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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Vice Presidential Chief Of Staff Marc Short; Majority Of Americans Don't Believe Mueller Report Exonerates Trump; Boeing Under Fire; Smollett Controversy; Two Police Investigative Reports Released In Smollett Case; Police Union Wants Outside Probe Of Actor's Sudden Release, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D) New York: Attorney General Barr Says The Mueller Report Is Very Substantial, CNN Exclusive Poll: 56 Percent Believe Mueller Report Does Not Exonerate Trump Of Collusion With Russia; Boeing Unveils Changes To Software System; Former Russian Ambassador Calls Mueller Probe A "Hoax"; Rare Access To Rebel-Held City As Yemen War Grinds On. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 27, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:01]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Why didn't they investigate her further?

Better than Obamacare. President Trump claims he has a plan that will be better than Obamacare if the administration's new legal assault succeeds. But we're learning key administration figures have opposed the attack on the Affordable Care Act. And even the vice president has raised some concerns.

Smollett mystery. Actor Jussie Smollett is free, but the prosecutor who dropped all the charges against him is taking a lot of heat. Chicago officials are outraged, and the police union demands an outside investigation.

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: We have multiple breaking stories.

An exclusive new CNN poll shows the American public is not buying President Trump's plane that he's been cleared by the Mueller investigation; 56 percent say they don't think the special counsel's report exonerates the president of collusion.

Meantime, former FBI Director James Comey says he thought the president's answer about Russia in a television interview was -- quote -- "potentially obstruction of justice." And a federal prosecutor says the grand jury investigation started by Mueller's team is continuing robustly.

Also breaking, the president has already switched focus from the Mueller report to now and all-out legal attack on Obamacare, vowing to replace it with something better, but sources say there is no alternative plan, at least not yet. And note that key Cabinet officials oppose the move, with even Vice President Mike Pence raising questions about the outcome.

I will speak with the vice president's chief of staff, Marc Short. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by with full coverage.

Let's start with the late breaking news.

Let's go to the CNN's Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill.

Manu, you had a chance just now to speak with the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, about his conversation today with the Attorney General Bill Barr. Tell us what he told you.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he spoke for about 10 minutes with Bill Barr about the Mueller report and about everything that's going on behind the scenes to discuss what the release involving Bob Mueller's two-year investigation into Russian interference and potential obstruction of justice.

According to Jerry Nadler, this is a very substantial report. That's what Barr told Nadler. He revealed to him how long the report is. Nadler would not disclose that. But Nadler said that Attorney General Bill Barr would not commit to releasing the full report and the underlying evidence to Congress. And Nadler said that's not acceptable.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: I asked about the length and breadth of the report. He said it was a very substantial report, so substantial that I don't see how you can summarize it in four pages fairly.

He said it was a very substantial report. I asked when we would see the report. And he said it would be a matter of weeks, not months, as we have heard before. Obviously, he's not going to -- they're not going to meet the April 2 deadline the committee set. I'm very upset and concerned by that.

And I'm most concerned that, when I asked whether the -- he could commit that the American people and the Congress would see the entire unredacted report and the underlying evidence, he would not make a commitment on that. And that is not acceptable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: So it's not clear when the public or Congress will see the Mueller report, how much the public and Congress will see of the Mueller report. And it's also not clear what Democrats will do next if their demands are not met.

I asked Nadler, now that it appears that he will not meet that April 2 deadline, what's next? What do you plan to do? Will you subpoena? He said, we will make those decisions as they come. He would not say that that's what they would do next. Now, the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, Lindsey Graham, also

spoke with Bill Barr last night. And according to Graham, Barr indicated that the report could be released to Congress by maybe mid- April, maybe it could slip into May, but he expected it potentially before April -- before May.

But, nevertheless, Jerry Nadler is concerned about the fact that there was no commitment by the attorney general to release the full report, to provide the underlying evidence, as Democrats have been demanding. Barr's been going through a process to make sure that whatever is in the report does not overlap with any other investigations.

He wants to scrub it for any sensitive security information. That's the process that's going right now. Whether or not how -- much the public ultimately sees, a big question, but two of the things that he revealed, Wolf, Barr told Jerry Nadler that he would not give the report, he had no plans to give the report to the White House to review first.

That has been one of the big questions going forward. And also he said that Barr did commit to testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, so expect to hear him before the Senate and House Judiciary Committee.

[18:05:03]

Nadler would not say if he would call Bob Mueller to come before his committee, but he does plan to bring Bill Barr, but, nevertheless, a lot of questions still tonight about just how much of the Mueller report the public will ultimately see, Wolf.

