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Interview With Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D) Connecticut; Beto O'Rourke Running for President; Senate Votes to Block Trump's Emergency Declaration; New Details on Drone Attack Aimed at Venezuelan President. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 14, 2019 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[18:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking News: forcing a veto. The Senate issues a bipartisan rejection of President Trump's national emergency declaration, with a dozen Republicans breaking ranks to rebuke the president, who is vowing a veto.

Backing Bob Mueller. The House passes a resolution calling for the special counsel's final report on his Russia investigation to be made public. But despite overwhelmingly bipartisan support, the measure gets blocked in the Senate.

Summer's time. An appeals court rules that a defamation lawsuit against President Trump by former apprentice contestant Summer Zervos can move forward. Could the president be forced to testify about her allegations of sexual assault?

And Beto luck this time? Beto O'Rourke joins the increasingly crowded field of Democrats looking to take on Donald Trump with a 2020 bid for the White House. Can the former congressman capitalize on his strong showing in his Senate race to pull ahead of the pack?

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: The breaking news tonight, President Trump poised to issue the first veto of his presidency, following a humiliating -- a humiliating defection by 12 Senate Republicans.

They voted with Democrats to pass a resolution blocking the president's declaration of a national emergency to pay for a border wall.

I will talk about the breaking news and more with Senator Richard Blumenthal of the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees. And our correspondents, analysts and specialists, they are also standing by.

First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, a major rebuke of the president by a dozen members of his own party. JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It sure was, Wolf.

The president appears poised to use his veto pen for the first time after a sizable group, a big chunk of Republican senators voted to break ranks and support a resolution to block Mr. Trump's plan to divert taxpayer funds to build a border wall.

Now the president is making it clear he will veto that measure. We're getting some new information as to when that might take place. Still, for a president who has successfully kept his party in line, this was a surprising defection.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): It was the latest sign of cracks in the president's wall.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The joint resolution is passed.

ACOSTA: After a dozen GOP senators joined forces with Democrats to block Mr. Trump's national emergency declaration to redirect already appropriated money for his border barrier.

The president is gearing up for his first veto, tweeting, as only he can, in all caps, "VETO." Mr. Trump sounded as if he were warming up the veto pen earlier in the day.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will probably have to veto. And it's not going to be overturned and we're going to have our whole thing. It's very important. It's really a border security vote. It's pure and simple. It's a vote for border security. It's a vote for no crime.

ACOSTA: Even though there aren't enough votes to override a veto, top White House officials have been lobbying wayward Republicans for days, with the president tweeting: "A big national emergency vote today by the United States Senate on border security and the wall. The southern border is a national security and humanitarian nightmare. But it can be easily fixed."

Aides to the president dramatized their case by posting this sinister- looking and sounding video of migrant crossings on the official White House Twitter account. But it wasn't enough for Republican senators like Mitt Romney, who insisted the president was trying to pull a fast one by going around Congress to get what he wants.

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R), UTAH: Well, he'd rather had me vote in a different direction, but I let him know that this for me is a matter of defending the Constitution and the balance of powers that is core to our Constitution. And I believe he respects that.

ACOSTA: Trump ally Lindsey Graham led a small group of GOP senators to the White House, barging in on a Trump family dinner Wednesday night in a failed attempt to broker a compromise. SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I said, I don't expect you to give up any power as president this that you think is necessary. But if you could find a way to sit down and bridge the gap here, prospectively, it'd be in everybody's interest.

ACOSTA: Democrats adjusted Republicans are worried about defying the president, out of fear of retaliation.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: He has been vindictive, contemptuous, calling out people who oppose him. So it's not an easy vote.

BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Day one.

ACOSTA: The president has a new Democratic foe on the border issue, with former El Paso Congressman Beto O'Rourke announcing his run for the White House, with Mr. Trump already seizing on a personal criticism of the Democratic contender.

TRUMP: Well, I think he's got a lot of hand movement. I have never seen so much hand movement. I said, is he crazy, or is that just the way he acts? So I have never seen hand movement. I watched him a little while this morning doing -- I assume it was some kind of a news conference. And I have actually never seen anything quite like it. Study it. I'm sure you will agree.

ACOSTA: That's despite the president's long history of using exaggerated hand gestures of his own.

[18:05:01]

TRUMP: We're talking about the southern border.

ACOSTA: Mr. Trump declined to tip his hand on who would be the stronger candidate, O'Rourke or Vice President Joe Biden.

