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Supporters Defend Biden As He Denies Inappropriate Touching; House Dems Poised To Hit Trump White House With First Subpoenas Over Security Clearance Concerns, Full Access To Mueller Report; Rep. Jerry Nadler (D) New York Plans Subpoena To Get Full Mueller Report; Second Woman Makes A Public Complaint About Former Vice President; Feds: Software Fix For Grounded Boeing Jets Delayed For "Weeks". Aired on 6- 7p ET

Aired April 1, 2019 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: White House officials say it's anyone's guess as to whether the president will make good on the ultimatum.

Apology tour. As Joe Biden denies inappropriate behavior, a second woman is coming forward to complain about an encounter with the former vice president. Tonight, Biden isn't the only Democrat saying sorry, as the 2020 campaign takes shape.

And software delay. Tonight, the FAA says it will take weeks to tweak and review a crucial safety upgrade to the Boeing 377 MAX. We're following breaking news on the fate of the aircraft involved in two deadly crashes.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight, House Democrats appear to be on the brink of authorizing their first subpoenas aimed at the Trump White House. The Oversight Committee demanding answers after a whistle-blower warns, senior officials overruled concerns about 25 people whose clearances were initially denied for disqualifying issues, including fears about foreign influence and potential conflicts of interest.

We're told Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump were on the list, this as the House Judiciary Committee chairman is set to authorize a subpoena in the Democrats' battle to obtain the full unredacted report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

This hour, I will talk with the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our National Security Correspondent, Alex Marquardt.

Alex, what are you learning?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this whistle-blower that we're talking about from the White House, her name is Tricia Newbold.

She's someone I have been speaking with for several months now, as she's been sounding the alarm about security clearances that have been forced through. Now, in a new interview with the Oversight Committee, Newbold has detailed how she compiled a list of 25 individuals whose security clearances were denied, but then overturned, among them, another source tells me, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.


MARQUARDT (voice-over): A White House whistle-blower is alleging the Trump administration's handling of security clearances is threatening U.S. national security.

The 18-year career official claiming the Trump administration gave security clearances to dozens of people who shouldn't have had them, including, according to a source, the president's daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, overruling the office that determines whether a person should get access to the country's biggest secrets.

In a letter to the White House counsel, House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings said the whistle-blower named Tricia Newbold, a career supervisor in the White House office that oversees security clearance operations, "believes that Congress must intervene immediately to safeguard our national security."

It's the latest sign that Democrats plan to use their new subpoena power in the House to demand answers from the Trump administration. Chairman Cummings has now subpoenaed the former personnel security director, Carl Kline, who allegedly pushed through the clearances, the whistle-blower says, despite potential conflicts of interest or possible manipulation by foreign powers.

QUESTION: At what point do you say enough's enough?

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: There will come a moment when I will do whatever is necessary to be done to carry out my responsibilities under the Constitution.

MARQUARDT: The president can give out security clearances as he sees fit, but has denied a role in pushing through these clearances.

QUESTION: Did you tell General Kelly or anyone in the White House to overrule security officials?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I don't think I have the authority to do that. I'm not sure I do.

QUESTION: You do have the authority to do it.

TRUMP: But I wouldn't -- I wouldn't do it.

MARQUARDT: The ranking member on Oversight, Congressman Jim Jordan, called the investigation reckless, that "It's an excuse to go fishing through the personal files of dedicated public servants," this as the House Judiciary Committee, under Congressman Jerry Nadler, announced it plans to subpoena to obtain the full unredacted Mueller report.

He also wants to subpoena some of the biggest names who have worked in the Trump White House, including Steve Bannon, Hope Hicks, and former White House Counsel Don McGahn, in relation to their roles in the Mueller probe.


MARQUARDT: Republicans on the Oversight Committee have now responded to that whistle-blowing memo with a memo of their own.

And, in it, they hit back with Newbold's claims, claiming that she was unhappy with the way the office was being run. They argue that she had limited knowledge about specific applications, and pointing out that on her list of those people, she had very serious concerns for just four or five them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting.

All right, Alex, good reporting. Thank you very much.

Let's go to Capitol Hill right now.

Our Congressional Correspondent, Phil Mattingly, is watching all of this unfold.