BLITZER: Good reporting, Manu. Glad you caught up with the committee chairman. Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill, thank you.

Let's go to our White House Correspondent, Abby Phillip, right now.

Abby, the president was taking another victory lap of sorts, claiming vindication in the Mueller probe. Now he has suddenly shifted gears, though, to an attack on Obamacare.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

It's a sudden shift of topic for the White House, turning to Obamacare, but the president declaring that the Republican Party will become the party of health care. But we're learning some new details about the heated debate within the administration about what to do about this lawsuit filed by states' attorneys general seeking to invalidate the Affordable Care Act.

And at a key meeting on Monday, we have learned that White House counsel Pat Cipollone was among the voices raising some concerns about whether the administration had standing to join in on this lawsuit.

But as this debate raged on, it was the president who made the final decision, deciding that the administration would in fact join in on the suit to throw out the entire law. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP (voice-over): 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 and we think it will do very well in the Supreme Court.

PHILLIP: But sources tell CNN there is no such plan.

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

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

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: Last year, I wrote to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and protested the department not defending the parts of the law that provide protections to consumers with preexisting 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.

PHILLIP: CNN has learned that Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Attorney General Bill Barr oppose the move.

Azar worried that the administration did not have a plan to replace Obamacare and Barr backed lawyers within the administration who oppose the legal case being made by the states against Obamacare.

But 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.

QUESTION: Are chances any greater than zero that this Congress could come together on a replacement?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I doubt it. But what is the Republican Party for?

QUESTION: What is the Republican Party alternative?

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

PHILLIP: All this as the debate rages about why special counsel Robert Mueller decided against taking a position on whether Trump obstructed justice.

Former FBI Director James Comey called the decision confusing, telling NBC News he viewed Trump's own words as evidence of potential obstruction.

LESTER HOLT, NBC ANCHOR: He says, "When I decided to just do it," talking about firing you, "I said to myself, I said, 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.

PHILLIP: The president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani offering this explanation about why Mueller did not weigh in instead:

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

PHILLIP: And as Democrats demand to see the full Mueller report, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell again blocked a 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 percent say they believe collusion simply could not be proven.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP: And on the Affordable Care Act, it seems unlikely that in a House of Representatives controlled by Democrats, that they will move forward with a plan to replace Obamacare.

But, at the same time, Republicans are also growing concerned that this is an issue that has handed an advantage potentially over to Democrats. Democrats were mobilized by the issue of health care in 2018. It helped them pick up a number of seats in the House, and now Republicans are facing the prospect that this issue is back on the table politically for them yet again, Wolf.

[18:10:03]

BLITZER: Abby, thank you, Abby Phillip over at the White House.

Let's get some more on all the breaking news right now, including the breaking news from the former FBI director.

Our political correspondent, Sara Murray, is here.

Sara, James Comey says, when he was fired, he said -- he said, "I thought that's potentially obstruction of justice."

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right.

I mean, potentially, I think, is the key word there. First of all, James Comey obviously being a little bit more open than he was when the investigation was going on.

But, secondly, when you look at Bill Barr's sort of summary of the Mueller report, it doesn't say that Bob Mueller decided not to make a determination about this because there was no evidence anywhere. It says there was evidence on both sides.

Mueller lays that out in his report. So certainly what Comey -- what happened with Comey, what Comey saw, what we all saw, the president saying that Russia essentially influenced that decision, it does look and feel like obstruction of justice.

But we know that Bob Mueller can see the full scope of all of these interactions. They know what Trump was saying to his aides at the time, and ultimately Bob Mueller decided it was not a bulletproof case. Otherwise, he probably would have written that in his report, and Bill Barr decided that there was not a prosecutable case there.

BLITZER: You have also got some new information on an individual that we have reported extensively about who was actually interviewed back in January by the special counsel, Robert Mueller's, team.

We're talking about the Russian national Maria Butina.

MURRAY: Uh-huh. We have talked about her a lot. Her case is still ongoing. She's actually due in court in D.C. tomorrow for a status hearing.

But we are now learning from multiple sources familiar with this that the special counsel's team actually questioned her in January. Now, my understanding is this was a pretty brief interview. They only met with her on this one occasion. They only spoke to her for about an hour. They had questions about her interactions with J.D. Gordon, who was a former Trump campaign aide who worked on national security issues.

She had a couple encounters with J.D. in the run-up to the election. They were friendly. And they also asked if she knew anything about this platform change that happened at the Republican National Convention. Ultimately, the sources that I talked to said it seemed like more of a formality. It didn't seem like she was at all central to their investigation.

