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CNN Exclusive Poll: 56 Percent Say Trump Not Exonerated of Collusion After Release of Attorney General's Summary of Mueller Report, CNN Exclusive Poll: 86 Percent Say Mueller Findings Won't Affect Their 2020 Vote. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 27, 2019 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR, CNN: Happening Now, heated Obamacare debate. We're learning about high-level concerns about the Trump administration's new support for eliminating all of the Affordable Care Act. We're told even Vice President Pence raised some red flags. Exonerated? Our exclusive new CNN poll shows most Americans aren't buying the President's claim that he's been totally vindicated by the Mueller report. We're breaking down the numbers.

Police reports released. New details emerging right now in the case of Jussie Smollett as the Attorney General may be asked to investigate why all of the charges against the Empire actor were dropped. The outrage growing in Chicago and across the United States. And Boeing overhaul. The aviation giant unveils an attempted fix to its 737 Max jets, but the FAA says it hasn't signed off. Tonight, lawmakers are demanding answers about the grounded planes and two deadly crashes. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in The Situation Room.

We're following breaking news on the internal debate within the Trump administration over its new push to totally eliminate Obamacare without any back-up plan. Plus, President Trump defends the move. We're told Vice President pence raised some concerns about how the White House would proceed if the courts throw out the Affordable Care Act in total. A source says the Attorney General William Barr and the health secretary Alex Azar opposed the change in strategy.

Also, breaking, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff now says his panel's Russia investigation will move forward, but the scope will depend on what's eventually revealed in the full report from Robert Mueller. Tonight, our exclusive new CNN poll finds a majority of Americans 56% do not believe the Special Counsel exonerated the President of colluding with Russia.

I'll talk with Republican Senator Tom Cotton. He's a member of the Intelligence Committee and our correspondents and analysts are also standing by. First let's go to our White House Correspondent Abby Phillip. Abby, it's now clear the administration's new strategy on Obamacare raised a lot of concerns even inside the White House.

ABBY PHILLIP, WHITE House CORRESPONDENT, CNN: That's right, Wolf. The debate all over this issue has been heated and it came to ahead on Monday when in the meeting even the White House Counsel Pat Cipollone raised concerns that the White House may not have standing to join these attorneys general in trying to invalidate the entire Affordable Care Act. But in the end, it was President Trump who's who stood with some of his top aides, including his Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney to say that the administration should try to throw Obamacare out.


PHILLIP(off-camera): Tonight, President Trump is defending his administration's surprise decision to join a lawsuit that would entirely eliminate the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Phase one of the lawsuit terminates Obamacare, essentially terminates Obamacare. You know that that's the Texas lawsuit. We think it'll be upheld. We think it'll do very well in the Supreme Court.


PHILLIP(off-camera): But sources tell CNN there is no such plan.


TRUMP: We are going to be the Republicans, the party of great healthcare.


PHILLIP(off-camera): The administration's decision came after months of heated debate among Trump's advisors, but sources say it still caught key lawmakers and even some White House officials off-guard.


SUSAN COLLINS, UNITED STATES SENATOR: Last year I wrote to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and protested the Department not to vending the parts of a law that provide protections to consumers with pre-existing conditions. Now, the administration is going way beyond that and seeking to invalidate the entire law. This is contrary to the tradition of the Justice Department which generally defends laws.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One key area --


PHILLIP(off-camera): CNN has learned that Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Attorney General Bill Barr opposed the move. Azar worried that the administration did not have a plan to replace Obamacare and Barr backed lawyers within the administration who opposed the legal case being made by the States against Obamacare. The Trump's Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney argued for overturning the entire law, hoping to put the issue back on the agenda for Congressional Republicans.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... chances any greater than zero that this Congress could come together on a replacement?

GRAHAM: I doubt it, but what is the Republican Party for? Don't you think?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is the Republican Party alternative?

GRAHAM: A block grant to take the money out of Washington ...


PHILLIP(off-camera): All of this as the debate rages about why Special Counsel Robert Mueller decided against taking a position on whether Trump obstructed justice.