Phil, is this part of the Democrats' strategy to try to keep the pressure on the White House even after the Mueller investigation?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there's no question about it.

And it's also a reminder, in case anybody happened to forget, the Democrats control one chamber of Congress. And with that control comes the ability, not only to launch investigations, but also to include subpoena power in their arsenal as they move through those investigations.


Today marking kind of the requirement or at least something you would see Democrats push forward on, on several fronts going forward, regardless of what happens with the Mueller report, whether it's submitted to Congress in full or redacted form.

And that underscores this new fact for the White House that they have been figuring out over the course of the next couple of months. For the White House Counsel's Office, for Republicans on Capitol Hill, their allies, Democrats will be moving forward with full force on investigations across several fronts, targeting multiple Cabinet agencies, targeting the president's personal finances.

You have already had subpoenas issued by the Oversight Committee related to child separation policy. You have future subpoenas being considered relating to issues at the Interior Department, at the EPA, so on and so on.

And, Wolf, I think, more than anything else, what this underscores now is, this is the reality. This is the reality of Democrats controlling one of those chambers of Congress. This is the reality that the White House Council's Office and the president is going to have to face often.

One of the biggest questions going forward with this power comes, what is the White House response going to be? Are they going to fight this every step of the way? We have obviously seen the back and forth between White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings over the clearances issue.

I'm told that Democrats expect that type of fight to continue pretty much on anything they pursue. That said, as this whistle-blower starts to kind of lay clear, there are multiple avenues for Democrats to get their information.

I'm told that the Democrats are seeking multiple avenues, as they move forward on these investigations, something that should certainly give the White House pause and also give the White House reason to be even more alert as these investigations go forward.

One thing is certain, Wolf. And we have seen this today. We have seen this repeatedly over the first three months of this House Democratic majority. They aren't going to stop anytime soon. In fact, the expectation is, everything's only going to be expanded from here going forward.

BLITZER: It will go forward. There's no doubt about that. Phil Mattingly, thank you very much.

As President Trump threatens to close the entire southern border with Mexico this week, we're told the White House is considering appointing a so-called czar to manage the surge of migrants coming into the United States from Mexico.

Let's go to our senior White House Correspondent, Pamela Brown.

Pamela, what are you hearing about the president's ultimatum? Will he actually go ahead and shut down, close that border?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you, Wolf, with the administration officials I have been speaking with today, that is the question they're all asking.

Many of them who would be involved in such a move are now left in the dark. They're actually looking to the president's Twitter feed for cues on what he might do. And this is a threat that the president has made in the past, but one official I spoke with today said this time seems more real.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BROWN (voice-over): President Trump tonight not backing away from threats to close the U.S. border with Mexico as soon as this week, tweeting: "We have a major national emergency at our border. Get it done now."

Administration officials warn that the ultimatum he launched last week...

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will keep it closed for a long time. I'm not playing games.

BROWN: ... is serious.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: It certainly isn't a bluff. You can take the president seriously. And here's why. You're giving those metrics. What he's looking at is that 4,000 migrants apprehended in one day recently. We're on track this month to close to 100,000. We have never seen a surge like this.

BROWN: Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney telling ABC News that something dramatic would need to happen to change the president's mind.

MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We need the people from the ports of entry to go out and patrol in the desert where we don't have any wall. We hate to say we told you so, but we told you so. We need border security. And we're going to do the best we can with what we have.

BROWN: The threats follow the highest month of undocumented migrant crossings in 11 years, according to Customs and Border Protection. Still, acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said that, as of late Monday morning, the Pentagon had not yet been asked to support closing the border.

PATRICK SHANAHAN, ACTING U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: It's a very dynamic and fluid situation. I will be having conversations with the secretary of state today and most likely Secretary Nielsen.

BROWN: Aides also defending the president's decision to discontinue aide to Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador for not doing more to help stem the flow of migrants.

MULVANEY: We need the Northern Triangle countries to do more about not allowing their people into Mexico. They could help us. We need them to do that. If not, it makes very little sense for us to continue to send them aid.

BROWN: President Trump also keeping up pressure on House Democrats to end their investigations into Russian meddling, now that special counsel Robert Mueller declined to recommend criminal charges against the president, tweeting -- quote -- "No matter what information is given to the crazed Democrats from the no-collusion Mueller report, it will never be good enough. Behind closed doors, the Dems are laughing."

