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Mar-a-Lago Trespasser Appears in Court; Trump Fires Secret Service Director and Homeland Security Chief; Interview With Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI). Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 8, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:02]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: 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're following breaking news on what's being described as a purge at the highest levels over at the Department of Homeland Security.

President Trump firing the DHS secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, and the director of the Secret Service. We're told more heads are likely to roll, as Mr. Trump is said to be -- quote -- "unhinged" about border security.

Tonight, sources tell CNN the president has been pushing to reinstate and expand the widely criticized family separation policy.

Also breaking, prosecutors say they're still investigating whether a Chinese women accused of illegal entry at the Mar-a-Lago resort was actually trying to spy. At a hearing in Florida, they warned she lies to everyone she encounters.

This hour, I will talk to the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committee member David Cicilline. And our correspondents and analysts, they are also standing by.

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

Jim, we're learning more about the tensions that led up to the firing of the Secret Service director and the homeland security secretary.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

President Trump is shaking up the Department of Homeland Security. A full-scale purge, as you said, is under way, as the president has essentially fired the homeland security secretary and the Secret Service director in the last 24 hours, and there are more departures expected soon. And a familiar face, White House immigration hard-liner Stephen Miller, is working behind the scenes to clean house, we're told. But a Trump adviser said much of the blame for the chaos at DHS and across this administration right now lies with the president.

As this adviser put it, the president still has not learned -- quote -- "how to govern."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): In one of the biggest shakeups of his administration, President Trump is cleaning house over at the Department of Homeland Security. The latest official to go, Secret Service Director Randolph Alles, who follows the forced departure of DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and the sudden withdraw of the nomination of Ron Vitiello over at ICE.

Top officials at Citizenship and Immigration Services and the DHS general counsel could be next. The Secret Service director told agency employees that he wasn't being fired, but had been warned weeks ago that transitions in leadership were coming to DHS.

Nielsen, whose exit was tweeted by the president Sunday, insists she still supports Mr. Trump.

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: I share the president's goal of securing the border. I will continue to support all efforts to address the humanitarian and security crisis on the border. And other than that, I'm on my way to keep doing what I can for the next few days.

So thank you all for being here.

ACOSTA: Before she was forced out, Nielsen was clashing with the president over the influx of migrants at the border, as Mr. Trump told asylum seekers they're no longer welcome in the U.S.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The system is full. Can't take you anymore. Whether it's asylum, whether it's anything you want, it's illegal immigration, can't take you anymore. We can't take you. Our country is full, our area is full, the sector is full. Can't take anymore. Sorry.

ACOSTA: Sources tell CNN the president wanted to resurrect the family separation policy at the border as a deterrent, despite Mr. Trump signing an executive order last year ending the practice of tearing children from their parents.

TRUMP: We're going to have strong, very strong borders, but we're going to keep the families together. I didn't like the sight or the feeling of families being separated.

ACOSTA: CNN has also learned that top domestic policy adviser Stephen Miller, an immigration hard-liner, has been acting as the president's ringleader behind the scenes, directing top DHS officials to adopt harsh tactics on the border. A Trump campaign adviser said much of the blame belongs to the

president, adding -- quote -- "Trump will never find border success until he learns how to govern. The border situation is his failing and his alone. The fact that Trump listens to Stephen Miller on this issue is why it will never get resolved."

Part of the problem, the adviser said, is that the president doesn't understand government policies. Just last Friday, the president got his facts wrong about a key part of immigration law known as the Flores Settlement, saying it was named after a judge. But it was really named after a young migrant.

TRUMP: We have had some very bad court decisions. The Flores decision is a disaster, I have to tell you. Judge Flores, whoever you may be, that decision is a disaster for our country.

ACOSTA: The president has tapped the top official at Customs and Border Protection, Kevin McAleenan, to take over at DHS as acting secretary. That means the Trump administration is run by yet another acting official.

The president has also blindsided the Secret Service, which is dedicated to protecting the commander in chief, even though he has repeatedly praised the agency in the past.

TRUMP: I could not be happier with Secret Service. Secret Service has done a fantastic job from day one. I'm very happy with them.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[18:05:01]

ACOSTA: Now, a Trump campaign adviser said the president has talked about resuming family separations at the border as a way to gain leverage with Democrats in the immigration debate.

And senior registration officials also CNN the president has asked about closing ports down on the border, only to have top officials inside the administration warn him that that kind of policy would backfire as a P.R. nightmare.