According to NBC News, former FBI Director James Comey telling an audience in Charlotte on Tuesday, "The part that's confusing is, I can't quite understand what's going on with the obstruction stuff. I just can't tell from the letter why he didn't decide these questions when the entire rationale for a Special Counsel is to make sure the politicals aren't making the key charging decisions." The President's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, offering this explanation instead.


RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I have a guess as to what happened, I think his staff was in debate over it and it's a question of interpretation.

BLITZER: But you know ...


PHILLIP(off-camera): And as Democrats demand to see the fold Mueller report, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell again blocked the Democratic effort to call for the report's full release. And despite Trump's claim that the report is a total and complete exoneration, a new CNN poll shows a majority of voters say the President and his campaign have not been exonerated by Mueller. Instead, 56% say they believe collusion simply could not be proven.


PHILLIP: And as the White House seeks to shift from Mueller to this issue of healthcare that decision is coming under fire from even some Republicans. Now, Wolf, remember this was a such a motivating issue for Democrats in the last election and Republicans lost in the House big and now many Republicans are telling President Trump including according to Axios, the House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy calling President Trump telling him it was not a good idea to proceed with this plan to put such a contentious issue back on the agenda and potentially motivate Democrats even more going into 2020, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Abby, thank you. Abby Phillip over at the White House. More now on the Russia investigation, I want to bring in our Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez. Evan, we're getting some new sound from James Comey, the former - the fired FBI Director. He's got an interview with NBC News. Let me play the clip and then we'll discuss.


LESTER HOLT, ANCHOR, NBC NEWS: Then there was your firing, May 3rd 2017. You go before the Senate Judiciary Committee, you talk about a lot of thing as the Clinton email server. But you declined to answer questions specifically about evidence of collusion at that point.

A couple of days later, you're fired. A few days after that I sit down with President Trump. He says, "When I decided to just do it," talking about firing you, I said to myself - I said, "You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story." What did you think when you heard that?

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I thought that's potentially obstruction of justice and I hope somebody is going to look at that. Again, the President appears to be saying, I don't know what's in his head, which is why I can't reach the conclusion, what he appears to be saying is I got rid of this guy to shut down an investigation that threatened me.


BLITZER: So he thought originally that was obstruction of justice, what do you think?

EVAN PEREZ, SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: I think that was definitely one of the data points that the Mueller investigators had to look at, the question of whether or not the firing of an FBI Director reaches to the level of an obstruction crime, Wolf. But there's a lot of other data points, a lot of things that we saw from the President publicly, some of it him threatening to fire Mueller, some of this he did behind the scenes, encouraging Don McGahn, his White House Counsel to essentially work on Jeff Sessions, his Attorney General to not recuse himself in the investigation.

A lot of things happen behind the scenes and in public that Bill Barr mentions in his letter over the weekend. And so I think the Special Counsel looked at all of these things and apparently they came to a final decision that they would not make a final call and left it up to Bill Barr and Rod Rosenstein to make that final decision.

BLITZER: Because in the letter that Bill Barr, the Attorney General wrote to Congress he quoted Mueller as saying, "While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him on the issue of obstruction of justice."

PEREZ: Right, exactly. And I think this is why now we're going to have several more months, perhaps another year of questions from lawmakers. And by the way, those are very valid questions as to why Mueller would not make that final call. And by the way, I think we should mention that Comey was fired by the President and the President said this to Lester Holt, but there was also a memo that was written by Rod Rosenstein that cited a lot of the things that Comey did that went against Justice Department policy in his treatment of Hillary Clinton into 2016 multiple times speaking out against policy and that's the reason why he was fired, not because of the Russia thing as the President said, but because Rod Rosenstein, his boss, his direct superior thought that he should be fired.

BLITZER: There are some new information you're getting about another individual who was interviewed, questioned by Mueller and his team back in January, Maria Butina. Tell us about that.


