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House Democrats Launch Broad Probe into Possible Corruption, Obstruction, Abuse of Power by Trump; Interview with Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI); Sources: Knowledge of Secret Nuke Site Led Trump to Quit Hanoi Summit. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 4, 2019 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: You can tweet the show @CNN. Our coverage on CNN continues. Thanks for watching.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Happening now, breaking news: sweeping new probe. House Democrats unleash investigations into possible abuses of power in President Trump's world. The Judiciary Committee chairman seized documents from dozens of people tied to the president, his administration, campaign and business.

Could it lead to an impeachment push?

Talking to translators: three other committee chairmen demanded information on the president's private contact with Putin.

What could they learn from the U.S. interpreters who were at the one- on-one meetings between the leaders?

Trying to interfere: A new report says Trump asked his top adviser to get the Justice Department to block the merger between AT&T and CNN's then parent company, TimeWarner.

Was he out to get CNN?

And totally destroyed: tornadoes sliced through the Southeast. One of them had winds of 170 miles per hour. At least 23 people are dead in Alabama where there's a wide path of total destruction with homes and businesses leveled.

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


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news

BLITZER: Breaking news: congressional Democrats launched sweeping investigations into possible corruption, obstruction of justice or other abuses of power by the president and his administration.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler is seeking documents from 81 people, groups and agencies, ranging from the White House and the Justice Department to the Trump Organization and the campaign, the president's political and business associates, his sons and Russians.

Nadler says it is too early to discuss impeachment but any evidence gathered could form the basis of such proceedings.

Meantime, three other House committee chairmen have written to the White House and the State Department, demanding documents and interviews relating to the president's secretive communications with Vladimir Putin. I'll speak with David Cicilline of the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees and our correspondents and analysts will have full coverage of today's top stories.

Let's go straight to our Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim how is the president responding to all of this?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He isn't saying much but so far the president seems to be suggesting he will cooperate with this massive congressional investigation into just about everything in the world that's related to Donald Trump.

But the White House is already signaling otherwise, saying attorneys probably won't be complying with the request coming from the House Democrats in what is a huge investigation.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Surrounded by college football players at the White House, the president sounded ready for the blitz as House Democrats launched an expansive new investigation into allegations of corruption in nearly every corner of Trump world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President are you going to cooperate with Mr. Nadler?

TRUMP: I cooperate all the time with everybody.

You know the beautiful thing?

No collusion. It's all a hoax. You'll learn about that as you grow older. It's a political hoax. There's no collusion.


ACOSTA (voice-over): The House Judiciary Committee issued demands for documents from more than 80 relatives, aides and associates of the president, from his own family members to top White House officials to other close advisers, past and present.

Also targeted in the probe, organizations tied to the president as well as companies and others that may have aided Mr. Trump's campaign. The House Judiciary Committee chairman said it's too early to talk impeachment.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Impeachment is a long way down the road. We don't have the facts yes. But we are going to initiate proper investigations.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The White House signaled it won't be complying with the document demand, saying in a statement, "The fact Chairman Nadler would try to force the public disclosure of private conversations that he knows are protected by law proves he only wants to play politics."

Hugging the Stars and Stripes over the weekend, the president made it clear what he thinks of the special counsel's investigation and the possible Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.

TRUMP: You put the wrong people in a couple of positions and they leave people for a long time that shouldn't be there. And all of a sudden they are trying to take you out with bullshit, OK.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Using a Southern accent, the president also expressed his feelings for former attorney general Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from the probe.

TRUMP: As you know the attorney general said I'm going to recuse myself.

And I said, why the hell didn't he tell me that before I put him in?

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president even tried to rewrite history about his call on Russia to intervene in the election, insisting he was just joking in front of an audience.

TRUMP: If you --


TRUMP: -- tell a joke, if you're sarcastic, if you're having fun with the audience, if you say something like Russia, please, if you can, get us Hillary Clinton's emails, please, Russia, please.

Please get us the emails. Please.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But that's not true. Mr. Trump made the remark at a news conference in response to a question from CNN. He didn't sound like he was joking.


ACOSTA: Why not get tough on Putin and say, "Stay out."?

TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.


ACOSTA (voice-over): But there may be calls for other investigations into Trump's actions while in office. "The New Yorker" reports the president ordered former economic adviser Gary Cohn to block the merger between AT&T and TimeWarner, then the parent company of CNN. The president is quoted as saying, "I have been telling Cohn to get

this lawsuit filed and nothing's happened. I've mentioned it 50 times and nothing's happened. I want to make sure it is filed. I want that deal blocked."


