custody. Your attorneys are prosecuting them. And your department was not tracking parents who were separated from their children.
Do you know what kind of damage has been done to children and families across this country, children who will never get to see their parents again? Do you understand the magnitude of that?
WHITAKER: I understand that the policy of zero tolerance...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What did you think?
JAYAPAL: I was so furious.
This is the acting attorney general of the United States, and he did not know -- first of all, he did not know the information. He said he didn't know about the memo before this piece.
I asked him if he knew about this leaked memo that Senator Merkley had shown us that said that the Department of Justice had been told that they had to give advanced notice to all these different departments in order to coordinate this.
Wolf, we still don't know how many thousands of children were separated from their parents. I have been in there and I talked to them. I was completely furious with him. These are his prosecutors. They're not tracking these children.
And he has nothing to say to me. And, at the end, he tried to, I thought, in a very condescending way, say, I know you're passionate about this issue.
This is not about my passion. This is about the children who have been separated and will never see their parents again.
BLITZER: But even if they're never going to see -- that's awful.
But even if a child is 3 or 4 our or 5 years old, is separated from a mother or a father for a month or two months, and eventually reunited, the trauma...
BLITZER: ... they go through during that period -- at night, they call out for their mommy or their daddy, and they don't see them. That's an awful situation.
You would have thought he would have at least said to you, our hearts go out, we're trying to do -- we didn't hear any of that.
In fact, he tried to deny that there was family separation, which has been the consistent -- Kirstjen Nielsen also tried to deny that to me. That's gotten four Pinocchios from "The Washington Post."
This was family separation done by this administration, and children, exactly like you said, a couple months away from their parents, some babies that had been taken from their mother's breast, and the parents who didn't know where their children were.
I mean, the trauma is tremendous. And I watched some of these parents ultimately being reunited with their children. And they were sobbing like there was no tomorrow.
BLITZER: Of course.
JAYAPAL: Some of the children didn't want to go to their parents because they thought that their mothers had abandoned them.
I just can't -- I mean, I can't imagine.
BLITZER: It's so heartbreaking to see all of that.
Unfortunately, some of that still, still exists.
Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, thanks so much for coming in. Thanks for raising that issue as well.
JAYAPAL: Thank you so much, Wolf.
BLITZER: The breaking news continues next.
Will "The National Enquirer"'s parent company lose its no-prosecution deal over alleged efforts to blackmail the world's richest man, the Amazon founder and "The Washington Post" owner, Jeff Bezos?
BLITZER: Breaking news tonight: Federal prosecutors in New York are now investigating the bombshell claim by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos that the publisher of "The National Enquirer" tried to blackmail and extort him.
Brian Todd is joining us right now.
Brian, what more do we know tonight about these allegations made by the world's richest man?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we know that "The National Enquirer" and its parent company, AMI, are under an extraordinary amount of pressure tonight.
As Wolf mentioned, prosecutors in New York are now looking at the accusation that AMI blackmailed Jeff Bezos. And the tabloid publisher has been placed under such pressure by Jeff Bezos, that it's investigating itself.
TODD (voice-over): Tonight, inquiring minds may be in legal trouble. CNN has learned federal prosecutors in New York are reviewing claims "The National Enquirer" attempted to extort and blackmail Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder and CEO of Amazon and owner of "The Washington Post."
Overnight, Bezos accused "The Enquirer," its parent company, American Media, and its CEO, David Pecker, of trying to blackmail him, saying the tabloid would not publish salacious and embarrassing pictures of Bezos and this woman, Lauren Sanchez, with whom Bezos had an affair, but only if Bezos would agree to stop investigating the tabloid.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: This story is about people at the pinnacle of very different professions, the richest man in the world, the White House, the most powerful man in the world, and the most vulgar and awful and powerful in its own way tabloid in the world.
TODD: The sordid saga began back in January, when "The National Enquirer" published text messages between Bezos and Sanchez.
Bezos did not deny having an affair and, shortly before the story broke, announced he was divorcing his wife. At the same time, Bezos hired investigators to find out how "The Enquirer" got the texts.
Representatives of Bezos told news organizations he thought the leak of the texts was politically motivated. Revealing that, Bezos says, led to these, letters and e-mails from American Media's lawyers threatening to release the compromising photos if Bezos's those didn't publicly say that AMI's coverage of the Bezos scandal wasn't politically motivated and call off his investigators.