But it certainly is interesting to see these various investigations collide there, Wolf.

BLITZER: Lots going on, indeed, still very much. Thanks for that. Thanks for that, Sarah. Appreciate it very much.

Let's get some more on all the late-breaking developers. Marc Short is joining us. He's the chief of staff to the vice president, Mike Pence, also a former CNN contributor, former legislative director over at the White House as well.

Marc, thanks very much for joining us.

MARC SHORT, CHIEF OF STAFF TO VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Wolf, thanks for having me tonight.

BLITZER: All right, let's begin with all the breaking news. And then we will move on to some of the other issues.

On the Mueller report, the chairman, you just heard, of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, just telling CNN that the attorney general will not commit to releasing the full report.

Would it be mistake for the attorney general to withhold information that isn't classified or sensitive grand jury proceedings?

SHORT: Wolf, I haven't read report, so it's hard for me to second- guess the attorney general. I trust his judgment on this.

I think the president's weighed in about his preference for as much transparency as possible. But, no, I certainly have confidence in the attorney general's decision on that.

BLITZER: As you know, the U.S. intelligence community says the Russians interfered in the 2016 presidential election to help Donald Trump.

Now the Mueller report confirms that assessment. But President Trump has never fully accepted that conclusion.

I want you to listen to what he said last summer in Helsinki at a summit -- right after a summit with Vladimir Putin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others. They said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia.

I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now that Robert Mueller has said so in his report, Bill Barr, the attorney general, has accepted that, are the president and the vice president -- and you're the chief of staff for the vice president -- finally ready to accept, once and for all, that the Russians interfered in the 2016 presidential election?

SHORT: Wolf, I think there's a lot of evidence that Russia has been a malign character in a lot of this, and they have been looking to sow seeds of discord in lots of ways.

And so, yes, I accept that they interfered. But can I just say why I think that a lot of the coverage here has been so deranged for the last couple years? Because you continue to see new news stories today, well, what about -- is he going to accept Russia interference or Russia collusion?

And yet never does the media take a step back and say, which president is the one that actually armed the Ukrainians? Was it Trump or was it Obama? It was Trump. Which president actually decided to bomb Syria, and in that action actually killed several Russian mercenaries? It was Trump, when Obama just said he was going to draw a red line in the sand.

Which president pulled out of INF, against Russian objections? It was Trump. It was not Obama. Which president has kicked out more diplomats? It was Trump, not Obama. Which president has put more sanctions on? It was Trump. It was not Obama.

And just today, you saw the president again make statements about Russian interference in Venezuela. This president has stood up to Russia time and again.

[18:15:01]

And yet the media continues to push this notion about Russia collusion -- or perhaps, even on your network, I saw this weekend, when the story broke, CNN was saying, well, then why is he always talking so nicely about Putin?

You're not actually looking at the facts of what this administration has done and how hard it's been.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Well, explain that. Well, while you raise the issue, why doesn't the president flatly say what his intelligence community is saying, the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, says?

Why doesn't he simply say, yes, the Russians did it, and Putin is wrong?

SHORT: Wolf, look at what he said just simply today about Venezuela. He's again stood up to Russia in much stronger terms than previous administrations have.

I think that it's time the media began actually looking at the record on this.

BLITZER: According to this new report on NBC News -- and I want your -- you're the chief of staff to the vice president -- the relationship between Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, and the president took a serious blow after that summit in Helsinki with Putin.

And NBC says your boss, the vice president, Mike Pence, intervened to prevent Coats from quitting late last year.

Do both the president and the vice president have faith in Dan Coats?

SHORT: Yes.

I think that, as you know, the vice president was governor of Indiana. He's worked with Dan Coats for many years and has a personal friendship with him as well. But if the president didn't have confidence in him, there would have been a change. So I think it's clear that the president and vice president have confidence in Dan Coats. And I have seen the reports, but I have nothing to add to them.

BLITZER: All right, let's turn to the Trump administration's new effort to completely repeal Obamacare in the courts.

Millions of Americans count on the Affordable Care Act for their health insurance, as you know. Take a look at this -- 52 million Americans benefited from the preexisting condition protections under Obamacare -- 12.7 million gained coverage under the Medicaid expansion part of the Affordable Care Act -- 11.4 million Americans bought coverage on the Affordable Care Act exchanges for 2019.

So if this effort in the court succeeds to repeal Obamacare, without a replacement, what happens to those many millions of people?