He's also instructed Border Patrol agents to turn people away, echoing what he said last Friday when he said, our country is full, even in cases when some of these migrants, Wolf, are asking for asylum.

And when I talked to a Trump campaign adviser earlier today who was questioning whether or not the president knows what he's doing when he's cracking down on the border and shaking up his administration and his immigration team, this adviser put it this way, Wolf.

This adviser said, this is not a Kirstjen Nielsen issue. This is not a Jeff Sessions issue. This is a lack of understanding issue -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you very much.

As the Secret Service director is being shown the door, there are growing concerns right now about security at the president's resort.

Tonight, new details have emerged about a Chinese woman arrested at Mar-a-Lago and her suspicious stash of cash and electronic devices.

CNN's Kaylee Hartung is joining us from West Palm Beach down in Florida.

Kaylee, authorities, they're still looking into the possibility this woman was attempting to spy.

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, the word espionage is nowhere to be found in the criminal complaint or affidavit filed by the U.S. attorney here against Yujing Zhang.

Among the exhibits entered in court today, passport images, two passports she brought to this country, one valid, one expired, but with that expired passport, a valid visa was attached.

In court today, our first look at Zhang. We saw a woman timid and awkward who is facing two federal crimes. And authorities shared why they have more reason to question her motives and intentions here.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HARTUNG (voice-over): New details emerging tonight in the case of Chinese national Yujing Zhang, who allegedly gained unauthorized access to Mar-a-Lago, before getting arrested by Secret Service agents.

Prosecutors revealing that investigators are probing whether she's a Chinese spy who was trying to infiltrate the president's resort after uncovering a trove of electronic devices in her possession.

Found in Zhang's hotel room at the upscale Colony Hotel in Palm Beach, one cell phone, one signal detector, nine USB drives, five SIM cards and several credit cards in her name, as well as $7,500 in $100 bills, a total of more than $8,000 in cash, including Chinese currency.

This in addition to what Zhang was caught with when she was arrested at Mar-a-Lago after staff realized her stories didn't match up, four cell phones, a laptop, a hard drive, and a thumb drive containing malware. A Secret Service agent taking the stand, saying the malware on the thumb drive began installing itself on an agent's computer when he initiated a preliminary examination.

Prosecutors say that Zhang has repeatedly lied to investigators. When Zhang arrived at Mar-a-Lago, she told a Secret Service agent she was there to go to the pool, but prosecutors say she arrived in a long gray dress without a bathing suit.

A Mar-a-Lago staff member recognized she had the same last name as a member of the club and believed her to be a relative, so she was granted entry. The defense noting Zhang is one of three names in China that 275 million people have.

Her story then changed when press by Mar-a-Lago staff, showing them this flyer on her cell phone for an event she said she was there to attend, the flyer presented in court today the same as an invitation posted on the business Web site of Cindy Yang, the Florida spa owner who was allegedly selling access to Trump events at Mar-a-Lago.

Zhang's attorneys say she wired $20,000 to someone she believed to be organizing the event in order to come to the United States and visit Mar-a-Lago. But, according to the defense, the event was canceled without her knowledge.

Zhang is charged with two federal crimes, making false statements to federal authorities and a misdemeanor offense of entering a restricted area without authorization. Her attorneys fighting hard to dispute the trespassing charge, saying the only thing Ms. Zhang did was give a very common Chinese name to gain access to Mar-a-Lago.

The State Department has revoked her visa, a federal prosecutor outlining their case as to why Zhang is a flight risk, saying she lies to everyone she encounters and has absolutely zero ties to the United States.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARTUNG: This was a pretrial detention hearing, but, Wolf, no determination was made on that matter, as the defense asked for a one- week extension, saying they have had some communications with people related to Zhang in China that could be of help for her, as the judge decides if she will be permanently held in detention awaiting trial.

And, Wolf, the federal prosecutor says by that date next Monday, he expects to return an indictment as well. There will be a lot of ground to cover next Monday here.

BLITZER: We're watching it closely with you, Kaylee. Thank you very much.

Joining us now, Congressman David Cicilline. He's a Democrat. He serves on the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI): My pleasure.

BLITZER: I want to start with Jake Tapper's reporting today.

He has learned that President Trump tried to actually shut down the border crossing at El Paso, Texas. He tried to get border agents to reject migrants. He's pushing for an expanded family separation policy, among other steps.

[18:10:10]

Can he do these things legally?

CICILLINE: No, Wolf, he cannot.