MULVANEY: We really do think, enough is enough, and it's time to move on to other things.

BROWN: Acting White House Chief of staff Mick Mulvaney defending Trump after Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff said Trump campaign associates' interactions with Russians were unethical.

MULVANEY: I think the voters are going to decide about the ethics and morality of the people they vote for on either side.


People liked Bill Clinton, even though they might not have thought he was that ethical. That's not the job of the House Intelligence Committee. It's not the job of the House Judiciary Committee. It's not the job of the House Oversight Committee. They're supposed to review the functioning of government. Voters make decisions about the candidates.


BROWN: Now, on the immigration front, a source familiar with the matter says the White House is considering appointing a border czar to oversee the immigration efforts.

Now, I'm told this is something that has been entertained over the last year, but, more recently, it has been under consideration, given the worsened -- worsening situation at the border, in the administration's view.

And also, Wolf, in talking to officials, there really is a sense of concern about the reality of closing the border. One official I spoke with today told me that the move would be -- quote -- "catastrophic" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Pamela Brown at the White House, thanks very much.

Let's discuss this and more.

Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, he's joining us live.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's start with the news that the White House granted top- security clearances to about 25 people who were initially denied those clearances.

What are the potential national security concerns that you may have?

MENENDEZ: Well, there's a reason that people go through a vetting process as it relates to national security clearances.

And while the president may have the power to overrule those who did the vetting, it doesn't mean that he should do so. These are individuals who obviously, from the reports, did not pass certain clearances, either because of possibly a criminal record, possibly financial entanglements, possibly foreign influence, a lot about which has gone on with this administration.

So you want to make sure that the national interests and security of the United States is insulated from all of that, which is why, if you don't immediate the threshold, you are denied. And the president overrules them arbitrarily and capriciously.

So you have to question, how seriously does he take the national security questions that flow from the security clearances and the vetting that goes through it?

BLITZER: One of those 25 officials is apparently Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, senior adviser, who has taken the lead on several sensitive national security foreign policy issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, relations with Mexico, the relationship with Saudi Arabia, among other countries.

Does your committee know the extent of the issues behind Jared Kushner's security clearance and how that might impact his work?

MENENDEZ: Well, we don't fully know the issues behind his particular security clearance and the override that the president put on granting him security clearances.

But he is engaged in some of the most significant foreign policy, national security questions of our country. And so knowing, for example -- I don't know what the specifics are, but knowing, for example, is foreign influence a concern as it relates to Mr. Kushner?

Because, if it is, then you have to worry about how that foreign influence affects his counsel to the president and the actions that he has taken in pursuit of U.S. national foreign policy. And so it's just one dimension of a really dangerous and concerning set of circumstances in which you cannot decipher what's in the national interest, what somebody's doing purely in the national interests or what are they doing in their personal interests.

BLITZER: You have been among those lawmakers pushing for accountability in the death of "The Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Now an investigator for Jeff Bezos, who owns "The Washington Post," is writing in The Daily Beast -- and let me quote from that article. This was apparently -- this is the article. "Our investigators and several experts concluded with high confidence that the Saudis had access to Bezos' phone and gained private information."

So what do you think? Apparently, this was in response to "The Washington Post's" very tough coverage of Saudi Arabia. Does this line up with your own understanding for, first of all, of Saudi capabilities? Is this something your committee is concerned about?

MENENDEZ: Well, certainly, my committee is concerned about on Foreign Relations any influence by a foreign power, foreign government, foreign individual in trying to affect the dialogue, the politics, and the policy of the United States.

And so, if this report is true, then the Saudis trying to affect Mr. Bezos because he owns "The Washington Post," and therefore trying to affect "The Washington Post"'s free editorial line, in terms of their freedom of the press, to pursue whatever editorial line they want, including being critical of the Saudis or to pursue the work of journalists to try to freeze them or discredit by virtue of their owner is something that would be hugely problematic, interference in our own efforts in terms of our policy as it relates to the U.S.-Saudi relationship, and another example that the Saudis, if true, think that they can do anything with impunity.


BLITZER: Let's turn to the results of the Russia investigation by Robert Mueller.