SHORT: Well, let's step back and get to how we got to this point for a second, Wolf.

The reality is that the Obama administration argued the individual mandate is not a tax. And Justice Roberts determined it was and therefore the law could stand.

As you know, when we repealed the individual mandate that actually penalizes those earning $50,000 and less the most, more than 58 percent of those who are paying the penalty are earning under $50,000. And we were able to repeal that, so that Americans didn't have to pay that tax anymore.

Therefore, you created a second set of court proceedings. And, in Texas, they ruled that, now that the individual mandate is no longer required, then the whole law unfolds.

It's our position that Obamacare has not been positive for America. There were estimates there would be 24 million people on Obamacare by 2018. And, in fact, the reality was, it was about a third of that have singed up on the exchanges. Prices increased for individual premiums over 100 percent from 2013 to 2017.

They have actually begun to stabilize, Wolf, because this administration now has more plans on the Obamacare exchanges than before.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Marc, excuse me for interrupting, but what happens if it goes through the courts -- the president has now instructed the Justice Department to go ahead and support this -- these court decisions to completely get rid of all of Obamacare.

What if that happens, and there's no replacement that has passed the House, passed the Senate, and been signed into law by the president?

SHORT: The president will be putting forward plans this year that we hope to introduce into Congress, Wolf.

But the reality is that the court decision is likely not until the summer of 2020, by the time it would reach the Supreme Court. We don't know how they would rule. The president has said repeatedly he would not sign any law unless it protected preexisting conditions.

What you will see as far as Republican plans will be offered will provide, again, insurance across state lines, will be able to look to reduce premiums and provide more freedom. And we're happy to have the debate with Democrats as they continue to march towards socialized medicine.

BLITZER: The decision that was just made this week to go ahead and support these judicial rulings against Obamacare clearly has divided a lot of Republicans. You know this.

Your boss, the vice president, apparently, according to a lot of reports, raised some concerns about what would be the political impact of this move, at least right now. According to Axios, the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, told the president, this decision at this point makes no sense because Democrats won big in the 2018 elections, they took over the majority in the House of Representatives, by running on health care.

Do you worry Democrats will take advantage of this current fight over health care and help them in 2020?

SHORT: No, Wolf, quite -- quite the contrary.

I think the Republicans won elections in 2012 and 2014 -- I'm sorry -- in 2014 and 2010, and in actuality in 2016 on promises to repeal and replace Obamacare. So, again, we welcome a political debate about whether or not Americans want more choice, more freedom, lower premiums, or a march towards socialized medicine.

[18:20:12]

So, yes, we welcome that debate. I would correct one thing, in that the vice president has had no distance from the president on this. I saw the Chyron at CNN. I saw the Axios report. And I just would like to correct the record, that the president has been -- the vice president fully supportive of the president's position.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Just to be precise, Marc, the vice president did not express any concerns at all to the president about the potential political fallout from issuing this decision right now?

SHORT: The president has been very supportive -- I mean -- sorry -- the vice president very supportive of the president's determination on this and does not have separation from him.

BLITZER: But you didn't answer the question. Did he express any concerns?

SHORT: He has not.

BLITZER: He didn't express any concerns about the political ramifications?

SHORT: The vice president was -- if you recall, he was chairman of House Republicans in 2010 when we won landslide elections, 63 Republican House seats, on the promises of repealing and replacing Obamacare.

BLITZER: That was then, but look what happened in 2018. The Democrats took the majority in the House of Representatives.

SHORT: Sure they did, Wolf.

BLITZER: And so many of those Democrats were running on the issue of health care.

SHORT: Wolf, and I know that there's been sort of, I think, a recreation of what transpired.

There's no doubt that Democrats picked up 40 seats. But I think a lot of Americans like divided government. There was a lot of issues in that. I know that they want to push the narrative that it was on health care. But I think the reality is, there was a lot of issues in the 2018 election.

BLITZER: Republicans couldn't manage to repeal and replace Obamacare when your party, the Republican Party, controlled both houses of Congress.

Why would it be any easier now that the Democrats control the House?

SHORT: I'm not sure would be right now, Wolf. I think the reality is that, going back to our last efforts, we were not able to muster any support from Democrats, despite our efforts to try to, I think, provide lower premiums and more choices for patients.

But, as we look forward to the next coming years, I think the question will be what happens in the courts. And if the court decisions are such, then, hopefully, there would be a bipartisan effort to say, look, we need to fix this and come forward.

Right now, I think you're probably right. There isn't much incentive for Democrats to work with Republicans.