This is very disturbing reporting, that the president is actually telling agents that they should violate the law and disregard applicable asylum applications and shut down the border.

And this is a Department of Homeland Security and a president really in chaos, who's trying to suggest that the rule of law doesn't apply, and that he can unilaterally decide to change the laws in this country.

That is not the case. He's not a king. He's the president. If there are going to be changes in the immigration laws, it must come through Congress. And the notion that the president of the United States would be encouraging agents of the United States to violate the law and disregard congressional statutes is very, very alarming.

BLITZER: It comes as the president is carrying out what one official is describing -- and I'm quoting now -- as a near systematic purge over at the Department of Homeland Security.

Is the president looking for people who will simply say yes to these policy proposals?

CICILLINE: It certainly seems that way.

I mean, the notion that the president is removing people because they refuse to violate the law and implement the policy that he's articulated is very disturbing.

This is -- again, remember, Secretary Nielsen was the individual who implemented the child separation policy, who lied about it publicly and defended the president's position. And, apparently, she's not a tough enough, according to the president.

So one can only imagine what he's looking for. This is apparently being led by Stephen Miller, who is a well-established kind of anti- immigrant hard-liner. And so we have to look very carefully at the people they're going to put into these positions and be sure that they're committed to following the rule of law, following the statutes as they currently exist, and not individuals who are prepared to violate the law at the president's direction.

BLITZER: Just moments ago, Congressman, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against the president's remain-in-Mexico policy, as it's called, for some asylum seekers here in the United States.

Is this part of a pattern?

CICILLINE: Yes, I think there's no question. Look, the president seems frustrated. I mean, he's failed in his policies at the border. And so he thinks that somehow he can just stop people from coming, end asylum applications and build a wall.

We have laws in this country. We're a country of laws, not of men, as they say. And so there are asylum laws which exist. People have a right to petition for asylum. They have a right to have a hearing and for a determination based on that. You cannot keep people out of the country who have a lawful basis to seek asylum. And so the president's trying to circumvent the law. We are a country

of laws. And I'm not surprised a court has told him that he cannot do that.

BLITZER: One of the people fired by President Trump is the head of the Secret Service. You just heard those details about the Chinese woman who made her way into Mar-a-Lago, the president's resort town in Palm Beach, Florida.

How much of a threat does a breach like this potentially pose?

CICILLINE: Well, it's significant.

I mean, this president is a national security risk, it seems. He doesn't take seriously the security measures that are in place. Don't forget, this is someone who shared classified information with the Russians about ongoing operations while meeting with them in the Oval Office.

He was at a public meeting with President Xi at Mar-a-Lago. And he uses an unsecure phone. And there has been reporting that intelligence is picking that up, the Chinese and the Russian intelligence agencies.

So this seems like a president who doesn't understand the dangers of these kinds of breaches, and to have a Chinese national with no explanation with a thumb drive on the grounds of Mar-a-Lago, who lied about why she's there, and we still don't know all the circumstances, but this is very alarming.

This is where the president is with the key leaders in his administration. And we should all be concerned about that kind of a breach.

BLITZER: On a different subject, Congressman, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee -- and you are a member of that committee -- is calling on Chairman Nadler to bring in Robert Mueller to testify as soon as possible.

Nadler says you need the Mueller report first. Why are Republicans do, you believe, making this push now?

CICILLINE: It's unclear to me.

I think the Republicans should be joining us in demanding the release of the Mueller report. We continue to wait for it. The committee chair is now authorized to issue a subpoena. But I think the chairman is right.

We need to have the report in our hands, review its contents, so that we can ask Mr. Barr about some of the decisions he's made and then, of course, as Mr. Mueller to kind of walk us through the report and his findings.

So we expect the attorney general to produce the Mueller report in its entirety without redactions. And I think that is the position of all the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee.

BLITZER: The attorney general, Bill Barr, as you know, will be testifying before the House Appropriations Committee tomorrow. What are you hoping to learn from him specifically on the issue of redactions to the Mueller report?

CICILLINE: Well, I'm hoping to learn from him what he intends to keep secret. He originally said he had to limit it to sources and methods to protect classified information and to protect grand jury testimony.

He can, of course, ask the court to authorize the release of that to Congress fairly easily. But he's also added some other categories about embarrassing the reputation of third parties, peripheral third parties.

[18:15:01]

I think we need to know from Mr. Barr on what grounds he intends to keep secret contents of the Mueller report and press hard for a full disclosure of that to Congress.