Do you support the House Democratic effort that's under way right now to subpoena the full, unredacted Mueller report, even though the attorney general, Bill Barr, has promised a redacted version by mid- April?

MENENDEZ: Well, look, I think that, at least in the context of congressional oversight, there should be a full vetting of the Mueller report and they should get full access.

They know, as members, those elements, for example -- if there are national security elements in there, they know that that cannot be disclosed, in terms of sources, methods, of acquiring information. But at some point, after two years and millions of dollars spent, and when we're talking about critical issues, both in terms of domestic and foreign policy, it seems to me that a full vetting of the Mueller report should take place, and that the total publication of it, to the extent possible, beyond Congress, for the American people, should be realized as well.

BLITZER: Amidst all of this, Senator, President Trump is turning his attention to immigration. He's threatening to shut down the entire southern border with Mexico.

Is this a negotiating tactic, or do you think the president will actually follow through with that threat?

MENENDEZ: Well, you know, the president lives in a parallel alternate universe as it comes to immigration, as it relates to the U.S.-Mexico relationship.

I guess he doesn't understand that Mexico is the second largest market for American goods and services in the world, not in the hemisphere, in the world. So you want to close the border down, you want to close all of the ports of entry, you're going to have an enormous consequence to commerce, to agriculture, and a whole host of other things that are critical to our own interests, beyond Mexico's interests, number one.

Number two is, you want to deny Central American countries the money that don't go to those countries? They to the most part go to non- governmental entities that are trying to create a structure in those countries on rule of law, on public safety, on hunger, so that we don't have people fleeing from those countries?

Well, Mr. President, all you're going to do is drive more people to the border. And, lastly, if you didn't create a set of circumstances in which you're violating our asylum laws, in which an individual seeks to be processed at a border entry can be ultimately known who they are, what they're seeking, seeking asylum, and then vetted for asylum, you wouldn't have them crossing illegally.

But you're stopping them from doing what is legal under our country, which is to seek asylum at a border crossing. So the president is a big part of creating the challenge that we have in the border by his policies.

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

MENENDEZ: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead: House Democrats plan to issue a subpoena after a White House whistle-blower says two dozen denials of security clearances were overturned by senior Trump officials.

Plus: breaking news about the Boeing jets that are grounded worldwide because of two recent crashes. It looks like a potential fix will be delayed.



BLITZER: Tonight, House Democrats are raising urgent new concerns about the White House's handling of top-secret security clearances, including the clearances granted to senior White House advisers Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, this after the Oversight Committee chairman revealed a whistle-blower, a career professional, had come forward.

Joining us now, the former director of national intelligence, James Clapper. He's now a CNN national security analyst.

Thanks so much for coming in, General Clapper.


BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about this whistle-blower.

The White House apparently has overturned the recommendation of this career official, who recommended against giving security clearances to these 25 individuals who worked in the Trump administration. The president clearly has the authority to give top-secret security clearances to anyone he wants.

But give us some context for this. How unusual is this?

CLAPPER: Well, this is a very high number, in my mind, a very high number of people, proportionate to the relatively small population in the White House.

So, 25 people, that's a lot. And what you do, the more you do that, the more you waive the requirements for a clearance, you are incurring a great risk, particularly given what I have read from the whistle- blower's account of some of the problems and the backgrounds of these individuals.

And what you're trying to do is gauge one's trustworthiness and integrity and ability to protect classified information. And so the more people, the broader the population of people that you exempt from that screening, the greater the risk to national security.

BLITZER: According to a Democratic memo that has been released, the whistle-blower said these individuals, among other things, had -- quote -- "a wide range of serious disqualifying issues involving foreign influence, conflicts of interest, concerning personal conduct, financial problems, drug use, and criminal conduct."


That sounds pretty -- pretty awful. I will ask you this. You were the director of national intelligence when President Obama was in office. Do you remember President Obama using his authority, which is their constitutional authority, to grant top-secret security clearances to individuals that professional staff said, you know what, don't do it?

CLAPPER: I'm aware of no case like that, at least during the six-and- a-half years I served as President Obama's DNI. I'm not aware of it.


BLITZER: Would you have normally -- if that had happened, would you have been told?

CLAPPER: Oh, yes. I think -- yes, I think we would have known about it.

BLITZER: So what are the ramifications here? You know, these people have secure top-secret security clearances. What happens?