BLITZER: You know, a lot of people are going to be very nervous about potentially losing their health care or their health insurance if this current judicial battle gets to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court decides to side with the president, and there's no replacement in the works for that.

You guys got a lot of work going on over there.

Marc Short, congratulations on your new job over at the White House. We will stay in close touch. And you're always welcome to join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM. SHORT: Thank you, Wolf. Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Marc Short is the chief of staff to the vice president, Mike Pence.

Just ahead: The actor Jussie Smollett is free, but the prosecutor who dropped all the charges against him is taking a lot of heat. Chicago officials are furious. And police are demanding an outside investigation.

Plus, after two crashes of its 737 MAX airliners, Boeing unveils a software overhaul, but lawmakers want government officials to explain why Boeing is allowed to regulate itself.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:27:30]

BLITZER: We're following new developments in the wake of the very controversial decision to drop all charges against the actor Jussie Smollett.

Two Chicago police supplemental reports from the case have now been made public. They refer to Smollett as an offender, not a victim.

Brian Todd is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Brian, there's still a lot of confusion and a lot of anger about all this, about all of this, especially the decision to drop all charges.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A lot of both those things, Wolf.

There's still so much mystery surrounding this case tonight. The prosecutor's office which brought the case against Jussie Smollett now facing unrelenting pressure for suddenly dropping the charges.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, Chicago's Fraternal Order of Police is asking us Attorney General William Barr to get involved in the prosecutor's decision to drop the charges against Jussie Smollett.

KEVIN GRAHAM, PRESIDENT, CHICAGO FRATERNAL ORDER OF POLICE: We will 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.

TODD: Prosecutor Joe Magats squarely at the center of the controversy, being scrutinized for questions unanswered, explanations not accepted.

SCOTT FREDERICKSEN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: There's a lot more here that we're not being told.

TODD: Magats says he alone made the call to drop the charges against Smollett, in spite of evidence reinforced by partial police investigation reports released today.

Among his reasons, Magats says, were Smollett's history and the nature of the charges against him.

JOE MAGATS, COOK COUNTY ASSISTANT STATE'S ATTORNEY: He had no prior felony background. He had no history of violence. Like I said, it is a low-level felony.

TODD: Arguments that one former federal prosecutor doesn't buy.

FREDERICKSEN: This is no way a low-level felony. This is the most serious crime, faking a hate crime, lying to the police.

TODD: Magats also seemed to make the argument that, in a city racked with violence, prosecutor's resources would be stretched by trying the Smollett case.

MAGATS: We are focusing our resources on combating violent crime, gun crime and the drivers of violence.

FREDERICKSEN: Every prosecutor will tell you that a crime that involves lying to the police and faking a crime is every bit as critical to the criminal justice system as violent crimes. So that is in no way an explanation for dismissing this case.

TODD: There are questions tonight over whether a secret deal was reached to get Smollett's charges dropped, an idea Smollett's attorneys have flatly rejected.

PATRICIA BROWN HOLMES, ATTORNEY FOR JUSSIE SMOLLETT: There is no deal. The state dismissed the charges.

TODD: But the prosecutor says there was negotiation with Smollett's lawyers.

MAGATS: I called an alternative disposition, in that he agreed to do community service.

[18:30:02]

He agreed to forfeit his bail to the remainder of his band [ph] to the City of Chicago. And in return for him doing those things, we agree to dismiss the indictment.

TODD: Questions are also being raced over Joe Magats' boss, Cook County State's Attorney, Kimberly Foxx, who like Magats, believed Smollett committed the crime.

KIMBERLY FOXX, STATE ATTORNEY AT COOK COUNTRY, ILLINOIS: This office believe that they could probe him guilty.

TODD: Foxx recused herself from the Smollett case after receiving a private communication from Tina Chen, an influential friend of the Smollett family. Foxx then suggested to the police that they turn the case over to the FBI, moves which Police Union officials want investigated. KEVIN GRAHAM, CHICAGO FRATERNAL ORDER OF POLICE: Why did that occur? What happened? Why wasn't there a special prosecutor put in place?

TODD: A question so far not answered by the prosecutor's office. Then there's the question of communication. Chicago police and the mayor say the prosecutor's office never told them beforehand that they were considering dropping the charges.

MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL (D), CHICAGO: Not only did they not inform myself. The fact is when we came off the stage after the largest police graduation and promotion find out about what's happening here, it to me, makes no sense.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't do that without consulting with the police. You don't do that without telling the public in a high profile case. Look, this is why we really did this.