Instead, Bezos went public, saying he'd rather expose the tabloid's tactics. But why?
JIM RUTENBERG, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": What we have learned, if anything, about "The National Enquirer" and David Pecker over the last year is that they will attack the enemies of their friends, and that they might expect something in return from that.
TODD: In a lengthy blog post, Bezos suggests just that, pointing to the AMI chief David Pecker's relationship with President Trump, as well as stories about Pecker cultivating ties with Saudi Arabia.
RUTENBERG: We know that there's a history of David Pecker and AMI looking for opportunities with Saudi Arabia, looking for investment from Saudi Arabia, looking for acquisitions in Saudi Arabia, a way into that market.
TODD: The Saudis have been the focus of "The Post"'s unrelenting coverage of the murder of its columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a hit the CIA believes was ordered by the Saudi crown prince, which the Saudis deny.
Bezos appeared to question why AMI published a 97-page glossy magazine last year praising Saudi Arabia.
RUTENBERG: What AMI said at the time, what American Media said at the time was, hey, people are fascinated by royals, and this is Saudi royalty, and it's an exciting time in Saudi Arabia.
TODD: Bezos also seems to suggest AMI could have gone after him to please President Trump. The president has long complained "The Post"'s coverage is unfair.
Trump's ties with David Pecker go back to the 1990s. And Pecker helped Trump cover up an alleged affair with a former playboy model.
TOOBIN: David Pecker not only has a long friendship with Donald Trump. He has put his money where his mouth is. He paid off Karen McDougal to maintain her silence.
TODD: But since then, David Pecker was granted immunity by prosecutors in New York and agreed to provide them information on those hush money deals.
Tonight, CNN has learned that deal could be in jeopardy. If prosecutors find Pecker or AMI broke the law in their dealings with Bezos, they could lose their immunity in the hush money cases.
TODD: AMI issued a statement saying it believes it acted lawfully in reporting the Bezos story, but said its board is going to investigate Bezos' claims.
AMI also rejects any assertion that its reporting was instigated or influenced by external forces, political or otherwise.
As for President Trump, well, a White House spokesman says he's not sure if President Trump is even aware of the latest Bezos story.
Now, asked by CNN if his government ever tried to get AMI to put out negative stories on Bezos, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said -- quote -- "As far as I know, flat out no"-- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian, what are you hearing about how "The Enquirer" might have gotten those texts between Jeff Bezos and his girlfriend?
TODD: Wolf, a source familiar with the Bezos investigation is telling us that people on the Bezos believe that Michael Sanchez, the brother of Bezos' girlfriend, could be the person who gave those personal and intimate texts between Bezos and Lauren Sanchez to AMI.
Bezos' chief investigator, Gavin de Becker, has told "The Washington Post" and The Daily Beast that their investigation has looked at Michael Sanchez and questioned him.
Now, Michael Sanchez has not provided CNN with an on-the-record response, but "The Washington Post" did previously report that he denied any role in the revelation of his sister's affair.
BLITZER: What a story this is.
All right, Brian Todd reporting, thanks very much.
And we have some more breaking news right now, as the Virginia lieutenant governor is denying a second women's claim of sexual assault.
Let's go to CNN's Ryan Nobles, joining us live from Richmond, Virginia.
What are you learning, Ryan?
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. You know, earlier in the week, we did learn that there was a women accusing the Lieutenant Governor Justine Fairfax of assault. At that time, many of the elected leaders here in Virginia took a wait-and-see attitude to those allegations, calling for an investigation but not quickly calling for the Lieutenant Governor to step down. But now, we've received word of a second accuser, a woman who claims the Lieutenant Governor raped her was she was a college at Duke.
The Lieutenant Governor has said that she is also not telling the truth and he has no plans to resign. But the pressure on him to leave office is increasing in a big way, and that is increasing because we are learning that a delegate, a democratic delegate from Northern Virginia, Arlington County, Patrick Hope, I just got off the phone with him, and he told me he is now drafting articles of impeachment that he plans to file Monday morning to force the Lieutenant Governor from office if he does not resign before then.