ACOSTA: We should point out, at this hour, the White House has not responded to repeated questions from CNN about whether or not the president asked Gary Cohn to try to block that merger between AT&T and TimeWarner.

We are still waiting on a response from the White House. But some of the targets of the House Judiciary Committee's investigation into Trump world are just beginning to receive notification from the panel.

One of those targets told me earlier today one lesson he has taken from the 2016 election is that it would be wise to hire a lawyer before joining a presidential campaign or administration. Wolf, that is certainly the case with this administration.

BLITZER: Anyone, individuals and entities, they will all be looking for Washington lawyers over the next few weeks to respond to this request. Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

Let's go live to Capitol Hill. Our Congressional Correspondent, Phil Mattingly, is standing by.

Phil, this is truly a sweeping investigation.

What is the Democrat strategy right now?

Is this setting up an impeachment proceeding?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It is possible down the line but emphasize down the line. That's what you hear from a lot of senior Democratic lawmakers and aides.

This sprawling investigation, 81 individuals and entities asked for documents gives them some breathing room. They hear calls from the base to punch forward with impeachment right now but they're increasingly reluctant to do so without evidence.

When you look at this request from the Judiciary Committee, this is something that will take months. It will take weeks to get answers to those requests. That could lead to further discussions in terms of what actually happens next.

I'm told repeatedly from Democrats who are in the leadership positions is they want to take their time. They want this to be methodical. While they hear their cries for impeachment now, that is not their strategy. They want this to be an evidence-based process, that if they eventually go down that road, a road that is just about as much about politics and public relations, that they have a clear case to present a case that, at this point, they don't believe they have, Wolf. BLITZER: Is this just the first step?

What comes next?

MATTINGLY: Yes. There's no question about it. Not only is it just the first step we are told there may be more individuals and entities that receive in the coming days and weeks. Just the initial stage.

Then they have to have about two weeks before they find out if they get any of the documents returned. For those who don't return documents, we are already hearing administration officials and people inside the administration may not respond to those requests, then you're talking about subpoenas.

Then you're talking about possible hearings to kind of underscore the point is this will be a lengthy process. Democrats have made clear they're in it for the long haul. They planned for this to be a methodical process, one that isn't going to wrap up anytime soon.

BLITZER: The new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, the investigation's only just beginning. Phil Mattingly, thank you very much.

Let's bring in Evan Perez.

Evan, the White House says repeatedly said it wants the Russia probe to end. But this sprawling request makes it clear the administration will be facing investigations for many, many more months.

Which line of inquiry could cause the most concern for the president?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: The president's red line is anything to do with his business, with his family. Obviously the Trump Organization is dead center of what the Democrats are asking for.

Take a look at all of the names and the organizations, the entities that are involved here. We are talking about the Trump Organizations and affiliates, the campaign and affiliates, people from inside the administration, people connected to the Russia question as well as other questions, people who have no relationship to any of the other existing --


PEREZ: -- investigations.

One of the questions I have is, do the Democrats have the staff to carry this forward?

It seems like a lot they are biting off. I'm not sure they will be able to dig into all of this given the amount of time they have. But we'll see. Given that we have 81 requests that have gone out, they will get inundated with a lot of information. Then I guess they'll figure out what they want to focus on.

BLITZER: The committee wants this information over the next two weeks.

House Democrats are also asking the White House and State Department for any information about the president's communications with the Russian President Putin.

How significant is this?

PEREZ: It is a significant request. One of the questions is why is there no readout available to the rest of the government about what was discussed in some of these meetings, including the 2018 Helsinki summit and the conversations between the president and the Russian leader, Putin.

The question is, was the president trying to obscure from the rest of his government and the intelligence agencies and the State Department people who are the experts in our foreign relationships, especially a relationship with a hostile country like Russia, was the president trying to obscure some of that information?

And that's what the Democrats are after. I don't know how successful they will be in the end. Some of this is protected by the presidential privilege of having internal conversations without having the other branches dig in.

But I think you're going to see a fight from the White House before they give up some of this information.

BLITZER: All right, Evan. Thank you.

Joining us now Democratic Congressman David Cicilline. He is a member of both the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees.

Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.