We can certainly redact it and certainly prevent the public from seeing things that are not available to the public. But members of Congress ought to see the report in its entirety. We see classified information all the time. We can do it in a classified setting.

I think the committee really is going to press him hard on, what is he redacted and under what authority is he keeping that secret from the Congress of the United States?

BLITZER: He says he also wants to redact information that could affect ongoing federal investigations, whether the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York or the U.S. attorney here in Washington.

Is that appropriate.

CICILLINE: Well, it may be appropriate to keep that from public dissemination. It's certainly not appropriate to keep it from Congress.

We have the ability to see the report in its entirety, to keep confidential that which must remain confidential, in order that we can make decisions about how we proceed at this moment. That's quite a different standard.

I mean, that's what happened in the Starr investigation. The full report and 17 boxes of documents were produced for the Judiciary Committee as soon as the report was done. That ought to happen here. That's the right precedent. This investigation began on behalf of the American people because our democracy was attacked.

We have a right to know and the American people have a right to know what the facts are and that nobody is above the law and what actually happened. BLITZER: The president's acting White House chief of staff, Mick

Mulvaney, said Sunday that Democrats, in his word, will never -- repeat -- never get President Trump's tax returns. What do you make of that?

CICILLINE: Well, I think he should read Section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code that makes it clear that the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee is entitled to demand production of the tax returns of any person in the United States.

It's not a may. It's not if you want. It's shall produce. So, Mr. Mulvaney is wrong. That -- those tax returns will be produced for the committee. That is the law. And if we have to fight and go to court to make it happen, we will. But Mr. Mulvaney is dead wrong.

BLITZER: Congressman David Cicilline, thanks so much for joining us.

CICILLINE: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we're going to have more on a top Democrat's plan to call Robert Mueller to testify about his investigation.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:20:58]

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on a purge of the top leadership over at the Department of Homeland Security, President Trump firing DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Secret Service Director Randolph Alles.

Also breaking, new details from the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee on his plans to seek testimony from the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty, who is joining us from Capitol Hill.

Sunlen, Chairman Jerry Nadler laid out what he wants to happen before he hears from Mueller.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, will say that, of course, he wants Mueller in front of his committee. He intends to push for that. But, first, he wants to hear from the attorney general, Bill Barr.

And the choreography essentially is clearly very important to the chairman, as Bill Barr is preparing, of course, that redacted version of the Mueller report to hit Capitol Hill mid-April, potentially as soon as this week.

Well, Jerry Nadler saying he, of course, wants the full unredacted Mueller report and the underlying evidence. Now they're tweeting today, in part -- quote -- "In order to ask special counsel Mueller the right questions, that committee must receive the special counsel's full report and hear from the attorney general, Barr, about that report on May 2. And we look forward to hearing from Mr. Mueller at that appropriate time."

Now, tomorrow is something of an accidental big day up here on Capitol Hill for the attorney general. He was previously scheduled to appear before two appropriations committees, one tomorrow and the next on Wednesday, in front of the House and Senate, about the Department of Justice's budget, of all things.

Now, according to his prepared remarks, of course, he is trying to stay on that topic and that topic only. He makes no mention at all, Wolf, of the Mueller report. But, of course, this is the first time he will be in front of Congress since the completion of the Mueller report.

And Democrats making it very clear that they will push very hard for answers on these questions over the tug of war over access to information. Clearly, that is going to dominate the day tomorrow, a very pivotal moment for the attorney general -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point. We will watch it very closely, together with you, Sunlen. Thanks very much.

There's more breaking news ahead on the backstory for the president's purge over at the Department of Homeland Security, immigration hard- liners getting their way, as we're told Mr. Trump is -- quote -- "unhinged."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:27:59]

BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, new details of President Trump's efforts to crack down on immigration at the southern border.

Let's dig deeper with our experts and our analysts.

So, Jeffrey Toobin, apparently, the president wanted to shut down completely the border at El Paso. He tried to get border agents to turn away migrants. He is apparently pushing for an expanded family separation policy, separating kids from their mothers and fathers.

Are these ideas even legal?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, two out of three, I think, are legal, putting aside the issue of whether they're good ideas.

It is legal to close the border, I think, for the president, and it is legal to separate families. That's been done before. What's not legal is prohibit people from seeking asylum. That is something -- several judges have already held that that will take an act of Congress to change, that you have to allow people to seek asylum within the United States, not outside. But whether the president wants to take on the family separation

issue, again, is a political question, but, legally, I think he can do it.