Now, Delegate Hope said that it is his desire that the Lieutenant Governor decide to leave office on his own, but he believes this second accuser has made it too difficult for him to stay in office under current conditions. Delegate Hope telling me that he believes these two women and it is time for the Lieutenant Governor to resign.
Now, we should point out, Wolf, that the Lieutenant Governor has been insistent that neither of these claims against him are true. He put out a very lengthy statement earlier today where he forcefully denies the accusations against him and will reiterate that he has said that he is insistent that he will not resign.
Now, keep in mind, Wolf, we told you last hour that Governor Terry McAuliffe, the Former Governor, has asked him to resign. Now a bevy 2020 candidates, including Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand, of all, called for him to resign. And now we know articles of impeachment are being planned against the Lieutenant Governor. Wolf. BLITZER: Turmoil at Virginia continuous, Ryan Nobles, enrichment for us, thanks very much. Just ahead, we're going to hear more involving the clashes and the defiance as the acting Attorney General faced House Democrats demanding answers about the Mueller investigation.
[18:36:49]BLITZER: The following breaking news on the acting Attorney General rather heated congressional testimony today. Tonight the Democratic Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee is renewing his threat to subpoena Matt Whitaker, saying he didn't answer all of the committee's questions. Let's break it down, with our analyst.
And, Sabrina, let's talk a little bit about this incredibly contentious six-hour hearing today. I'll play a little clip. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JERRY NADLER (D), N.Y.: Is that correct? Simple enough question, yes or no?
MATT WHITAKER, ACTUING U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Mr. Chairman, again, what is the basis for your question? You're saying that it is your --
NADLER: Sir, I'm asking the questions. I only have five minutes. So please answer yes or no.
WHITAKER: No, Mr. Chairman. I'm going to - I - you were asking me a question. It is your understanding, Can you understanding. Can you tell me where you get the basis from your understanding?
NADLER: No, I'm not going to tell you that. I don't have time get into that.
WHITAKER: Mr. Chairman, I see that your five minutes is up, and so I'm - we - I am here voluntarily. We have agreed to five-minute rounds.
REP. DOUG COLLINS (R), G.A.: If this is the way we're going to do, then we'll have plenty of stunts. We're going to have plenty of plenty of theatrics. Bring your popcorn. I'm thinking about maybe we just set up a popcorn machine in the back because that's what this is becoming.
WHITAKER: I don't know if your time has been restored or not.
REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), T.X.: Mr. Attorney General, we are not joking here and your humor is not acceptable.
REP. DEBBIE LESKO (R), A.Z.: It's nothing but character assassination, harassment of our witness.
REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R), T.X.: I don't know what kind of suicide wish you had or whatever, but it's good to see you.
REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), T.X.: We're all trying to figure out who are you, where did you come from and how the heck did you become the Head of the Department of Justice?
In your final week, keep your hands off the Mueller investigation. I yield back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What do you make, Sabrina, of - that was just part of what unfolded during those six hours.
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: Well, it was an extraordinarily confrontational hearing with a great deal of sparring, as we just saw between the committee's democrats and Matt Whitaker. And it was clear throughout the hearing that democrats they were not satisfied with Whitaker's answers as well as with the rather indignant tone with which he approached at the hearing.
Now, for democrats, this was an opportunity to get to the bottom of whether or not Matt Whitaker had, in any way, tried to interfere with Russia investigation, as well as peel back the current underneath conversations he had with the President. It's notable that he did say under oath that he did not discuss the Russia investigation with president trump and that he, in no way, tried to impede with the Special Counsel and its work. But the Chairman of the Committee, Jerry Nadler, he did close it by saying that he bet [ph] the committee would expect more answers from Whitaker and he's prepared to use a subpoena if necessary.
BLITZER: How effectively, Mark, did Whitaker address the concerns as there are a lot of concerns about his oversight of the Mueller Investigation?
MARK MAZZETTI, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. I think we can all agree there was a lot more heat than light in this whole hearing. Very little was actually revealed. But Sabrina is right. He is now on record saying he had no discussions with the President about this. This was an entirely proxy battle about the integrity of the Mueller investigation.
Whitaker is out the door. So it's really about did Trump try to interfere during this very short period of time? So some might say, well, he was very effective because he was on record.