TRUMP: So I think it's going to be tough for somebody. But you know what? Whoever it is, it makes no difference to me whatsoever.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Getting back to this fight over the wall, administration official said plans are under way for President Trump to publicly veto the resolution rejecting his national emergency declaration.

The official said aides are already hashing out a plan for president to use his veto friend in front of the cameras as soon as tomorrow. According to this official, it would be surprising if the president did not veto this measure at some kind of public event.

So, Wolf, this could happen in front of the cameras tomorrow, the president using that veto pen for the first time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we will watch it closely. Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.

Let's get some more on the breaking news right now.

Our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, is up on Capitol Hill for us.

Phil, the president has been unequivocal on this, saying he will veto the resolution. You just heard Jim Acosta say it could come as early as tomorrow. There's a push, though, in the House of Representatives to already try to override a presidential veto. What's the latest?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf.

The president wasted pretty much no time tweeting shortly after the vote that he lost that he would veto that resolution that is heading to the White House right now. And Democrats are wasting no time making sure they're going to return serve.

The first day they are back in Washington, March 26, a Democratic aide tells me they will hold the vote to override the veto. Now, Wolf, it's worth noting, Democrats fell about 40 to 45 votes short of the two-thirds of the House needed to actually override that vote veto. So they have a lot of work to do.

And people I'm talking to on both sides of the aisle say it is very likely the president's veto will be sustained. But Democrats are seizing on the 12 Republicans who split from the president today, split from the party today, and hoping to be able to use that as some momentum to flip Republicans in the House as well.

Even if that doesn't happen, I'm told this issue isn't going away anytime soon. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer noted earlier today that every six months, you can have another vote on a resolution of disapproval, a resolution to terminate this national emergency.

And Senate Democrats have made clear they will do exactly that, whether or not the override happens or not -- Wolf.

BLITZER: This was a very significant rebuke of the president, Phil, from members of his own party. Tell us why these Republicans chose to break from Mr. Trump.

MATTINGLY: Wolf, not everybody had the same reasons.

But when you think of the numbers, 12, which we were told probably between seven and 15 were legitimately considering voting against the president on this. The fact that they actually got as high as 12, I think, was still pretty surprising everybody.

There were really two threads there. There were concerns about executive overreach, which we have heard repeatedly over the last couple of weeks. There have been several closed-door meetings of just GOP senators where there's been contentious debate over the direction the president decided to go here.

And there's also a lack of information, at least according to these senators, from the administration about the actual plans. The combination of those two things really led a lot of senators to the point they ended up.

And it's worth noting this wasn't the only vote Senate Republicans broke with the president on this week. Seven Republicans yesterday broke against the president's veto threat on a resolution to end U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

Put those two things together, and the threads are pretty similar, concerns about executive overreach and lack of information from the White House to the senators having to make the decision.

Now, there's a lot of question about whether or not this is going to be something that we continue to see going forward, or if this is a one-off. Republican leaders think it's a one-off. But the reality remains. Senate Republicans who for years -- for at least the last two years -- have almost refused to break with the president on anything, have now decided to do it twice in the same week.

And one of those votes was on the signature campaign issue of the president, the animating feature of this president's administration, and really the most decisive action the president has taken over the last couple of months. And yet still 12 Republican senators were willing to vote against him on it, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very significant development.

All right, Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill, thank you.

We're also following new developments in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

Our political correspondent, Sara Murray, is joining us.

Sara, Roger Stone, he was back in court today, and we learned a few things in the process. Update us.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

Ahead of today's hearing, Roger Stone's attorneys were actually worried that the judge was going to throw him behind bars for violating her gag order. But she did not do that today. He is still out on bail and preparing for a trial coming this fall.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY (voice-over): Wearing his now signature round sunglasses and a gray suit, Roger Stone, a friend and former adviser to President Trump, found out when he's going to try.

Federal Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who sentenced Stone's former lobbying partner Paul Manafort to prison just yesterday, set a November 5 trial date for Stone, who's accused of lying about his attempts to secretly contact WikiLeaks in the lead-up to the 2016 election.

The judge also said she's still reviewing whether Stone violated his gag order, after he recently released a book slamming the special counsel's investigation. In the courtroom today, a prominent member of the special counsel's team who will soon be departing, prosecutor Andrew Weissmann.

Weissmann is expected to leave the Department of Justice soon to take a teaching job at New York University, a source tells CNN. Weissmann served as the lead prosecutor for the Virginia trial against Manafort, where Manafort was convicted of eight felonies and ultimately sentenced to nearly four years in prison.