BLITZER: This comes, Gloria, amid what one administration official is calling -- and I'm quoting now -- "a near systematic purge" at the Homeland Security Department.

You're write in your new column just posted on CNN.com -- quote -- "Presidents are supposed to be islands of calm in the middle of chaos. Not this one. He is the chaos."

And he apparently thinks it's working for him.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: He does.

I was talking to somebody who's known Trump for many, many years. And he says that -- that this has to do -- and I'm going to quote this -- "This has to do with his level of entertainment of himself. That means doing the opposite of what everyone suggests and then showing I was right."

He goes on to say, look, this isn't well-thought-out or researched, obviously. But he has found this place of doing the remarkable unexpected thing. And then, at the end of the day, sometimes, he gets lucky.

I think, in his own mind, he gets lucky about it, Wolf. But there is a part of Donald Trump that wants to do the opposite of what everybody else is telling him to do, except, as we now know, for his White House aide, a Stephen Miller, whom he's put in charge of all immigration policies.

[18:30:12]

BLITZER: Yes, he's got a very significant role.

BORGER: How is he going to find somebody to do that job at the department?

BLITZER: They'll look. They'll find something.

Let me get your reaction, Phil Mudd, to Jake Tapper's reporting. When President Trump went to the Mexico border in California, Calexico, on Friday, he ordered border agents not to let in migrants. That's the Commander-in-Chief speaking. And as soon as he left the room, apparently, those agents were told don't do that, it's against the law. What's your reaction there?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I look at this and say this guy is supposed to be leadership that represents the best that money can buy for Washington, D.C. And you look at departments across government. In this case, you have a department that says, we can't do this because this is illegal, undermining leadership. In fact, we had the Defense Department and CIA saying, we're not getting out of Syria. You can say whatever you want. The President has to say, well, I guess I made a mistake there. Leadership on healthcare, I'm going to prioritize that. Mitch McConnell says, I don't think so, Mr. President. That's not a good idea.

People seem to perceive that some big gun money people from New York can come in and up-end Washington, D.C. in every turn on major issues. People look at this guy and say, we're not doing it, Mr. President, either because it's a bad idea or it's illegal.

BORGER: But how much do they follow through on that? They vote with him in the Senate. I mean, it's not as if they're -- they're saying, we'd rather you wouldn't do it. But when push comes to shove, these republicans have been laying down for him, okay?

MUDD: Sort of. But when you look at the departments on everything, again, from Syria to what the former Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, said on the board of the departments, and this is why the Senate has to pay attention to who they confirm, the departments are saying that's really interesting. And as soon as they walk out of the room, but we're not doing it.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: You know, Sabrina, the President apparently wants to expand what's called the family separation policy as a deterrent to convince people not to even try come in to the United States. But he seems to forget how that initial family separation policy, separating kids from their mothers and fathers, played out.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. It was a humanitarian crisis. And there are still hundreds of children who were not reunited with their parents by this administration even though they were ordered by a federal judge to do so. When I talk to immigration experts, they say the biggest challenge is this. The President has not taken an interest in actually understanding the complexities within the immigration system. He simply made it clear that he wants to stem the flow of immigrants coming into this country. And his instinct is to reach for the most restrictive action at his disposal, even when he sometimes doesn't have the legal authority to do so, such as just trying to stop asylum seekers from being able to claim asylum at the border altogether or when it's counterproductive, when his advisers say and his own border experts say you can't cut off aid to these countries in Central America because it's actually investing in those communities and creating economic opportunities or investing money to reduce violence that will incentivize them to actually stay at home rather than coming and seeking refuge at the border.

So unless there's any shift in the President's approach, which we're unlikely to see as he seeks re-election and tries to tap into that same anti-immigrant sentiment that helped propel him to the White House, I don't think anything is going to change anytime soon.

BLITZER: Just a little while ago, Jeffrey, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking the administration from sending asylum seekers who are trying to come to the United States to send them back to Mexico to await their court date. It looks like a pretty significant legal setback to the administration right now. What's your analysis?

TOOBIN: Well, the law is pretty clear. I mean, the law is that you have to allow people to seek asylum within the United States. Now, there is this enormous increase in people seeking asylum. And I think it's a genuine problem. I mean, this is not something that Donald Trump invented, and I don't think just because Trump is acting irrationally doesn't mean he's not dealing with a real problem here. It is a real problem.