CLAPPER: Well, the big thing here is, in my view, given the behavioral challenges or problems that were listed, is the ability for a foreign adversary, a foreign agent to leverage, gain influence, gain influence or cause someone with that kind of background to behave in a certain way.

So you are risking -- and particularly -- this is particularly critical to people who are in the White House, who are potentially exposed to very, very sensitive classified information. So, you're just taking a chance.

And, again, as you said at the outset, the president has that prerogative. But every time he does it, you're enhancing, you're increasing the risk.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the Mueller report. And you're familiar. It's about a 400-page report.

The attorney general, Bill Barr, says it will be released, redacted, by mid-April or so. Should the Congress get the full Mueller report completely unredacted?

CLAPPER: Well, I think, first, there's a case for seeing if -- the extent to which Attorney General Barr lives up to his commitment to be as transparent as possible.

There are the four criteria that would cause exemptions to this, that would result in redactions. I will say that in the case of intelligence sources and methods, if the revelations that occurred in the two key Mueller indictments of last February and July are an indicator, they were very, very forthcoming.

So, at least, from a sources and methods standpoint, I have hope that there will be more released. Now, I think, ultimately, though, if -- I think the Congress, the Democrats are justified in asking for an unredacted version, at least to some in the Congress.

I don't know about everybody, but I think this is -- this is a special case, certainly. And in all of those cases, the criteria, and I think there is some subjective judgment involved. And I think, in this case, they ought to err -- the err ought to be on the side of transparency.

BLITZER: So even the most sensitive information should be at least made available on a confidential basis to the so-called Gang of Eight?

CLAPPER: That would be my recommendation, at least them, if not more, but the Gang of Eight, certainly.

And that is a mechanism that has been set up long-running for informing the Congress, or the leadership of the -- key leadership of the Congress on various very sensitive information.

BLITZER: Thanks so much for joining us.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, a source says the White House is considering appointing a border or immigration czar. But will the president follow through with his threat to close the entire U.S. border with Mexico? A White House official says, it's anyone's guess.

And female supporters rally around the former Vice President Joe Biden, as a second woman now accuses him of unwanted contact.


[18:33:23] BLITZER: We are following subpoena battles that are brewing right now. House Democrats are demanding information from the White House about the handling of security clearances. They're also demanding a full un-redacted version of the Mueller report. Let's bring in our analysts and our experts to discuss. David Swerdlick, you heard the former Director of National Intelligence, General Clapper, just told me these issues involving security clearances are extremely sensitive. According to this whistleblower, some of the disqualifying issues, granting security clearances to these 25 administration officials, improper foreign influence, various conflicts of interest, personal conduct issues, financial problems, drug use, criminal conduct. This is serious stuff.

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, those are serious issues, both because potentially, just potentially, people who have those things in their record or their past, according to intelligence people I've talked to, are susceptible potentially to either blackmail or to being compromised in some other way by foreign entities, let's say. The other thing that stands out to me on that list, Wolf, is that there are so many people. If the whistleblower's information is right, this isn't two, three, four, five, six people, this is over two dozen people who were granted these clearances when career staff said they shouldn't get them.

BLITZER: The whistleblower, Tricia Newbold, Kaitlan, raised a lot of concerns and she had been working there for 18 years, through democratic and republican administrations. What are you hearing from White House officials now?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now, they're not commenting on this and saying how they're going to go. But that letter from Cummings is sent to the White House Counsel, Pat Cipollone. And we know how Pat Cipollone feels about this.


He has said very strongly that the executive branch and the President have the exclusive authority to grant or deny these security clearances. And he essentially believes it's up to them and that Democrats and therefore lawmakers on Capitol Hill don't have the right to get this kind of information about what goes into that process because it's the President's decision at the end of the day. So that's what their response is.

But we've also seen some of the President's allies on Capitol Hill say the Democrats are cherry picking this woman's information, that some of the people on that list was a custodian for GSA. But we have to know, along with that, that also some of the People on that list are senior administration officials. So those are high-ranking people getting access to a lot of information.

BLITZER: Including Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump apparently on that list as well.