[18:10:14]

His departure is the latest sign that Robert Mueller appears to be wrapping up his investigation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, Wolf, tomorrow, we could get another indication for just how close Mueller is to bringing this thing to a close.

That's a status update on Rick Gates. Remember, he was Paul Manafort's deputy. He's been cooperating with investigators, and we're going to hear tomorrow from his team and prosecutors about whether everyone is ready to set a sentencing date for Rick Gates, or whether he is still cooperating.

And, Wolf, if he's still working with them, that would, of course, be significant, because we know Paul Manafort has already been sentenced in both D.C. and Virginia, so there's nothing more on that case. So we will see tomorrow night, midnight deadline, Wolf.

BLITZER: We will watch it closely together with you, Sara. Thank you, Sara Murray reporting.

Let's get some more on all of this.

Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut is joining us. He's a member the Judiciary and Armed Services Committee.

So, Senator, thanks for coming in.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Thank you.

BLITZER: What message are these 12 Republican colleagues of yours in the U.S. Senate sending to President Trump with this vote against his national emergency declaration?

BLUMENTHAL: There are two ways to view it.

Number, one the president has certainly lost some of his sway. He made this vote intensely personal. It was about him. And he pushed, pulled, bullied in every way he could.

And the second, more hopeful note that I think is important is, Republicans are beginning to stand up and speak out. As Phil Mattingly said, this stunning rebuke comes a day after the vote on aid by this country to the Saudis in their absolutely vicious and inhumane bombing and famine campaign in Saudi Arabia.

We have no business being complicit. And the Republicans stood up to him.

BLITZER: The president tweeted today: "A vote for today's resolution by Republican senators is a vote for Nancy Pelosi, crime and the open border Democrats."

Yet 12 Republicans decided to vote against him. Clearly, though, you don't have 67 votes in the Senate. There's not a two-thirds majority in the House to override his presidential veto that could come as early as tomorrow.

BLUMENTHAL: Not today, for sure.

But all of us are going back to our states for a break. We're going to be hearing a lot from our constituents, who intensely dislike this wall. The numbers are off the charts. And we're going to be hearing from our constituents about the need for individual senators to show some grit and backbone against this imperial presidency, executive overreach.

And they want checks and balances. In a theoretical sense, as a lawyer, I can argue the constitutional point. But people understand in their gut that this president is usurping the power of Congress, the power of the purse, which is at the core of our Constitution.

BLITZER: Earlier in the day, he also tweeted that, maybe down the road, he would be willing to support congressional legislation to update the current national emergency law on emergency declarations. Do you believe him?

BLUMENTHAL: I think there may be a workable solution, a compromise among us in Congress.

I have trouble believing that the president's going to surrender any of his autocratic view of the presidency..

BLITZER: The president suffered another sort of rebuke today in the House of Representatives; 420 members, zero against, 420 voted in favor of a resolution calling for the new attorney general, once he gets Robert Mueller's report, to make it available to Congress and to the American public.

This is the Mueller investigation that the president calls a witch- hunt and a hoax. But almost everybody in the House, Republicans and Democrats, voted to try to make it public.

What's your reaction?

BLUMENTHAL: My reaction is that, again, my colleagues are hearing from their constituency, who overwhelmingly support transparency.

I have a measure. It's a bill, not a resolution, in the United States Senate, which is supported on a bipartisan basis -- Senator Grassley and Senator Kennedy have both supported it -- that would require public disclosure, which the American people need and deserve. They paid for this report. They deserve to see all the findings and evidence.

And I think the House vote reflects that the public's right to know is a core issue here. And anybody who votes against it is actually complicit in a potential cover-up.

BLITZER: Well, in the House, nobody voted against it; 420 members voted in favor of it.

But it was immediately blocked in the Senate. Lindsey Graham said there's got to be other attachments. As a result, it's not even coming up for a vote in the Senate.

BLUMENTHAL: I think we can speak to each other in the United States Senate. There may be a basis for us to work together, because the principle of transparency is one that I think is bipartisan.

[18:15:00]

And let's face it. The present attorney general has said that he at least now adheres to the Department of Justice policy that the president cannot be indicted.

If there's no indictment, and there is no report made available, there is, in effect a cover-up. And my colleagues will be judged harshly by history if they are complicit in it.

BLITZER: What does it tell you that a key prosecutor on the Robert Mueller Russia probe team, Andrew Weissmann, is now leaving the special counsel's office?

BLUMENTHAL: It tells me there are more tea leaves that the investigation is coming to a close.