But the only way to deal with it is let people seek asylum within the United States or change the law. And Congress is not going to change that law without changing a whole series of immigration laws that Trump wants nothing to do with changing. So it's a situation where I think Trump's answer is just to attack the judge for enforcing the law and end the case in the ninth circuit.

BLITZER: Gloria, look at how many acting secretaries and officials are in charge right now. Homeland Security, Defense Department, Interior Department, U.N. Ambassador, White House Chief of Staff, FEMA Administrator, OMB Director, they're all acting.

BORGER: Right, and Trump likes it. I mean, he said in January, I like acting because I can move so quickly, it gives me more flexibility. It also means that he doesn't have confirmation hearings, for example, and he can fire these people without a lot of problem, right, because they're just acting.

BLITZER: All right. Hold on a second. We're just getting some new information, some breaking news coming into The Situation Room about a terror plot that appears to have been foiled.

[18:35:00]

It would have taken place right outside of Washington, D.C. We have new information. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We have breaking news. A Maryland man has been charged in what federal prosecutors now say was a terror plot inspired by ISIS. They allege that 28-year-old Rondell Henry stole a U-haul van and intended to drive it into a crowd of pedestrians over at the National Harbor Shopping and Hotel Complex right outside Washington, D.C., in suburban Maryland.

[18:40:07]

But they say he didn't think there were enough people so he hid on a boat overnight and was arrested when authorities found the stolen van the next day. Henry was allegedly inspired by the 2016 truck attack in Nice, France, which left 86 people dead.

Phil Mudd, what do you think?

MUDD: A couple of things you want to look at here. First, quickly, when you see the decline of a terror organization, an organization like ISIS that doesn't have the time and space to plan as they did in 2014 or '15 or '16, we saw major attacks at that point, coordinated attacks, some people trained in Syria in places like France and Belgium. As the organization that as ISIS declines, the likelihood of those sort of sophisticated attacks decline and you get more and more people like this.

The only other thing I'd say is when you get a one-off individual like this who is changing his plans overnight with a stolen truck, one of the questions you've got to ask about is mental state. He may be saying ISIS but I'm going to bet that there's something else going on here.

BLITZER: We'll find out soon enough.

You know, Gloria, Bill Barr, the Attorney General, changing subjects, he's going to be testifying tomorrow up on Congress. You know that democrats, even though it's an Appropriations Committee, they're going to be asking lots of questions about the Mueller report.

BORGER: Sure. They're going to be asking why didn't you put Mueller's summaries of his conclusions in your report instead of providing your own interpretation of it with just two quotes from Mueller. And why did you decide that there was no obstruction when, in fact, that could be something that Mueller intended for Congress to do. Let's start with those two questions.

BLITZER: What do you think, Jeffrey?

TOOBIN: Well, I think this is going to be a hearing where Barr can duck a lot of the questions because he'll say, look, we're still evaluating it. And it's true. The real fight is going to be after he releases it. And if there are substantial redactions, he's going to have to defend them. But at this point it's not -- you know, the battle is not joined yet. It doesn't stop congressmen from asking questions, but it will be easy for him to say, we're evaluating the situation, blah, blah, blah, which is a legal phrase.

BLITZER: Well, these coming days, Sabrina, could be very significant. He had promised that he would release a redacted form of the Mueller report by mid-April, if not, sooner.

SIDDIQUI: And democrats are making it clear that they think that redacted report will be insufficient. They're still pushing for the release of the full report. They have made it very clear that they simply do not trust the Attorney General, William Barr, and they believe that his actions have been designed to protect the release of incriminating information about the President and his inner circle. I think the question will be after they hear from William Barr, they also want to hear from Robert Mueller himself. And so what questions will they pose to Robert Mueller about whether or not Barr's characterization of his findings was, in fact, accurate or not.

BORGER: But, you know, Barr is -- Mueller is involved on the redactions as well. I don't know if he's sitting on Barr's shoulder or he's just there. But one has to presume that Mueller is going to have a little bit of influence because he wasn't consulted about Barr's four-page letter, which he probably should have been. So let's see -- let's just wait and see what they come out with.

BLITZER: Jeffrey, what do you anticipate?

TOOBIN: Well, Gloria raises a very important point, which is how much will Mueller be involved and does he have the last word on what gets redacted? Because the question is, sure, they can consult him, but maybe Mueller will be overruled. If Mueller embraces the redactions that Barr makes, that will be actually a very good defense for Barr once he's attacked by democratic members of Congress.