PEREZ: Right. I this I think shows us how exhaustive this investigation was. Maria Butina is a Russian national. She has been and been charged with essentially sort of working behind the scenes as a sort of a mini spy here in the United States. And one of the things the Special Counsel brought her before the investigators to talk about was her contacts with people in the Trump campaign, J.D. Gordon, in particular who was an aide during the campaign.

And they simply wanted to know whether she had any insight into the Russian operation to interfere in the 2016 election, the disinformation campaign, for instance. And so it appears that she didn't have a lot of knowledge on this, but it is one of those indications that they made sure they interviewed every single person. She, by the way, is due before a judge tomorrow to revisit her case and whether or not she might be able to get out because she pretty much has already served the amount of time that she was sentenced to.

BLITZER: Yes, she's been in jail for a while right now.


BLITZER: All right, thanks very much Evan Perez. Joining us now, Republican Senator Tom Cotton. He's a member of both the Intelligence and the Armed Services Committee. Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

TOM COTTON, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Yes, my pleasure, Wolf. Thanks for having me on.

BLITZER: All right, so as you know your leader - the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, he's blocked the resolution calling for a full release of the Mueller Report. That resolution had passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 420 to zero. Do you agree with leader McConnell?

COTTON: Wolf, I think we need to let Attorney General Barr go through the Mueller report to ensure that we don't release any material that's prohibited by law. His letter on Sunday said that he wants to get out as much material as possible. I agree. I think we should try to release as much of the Mueller of the report that we can. But, of course, there are some federal laws that govern the release of Grand Jury materials.

So Attorney General Barr said he's going through that review. He expects it will take weeks, not months. So I think this will be concluded in pretty short order. But I do hope we can see as much of that before as possible. Obviously, the public interest is very great and we really need to be able to examine as much information as possible and turn the page and move on to the issues ahead of us.

BLITZER: So basically except for classified information that could reveal sources and methods as they say or some Grand Jury proceedings, you want all of it to be made available, not only to Congress but also to the American public.

COTTON: I think it's important that we make as much available to the public as possible, Wolf.

BLITZER: What did you think of what we just heard from the fired FBI Director James Comey who basically told Lester Holt of NBC News that when he was fired, he thought that that's potentially obstruction of justice and I hope somebody is going to look at that. What's your reaction to that?

COTTON: Sour grapes from a man who was fired by Donald Trump, Wolf. Donald Trump told Lester Holt in that interview right after firing Jim Comey that he thought that the Trump-Russia thing was fake or hoax or there's nothing to it. He also acknowledged that firing Jim Comey might in fact prolong the review, which it probably did. Bob Mueller was investigating this matter for 22 months.

But Bob Mueller is an experienced lifelong prosecutor. He's a former 12-year Director of the FBI. He had the full power of the United States government and the Grand Jury and wiretaps and foreign intercepts behind him and he found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and his associates or Russia. If he didn't find that, I don't think the House Democrat is going to find it and I don't think there's any evidence of obstruction of justice in the President exercising his constitutional oversight authorities on the Department of Justice and frankly not taking any steps to interfere with the investigation.

I mean the Democrats have been saying for 22 months, the President is going to fire Bob Mueller. It never happened. Bob Mueller reached his conclusion and is closing up shop finding no evidence of collusion.

BLITZER: Well, he did find some evidence, but apparently not enough to file charges because he says in his report that the Attorney General Bill Barr released to Congress, "While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him." Do you believe Mueller should have punted, should he have made a formal recommendation instead of saying, "I can't give you a formal recommendation"?

COTTON: Well, Wolf, we'll have to review the actual report to see exactly what he means by that short statement that was quoted by Attorney General Barr. I would say a couple of things though. First, in our system of justice, it's not the job of prosecutor or law enforcement to exonerate any American. Every American is presumed innocent until proven guilty. So the idea that the Special Counsel is supposed to exonerate the subject of investigation is simply contrary to the basic notions of fairness embedded in our justice system.