But, remember, on the other side of the ledger, Roger Stone still has a trial in November.

BLITZER: November 5.

BLUMENTHAL: The grand jury is ongoing. It was extended. There's still evidence from Roger Stone's home that has to be examined and analyzed.

There is still ongoing coordination between the special counsel and other investigations, like the Southern District of New York and New York state authorities.

So I think we will be guessing. Only really Mueller knows when it will come to a close. And one day, we will be right in guessing that it's that day.

BLITZER: If there's a trial November 5 involving Roger Stone, doesn't that suggest that the special counsel's office has to keep on working?

Now, potentially, he could change his mind and plead guilty and avoid a trial, hope to get some sort of reduced sentence. That doesn't look like it's going to happen anytime soon.

BLUMENTHAL: No indication that he is going to plead.

The likelihood is, there will be a trial. And your point is very well taken. That trial is likely to be revelatory. Trials always are. There's always evidence that is introduced that is unanticipated by the prosecutors and by the defendants.

And I would expect that the Roger Stone trial will be that way.

BLITZER: On an unrelated matter, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled today that the families of the Sandy Hook victims, they could go ahead and sue the manufacturer of the gun.

What's your reaction to that?

BLUMENTHAL: Profoundly important legal moment. It's a wow moment in American legal history, because, for the first time, gun manufacturers will have to defend themselves in court.

The victims and survivors from Sandy Hook will have their day in court to hold accountable those gun manufacturers for their marketing practices, as well as potentially other illegalities.

As you know, Wolf, until now, the gun manufacturers have enjoyed absolute, complete immunity, unlike almost every other industry. And I have a bill in the Congress that will extend that protection now going to Connecticut citizens to all Americans, so that it would repeal this absolute immunity.

BLITZER: I know you have worked closely with all those families. And let's see what happens on the legal front right now. As you point out, potentially, a very, very significant legal development.

Senator Blumenthal, thanks for coming in.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: All right. There's more breaking news we're following.

With more than a dozen -- with more than a dozen Republican senators defecting, voting to rebuke President Trump's national emergency declaration, we're getting new reactions.

Stay with us. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:22:55]

BLITZER: Key developments tonight in the special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

Let's talk about them with former U.S. attorney our CNN senior legal analyst Preet Bharara.

Preet, thanks for coming in.

PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Sure.

BLITZER: As you heard, one of Mueller's key prosecutors, Andrew Weissmann, he's leaving the special counsel's office, but the Roger Stone trial won't even begin until November.

So what does that tell you about where the investigation now stands?

BHARARA: Well, it's unclear.

I have been one of the people who has been saying that I'm not certain that the reports about the imminent filing of the report by Robert Mueller with the attorney general was happening, given that there's a lot of work to be done. As you point out, the Roger Stone trial is still months away.

That constitutes real work. On the other hand, Andrew Weissmann has been really the second most powerful person in the special counsel's office overseeing a lot of different things, having his hand in a lot of different things, and also speaking in court from time to time.

And it would seem odd that someone like Andrew would leave before they're sort of pretty close to wrapping up what they think is the investigative portion of their work.

I should add, as a caution, there are times -- and it happened in my office also -- when someone who's centrally important as a supervisor to an ongoing litigation or criminal investigation, for various reasons, decides to leave, personal or otherwise. That happens. I know that's happening in some other places as we speak right now.

But still, overall, I think it indicates that a large portion of the sort of more complicated investigative aspect of the work, I'm prepared to believe, is drawing to a close.

BLITZER: The first indictments we saw from the Mueller team, they were of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, his deputy. And now we have seen Judge Ellis in Virginia, Judge Jackson here in Washington sentence Manafort to a total of seven-and-a-half years in prison.

How does that reflect on the Mueller investigation and on Manafort's crimes?

BHARARA: Well, it reflects on the Mueller investigation as follows.

They have found serious wrongdoing on the part of lots of people. And so the slogan that it's a witch-hunt and the slogan that they're not finding anything is clearly untrue. And you have somebody who's now been sentenced in a way that I, among other people, think was below what was appropriate in the case.

[18:25:05]

Seven-and-a-half years overall is a bit low, given what the guidelines were, given the seriousness of the crime, given the duration of the period of time for the crime, given how privileged Paul Manafort was and how much he should have known better.

But, that said, it's still a very significant sense. I was reading recently that it's the most significant sense almost by a serious margin, save for one, in connection with any special counsel investigation going back or independent counsel investigation going back a number of years.