BLITZER: Let's not forget, Barr and Mueller are very good friends for many, many years.

BORGER: But Barr is the boss. Don't forget that too.

BLITZER: That's another point.

Everybody stick around. There's other news we're following. The Trump administration silent as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes a shocking campaign promise in advance of tomorrow's election.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:48:41] BLITZER: There are sharp new accusations of terrorism between the United States and Iran. Tonight, the Islamic Republic has declared the U.S. a state sponsor of terror, just hours after the Trump administration designated Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.

Our national security reporter Kylie Atwood is here in THE SITUATION ROOM for us.

First time I understand the U.S. designated part of a government a terror operation.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: That's right. So, the IRGC is the formal military of Iran. They respond to the orders of the supreme leader. They are in charge of the ballistic missiles and Iran's nuclear program.

This is the first time that the U.S. has designated a government entity as a foreign terrorist organization. It's joining the likes of ISIS, of al Qaeda, of Boko Haram. Now, the DOJ can prosecute anyone who is providing material support to the IRGC.

The reason this gets complicated is because European companies are doing business with Iran, and because the IRGC is so deeply engrained in the Iranian economy, it's going to present an issue for those European companies. The fear also is that there are U.S. officials operating in very close proximity to the IRGC in places like Syria and Iraq.

And I asked a State Department official, how are they going to provide the security if there's an escalation of violence here? [18:50:03] They say there has been a prudent interagency process. We

know, however, that the DOD was worried about this because of the safety of U.S. personnel in the region.

BLITZER: On another sensitive foreign policy issue, the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, he's going into election tomorrow, all of a sudden, he announces that Israel is going to annex at least parts of the West Bank, which totally goes against U.S. policy for decades since the 1967 war. What has the State Department -- what's been the Trump administration's reaction?

ATWOOD: Well, that's the thing, Wolf. That has been the U.S. policy dating back through administrations plenty before the Trump administration, but they have been wishy-washy when it comes to a two state solution. Just last month, Secretary of State Pompeo was asked about a two state solution during a hearing on the hill. He didn't give a definitive answer that the Trump administration is in full support. We haven't heard anything from the State Department in reaction to these comments from Prime Minister Netanyahu.

We also haven't heard anything from the negotiators, from the architects of the Trump administration's peace plan, Jason Greenblatt, Jared Kushner, they said nothing here. So it's kind of unclear as to how they feel about these comments that would if Prime Minister Netanyahu moves forth with them effectively kill a two-state solution. They would need to evict from those areas in the West Bank, it's deep in the West Bank to provide room for a two state solution, not annex them as the prime minister is saying he will do here.

BLITZER: Israelis vote tomorrow. We'll see what they decide to do.

Kylie, thanks very much for that.

There's a CNN exclusive we have for our viewers. Undercover reporting on the brutal crack down against prodemocracy protesters in Sudan. We want to warn you there are some very disturbing images in this story.

Let's go to our senior international correspondent Nima Elbagir. She's just back from this extremely dangerous assignment in her homeland.

Nima, despite everything you documented, the Trump administration is right now in talks with Sudan, with the Sudanese government trying to improve relations.

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And have been shockingly silent on the escalation over the weekend that killed at least eight people in clashes between the government and protesters, Wolf. Take a look what we were able to uncover on the ground.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELBAGIR (voice-over): This is my hometown, Khartoum, for months now, in the grip of prodemocracy process. Much of it brutally hidden in the world by Sudan's government, and yet people here are still risking everything for change -- even as the United States works to restore diplomatic relations with Sudan's government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Keep filming, keep filming.

SUBTITE: Sudan: A day in life of an uprising.

ELBAGIR: Khartoum, Sudan's capital. As I was growing up here, the government's grip on its people was all-encompassing. But a rise in the cost of living in recent days has triggered protests against one of the world's longest serving dictators, President Omar al-Bashir.

The Sudanese government doesn't want the world to know that this is happening. Any journalist caught reporting on demonstrations risks life imprisonment and the death penalty.

In the crowd, I try to stand back and film with secret cameras and smartphones and hope that I am not spotted.

(on camera): I smell the tear gas they have been releasing on the demonstrators. And people are starting to get tense.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're coming. They're coming.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): Some of the demonstrators start shouting that national security agents are on the way. Infamous for their brutality, we have to leave. A family agrees to hide us in a safe house. Really, it is just someone's home.