The Republicans say this lengthy list, 81 individuals and entities, it is simply a fishing expedition. You're simply trying to score some political points.

What's your response?

CICILLINE: It couldn't be further from the truth. We have important oversight responsibility that includes investigative responsibility. So we are asking a number of witnesses, organizations and entities, to produce.

For this first request, we're asking them to produce what they have already produced for the special counsel or the Southern District of New York. It should be easy to comply. They can get those documents quickly. They cover a range of concerns with respect to corruption, abuse of power, obstruction of justice, all responsibilities of the Judiciary Committee.

We haven't done oversight for two years. So we are backed up. But this is the beginning of our oversight.

BLITZER: You heard what Evan said; you have the staff and the resources to deal with this enormous amount of information?

CICILLINE: We've recently engaged two very fine counsel, Norm Eisen and Barry Berke, as outside consultants to help us organize our oversight and investigative responsibilities. And if we need staff, I'm certain we'll get it.

BLITZER: How do you prioritize all these various aspects?

CICILLINE: I think that's what we are attempting to gather the evidence first before we make a determination. We've focused on three principle areas: corruption, abuse of power and obstruction of justice. Obviously these documents will inform how we move forward. But this is really the collection of evidence so we can do our work.

BLITZER: The other argument against you is you're basically duplicating what the Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team have been doing for nearly two years.

CICILLINE: No. No. First of all, the special counsel's investigation is quite limited. It has to do with any the Russian interference in our presidential election and any conspiracy between the Russians and the Trump campaign or individuals associated with the Trump campaign.

Our jurisdiction is much broader and also we'll be doing much of our work in public. This is also about bringing transparency so the American people can see what we are investigating and see what the administration has been doing so we can hold them accountable and American people can understand what we are doing.

BLITZER: Is all of this simply laying the grounds work for impeachment hearings in the House of Representatives?

CICILLINE: I think it's too early to say. Obviously there are a number of things that are of concern to members of the committee and I think if you look at these requests for documents, it gives you some sense of what we are focused on. But ultimately that decision will be based on the evidence that's produced, the facts as we find them, both the witnesses we hear from and the documents we collect.

BLITZER: In addition to the 81 names of entities and individuals released today, do you expect more?

CICILLINE: Yes. In short order, there will be additional names and additional documents that are made.

BLITZER: Give us a preview of what those names are.

CICILLINE: There may be additional names we learned since the first documents were prepared. Obviously as we do the investigation and conduct reviews, these documents and interview witnesses, we may add to this list as well. BLITZER: Sean Hannity, let's talk a little bit about what he said after Michael Cohen's testimony before the House Oversight Committee last week. Hannity, the FOX News host, claimed that Michael Cohen, the president's former lawyer, told him, in his words "a dozen times" that the illegal --


BLITZER: -- hush money payments that were made that was his idea, not the president's idea and you responded on Twitter by saying this.

"Sean Hannity is now volunteering himself as a witness. I look forward to his testimony."

So he isn't on this list of 81 individual and entities that you released today.

Are you serious about calling him?

CICILLINE: No, my point was Sean Hannity was putting him in the position of being a witness. If he has information to share, he ought to do it before Congress under oath. I think we know that is not true because we have a tape recording of the president discussing those hush payments.

BLITZER: So you're not serious about calling him?

CICILLINE: No. My point was, if he has things to say, he should say it under oath before Congress rather than as a commentator on FOX News, trying to defend the president.

BLITZER: The president suggested today -- you heard the remarks he had at that photo op -- he is ready to cooperate.

Are you confident the White House will honor this request?

CICILLINE: I certainly hope he does. The president always said he wants to get these investigations done quickly. If he cooperates and directs members of his staff to provide these documents, it will facilitate our work.

But we are going to get these documents one way or another.

BLITZER: Does that mean, if necessary, you'll subpoena for these documents?

CICILLINE: Absolutely. We have a responsibility to find the truth, to collect evidence. We have a responsibility to do that for the American people. They deserve to know the truth and we will use all of the tools at our disposal to make sure.

BLITZER: What if the White House claims executive privilege?

CICILLINE: Except that it's not properly invoked; we will contest it in court and hopefully prevail. But this will not be the first time there's been a fight about the exercise of executive privilege. A lot of this will be difficult to claim executive privilege. We're going to try to get it as quickly as we can. This is a big document request. But a lot of this has already been done. There's a lot of work here. So we want to move quickly but we also want to be thorough and careful and judicious in our work.