And second, I infer from Attorney General Barr statement about many of these matters being public that we probably know a lot of what Bob Mueller is referring to in that report. The President firing Jim Comey or tweeting about the investigation or commenting about the investigation. All of which occurred in plain sight, Wolf. If that's the case, I think it's pretty far-fetched to build a case for obstruction of justice on some main tweets.

BLITZER: And threatening the then Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, ridiculing both of them in tweets and in other statements.


But why do you believe Mueller decided to punt on this very sensitive issue of obstruction?

COTTON: Wolf, again, we'll have to review the report to make that conclusion. But I agree with the Attorney General's conclusions as are stated and based on the facts we know. Look, the Democratic Party and frankly a lot of people in the media have been saying for the last 22 months that everything Donald Trump does proves the mind of a guilty man.

Now, that we know there is no collusion, I think it proves the exact opposite. He was acting like a man who had been unjustly accused. And, Wolf, I think anyone from the President to a private citizen if they had faced 22 months of accusations, they've committed treason against their country, and they knew that that was a false charge, would be acting in a pretty aggressive fashion in trying to defend themselves. That's what the President did.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Obamacare, it's a huge battle that's unfolded over the past couple days. As you know the Trump administration has just filed a brief supporting a recent district court decision that declared all of Obamacare unconstitutionally. Here's what's at stake for your constituents in Arkansas, for Americans across the country, 52 million Americans benefited from the provision in Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, that gives them health insurance even if they have pre-existing conditions, 12.7 million gain coverage under Medicaid expansion, 11.4 million bought coverage on the Affordable Care Act exchanges for 2019.

I understand the President now wants to repeal all of Obamacare, but where is the replacement? Apparently, there's no Republican, no Trump administration replacement that's ready to go forward to help these many millions of people.

COTTON: Well, wolf, it just goes to show what a flawed law Obamacare was that one change to Obamacare, the repeal of the hated individual mandate that tax people for not being able to afford insurance that Obamacare made unaffordable in the first place was repealed and now a federal judge concludes that the whole thing is unconstitutional under the Supreme Court's very first Obamacare decision. That case will work its way through the courts over the coming years.

But here's what I can say is that Obamacare is still a very flawed law. It costs too much. It does very little to address the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs and now the Democrats want more Obamacare. They talk about Medicare for all a lot, that includes as Senator Kamala Harris, a candidate for President, said kicking all 170 million people on private employer insurance off their insurance. Barack Obama said we weren't going to do that. We actually did and now the Democratic Party is just making that their official policy.

BLITZER: Well, some Democrats. But let me press you on this, Senator Cotton, I understand repeal, I understand you want to repeal, but what about replace? What's your plan to replace? Is there legislation in the Senate or the House right now that's about to be passed? Is the President going to sign it into law with the Democrats and the majority in the House? Where is this going?

COTTON: Well, Wolf, there's not a legislation that's about to be passed, of course not. It took 15 months to pass Obamacare in the first place. But here's what we know, Obamacare is still flawed. It is still not providing the healthcare that Americans deserve. So there are some basic principles that we can address like covering people with pre-existing conditions, lowering the price of prescription drugs, ensuring that people have more choice and flexibility in getting insurance plans that fit their needs and turning over more power to the states to administer our Medicaid system.

Both those people who got health insurance anew of the Medicaid expansion of Obamacare but also people have been on Medicaid for a long time. Those are some very basic principles that would lower the cost of health insurance for everyone and deliver them better care.

BLITZER: I got to leave it, but you understand and I'm sure you do, Senator, if you don't pass that into law, a majority in the House, and the Senate and the President doesn't sign it simply repealing is going to cost an enormous amount of pain for millions and millions of Americans. So I understand repeal and replace, but this is simply what the President signed off this week, simply repeal.

COTTON: Yes, of course, we want to replace Obamacare with a healthcare system that works for all Americans by covering individuals with pre-existing conditions and lowering the price of drugs and giving Americans the choice and control over their own healthcare that they deserve.

BLITZER: Senator Cotton, thanks so much for joining us.

COTTON: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well up next, new calls to investigate the prosecutors who suddenly drop all of the charges against the Empire actor Jussie Smollett. We're going to have an update from Chicago on the urgent questions about Smollett's case and the outrage.