(on camera): The national security agents have arrived and broken up the demonstrations. They're going from house to house. We don't know how we will have to wait here. They're trying to figure out how they can get us out of here.

(SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: God protect us!

ELBAGIR: I just saw their cars. They're going door-to-door, trying to figure out who is out there.

(voice-over): That sound you hear, tear gas canisters. We are trapped.

Hours pass. We can only watch and listen through a gap in the window. Just next door to us, security agents are slapping and kicking a protester as they drag him out, their neighbor's son. In the end, we leave our equipment behind and take a risk to run.

We got lucky but so many others didn't.

[18:55:02] CNN gathered detailed testimony from former detainees held in Sudanese government facilities. Of the over 3,000 people who have been arrested since the demonstrations began, almost all have said they have been abused. One of them agrees to speak with us.

KHADIJAH AL DOWEIHI, TORTURE VICTIM (through translator): We were all masked, armed and holding batons. As soon as we stepped out, we were beaten with batons. One man slapped me on the left side of my face. It became numb. And then he struck me with the butt of his gun in my back.

It's not even an official center. It was one of those ghost houses.

ELBAGIR: Ghost houses: torture houses which the government says don't exist. We went to try and find one.

For all of us who grew up under Bashir's dictatorship, ghost houses conjures up immediately the horrors this government is accused of -- torture, sexual assault, brutal beatings.

Right in the center of Khartoum, we find a heavy military and intelligence presence. On your left, a screened off square, a holding pen. Activists picked up in the city center tell us they are beaten here and sorted according to their alleged crimes.

We can't linger. Everywhere there's a high level of security.

From here, activists say they're moved on to any one of ghost houses scattered around town.

Using descriptions given to us by eyewitnesses and activists formerly held there, we are able to pinpoint one, using aerial images just south of the Blue Nile in Garden City.

Keeping watch over this green building, we witnessed national security pickups and what appear to be detainees. Worse though is in store, many of the detainees we interviewed described being tortured just across the river, here in what's known as Al Talaja, the Refrigerator.

Its very name inspires terror and yet, one woman agreed to speak to us.

WIFAQ AHMED ABDULLAH, TORTURE VICTIM (through translator): They detained us in an abandoned building. Because we were so severely beaten, we went numb. I couldn't feel my legs and arms. The place was so cold. It felt like there were knives piercing our bodies. I only spent two days there but they were the worst two days of my life.

SUBTITLE: Coming in from the cold.

ELBAGIR: So why, in spite of all this, is President Trump's administration in talks to restore relations with Sudan?

This is the brutal aftermath of the terror attacks on the USS Cole and the U.S. embassies in East Africa. For years, families of victims have been seeking compensation from Sudan's government, who they believe was complicit.

CNN has learned that a key requirement for talks between Sudan and the U.S. is that Sudan enter into good faith negotiations regarding compensation for victims' families.

In a statement, the U.S. State Department does not deny that talks are continuing with Sudan or that this is ultimately about the terror claims but says relations will improve only if the Sudanese government takes steps related to human rights.

The Sudanese have shown no signs of doing so and yet talks to improve relations continue.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ELBAGIR: And in a steaming rebuke to the State Department and the administration's silence, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Wolf, has tweeted our piece, publicly raising concerns about what we were able to uncover -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Amazing reporting, Nima. All the years you lived in Sudan, did you ever see a situation like this before?

ELBAGIR: No, this is entirely unprecedented. My parents are still there. I spoke to my mother a little earlier, and I could hear in her voice the effect of the tear gas. These are absolutely extraordinary and widespread and the concern is, the longer it takes the administration to speak out against this, the greater the repression is going to be and the greater the fallout is going to be.

So, we're watching and waiting, Wolf.

BLITZER: What are you learning, Nima, about a pair of dual American citizenships in Sudan who are among those detained?

ELBAGIR: We understand that there are at least two dual American citizens, because there was a pick up of two and a half thousand detainees this weekend, but we know of one man and one woman. The woman's husband says he's incredibly concerned. She has been held for a long periods of time, incommunicado.

And, yet, the administration is still silent -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I hope your parents are going to be OK. Nima, thank you so much --

ELBAGIR: Thank you.

BLITZER: -- for risking your life, as you often do for us and bringing us these kinds of work for us. We're grateful to you. Nima Elbagir, she's back safe and sound from Sudan.

ELBAGIR: Thank you.

BLITZER: And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. You can tweet the show @CNNSitroom.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

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