So it shows that the ambit of the investigation has been broad, but it also shows that they're finding serious criminal activity, even if it doesn't relate directly to interference in the election. When you come across those kinds of crimes when you're looking at something else, those count. And those are serious.

And it means they have been doing a real job.

BLITZER: Tomorrow, we will get an update, a status report on Rick Gates' cooperation.

The Southern District of New York -- and that's where you served as the top U.S. attorney -- has requested e-mails, first reported by CNN, between Michael Cohen, the president's former lawyer, and the attorney Robert Costello.

Costello told Cohen that he had spoken to the president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani about some sort of back channel and that Cohen could -- quote -- "sleep well tonight" because he had -- quote -- "friends in high places."

How do you interpret that?

BHARARA: Well, it's hard to know, without knowing what the other evidence is.

It's a little peculiar to me. You have this lawyer who was supposed to be this back channel, according to reports, spoke a number of times with Rudy Giuliani, who was representing the president at the time, as he still is.

And, you know, on the one hand, it sounds nefarious, and it sounds like it was indicating that a pardon was potentially in the office. On the other hand, bear in mind that this person was, as I understand it, trying to get retained by Michael Cohen in a very high-profile case. There may have been some puffery going on.

I have seen the e-mails that have been disclosed, and it's not clear exactly what was said. I think it'll be important to see what the responses were and to get the full set of e-mails that surround this.

I think the fact that my former office is asking for the e-mails makes complete sense, because you want to get the fullest picture. And at the end of the day, even if they don't think that there's much specificity, and there was a quid pro quo in exchange for a pardon that never happened -- and there may not be -- a diligent prosecutor's office, like I know those folks are, want to get all the details and want to get all the facts. And, by the way, it may ultimately inure to the detriment of Michael Cohen, because there's been a controversy over Michael Cohen's testimony in front of the House Oversight Committee recently where he said he never sought a pardon.

So part of this may also bear on the credibility of Michael Cohen going forward, as he seeks this post-sentencing cooperation arrangement known as a Rule 35 motion.

BLITZER: Preet Bharara, as usual, thanks so much for joining us.

BHARARA: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, still ahead, we will have more on Trump ally Roger Stone learning when he's going to trial on charges brought by Robert Mueller's team.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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[18:32:30] BLITZER: We're following breaking news. Republican senators joining forces with democratic senators to block President Trump's national emergency declaration and his attempt to go around Congress to pay for a border wall with Mexico. Let's dig deeper with our correspondents and analysts.

And, David Swerdlick, this is a huge moment potentially for the Trump Presidency. The signature issue, building a border wall with Mexico. The President has been talking about that for a long time. Put this vote in context.

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: A couple things, Wolf. First, I think it's one of the first, if any times, that you have seen a block of republicans join with democrats in the Senate to go against the President on something since he took office. Secondly, several of these senators were on the Appropriations Committee. And that sort of sends a message, look, we -- this is the article one branch of Congress's job, the appropriators of money to the federal government, not the President. And I think that is part and parcel of what's going on here. Lastly, two names jump out of me, Senator Murkowski, voted against the President on the Kavanaugh nomination and this, clearly, staking out her independence. Also, Mitt Romney, brand new but a big name, goes against the President.

BLITZER: There are 12 republican senators. And you can see we put the pictures up on the screen. You know, Rebecca, the President responded immediately with one word on his Tweet, at Tweet, veto. And Jim Acosta, our Chief White House Correspondent, says that could happen as early as tomorrow. This would be his first veto as President.

REBECCA BUCK, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right, which really tells you, Wolf, and shows you how easy it was for President Trump during the first two years of his presidency with republicans in control of Congress. They never sent him anything really for the most part that was difficult for him to sign. So this is the new reality for President Trump that he might have some difficult decisions to make in terms of what bills he is going to sign.

But it's also, I think, important to remember, you know, we are talking a lot, obviously, about the republicans who crossed over to vote with democrats on this. But there are still some, like Senator Thom Tillis, who, on this legislation, had first said he was going against it, then decided to or that he was going to support the disapproval, then decided to go against it, support the President's position. It just shows that the President still does have clout among these republicans, even those up for reelection.

BLITZER: You have been doing reporting on the last minute efforts on the part of the President, his close aides, to try to convince these republicans, this is a bad idea. He was Tweeting basically, you either are going to vote for a border wall and security or for Nancy Pelosi and open borders.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Trump viewed this as a loyalty test. And that's why you saw some people like Thom Tillis who were going to vote for this, that they voted against it in the end.