But he didn't exactly answer all the questions that everyone has about - because we know that Trump is very eager to know what in the Mueller investigation.
BLITZER: It's interesting because Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen of Tennessee, he emerged from the hearing suggesting that Whitaker lied. He says he has no evidence to back up his belief, but he's accusing Whitaker of a crime, lying under oath before Congressional Committee, that's a crime. How Significant is that?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Well, substantively, the accusation that Whitaker had a conversation with Trump, obviously, that would be really significant. It might open them both up to obstruction questions. You know, the accusation alone that Whitaker perjured himself, it's a really serious one. It's a serious enough one that we probably should expect that it not be made without any evidence to back it up.
Whitaker was sort of equivocated throughout his testimony. He was really sort of shifting on a lot of points. He didn't equivocate on this. He was really clear he had not had these conversations with Trump. And one thing we do know is that the people at the Department of Justice know that every move they make is going to eventually be scrutinized. Congress is going to go over this with a fine-toothed comb.
So maybe Matt Whitaker is going to be out of the door soon but those career officials, the people who helped him prepare that testimony, watch him make those representations, they have a lot invested in a long-term sort of reputation.
And so I do think there's a reason to believe that they wouldn't allow Whitaker to make such a clear statement under oath if it wasn't true.
BLITZER: You know, a lot of Trump administration officials, when they appear before Congress or appear in public, in general, they have an audience of one. We're talking about the President of the United States, Dana, who watches a lot of TV. How do you think he viewed what happened today at the House Judiciary Committee?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm sure there were a lot of attaboys going on as he was sitting in front of his television, which there's little question he was doing or he had it on his TiVo and he'll be watching it tonight and into tomorrow, he, meaning the President.
Sure, I think there was an audience of one element to Whitaker's testimony, but it's beyond that. Whitaker is somebody who was a U.S. Attorney and he has a lot of experience in law enforcement, but he also has a very attuned, finely tuned political antenna. He ran for Senate in the primary in Iowa, he understands clearly where the republican base is, and the republican base also was sitting back and cheering him on.
Being indignant was a great word. I was trying to find a good word that I could say on TV all day to describe his performance. I think indignant nails it. And as much as it defied protocol when he tried to tell the Chairman how to run the committee, which I've never seen anybody do of any party in this kind of setting, never mind an acting Attorney General, but it certainly got applause among the people he was looking to get applause from.
BLITZER: Yes, certainly. Now, let's talk a little bit about Saudi Arabia right now because it's sort of involved, Mark, in a lot of different areas, the whole subject. You were here The Situation Room 24 hours ago. You broke the story in The New York Times that the Saudi Crown Prince had used the phrase, let's use a bullet on Jamal Khashoggi, The Washington Post Columnist, if he wouldn't return voluntarily to Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Crown Prince in a lot of dispute right now with a lot of folks. And now, all of a sudden, Jeff Bezos, the world's richest man, the owner of The Washington Post and CEO of Amazon, he says that - he's raising questions about the National Enquirer's links to Saudi Arabia in the scandal that he is involved in.
MAZZETTI: Yes. The Saudis are coming up everywhere, right, in all stories. And what's unclear is how much Bezos knows or how much he wanted to just put out, create suspicion on a lot of different fronts, you know, leads for reporters to chase. That's all unclear. But what is clear is that the Saudis and American media, the publisher of the National Enquirer, do have a relationship. AMI was looking for money from the Saudis, and there have been the suspicions that they may have been in leak even with the White House to go after Jeff Bezos, the publisher of the Washington Post, and if you want to take it one step further, it would be over the coverage of Jamal Khashoggi.
Now, that's putting a lot of things together. And I think right now there's just a lot of smoke still, but there certainly is enough to be investigating because there are some different data points out there.
BLITZER: They were supposed to provide a report to the Congress today, the White House, on who was responsible for the murder, the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi. They didn't do that today even though it was under the law.
SIDDIQUI: Yes. The White House did not meet the deadline that was imposed by Congress, and I think that's only going to add to the frustration on Capitol Hill where lawmakers in both parties do not believe the response from the President has been sufficient.
Throughout this period, the President has gone to great lengths not to implicate the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in the murder of Khashoggi.