Sabrina, House Democrats amidst this, they're also preparing a subpoena to try to get the full un-redacted Mueller report. They're ready to issue that subpoena as early as Wednesday.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, they are prepared to hold a vote on a proposal under which the House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Jerry Nadler, would make a determination as to when to actually issue those subpoenas. And this is certainly an escalation of what is a brewing fight between Democrats in Congress and Attorney General William Barr, who has said that he will deliver a redacted version of the report to members of Congress by mid-April.

Now, as we know, Barr has been in the midst of scrubbing that report of information that falls into particular categories, including classified information, as well as information that he deems potentially damaging to peripheral third parties and grand jury information. Now, Democrats in Congress say they believe that members of Congress should have access to that grand jury information.

And what Democrats are effectively saying to the Attorney General is that they don't trust him. They don't believe that he is providing all of the information in a way that is transparent. And so I think that we always expected this would fall into a protracted legal battle and this is very much the beginning of that fight.

BLITZER: Well, let's talk about that legal battle, Jeffrey Toobin. All of these subpoena battles that are unfolding right now could set the stage for all of this winding up in court.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: It could. And, you know, it is worth remembering that we are now in the second half of Donald Trump's first and perhaps only term as president. And once things get in the courts, they slow down. You know, any fight between the executive branch and the legislative branch is likely to go to a district court, to the Court of Appeals, and perhaps even to the Supreme Court.

So, you know, one advantage the White House has in all of these circumstances is time. I mean, they can run out the clock, almost, when it comes to these fights. And it looks like they are setting up, just -- to do just that. They are going to fight. And they're going to fight at every level of the courts. And it may take well into next year.

BLITZER: Let's see what happens on that front.

It's -- you know, House Democrats also right now -- they've got another issue they're working on, immigration, because of the President, David. He's threatening as early as this week to shut down the entire U.S. border with Mexico because of the inflow of migrants coming from Central America. How are his fellow Democrats reacting to that?

SWERDLICK: Well, I think right now, Democrats would like to see a little bit more, as would republicans, what the President means by shut down the border. He's made a lot of loud noises about that. But what's unclear is whether that means all ports of entry on the U.S.- Mexico land border or whether that means some, whether that means more enforcement, and how that would affect our trade relationships.

There are people who legally cross back and forth across the border every day. And there's millions, if not, billions of dollars that cross back and forth about this. Democrats won the immigration, the border wall fight at the beginning of the year. The question is, will they be up for another round or what is the President doing? My sense is that the President feels comfortable on this issue, politically, in a way he doesn't feel comfortable on immigration -- I mean, excuse me, on health care and some other issues.

BLITZER: Are they serious over at the White House? Is the President really going to do this?

COLLINS: I love that he says Democrats are waiting to see what it is that the President means. People inside the White House are waiting to see if the President is actually going to shut down the border, because he's threatened this before and he's never followed through on it. But then Mick Mulvaney was on the Sunday shows and he said, unless something dramatic happens this week, he believes the President is going to follow through on that threat.

So that pretty much sent everyone in the White House scrambling because there is no strategy, they don't know how what they would close, they don't know who it would affect trade, they don't know if it would affect air travel. There are a ton of unknowns coming from inside the West Wing, the same place where the President is making these threats to shut down the border.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. We have a lot more to discuss, and we'll do that right after this.



[18:44:17] BLITZER: We're back with our analysts. As Joe Biden is trying to defuse the first crisis of his likely 2020 presidential bid, the former vice president has been denying any inappropriate behavior as a second woman is now coming forward with a complaint. Tonight, Biden supporters, including his former spokeswoman, are rushing to his defense.

CNN Political Reporter, Arlette Saenz, is joining us right now. Arlette, Biden is the latest Democrat in what's being described as an apology tour, as the race for the White House takes shape.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right, Wolf. And tonight, a source familiar with Biden's thinking tells me that these allegations will not dissuade Joe Biden from entering the 2020 race, but cautions he still hasn't made that final decision.


[18:45:01] SAENZ (voice-over): Tonight, Joe Biden doing damage control. A second woman coming forward to allege the former vice president touched her inappropriately.

Amy Lappos telling "The Hartford Courant," he pulled her in to rub noses at a 2009 fund-raiser in Connecticut. This after Biden was put on defense over the weekend, after a former Democratic Nevada lawmaker alleged he made her feel uneasy, gross, and confused during a 2014 encounter.