[18:35:01]

That's someone who's up for reelection. And the White House has made that clear over the last week and some change that if you vote this way and you vote against the President and you vote to buck him, then we are are not going to forget this, this is not a throw away vote and that you could face 2020 consequences.

But there was a lot of drama because there are people in this party who they did not want to vote for this. They do not think that the President has the authority to do this. But they also don't want to break with the President. That's why you saw that drama behind the scenes last night when three of those republican senators interrupted the President's dinner after aides did not let them come over earlier in the day trying to convince the President that if they voted for this, could he at least agree to limit his power in the future. And that's something that the President hinted at today but is not concrete by any means.

BLITZER: yes. We'll see if that veto comes as early as tomorrow. Phil, you know, we got word that another top prosecutor working for Robert Mueller and the Special Counsel's team, Andrew Weissmann, is getting ready to leave. What does that say to you about the status, where this investigation is now heading?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: A couple things. I mean, I've got to acknowledge, Andrew was down the hall with me at the FBI. He was a top lieutenant to then Director Mueller when I there at the Bureau.

BLITZER: When you were assigned to the FBI?

MUDD: When I was assigned at the FBI. One of the most talented people I ever saw. You can look at this and say somebody with that history of association with the Special Counsel likely would not be walking away if he anticipated there was a lot more time to go here.

There is one other additional piece there that's behind the scenes though, and that is Andrew's specialty is highly complex investigations, often involving money. The Roger Stone investigation isn't really a money investigation. Paul Manafort and Rick Gates were. And the Manafort investigation obviously has come to a close. Some of this might be Andrew saying, my specialty has been exhausted here. The other piece might be, we're almost done anyway.

BLITZER: There's another legal development that unfolded today, David, the President has been sued in a lawsuit by Summer Zervos, as she was a contestant on The Apprentice. She claims she was sexually assaulted by President Trump and that he defamed her when he called her a liar. A New York appeals court has now rejected the President's argument that a state court can't have jurisdiction over a sitting President. Potential implications of this, as far as the President is concerned, are pretty significant. He could be called in to testify.

SWERDLICK: He could be called in to testify. In addition to all of the other legal proceedings going on, the Roger Stone trial, which will be down the road in the fall, this is another issue, another scandal potentially that the President is going to have to deal with as we turn into the 2020 election cycle. And the argument was rejected, I think, on the simple common sense grounds that, unlike logic that the Justice Department uses to say, we can't indict a sitting President, this is not a criminal trial. Indictment is not an issue here. They are letting her go forward with a civil case.

BLITZER: And they cited that the Paula Jones lawsuit against then President Bill Clinton as one of the reasons why a sitting President can, in fact, have to testify in connection with the lawsuit. So they claim that there was that kind precedent which is very, very alarming news for the President.

SWERDLICK: Right. I mean, these are sort of -- this -- by a drip, drip, drip of everything going on with the President right now. He can't just focus on one case, one trial, one controversy because there are so many things. The President has batted these things away. But as you get later into the Congress, with democrats investigating him, with the Mueller report dropping at some point, it's going to be a challenge for this administration to address all of these issues.

BLITZER: Exponentially a significant development.

Kaitlan, Rick Gates, who was Paul Manafort's deputy for a long time, worked on the campaign, worked in the transition, he has now been charged. He is pleading guilty. He has been cooperating. We're going to get a status report on where all of this stands tomorrow. What are people at the White House bracing for? What are you anticipating?

COLLINS: Well, we're going to learn a lot from this because we could learn that he is going to be sentenced. This is someone who has had his sentencing delayed four times so far. We know he has been cooperating with the Special Counsel's investigation quietly for over a year now. And he is helping with other investigations that we don't know about. We know that the Special Counsel made that clear in a filing.

So if he is being sentenced, it will tell us in addition to that prosecutor leaving that this could be wrapping up, because that would be a sign. He is the last known cooperating witness that we know about that has not been sentenced yet in the Special Counsel's investigation.

Another thing that could be harmful is he was very involved with the inauguration. After Paul Manafort stopped, Rick Gates continued on helping with the President's inauguration. So he knows a lot about that. And we know that prosecutors are looking into that as well. So he is someone who knows a lot. So if we find out tomorrow that he is being sentenced, it will be a very big development, Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, there's an interesting development, this new book on -- Kushner Inc., that just came out -- that's about to come out. We have just gotten word that the President accidentally -- that a top aide to President Trump found out accidentally that the FBI Director James Comey would be fired when the letter terminating him was sent to him, Gary Cohn, who was the top economic adviser. All of a sudden, he got this letter from the President, a letter from President Trump firing Comey that then went to Gary Cohn.