Just a day after all charges against the actor Jussie Smollett were dropped, two Chicago police supplemental reports from the case have been made public. They refer to Smollett as an offender, not a victim adding to the questions and the confusion. Our National Correspondent Sara Sidner is joining us from Chicago right now. Sara, anything being done to clear up what happened?

SARA SIDNER, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: That is exactly what the State's Attorney is trying to do and she's spoken out for the first time since being blasted by the Mayor and by the Police Superintendent defending her office's decision to drop all charges against Jussie Smollett. And this just in, she also says that the entire case was not supposed to be sealed and blamed that on a mistake with the court clerk's office.


SIDNER(off-camera): Tonight for the first time the State's Attorney Kim Foxs speaking out after her office has been roundly criticized for its decision to drop all charges and seal the case against Empire actor Jussie Smollett.


KIM FOXX, COOK COUNTY STATE'S ATTORNEY: Not every case that goes to trial has a finding of guilt. In this instance, Mr. Smollett forfeited his $10,000 bond.


Mr. Smollett completed community service. Most people who come to the criminal justice system don't give up $10,000 of their hard-earned money or engage in volunteer services connected with an alleged offense without viewing that as a way of being held accountable.


SIDNER(off-camera): Foxx who was elected to her post in 2016 said her office should not be making examples of people and the city has more serious crimes to worry about.


FOXX: Not to diminish that what Mr. Smollett was alleged to have done did have an impact on people who are actual victims of hate crime. We have to give due process that we would give to a celebrity or non celebrity is that our criminal justice system has to have mechanisms by which people are held accountable and that justice is fair and our resources are being used appropriately.


SIDNER(off-camera): Foxx in office for just over two years is now facing questions about her handling of the case, questions that arose early on when she recused herself from the case due to contact with Smollett's camp, spelled out in emails and texts. Tina Tchen, former Chief of Staff to First Lady Michelle Obama emailed Kim Foxx saying she was in touch with Smollett's family. "I wanted to give you a call on behalf of Jussie Smollett and family who I know. They have concerns about the investigation," she wrote.

Smollett's family member then contacts Foxx asking for a chat. Foxx eventually respond, "Spoke to the superintendent earlier, he made the ask. Trying to figure out logistics. I'll keep you posted." Smollett's family member responds, "Omg, this would be a huge victory." Foxx responded, "I make no guarantees, but I am trying." The Fraternal Order of Police initially asked for an investigation into Foxx's recusal. Now, they want more.


KEVIN GRAHAM, PRESIDENT, CHICAGO FRATERNAL ORDER OF POLICE: We'll be asking for a full investigation on the entire matter, why the charges were dropped, and the State's Attorney's involvement in this case.


SIDNER(off-camera): Still, Smollett's attorney maintaining political connections were not used to get the charges dropped.


PATRICIA BROWN HOLMES, ATTORNEY FOR JUSSIE SMOLLETT: There was no political influence in this case. There were team of lawyers. We communicated with the State's attorneys and we convinced them that the right thing to do in this case was to dismiss the charges. No one political call that I know of. I don't think anyone political reached out to anyone.


SIDNER(off-camera): Police reports released today revealed new details in the case, one of the brothers who police say Smollett hire to attack him said he used a hot sauce bottle he filled with bleach to pour on Smollett saying he was shown a large photograph taken of El Yucateco hot sauce bottle which was recovered on February 7, 2019 near the location and stated that it was indeed the bottle he filled with bleach and poured on Smollett. Later, the brother tells investigators it felt good that he told the truth.


SIDNER: And, again, we want to reiterate some new information coming in from the State's Attorney saying that the case was sealed. A lot of people talking about that, worrying about that here, thinking that that was quite odd how quickly the case was sealed. She is now saying she believes that the entire case was sealed in error, that the court case was sealed in error.