BLITZER: Take a look at this. This is NBC News/"The Wall Street Journal" poll that just came out.

The president's approval rating now has gone up to 46 percent. I checked in the same NBC News/"The Wall Street Journal" poll last April it, was only 39 percent. It has gone up to 46 percent even in the face of all of your criticism, in the fact of the Democrats, taking the majority in the House, launching all of these new investigations.

How do you explain the increase in approval for the president according to the NBC News/"The Wall Street Journal" poll?

CICILLINE: The Democrats just took control of the House. In just a short period of time, we'll pass H.R. 1, incredible reform of our democracy, working for the people again. We've begun hearings on reducing the cost of prescription drugs. We're very focused on a bold infrastructure.

So we are just beginning our work. I think it is very important to continue to focus on the commitments we made to drive down health care costs, to rebuild America and rebuild the infrastructure for our country, raise family wages and to take on the --

BLITZER: Are you at all concerned that all of this focus on these investigations may in fact, from your perspective, work to increase the president's approval?

CICILLINE: I think we have the responsibility to do this work, whether it has political ramifications or not. We have a constitutional duty to do oversight, to find the truth in these investigations. At the same time, we remain very focused on the issues that matter in people's lives, raising family incomes, driving down the cost of health care, all the things we promised to do in the campaign. We can do both and we have to do both.

BLITZER: Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island, thanks for coming in.

CICILLINE: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: We'll have you back soon.

Up next, more breaking news: Democrats launched an all-out push to investigate possible abuses of power by the president and others in his administration, campaign, business and beyond.

A new report says the president asked a top aide to get the Justice Department to block the merger between AT&T and TimeWarner, which was CNN's parent company.

Does this apparent political targeting amount to obstruction? We'll be right back.





BLITZER: Trump is railing against what he calls investigations in search of a crime after the Democrat-controlled House Judiciary Committee requested documents from 81 people and entities in a wide- ranging investigation of the president. Let's ask our experts and analysts what's ahead.

Chris Cillizza, you think this is simply a framework for potential House of Representatives impeachment proceedings?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Sure. That doesn't mean it is likely or that, on day one, that's the conclusion that's going to be drawn. But there's a reason it is going through the Judiciary Committee, that Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the committee announced it, and that it is as widespread as it is; 81 people and entities.

Virtually every person you have ever heard of connected to Donald Trump, family -- I was hoping we would show that because that speaks to how wide-ranging we are talking about, across inauguration, campaign, transition to president, administration and business.

So I think what you're seeing here -- and Jerry Nadler has said almost this -- is they are trying to lay the predicate here. They are trying to make the case. It's an understanding that impeachment is a political endeavor that requires the public opinion to be behind it, usually, for it to be successful, to remind people, the last time we saw this, the public did not want -- if you believe polling -- did not want Bill Clinton impeached.

Republicans impeached him anyway. Obviously it failed in the Senate and they paid the price at the ballot box. So I think Democrats are mindful of building the case and seeing what comes.

BLITZER: The minimums, Sabrina, the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives is going to keep these investigations going for months and months, if not years throughout the Trump presidency.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE GUARDIAN": There is no question that there are a litany of investigations --


SIDDIQUI: -- that Democrats in Congress plan to pursue involving this president, his campaign and the transition, as well as his administration. And the way Democrats frame this is not just potentially laying the predicate for impeachment proceedings but also restoring oversight to Congress, which they say was fundamentally lacking in the first two years of the Trump presidency because Republicans in Congress were largely reluctant to take on the president in any meaningful way.

Now I don't think that all of these investigations are going to be equal in scope. I think that the focus will largely be on ties between the president and his inner circle and Russia as well as the hush money payments and potential obstruction of justice by the president.

Now that also stems from allegations Michael Cohen made in his testimony last week, which gave them a lot of avenues to pursue. It is also important to remember that this isn't just something that Democrats are producing out of thin air. A lot of the substance of these allegations are backed up by the investigations being overseen by both the special counsel and the Southern District of New York.

BLITZER: The White House reacted, issuing a statement, accusing Nadler of trying to disclose private conversations that are, quote, "protected by law," referring to executive privilege.

How solid is that in resisting these requests?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think they will run into a brick wall on some of these. Any communications between executive branch officials, where the president is essentially seeking advice on something, I think they can arguably claim privilege. And a lot of these requests touch on these issues: the firing of James Comey, the firing of Jeff Sessions.