TODD: So far, there has been no explanation from the prosecutor's office for why they didn't consult the police on the decision.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Then just moments ago, Tina Chen, the woman who contacted the lead prosecutor in the case and prompted that prosecutor to recuse herself issued a statement. Tina Chen acknowledging she did contact Kimberly Foxx to express the Smollett family's concern about how the investigation was being characterized in public. Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: Brian Todd reporting for us. Brian, thanks very much.

Just to add, there's more on this hour's breaking news. The Attorney General William Barr discussing Mueller report with the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and not committing to the eventual release of the full report.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:35:00]

[18:36:38] BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories, including the Attorney General now telling the House Judiciary Committee Chairman that the Mueller report is, quote, very substantial and he is not committed to releasing all of it. Let's bring in our analysts.

And, Jeffrey Toobin, I'd like you to listen to what the House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Jerry Nadler, just told our Manu Raju about his conversation with the Attorney General.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JERRY NADLER (D), NEW YORK: I just had a conversation with the Attorney General. I asked about the length and breadth of the report. He said it was a very substantial report, so substantial that I don't see how you can summarize it in four pages fairly. They're not going to meet the April 2nd deadline the committee set.

I'm very upset and concerned by that. And I'm most concerned that when I asked whether the -- he could commit that the American people and the Congress would see the entire un-redacted report and the underlying evidence, he would not make a commitment on that, and that is not acceptable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Sort of a reminder, Jeffrey, how much discretion the Attorney General has right now in deciding what to release.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: And a reminder that Robert Mueller is not an independent counsel. He is an employee of the Department of Justice whose superior is William Barr. And William Barr gets to decide with almost complete discretion, as you point out, what to release and what not to release.

Now, there's a check on him in terms of political criticism. But, as a legal matter, I don't really think there is much of a check. It is possible that the House of Representatives could issue a subpoena and that fight could go on for full release of the document. But, you know, based on the law, as I understand it, I think Barr has the upper hand here and we'll see how much he chooses to exercise.

BLITZER: Nadler wouldn't formally say in this little interview he did with Manu whether he would issue a subpoena down the road, but he's certainly leaving open that option.

You know, Laura, Nadler did say that Barr committed that a version of the report would be released in weeks, not months. So what does this process look like right now in deciding what to release?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: So part of what justice officials are doing right now is scrubbing the report for underlying sources and methods, national security information, information about ongoing investigations and most importantly grand jury information. They can't just fork over the entire report, because turning over grand jury information is actually a crime.

And so while, understandably, everybody wants to see everything having to do with this report, certain parts of it are going to have to be redacted. And so that's what a small team of officials are working on over here. I'm told a person who was on the Special Counsel's team who was detailed there is now back at justice who is intimately involved in all of this.

And so they're working on it. But it's going to be a process. And as Barr has said, it's going to be weeks here and could take us into April, as he also confirmed to Nadler and also Senator Lindsey Graham.

BLITZER: Laura Jarrett, reporting from the Justice Department.

You know, David Swerdlick, Nadler said that Barr did agree, and I'm looking at the notes, did agree to come and testify and then he will have to wait to hear what Barr says before they decide whether Robert Mueller himself will have to come and testify before the committee. Both of those will be incredibly important events if they both occur.

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Incredibly important, Wolf.

[18:40:00]

I think they have to check the box with interviewing Attorney General Barr before they can then go and interview Special Counsel Mueller that just sort of the sequence of events. As Jeffrey has said, Barr is the boss. But I think once you get Barr in there, the key question is, if by then he he hasn't provided the substantial proportion of the report, as Laura said, most people expect that they will redact highly classified information, grand jury information.

Other than that, if Barr is saying to the American people and to Congress, you can't see this that we have been working on for two years that your taxpayer money has paid for, the first question is, why not? Why is this premium content that we the American people do not subscribe to?

BLITZER: You know, Joey Jackson -- go ahead, Jeffrey.

TOOBIN: Can I just add one point? Laura gave that very accurate list of the concerns, continuing investigations, grand jury material, classified information. It's possible to act like those are ironclad categories and it's clear what falls into which category. If you are a public official and you want to see something released, you can look at those categories and release a lot of material.

If you want to use those categories as an excuse to keep things secret, you can do that, too. So the idea that the Justice Department's hands are completely tied here, which is the idea they are trying to put out, it's simply not true. There is a lot of play in the joints of these categories.