She believes the error made by the clerk's office and she talked about potentially unsealing it, we are going to be waiting to see if that happens. We certainly have calls into her office and have not received a response and we are hoping if the case is unsealed that we will also get those documents, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll stay very close touch with you Sara Sidner in Chicago for us. We're going to have much more on the story coming up later. Also, coming up, there's more fallout from the Attorney General's summary of the Mueller report including new reaction from the fired FBI Director James Comey.



[17:33:09] WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: Breaking news, the nearly release CNN poll shows a clear majority, 56 percent say President Trump and his campaign have not been exonerated of collusion based on Attorney General William Barr's summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report. Our political and legal experts are here to discuss.

And, Gloria Borger, you've got a new column out on, and you write this about James -- you heard what James Comey just said a few moments to Lester Holt that he believes potentially there was obstruction of justice. You write this. It's head scratching that Bob Mueller, known as a black and white kind of prosecutor, would leave a matter of this importance to someone else effectively handing it over to a political appointee, the Attorney General, and then, Attorney General, no less, who had already opined, totally unsolicited, in a 19-page memo sent to the department of justice leaders, that the theory of obstruction in this case is fatally was fatally misconceived and grossly irresponsible. So do you think we're ever going to get a clear answer on this?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's the big question, Wolf. I don't know answer to that question. If they call Mueller to testify and he goes, I'm sure they will -- I'm sure they will ask him. What we will learn hopefully, if we see the report, is the arguments on both sides that apparently made it so difficult for Bob Mueller to come to any conclusion and to punt that decision to either the Congress or to the Attorney General.

BLITZER: Do you think Mueller actually intended for the new Attorney General, Bill Barr, to make that decision?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, SENIOR FELLOW, BROOKING INSTITUTION: So the bottom line is we don't know for sure until we see that report, which is why it is so incredibly important. With that said, I think it's pretty unlikely that Mueller actually intended for Barr to step in here to render that judgment. Well, look, these are really difficult question of law. And, in fact, they touch on difficult questions of constitutional law, whether or not, of course, of conduct related to obstruction, constructive [ph] obstruction, when an individual act does not.

[17:35:01] What Mueller appears to have done is, essentially, said look, up against the backdrop in which you can't indict this individual, what we're going to do is we're going to decline to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment. We're going to establish the record, lay out the legal arguments on either side and then let -- and then turn it over.

Now, you might say, well, then he is turning it over to Bill Barr. With that said, it's not as though Barr is smarter or more capable than Mueller's team of counsels and he's not actually a person who's in a better position to make this judgment. He's in a worst position. The whole reason why we have Special Counsel regulations is to avoid political actors rendering these kinds of judgment. And so I think the most plausible explanation is that Mueller intended ultimately for Congress to make this decision.

BORGER: I agree with that.

BLITZER: Because Comey, in his new interview, said he believed that potentially it was obstruction of justice.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, remember, the mandates it says that he has actually reach conclusions. That's what the actual conclusion report is based on. It doesn't mean you have to have a particular opinion, particular conclusion, but you have to actually to have one. The notion that Mueller, after 22 months, and how many witnesses, 500 witnesses, different interviews, thousands and thousands of pages, all the man and woman hours are being used here. I find it extremely hard to believe that his entire premise was, you know what, maybe it's going to be good enough at the end of the day.

I think that the punt he was making was actually to Congress. Because, remember, when Barr was actually interviewed during his confirmation hearing, they asked him how would he handle things that may not be criminal but may be in the impeachable category. He didn't really have a sound answer of how he was going to deal with those things. So I think the Congress and the notion of saying, look, maybe it doesn't meet your standards but, of course, the constitution has high crimes and misdemeanors in a different context for us. We're not beholding to your same rules.

BLITZER: Let's get the report and we'll know maybe why he came up with that decision, an awkward decision indeed.

You know, Jackie, we've got a new CNN poll that's out. I'll put some numbers on the screen, public reaction to the Attorney General's letter on the Mueller report. Question, do you think the report exonerates Trump of collusion? 43 percent say yes, 56 percent say no. Question, what should Congress do with report findings? investigation 43 percent. What do you think about those numbers?