What happened with Michael Flynn?

These are all topics that Mueller was interested in. When the special counsel wanted to have a dialogue about these issues, they, too, ran up against executive privilege and ended up submitting a very narrow set of questions about pre-inauguration events because of this very issue.

Now it will be up to Nadler whether he wants to press this. But I predict we'll have a court fight over this and it will be up to them to subpoena the records and then the White House will have to resist it and eventually a court will have to make the ultimate decision about it.

BLITZER: Phil, 81 individuals and entities. It will be an enormous amount of work, assuming they comply and release all this information.

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: It is. You know, what we have heard talked about today is just the tip of the iceberg. They are talking about interviewing these individuals. Mueller has been at his investigation, which is relatively narrow compared to what the Congress wants to do, for two years.

Let's talk about the 81 interviews. You start to find stuff that's interesting. I presume if you're interested in money corruption, then you have got to go back and subpoena the financial records. If you're interested in how they communicate among themselves, you

think there's a conspiracy, I wouldn't trust them when they come to speak. I want to see their communications records.

That is millions of records potentially, not just over two or three years but going back obviously many years, to when the Trump business was involved in things like selling condos in New York City.

So if you think this is interviews with 81 people or entities that will last a few months, I look to say, think again. This is at least mid-2020. That gives me a signal about what's happening here. In mid-2020, I'm not that political but I think we are in a political campaign.

BLITZER: This is only one of several new investigations that are about to begin. Hold your thought for a moment. We'll have much more right after this.


[17:33:11] BLITZER: We're back with our experts and analysts as we follow the breaking news, House Democrats launching a wide ranging probe of corruption and abuse of power involving President Trump. Let's talk a little bit about this.

Chris, so the President gave, what, a two-hour plus speech on Saturday before the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC, as it's called. And it didn't exactly go on script. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I said, "What the hell. Let's run of president." You know, I'm totally off script right now. New Green Deal over or whatever the hell they call it. All of a sudden they are trying to take you out with bullshit, okay, with bullshit. The Attorney General says I'm going to recuse myself. What do [INAUDIBLE]? And I said, "Why the hell didn't he tell me that before I put him in?" He still hasn't gotten over getting his ass kicked, okay? And we kicked their ass.


BLITZER: What do you think?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: It's nothing. It's nothing that we shouldn't have expected. This is the reddest of red meat crowds. Donald Trump plays to the crowd, I mean, the fact that he spoke for two hours. I went through the transcript today. And about a third of the way through, he says, "All right, let's wrap this up." And then he goes out for another 70 plus minutes.

There is part of that that is very appealing to the electorate or at least a part of the electorate, which is genuineness, authenticity. I heard so many times Donald Trump can't be lying because no one would lie and, say, talk the way he talks. That whole shtick has appeal to it. Now, does it have enough appeal when you have four years of record as president? He and his people argue with us. But it is a remarkable thing that the President of the United States just returning from a summit about nuclear weapons in Vietnam with North Korea after a week in which his one-time fixer, one of the closest people to him turned against him and said he was a cheater, a liar and a conman, that he would devote two hours to a speech like this, which I would urge people if they haven't read it, you should at least read some of it.


And it opens with an iconic Trump moment, the walking out and bear hugging was of the American flag, which is a sign of sort of was a precursor to everything that came after it.

BLITZER: I suspect with his reelection campaign only beginning to gear up, Sabrina. We're going to be seeing a lot more of this. There he is hugging the American flag. I suspect we're going to be seeing a lot more a lot more, this off the cuff, unscripted kind of speeches which clearly helped him get the republican nomination in the first place and win the election.

SIDDIQUI: Well, there's no question, you just saw a preview of what Trump 2020 will look like. But this is, to be fair, a president who never stopped campaigning. It's not new for this President to go off script and to try and appeal to the reddest of red audiences. He has held rallies across the country since taking office, where he has similarly gone on these tirades against not just democrats but also members of his own party, against a lot of the institutions that he oversees as president.

And I think a lot of this really centers on those republican voters who are still very much behind him, the support that he has within the Republican Party still hovers around 89 percent. But as he does look ahead at his reelection campaign, the question is, is that kind of speech going to be appealing to those independent-minded voters who broke from democrats in 2016 and gave their votes to this president, and what impact will it have on those suburban voters who swung back for democrats in the midterms precisely because now that they have seen that what you see is what you get. They're having second thoughts about this president.