[18:40:04]

Cohn, in turn, had his aide take the document to the then White House Counsel Don McGahn, who said some bad words when he got the letter. He realized that it had been sent to the wrong place. This is awkward.

COLLINS: Well, let's remember back to when they fired him. The President was under this impression in and getting advice from several people, including Jared Kushner, that if he fired Comey, things would be well and he would be praised not just by republicans but also by democrats for that. So it shows really though the level of secrecy that was around this because, as we know, James Comey was out of Washington. He was actually at an event, I believe, in California. And he had to fly back on a government plane even though he was no longer a government employee.

So it goes to show just the level of detail behind and the secrecy behind James Comey's firing. Because, actually, CNN found out about that because one of our producers, Noah Gray, spotted the President's bodyguard, Keith Schiller, walking into the FBI with this envelope in his arm, which raised a lot of questions, why was the President's bodyguard at the FBI? And then we later learned that was him delivering James Comey's firing letter.

BLITZER: What do you think of this?

MUDD: You know, the real pathetic piece of this is that last piece about Keith Schiller, the bodyguard. So all the preparation and secrecy that goes into this, presuming conversations between lawyers and the President, and the guy who likes to fire people can't have the courtesy to do it in person, unbelievable.

BLITZER: Everybody stick around. There's more breaking news we're following, including a new video showing plotters practicing a drone assassination attempt on Venezuela's president. It's a CNN exclusive.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:46:12] BLITZER: Now a CNN exclusive. New video of the alleged plot to assassinate the Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in a drone attack using commercial devices bought online and prepared over weeks by Venezuelan defectors.

Our senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh has the story for us.

Nick, you had a chance to talk to one of the apparent organizers of the attack. Update our viewers on what you learned.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Extraordinary story, Wolf, about how commercial drone technology can be made lethal in certain hands, about how close Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela's president, came to potentially being killed by one of these devices and maybe other innocent civilians, too, but as well how those who oppose Nicolas Maduro inside Venezuela have long before the Trump administration started paying attention to them being quite dedicated and sophisticated in their task.

Here is what we learned.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WALSH (voice-over): They thought it was fireworks first, but it was a drone bomb. A brazen assassination attempt against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The first bid to kill a world leader with commercial drone technology bought online. It could have killed everyone on the stage, with dozens of civilians nearby if it missed.

The crowd scattered and Venezuelans began to wonder, what really happened? Was it a fake?

Even now, the opposition leader Juan Guaido told CNN he condemned the attack and thinks Maduro staged it to get sympathy. It ends up making him look like victims, he says. I think this was something internal done by the government. And so, definitely, such options are not good.

CNN has tracked down one of the apparent organizers of the attack who supplied these videos seen here for the first time to prove his role in what he claims was a genuine assassination attempt.

(on camera): Why did you plot to kill Nicolas Maduro? It's a peaceful protest movement. Why did you think an assassination plot was necessary?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We have tried every peaceful and democratic way to bring an end to this tyranny, that dresses itself as democracy. We have friends who are in custody, tortured. This was a hard decision.

WALSH: Were you not worried about potentially killing innocent people flying a drone with that much explosive straight into a crowd?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): That was the risk we had to take. We cared about that, as the Venezuelan people are always the ones feeling the consequences.

WALSH (voice-over): The drones they say were purchased online in the United States and brought over six months ago to this rented farmhouse somewhere in Colombia. We aren't showing you details how they say they made the bomb here. They blew one up in a test.

And in the remote countryside, they practiced the tricky bit. Flying the drones high enough to not be seen and then down at a steep and fast enough angle to hit their target. A garden tent here. They tried at night in case that's when the chance to strike comes.

Later, they say they dismantled the device to sneak it into Venezuela. The videos show it being reassembled and ready hours before the attack.

A presentation days after the attack by Venezuela's interior minister confirms part of the story, including the part of the drones which detonated prematurely.

The cell signal blockers that protect Maduro from attack are being switched, the organizers said, but suddenly came back on, thwarting the attack.

U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton the morning after thought it might have been fake.

JOHN BOLTON, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The pretext set up by the Maduro regime itself to something else.

WALSH: But U.S. officials briefed on the intelligence had since concluded the attack was a genuine attempt gone wrong. And separately, the organizer said he met with U.S. officials three times after the attack.