JACKIE ALEMANY, ANCHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST POWER UP: Yes. I think those numbers, not to use a White House -- the White House's favorite line, but they speak for themselves. And I think perhaps even more notable to me was this stark divide between democrats and republicans and whether or not they viewed that Barr's summary exonerated or summary of Mueller's report exonerated the President.

And that I think re-enforces this idea that people viewed that Barr's summary was sort of this Rorschach test. People took what they wanted to take from this report and may -- and jumped to their own conclusions. But at the end of the day, I think it's really important to note, as we've all said, that Mueller wrote that the report does not exonerate the President. And as George Conway tweeted, that is something really startling for a prosecutor to state.

And then I also want to make one point to this. I think even perhaps the bigger question here is how Mueller came to the conclusion, rendered the conclusion that the President did not commit obstruction of justice when he did not interview the President and how he was able to judge intent without talking to Trump. And I think that is something that he's going to have to potentially explain.

BLITZER: And, Gloria, another question in this news CNN poll. How will the findings affect your 2020 vote? More likely to back Trump 7 percent, more likely to oppose Trump 6 percent, make no difference 86 percent.

BORGER: Why do you think Nancy Pelosi is talking about other things now and the presidential -- the democratic presidential candidates out on the trail are not being asked about Russia but they're being asked about issues that really matter to them, like healthcare? And so, you know, I think this week, when the President decided that you ought to just get rid of Obamacare, that was kind of a gift handed on a silver platter to the democrats because that's what they're going to try and make the next election about.

BLITZER: They are going to move on from the Mueller report.


BLITZER: The democrats don't even want to talk about impeachment, at least not now. Guys, stick around, there's more news.

We're about to go live to South Carolina with Democratic Senator Presidential Candidate Cory Booker will be taking voters' questions later tonight at a CNN Town Hall.



[17:43:45] BLITZER: Tonight, another 2020 presidential contender is in the spotlight here on CNN as we host a Town Hall event with Democratic Senator Cory Booker. It's being held in South Carolina, an early primary state in the pivotal battleground. CNN Political Reporter Rebecca Buck is on the scene for us, in Orangeburg, South Carolina for us. Rebecca, Cory Booker, likes to portray himself as a political street fighter. Update us on the latest.

REBECCA BUCK, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right, Wolf. Well, Cory Booker has said he wants to run an incredibly a positive campaign for president but he's also been stressing that he can be tough pointing to his time Newark Politics and he has an incredibly unique tool to help him tell that story.


BUCK: For voters looking to get to know New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, he recommends a movie.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), N.J.: If you have time tonight, go home and watch a movie called Street Fight. The Oscar nominated documentary called Street Fight. Street Fight. It is about my first race taking on one of the toughest machines.

BUCK: First released more than a decade ago, Street Fight tells the story of Booker's 2002 campaign for mayor of Newark against long time incumbent Sharpe James and his political machine.

BOOKER: There's no excuse for this. The city can be doing so much better for the people that live here.


BUCK: The bare-knuckled political brawl thrust Booker into the national spotlight. And even in defeat, established him as a Democratic rising star. Now the documentary is taking on a new life, with its subject facing another improbable race. This time for president.

BOOKER: "Street Fight" is a story about an underdog trying to bring people together to fight bigger problems. And in many ways, I feel like I'm still that guy, trying to deal with very big challenging, crowded field, a very larger than life character as president of the United States right now. And I feel a lot of that same energy.

BUCK (voice-over): Booker isn't the only candidate to star in a film about his losing campaign. "Running with Beto" debuted last month at the South by Southwest Film Festival. It will begin airing in May on HBO.

But while O'Rourke's unsuccessful Senate campaign is still fresh in the minds of Democrats, many have forgotten about Booker's 2002 race or are learning about it for the first time.

VAN PARISH, SEN. CORY BOOKER'S MAYORAL CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I think it shows people, you know, what he has been through as a candidate and what he is willing to do.