BLITZER: Let me get your thoughts, Laura. You're a Justice Department reporter on this. A really bombshell report in the New Yorker, Jane Mayer is the writer, saying that back in 2017, President Trump ordered his Chief Economic Advisor at that time, Gary Cohn, to pressure the Justice Department in trying to block the merger of AT&T and CNN's then parent company, Time Warner. I'll read and excerpt from Jane's article.

According to a well informed source, Trump called Cohen into the Oval Office along with John Kelly, who had just become the Chief of Staff, and said in exasperation to Kelly, "I've been telling Cohn to get this lawsuit filed and nothing has happened. I have mentioned it 50 times and nothing has happened. I want to make sure it's filed. I want that deal blocked. Now, we know the President hates CNN for whatever reason. He doesn't like CNN. But that's not the way the President is supposed to behave with a Justice Department investigation.

JARRETT: Well, no, not in normal times. But we had seen the President come out publicly. So it wasn't a secret he was against the deal. He had expressed his opposition to it. But this takes it obviously a big step further, actually pressuring Cohn and Kelly to get the lawsuit filed. And it's interesting.

There is a blind quote in there from one White House official saying, "This is just how the President talks. He is grousing, he is venting frustration. Obviously, Cohn didn't take it as just venting frustration. It made it very clear to Kelly, under no circumstances should you instruct that the Justice Department to do that. And we haven't seen any indication that that actually happened.

And the Justice Department has been adamant, in fact, in court saying that there was no pressure. They managed to keep a lot of that evidence out of the actual case that AT&T eventually won about the merger.

But, again, this is part of a larger picture of House Democrats, I think, who are going to be pressing on abuses of power. And there are going to be more areas just like this.

BLITZER: Yes. And there is material to investigate. All right, guys, just stick around, there is more breaking news we're following. We'll also get an update from the disaster area in Central Alabama where a nearly mile-wide tornado killed at least 23 people.


[17:43:35] BLITZER: This afternoon, Alabama authorities began notifying their relatives of 23 people killed by a devastating tornado. At least three of the dead are children. The nearly mile- wide stayed on the ground for at least 24 miles. CNN's Victor Blackwell is in the disaster zone. He is joining us now.

Victor, what are you seeing?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are seeing the evidence and the damage up close and hearing the personal stories about what is now the deadliest day for the State of Alabama in connection to tornados since 2011. You said 23 dead, three of them children, the ages of those children just six, nine and ten years old.

Also dozens of people admitted to hospitals across this part of Alabama. We know that only, by CNN's count, ten of them are still in hospitals, including a man who lived on this property. We also know that the coroner here is still working to identify some of those 23 killed.


BILL HARRIS, CORONER, LEE COUNTY, Alabama: Unfortunately, our death toll is at 23. As speak, we are wrapping up the identification of those 23 with exception of six that could not be physically identified by sight, marks or tattoos. And our next step is to fingerprint those and see if we can get them identified. We believe we know who those individuals are. We've talked with the families. And as of 12:00 noon today, I had none that had been reported to me as missing, still missing. We think we have everybody.



BLACKWELL: Wolf, the National Weather Service says this tornado was an EF4, meaning winds at 170 miles per hour. Wolf?

BLITZER: Terrible situation indeed. All right, Victor, thanks very much.

Coming up, a closer look at President Trump's failed summit with Kim Jong-un. Why couldn't the two leaders make a deal? We're getting new details.


[17:50:03] BLITZER: President Trump is offering new explanations on why his talks with Kim Jong-un fell apart, leading him to make an early exit. Brian Todd has been looking into this for us.

Brian, do the President's reasons right now add up?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, at least one of the President's claims does seem to add up. Mr. Trump indicated that the presence of a secret North Korean nuclear site was a major sticking point, and he says Kim Jong-un's side was surprised that the Americans knew about it.


TODD (voice-over): For a president who prides himself on the art of the deal, this was yet another agreement he couldn't close.


TODD (voice-over): But, tonight, analysts say President Trump may have walked away from North Korea's Kim Jong-un instead of reaching a wide-ranging pact because of a closely held North Korean secret the U.S. knew.

TRUMP: There are other things that you haven't talked about, that you haven't written about that we found.

DAVID SANGER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Including the second uranium enrichment plant?