We know his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, has a very close relationship with the crown prince. The president gave credence to some of the earlier claims that came out of the kingdom, that maybe this is a work of rogue killers. Those were now to be false.
So, now, he's essentially forcing the hand of lawmakers in Congress who are weighing potential sanctions against those responsible for the execution of Khashoggi and also willing to revisit U.S. arm sales to Saudi Arabia. And the more the White House ignores or doesn't give enough significance to members on Capitol Hill, the more likely they are to get a veto-proof majority.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: It's interesting because the prosecutors of the southern district of New York, they are now reviewing the emails released by Jeff Bezos and wondering -- questioning whether they violate the immunity agreement that the "National Enquirer's" leadership all received in exchange with their full cooperation, you can't commit a crime as part of an immunity agreement.
This is a serious problem potentially for David Pecker and the others and American Media, the parent company of the "National Enquirer."
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL AND LEGAL ANALYST: I think that is right. So as part of any non-prosecution agreement, there's this term you cannot commit any additional crimes. If the SDNY determines, they are conducting a review as reported, if they determine that a crime was committed, they could decide that that breaches a non-prosecution agreement and they can go back and actually proceed with the prosecution for this conduct related to the campaign finance violation.
Now, one thing that might be tricky here, there is some question about whether or not the communications with Jeff Bezos actually would violate federal or state extortion statutes. Whenever we talk about extortion, one of the legal elements is a thing of value. Oftentimes we're talking about money. What AMI did was threaten to release this information in relation to Bezos making a statement. So, there's sort of an open question whether or not that could be called a thing of value.
That said, there is a strong, legal arguments on either side. So, SDNY may well determine that this constitute as crime and go ahead and revisited that original agreement.
BLITZER: Could the lawyer for American Media be in trouble right now for writing what we all read that email to the Bezos's team?
HENNESSEY: I think potentially they could. So, in addition to obviously providing really, really lousy legal advice to his clients, any lawyers that participate in this kind of scheme, the fact that you're an attorney is not a defense. So, if the Southern District determines that, no, this is an act of extortion or blackmail, anyone involved including the attorneys could be in trouble.
BLITZER: Because Bezos as you know, Dana, we all read that blog that he posted yesterday, that Bezos is suggesting there's a lot more going on that we still don't really know about, including not only the Saudi connection but others who have been threatened along these lines by the "National Enquirer."
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I agree with Mark that he's throwing a lot of bread crumbs out there for people to potentially find. Unclear if these bread crumbs are real, likely to lead to a story or issue or something that is nefarious or even worse, or he's kind doing this as part of a crisis management term to try to get back at AMI, but also put out the bad stuff himself before somebody else does it for him.
BLITZER: I want to talk about your reporting, pretty significant reporting. You broke it here on CNN today involving Kellyanne Conway, the counselor to the president over at the White House. She told you for the first time that back in October of last year, she was threatened and actually hit by a woman at a suburban restaurant in Bethesda, Maryland, outside of D.C. when her daughter and others were there.
I want to play the clip, the exchange you had with Kellyanne Conway.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: I was assaulted in a restaurant and --
BASH: Assaulted how?
CONWAY: That person has to go to court soon.
BASH: Assaulted how?
CONWAY: I was standing next to my daughter and many of her friends at dinner. She was right here, right next to me. And her friends were too. And somebody was grabbing me from behind, grabbed my arms and was shaking me to the point I thought somebody was hugging me, one of the other parents coming to pick up his or her daughter.
And then as I turned around, it just felt weird. It felt like, that's a little aggressive. And I turn around, a woman had grabbed my hands. She was unhinged.
BASH: She's a stranger?
CONWAY: She's out of control. I don't even know how to explain her to you. Her whole face was terror and anger and just -- she was right here and my daughter was right there, and she ought to pay for that. She ought to pay for that because she has no right to touch anybody.
She put her hands on me. I said, get your hands off me. She put her hands on me and was shaking me from the front with my daughter videotaping her.
Let me tell you something, she would not leave the restaurant. She went on and on. She went outside. She wouldn't stop.
This woman thinks it's OK to touch someone else. It's not OK. It's not OK by her, it's not OK by the law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Tell us a little bit more about this. This is pretty -- very disturbing.