BLITZER: All right. Joey, what do you?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No. I think think that's absolutely right. I mean, to Jeffrey's point, the bottom line is that that's what lawyers do. We make arguments to advance our interests. And so to the extent that an argument is advanced to protect material, certainly, you protect it, to the extent that an argument as it advances to why it should be released, and, you know, everybody gets to release it. And that's just the way it goes in law.

BLITZER: You know, Sabrina, the CNN poll that we've just released today, we asked the question, do you think report exonerates President Trump of collusion? 43 percent say yes, 56 percent say no.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that just reinforces that there are great deal of unanswered questions, and part of that is because we haven't seen the full report. And some of those questions do pertain to counterintelligence with respect to Russian interference in the U.S. election.

According to Barr's summary, the Special Counsel could not establish a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Moscow. But we don't know what the Special Counsel had to say about the pattern of contacts between members of the Trump campaign or associates of the President and various Russian individuals, including those with ties to Russian intelligence.

There's a Trump Tower meeting in June of 2016 where the Trump campaign was offered incriminating information about Hillary Clinton. There's, of course, Roger Stone and his contacts with WikiLeaks and the allegation he reported back to a senior official in the Trump campaign. George Papadopolous, Michael Flynn, the list goes on and on.

So until the public sees that full report, we don't know what to make of all the context that we heard about over the last two years and what came of those conversations.

BLITZER: Well, we all want to see that full report.

Everybody stick around, there's more news we're following.

Just ahead, after two crashes of its 737 Max airliners, Boeing unveils a software overhaul. But lawmakers want government officials to explain why Boeing is allowed to regulate itself.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:45:50] BLITZER: Breaking news. Just ahead of a Senate hearing on airline safety this afternoon, Boeing announced overhauls of the flight software pilot training program for its 737 MAX airliners. The jets involved in two recent crashes that killed 346 people and forced the planes to be taken out of service worldwide.

During this afternoon's hearing, the Transportation Department's inspector general told senators, the Federal Aviation Administration's response to the crisis has shaken confidence in the agency's reputation of being the gold standard of aviation safety.

Another 2020 presidential can't takes center stage later tonight as CNN hosts a town hall with Democratic Cory Booker.

CNN Political Director, David Chalian is on the scene of tonight's event in Orangeburg, South Carolina.

David, that's a key early primary state. It's been a battleground of sorts for presidential candidates. What can we expect tonight?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: You are absolutely right, Wolf. This is the first in the south primary. That's what happens here in South Carolina. And a little less than a year from now when South Carolina Democratic primary takes place, you are going to see an electorate that looks different than Iowa and New Hampshire, right?

Some 60 percent of the Democratic primary electorate is African- American here in South Carolina. That's a key difference. And, in fact, the town hall here in Orangeburg, it's a town home to two historically black universities. That's going to make a big part of the audience that Cory Booker is going to field some questions from.

And it's a big moment in Cory Booker's presidential campaign, Wolf. He has been focused more on smaller events, small town halls in small towns throughout Iowa, New Hampshire, around the country. He did not do the big kickoff rally we saw others do. So, this is a moment now when he is before a national audience at a key moment in this campaign.

The first quarter fund-raising deadline is coming up. And, of course, we're just a couple of months away from the first critical debate as all the candidates are sort of scrambling to figure out how they get seen, noticed, make their mark in this very crowded Democratic primary, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, that first Democratic presidential debate is in June. So, that's pretty close.

David Chalian on the scene for us, thanks very much.

And to our viewers, be sure to watch the CNN presidential town hall with Senator Cory Booker. Don Lemon moderates later tonight, 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

Up next, the CNN exclusive. The former Russian ambassador to the United States reacts to the Mueller report which says the Russians did meddle in the U.S. presidential election.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:53:08] BLITZER: Russian officials have openly gloated over the Mueller report summary, finding no conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia. In a CNN exclusive, our Senior International Correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, spoke with the former Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, who was in the Oval Office when President Trump disclosed some secret information to Russia's foreign minister.

Fred is joining us live from Moscow right now. So, what did Ambassador Kislyak tell you, Fred?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. You had Sergey Kislyak, such an important figure in the transition period, of course, also in the early days of the Trump administration. Also because of those communications with Michael Flynn, that, of course, Flynn later admitted to lying about.

I asked Sergey Kislyak how he felt about the findings of the Mueller probe, and he basically tried to dismiss at least the ones that were negative towards Russia.

Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SERGEY KISLYAK, FORMER RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: I think the whole story about the Russian interference is a hoax. So, the Mueller report doesn't change too much to me.

PLEITGEN: But do you feel personally vindicated by this? Because there was a lot of talk about your phone conversations with Michael Flynn.