TRUMP: Exactly. And we brought many, many points up that, I think, they were surprised that we knew. TODD (voice-over): Sources say, during the talks, Kim made the bold

offer to dismantle the main site of his nuclear program called Yongbyon in exchange for sanctions relief, but Trump apparently wanted more.

Experts say North Korea has at least one secret nuclear plant that the Kim regime has never acknowledged but that Trump reportedly said must be shut down. This complex called Kangsong just outside Pyongyang could be the place President Trump was referring to based on its layout, its heat signature, and its security.

Former U.N. weapons inspector David Albright and researchers at the Middlebury Institute believe that, at Kangsong, Kim's regime is still producing crucial material for nuclear bombs.

DAVID ALBRIGHT, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, INSTITUTE FOR SCIENCE AND INTERNATIONAL SECURITY: At Kangsong, they're using gas centrifuges. And this is the rotor assembly, the spinning part inside. And they're producing weapon-grade uranium for nuclear weapons. And the sight may have up to 6,000 or more of these centrifuges.

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, there is debate in and outside the government about whether it was a good idea for President Trump to walk away and reject North Korea's offer to dismantle its big nuclear production site at Yongbyon, even if Kim Jong-un wouldn't acknowledge other sites.

ROBERT EINHORN, FORMER SPECIAL ADVISOR FOR NONPROLIFERATION AND ARMS CONTROL, DEPARTMENT OF STATE: It is an initial step. Shutting down Yongbyon would be good, but it would have to be followed fairly quickly with a measure that would shut down the production of nuclear fuel nationwide.

TODD (voice-over): But even as experts blame the standoff over nuclear sites as the reason for the summit's collapse, Trump seems to be suggesting another cause, tweeting that his former lawyer Michael Cohen's devastating testimony the same day, quote, may have contributed to what Trump calls having to, quote, walk.

There's also continuing fallout tonight from Trump's comment in Hanoi that he took him at his word, that Kim didn't know about the deteriorating condition of American student Otto Warmbier who died shortly after being released from North Korean custody.

National security advisor John Bolton was pressed about that by CNN's Jake Tapper.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Do you take Kim Jong-un at his word?

JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The President takes him at his word. That's what --

TAPPER: No, I know he does, but what about you?

BOLTON: My opinion doesn't matter.

TODD (voice-over): Over the weekend, the President defended his remarks.

TRUMP: And I'm in such a horrible position because, in one way, I have to negotiate; in the other way, I love Mr. And Mrs. Warmbier and I love Otto. And it's a very, very delicate balance.

TODD (voice-over): Analysts say maybe the President should have completely avoided bringing up the Warmbier case with Kim.

DEAN CHENG, SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW, THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: I don't think, on the one hand, that the President can seriously point a finger and say, you are responsible for the death of an American citizen. Especially in the course of negotiations. I'm not sure what that gets you.

On the other hand, saying something like "I don't think he knew" in a situation like North Korea is not helpful.


TODD: Now, all of this comes as the U.S. and South Korea have announced that they're no longer going to hold those large-scale joint military exercises that the North Koreans have been so bothered by for so many years. Those militaries have said they're going to scale back those exercises and hold much smaller drills, in some cases even virtual exercises.

President Trump said today he didn't discuss that with Kim Jong-un in Hanoi. He made the decision long ago, he says, because the exercises are so expensive -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, Brian, will scaling down those military exercises hurt the United States and South Korea as far as dealing with the potential North Korean threat?

TODD: Wolf, military officials from both countries say it will not hurt that effort. They say they can achieve the same kind of readiness for an attack that they had before. But analysts say both sides are going to be ready to ramp up those exercises again if these negotiations with North Korea break down completely.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you. Brian Todd reporting.

Coming up, breaking news. House Democrats launch sweeping probes into possible abuses of power in President Trump's world. They seek documents from dozens of people tied to the President, his administration, his campaign, and his business.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Demanding documents. House Democrats launch a sweeping investigation of President Trump, seeking information from dozens of people in his orbit including his sons, his son-in-law, and many familiar faces from the Russia probe. Do they have evidence of high crimes and misdemeanor?

Conversations with Putin. Democrats also want details about the President's communications with Russia's leader, pushing for interviews with Mr. Trump's translators. Will the substance of secretive chats be revealed?

[17:59:55] Blocking the deal. A new report says the President personally tried to enlist a top White House aide to help stop AT&T from buying Time Warner.