LUCY FLORES (D), FORMER NEVADA LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: Very unexpectedly and out of nowhere, I feel Joe Biden put his hands on my shoulders, get up very close to me from behind, lean in, smell my hair, and then plant a slow kiss on the top of my head.

SAENZ: A day and a half after the allegation first surfaced, Biden reacted. In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support, and comfort. And not once, never did I believe I acted inappropriately, adding, if it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully, but it was never my intention.

FLORES: I'm glad that he is clarifying his intentions. Frankly, my point was never about his intentions and it shouldn't be about his intentions. It should be about the women on the receiving end of that behavior.

SAENZ: Also speaking out, the woman at the center of this viral photo, Stephanie Carter, the wife of former defense secretary, ash carter, says the photo of Biden with his hands on her shoulders was misleadingly extracted from video of her husband's swearing in ceremony in 2015, writing: The Joe Biden in my picture is a close friend helping someone get through a big day, for which I will always be grateful.

Some of Biden's possible Democratic rivals say the Flores allegations should be taken seriously.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have no reason not to believe her. Let me make that clear.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe Lucy Flores. And Joe Biden needs to give an answer.

SAENZ: It's not the first time Biden's had to reckon with his past. Just last week, Biden offered this mea culpa on Anita Hill.

JOSEPH BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: To this day, I regret I couldn't come up with a way to get her the kind of hearing that she deserved.

SAENZ: And other 2020 hopefuls have embarked on apology tours of his own. From Beto O'Rourke saying he's sorry for these comments --

BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I just got a call from my wife, Amy, who's back in El Paso, Texas, where she is raising, sometimes with my help, Ulysses who's 12 years old, Molly who's 10, and their little brother, Henry.

SAENZ: To Bernie Sanders responding to staffers' sexual harassment claims on his 2016 campaign.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It was very painful, very painful. And it will not happen again.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SAENZ: Several former female staffers to Biden have rushed to his defense over the past day, including his former press secretary, Elizabeth Alexander. She wrote an op-ed for "USA Today", saying that Biden has always supported women and acted as a champion for women's rights -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Arlette Saenz, thanks very much for that report.

Let's get back to our analysts and our correspondents.

Sabrina, what do you think?

SIDDIQUI: Well, this was always going to be an issue for Joe Biden, as he has mulled entering the 2020 field, particularly in the aftermath of the #metoo era. It's important to, of course, reinforce that no one is accusing the former vice president of sexual assault or harassment.

What people are looking at differently is what was once dismissed as just Joe being Joe, the former vice president being very friendly, a bit handsy, is that perhaps a violation of a woman's personal space? You have had now two women say that they did feel that it was a violation of their personal space and they didn't really know the vice president well. They felt uncomfortable.

You have had others, such Stephanie Carter, the wife of former defense secretary, Ash Carter, say that a photo of her that's being shared is being misinterpreted and it's just an exchange between two close friends. So, what this does is it ultimately tees up a question for Democrats.

One, is this behavior on Joe Biden's part going to be considered disqualifying as he mulls a presidential bid, so is it just going to force the party to have a more nuanced conversation around how to handle certain allegations of inappropriate behavior toward women, which are not necessarily black and white.

BLITZER: Kaitlan, what do you think?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, I think it's interesting. I think this is the world we live in. The post- #metoo era and this is what candidates are going to have to face. I just think it's notable that repeatedly, time and time again, it's male politicians and male figures that are having these accusations against them. Very rarely is it women.

And when Amy Klobuchar was asked by my colleague Jeff Zeleny about this, she said, she was tired talking about what men did or what men didn't do or what they think they did. She said it's time to start talking about what women did and what their policies are in this race. But I do think this is going to be a focus with Joe Biden getting into the race and it's going to be something.

One interesting aspect of all of this, I did see Kellyanne Conway's interview yesterday. And there are some people in the White House who kind of think they should just sit this one out, sit back, let Democrats have to deal with the fallout from this and see how they react to this.

[19:50:01] But Kellyanne Conway talking about how this was a known entity about Joe Biden. But then, of course, if the White House tries to weaponize that against Joe Biden, if he does into the race, people are going to automatically bring up the president and his sexual assault and harassment accusations that have been against him and, of course, that "Access Hollywood" tape.