BASH: It sure is. I can tell you that the woman that she's describing, her name is Mary Elizabeth Inabinett. She was charged with second-degree assault, disorderly conduct. There is a trial set for March. So, next month in Maryland state court.
And David Shortell, the person who did some excellent reporting on this.
BLITZER: Our producer. BASH: Our producer -- he reached out to her lawyer who said she intends to plead not guilty and they gave us this statement on her behalf saying, Ms. Inabinett saw Kellyanne Conway, a public figure in a public place and exercised her First Amendment right to express her personal opinions. She did not assault Ms. Conway.
The facts at trial will show this to be true, and show Ms Conway's account to be false.
It is certainly disturbing, you know. The fact that she is, we'll see what happens in the trial but the way that this is described by Kellyanne Conway is similar to what we've seen happened to public figures in both parties recently. And it's an unfortunate commentary on where we are now.
BLITZER: It happened to several Trump White House officials in recent months in various restaurants and other public locations here in the D.C. area.
BASH: It sounds like, according to Conway, the way she described it to me, this went further. This was physical. She said her daughter took out her phone and videotaped when it the police have in their tape as part of the report. There were eyewitnesses there for a birthday party, so it was not just her teenage daughter but her friends and parents.
BLITZER: Was there a video at this restaurant?
BASH: We don't know the answer to that.
BLITZER: That would be significant.
Susan, our legal analyst, what do you make of this?
HENNESSEY: Well, I mean, I think it is a disturbing story if anybody assaulted any other person, right? So, Kellyanne Conway should be taken seriously on that claim. I think we should draw a line between the videos we've seen of people yelling at public officials. Some people disagree that but there is a very clear distinction between expressing your First Amendment right, whether you're doing it in a socially appropriate way or not versus violating the law. If this individual touched Kellyanne Conway, then she might have done just that.
BLITZER: Yes, it's very disturbing indeed. It shouldn't happen. We'll see what happens in this upcoming trial.
Guys, stick around. There's more news we're following. New pressure emerging right now on the Trump administration tonight, following CNN's exclusive report about U.S. weapons in Yemen, winding up at the hands of militants linked to Iran and al Qaeda.
[18:57:16] BLITZER: Tonight, two U.S. senators have sent a letter to the Trump administration raising very serious concerns about Yemen's humanitarian crisis and the actions of Saudi-led forces waging war there. This comes just days after CNN's exclusive investigation revealing that American-made weapons have wound up in the hands of fighters link to al Qaeda and Iran. Those weapons originally distributed to the United Arab Emirates and the Saudis.
Our senior international correspondent Nima Elbagir wrote this story for us right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. She's back with us tonight.
Nima, first of all, tell us more about this letter and how it relates to your investigation.
NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is a bipartisan letter written by Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Todd Young sent to the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, asking him to elaborate, to explain how these weapons were able to fall into the hands of American enemies, given that they were handed to America's allies.
I want to read to you from the letter, Wolf. It cites CNN's reporting and says, we remain concerned that the previous certification submitted to Congress did not accurately reflect known facts on the ground. Hours later, a bipartisan group of senators including Trump ally, Wolf, Lindsey Graham also citing CNN's investigation, introduced the Saudi Accountability in Yemen Act, in which they said there needs to be an end to the impunity around the actions of Saudi Arabia, again saying that this was off the back of CNN's reporting.
This is going to be very difficult for Secretary Pompeo to hear right now, because the February 9th deadline for him to certify to Congress that Saudi Arabia is compliant. Not just with the international humanitarian law regarding civilians but also, with the Saudi-led coalition's legal obligations, regarding these arms deals that they have with United States.
We reached out to Secretary Pompeo for comment. The State Department didn't get back to us. But even as we're reporting this, Wolf, we're hearing of another Saudi-led coalition air strike. They say it is to hit the Houthi militia positions near the airport in Sana'a. But it is clear the timing isn't really helpful for the secretary of state -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And the humanitarian crisis that you reported on, and you were there in Yemen under very dangerous circumstances, the humanitarian crisis continues. So many people, especially young kids, they're being starved to death right now and we're going to stay on top of this story, Nima, together with you. Thanks for your excellent, excellent reporting as usual.
ELBAGIR: Thank you.
BLITZER: Nima Elbagir reporting from London. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. You can tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.
Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.