BUCK (voice-over): Van Parish was Booker's campaign manager in '02. He says Booker faced similar questions then to now.

PARISH: It's too good to be real, right? There's no way this guy can be all the things that he says that he is. The irony, the disappointment, and the challenge and frustration that he had was, how do I prove to you who I am?

BUCK (voice-over): Booker also needed to prove that he could be tough while still running a positive campaign. Sound familiar?

ELLEN DEGENERES, HOST, "THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW": When people say you're not tough enough, what do you say about that?

BUCK (voice-over): Marshall Curry directed "Street Fight" following the race from start to finish.

MARSHALL CURRY, DIRECTOR, "STREET FIGHT": Sharpe James was running negative ads against Cory and was saying things that weren't true, and it was incredibly frustrating. And Cory felt like he knew that he had to fight back.

BOOKER: I just think that there's a way to do it with dignity.

CURRY: And to me, that encapsulates Cory really well. I don't think he likes to fight. I think he likes to convince people that he is right and to bring them over to his side.

BUCK (voice-over): Ultimately, Booker couldn't convince enough people. He lost. But Booker came back to win in 2006. And today, his political low point is his selling point.

BOOKER: I lost the first time.

BUCK (voice-over): And a point of pride.

BOOKER: There is power in that. You know, sometimes we stumble; sometimes we fall. And I think you can tell a lot about a person by how they handle victory and defeat.


BUCK: You know, one of the big questions for Booker, as he seeks victory in this Democratic primary, is going to be electability. Can he beat Donald Trump? And what Curry told us is that Booker's 2002 race could be instructive, that the lessons he learned about Sharpe James could help him defeat Donald Trump because the two are very similar characters -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Rebecca Buck, thanks very much for that report. To our viewers, be sure to watch the CNN presidential town hall with Senator Cory Booker. Don Lemon moderates. Tonight, 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

Coming up, the top commander of U.S. Forces in South Korea sounds a warning about what may happen if Kim Jong-un gives up on diplomacy and resorts to military force.


BLITZER: Tonight, there's a sobering new warning from the top U.S. military commander of U.S. Forces in South Korea. If the current thaw in relationships with Kim Jong-un doesn't work out, he is worried about the U.S. ability to detect an imminent attack by North Korea's military.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. Barbara, what's the latest? BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: General Robert Abrams,

Wolf, has only been on the job about 120 days commanding troops on the Korean Peninsula. But this morning, some of the most plain language to date about the challenge for the U.S. military to see a North Korean attack if one were coming.


GEN. ROBERT ADAMS, COMMANDER, UNITED STATES FORCES KOREA: Their activity that we have observed is inconsistent with denuclearization.

As we look to the future, as conditions might change, if they change negatively, then it -- our stance, our posture is not adequate to provide us an unblinking eye to give us early warning and indicators. And I'll give you a couple of examples during the closed session of exact capability that we would need, but, suffice to say, we're short to be able to do that if things start to turn bad.


STARR: What is he talking about? Satellite, spy aircraft, radars -- these are the things that are the classified systems that the U.S. needs all the time, 24/7, over all of North Korea to see early signs of a potential attack if one were coming.

It's those early signs that are critical. That's what gets the U.S. able to put its own defenses into place as soon as possible. And General Abrams also said, Wolf, right now, no signs of denuclearization in North Korea -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's not forget the U.S. still has about 30,000 troops along the demilitarized zone in South Korea as well. Barbara Starr reporting for us. Thanks very much.

[17:54:55] There's more breaking news just ahead on the heated debate within the White House over its new support for eliminating ObamaCare. The President's team venting concerns and taking sides.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Comey speaks out. Former FBI Director James Comey says he thought he was fired to shut down an investigation that threatened the President and that President Trump's answer about Russia in a television interview was, quote, potentially obstruction of justice.

Butina talks to Mueller. CNN learns that investigators from the Special Counsel's team briefly questioned Maria Butina who pleaded guilty to conspiring to act as an unregistered Russian agent. Why didn't they investigate her further?

[18:00:03] Better than ObamaCare.