BLITZER: You remember what he said in that "Access Hollywood" tape.

Jeffrey Toobin, how do you see it?

TOOBIN: Well, it's a different world. And, you know, the same facts that were available when Joe Biden ran for vice president and when he ran for president 10 and 20 years ago, look very different today because the world looks different. And the Democratic Party is going to have to figure out how much it cares about these sorts of issues. You know, drawing distinctions between sexual assault and making someone feel uncomfortable, it's a big difference, but it is not nothing either.

And, you know, I think we're dealing with an unknown here. I don't know what the political impact will be because I don't think any of us know. It's just a different world.

BLITZER: You think it's a generational issue?

SWERDLICK: I think there's a lot of things, including generational. Just go to talk about what Jeffrey said a moment ago, yes, the same facts were available. I remember writing in 2012 that President Obama had made a good pick to pick Vice President Biden as his running mate both politically and in terms of governing. But there's a difference between -- riding shotgun with President Obama and running for president in your own right.

I think the problem for Biden going forward, Wolf, is going to be that you can't just compartmentalize this issue of him being touchy-feely. However it's interpreted, he's going to have to address this, he's going to have to address Anita Hill, he's going to have to address his Iraq war vote, he's going to have to address the 1988 presidential primary allegation of plagiarism.

And you -- at some point, you can't sort of compartmentalize every single thing. Democrats will be looking hard at all these things.

BLITZER: And he hasn't officially announced yet. We assumed he's going to announce this month. But let's see what happens.

Guys, don't too far away. There's more news we're following.

Just ahead, Boeing's 737 MAX airliners will remain grounded for a while longer. The FAA says a software upgrade will be delayed for weeks to allow time for additional work and a rigorous safety review.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:56:59] BLITZER: We have breaking news involving the Boeing airliners involved in two recent crashes that killed 346 people, men, women and children. Later this afternoon, federal regulators announced -- late this afternoon, they announced a potential software fix for the flight control problems suspected of causing both crashes, that potential result will be delayed for weeks. The planes will remain grounded.

Our senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin is following the crash investigation for us.

Drew, this significant delay sounds like really bad news, more bad news for Boeing.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Certainly in the short-term, and it is a surprise. Boeing was saying last week that they would have this software fix, at least be able to present it to the FAA last Friday. Now, we're learning from the FAA it could be weeks away. Why? Because Boeing needs more time.

Boeing itself says in a statement that we will take a thorough and methodical approach to the development and testing of the update to ensure we take the time to get it right. That time, according to the FAA, is going to be weeks now. And that's just until this software is actually ready for inspection, wolf.

BLITZER: Once Boeing makes -- it was being described, Drew, as this fix, it will still need to be reviewed by the FAA, and that could take a while longer.

GRIFFIN: Absolutely. The FAA is saying this is going to be under a vigorous safety review, and they're not going to rush anything, not going to improve this installation until the FAA is satisfied with the submission. So, we are talking weeks before the software is ready, untold time before the FAA reviews it, and we have the House Transportation Committee chairman, Pete DeFazio, saying he wants an independent review of this fix outside of the FAA.

So, there is no telling right now when this actual software is going to be installed in the plane, and then have the requisite retraining of the pilots before these planes are back up in the air.

BLITZER: We're also waiting on the preliminary report from Ethiopian officials. What are you hearing? What's the latest from investigators there?

GRIFFIN: Yes, the transportation officials in Ethiopia telling CNN that there was an unforeseen delay. They've pushed back the release of that preliminary report until tomorrow. There has been some initial leaks coming out both to "The Wall Street Journal" and "The New York Times" on what caused that crash and what they're looking at, which is the same system that Boeing is now trying to fix.

But we don't have that in the preliminary report because Ethiopia just does not have that report ready to go. We expect it tomorrow.

BLITZER: And there's some shortage of some planes in various airlines and as a result, there's a whole bunch of cancellations, right?

GRIFFIN: That's right. American -- U.S.-based airlines, I should say, including American Airlines, they are being affected by this. They're working around it and rebooking passengers and having to cancel flights.

But overseas, it's a lot more difficult, some airlines facing real problems because they have many more of these 737 MAXes in their fleets -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Drew Griffin reporting for us. Drew, thanks very much.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.