[18:50:02] UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): After, they set up three meetings which I imagine were to collect information to study the case but they didn't go pass that.

WALSH (on camera): And did they offer to help you try something like this again or were these meetings just about them finding out more about you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I think both. They wanted to get information and then we asked for things in return, they did note on this. And we asked if they would be able to help and they simply left with their notes and never appeared again.

WALSH (voice-over): CNN could not find proof that these alleged meetings happened. The State Department spokesperson would not comment on the claim but to say: our policy is to support a peaceful transition in Venezuela.

Venezuela officials said the plot shook their capital, was assisted by Colombia and the U.S., which both have denied.

It unveiled a blend of lethality and ingenuity using technology that's terrifyingly simple to get.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALSH: Now, just to recap here, Wolf, obviously, there's no suggestion from even the plotter himself he was in contact with U.S. officials before the plot failed. It was afterward they appeared he says he alleges to take interest in what he had done and essentially came to nothing.

But we are troublingly I think into slowly a new phase where violent plots like this and potential possibility and loss of life is what you might have referred to as collateral damage could become a more frequent thing -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Excellent reporting from Nick Paton Walsh, joining us from Bogota, Colombia, thank you so much.

We're going to have a lot more news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:56:08] BLITZER: This Sunday night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, join us for the premiere of a new four-part CNN original series "TRICKY DICK," exploring Richard Nixon's rise, fall and an incredibly come back and political destruction.

Here's a preview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I don't give a goddamn what the story is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Richard M. Nixon has lied repeatedly.

NIXON: No reporter from "The Washington Post" is to ever be in the White House again. Do you understand?

The tougher it gets, the cooler I get. I have what it takes.

CROWD: Impeach Nixon now! Impeach Nixon now!

NIXON: And I want to say this to the television audience, because people have got to know whether or not their president's a crook. Well, I'm not a crook.

This crap about Watergate --

Let others wallow in Watergate. We're going to do our job.

I'm going to kick their ass.

Nobody's going to package me. Nobody's going to make me put on an act for television. I'm not going to engage in any gimmicks or any stunts or wear any silly hats.

If people looking at me say that's a new Nixon, then all that I can say is, well, maybe you didn't know the old Nixon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Joining us now, the author of the book "The Nixon Tapes," CNN presidential historian Douglas Brinkley.

Douglas, it's really incredible to hear Nixon in his own words. When you listen to all of this archival material, what stands out to you about his character as a person and as a politician?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: What really stands out, Wolf, were the clips you just played, that kind of I'm a tough guy, I'm going to get you bastards, I'm going to bomb the bejesus of them. He's constantly wanting to exert power by using very forceful and harsh language.

There's also in the tapes Nixon, the brilliant geopolitical strategist. There's no doubt about it, you can isolate afternoon conversations when he's talking about Russia or the cold war detente, the 1972 breakthrough trip to China and you think what a statesperson. But the overall impression is that he's trying to bully his advisers and anybody around him when it's at a private moment. If the Boy Scouts come into the Oval Office, he puts on the smiley Nixon, but most of the tapes are quite unvarnished.

BLITZER: And you wrote a book about the Nixon's recordings of his Oval Office conversations and those tapes turned out to be the smoking gun. When you look at the scandal that President Trump is navigating right now, what precedent have those tapes set?

BRINKLEY: You know, it's -- both Nixon and Trump overthink their executive privilege in my opinion. They constantly want to see how far you can go with executive privilege. Neither the Nixon White House, the Trump White House wants to cooperate, for example, with the House Judiciary Committee.

They have really no sense of the limits of their power, hence, the penchant for perhaps abusing power. Nixon did abuse it and Donald Trump might be. It comes across on these tapes. They're -- there's a lawless factor going on. They feel that they're almost a king or a monarch, not answerable to the everyday citizen.

BLITZER: Yes. This four-part documentary, it's really incredible. I know you've seen it and I know you think it's excellent and our viewers are obviously going to be delighted by it as well.

Our presidential historian Doug Brinkley, thanks so much for joining us.

BRINKLEY: Thank you.

BLITZER: And be sure to watch "TRICKY DICK" Sunday night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, here on CNN.

Finally, tonight, there's breaking baby news again. CNN aviation and government regulation correspondent Rene Marsh is the proud new mother of Blake Vince Payne. He was born this morning at 5:38, weighing 6 1/2 pounds and 26 inches long.

Blake, Rene, new father Cedric, they're all doing well. Look how cute, how cute that little baby is. Congratulations to the entire wonderful family.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show @CNNsitroom.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.