KISLYAK: I am a professional. I do not have personal feelings. What is important for me, it's the quality of Russian-American relations. They have become victim of what is happening in your country.

First of all, you need to return to normalcy in the United States in political reality, to be able to judge the world around you, including Russia, in a reasonable way. And then you will return to the understanding that you and us can do a lot of things that serve your interests and ours, and interests of international stability.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PLEITGEN: So essentially, Wolf, what Sergey Kislyak was saying, who, by the way, is now a senator from the Ziran (ph) region of Russia, he's essentially saying that he believes that it's the U.S. that needs to make the next move to try and restore relations with the United States and Russia to what they were before President Trump took office -- Wolf.

[18:55:14] BLITZER: Based on your conversations over there, do the Russians actually believe the relationship with the U.S. could be restored?

PLEITGEN: You know what, I think a lot of them believe it's going to be very difficult. I was speaking with Sergey Kislyak about that, as well. And he said he hopes President Trump can deliver that for Russia. He doesn't believe it's going to happen any time soon.

And one of the things that he believes is that what the Russians keep saying is they believe there are other forces at play. Obviously, he means Congress, he means others who are adversaries of the president in America. One of the things you keep hearing from Russians again and again is that they feel that the relations are as they call hostage or victims of political in-fighting inside the United States, not many people in Russia believe that it's going to change any time soon.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, the U.S. blames the Russians for interfering in the U.S. presidential election. Midterm elections, they say they're doing the same thing in the upcoming elections.

Fred Pleitgen in Moscow, thanks very much.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people are dead, millions facing famine now after four years of the war in Yemen grinds on. The U.S. Senate this month voted to cut U.S. support from the Saudi-led fight against Iranian-backed rebels. But the United States remains the largest arms supplier to the Saudi-led coalition.

Our Senior International Correspondent, Sam Kiley, got rare access inside the rebel port city of Hudaydah with this exclusive report. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She's on the brink between life and the abyss. Like her country, she's been weakened by poverty and attacked by external forces. Ayad's (ph) got a liver infection, her kidneys are failing and malaria is inside her brain. She is 10.

If she lives to remember anything, most of her memories will be a war in Yemen. In war, disease spreads fast. In the next door bed, the nearest child has meningitis. The next one over, a despairing teen who tried to hang herself.

Bombs landed at the main gates of the hospital a few months ago. The staff are rarely paid, but they still come to work.

HODA SOLIMAN, LEAD ICU NURSE, AL-THAWRA HOSPITAL (through translator): Of course, if we see people who can't find medical care, then we have to rescue them, even if this hospital was under bombardment. When there are clashes, we remain here. When they attack, the hospital stays here. If we don't relieve the suffering of these people, who would?

KILEY: U.S. support for the Saudi-led war against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Hudaydah is under pressure in the Senate. But still --

(CHANTING)

KILEY: Death to the usual suspects, America and Israel.

Not surprising, though. The U.S. is the biggest arms supplier to Saudi Arabia and its allies. Its U.S. bombs, planes and vehicles that have helped the Saudi-led coalition force its way into the outskirts of Hudaydah. They're marking the fourth anniversary of a war that's killed an estimated 60,000 people, a couple of miles from the front line.

(on camera): There are obviously many thousands of Houthis who have gathered here in Hudaydah, and it's this city that's absolutely central to the survival of the whole Houthi mission. It's through the port here that almost all of the food comes to feed some 70 percent of the population.

But they're incredulous after four years of war that the United States and the United Kingdom continue to supply weapons to the Saudi-led coalition.

(voice-over): Anger here is as widespread as hunger. The U.N. has warned that 10 million people are one step away from famine.

ALI KHAMMASH, TEACHER: How many? How many blood from our body to stop the war?

KILEY (on camera): And you know that the U.S. Senate is putting pressure on the Trump administration to stop support for the Saudis. What do you say to that?

KHAMMASH: Our people -- our people -- our children, kill us, USA kill us, every day, kill us. Kill us in my school. Kill us in (INAUDIBLE).

ADBEL MOMEN AL-MONTASSER, ENGLISH LITERATURE PROFESSOR: Actually, they are just thinking of their own benefits, from, you know, Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries. They are rich. They want to milk them, you know, as I think Trump.

KILEY: That is a sentiment that's reflected on the walls of Hudaydah. That's the Saudi king's head on a cow, and the U.S. president is filling golden pails at the other end.

Sam Kiley, CNN, Hudaydah, Yemen.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Awful situation. Sam, thanks very much.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show @CNNsitroom.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.