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Kim Jong-un Arrives In Russia For Summit With Putin; Iran's Foreign Minister Slams Trump Administration For "Very Dangerous Policy"; Oversight Chair: Trump And Atty. General Openly Ordering Federal Employees To Ignore Subpoenas In "Growing Pattern Of Obstruction"; Hillary Clinton Op-Ed Urges Dems To Build On "A Serious Crime" In The Mueller Report, But Warns Against Rush To Impeach Trump; U.S. Official: "Like Pulling Teeth" To Get Trump White House To Focus On Russian Election Interference; Interview With Thomas Friedman; Interview With Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA). Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 24, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:01]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Some of the president's closely guarded financial records now are being turned over to investigators. What will the documents from Deutsche Bank reveal?

Subpoena showdown. Mr. Trump says he's fighting every new Democratic demand for interviews and information. Tonight, a key committee chairman is accusing the administration of -- quote -- "a growing pattern of obstruction."

Don't tell Trump. That is the message reportedly sent to the former homeland security chief as she tried to get the president to focus in on the 2020 election security issue. Is the administration ill- prepared to stop new Russian attacks on the American democracy?

And unleashed. The president goes off on a tangent in the debate over border security, praising drug-detecting dogs as -- quote -- "the greatest equipment in the world."

I will get reaction from the journalist Tom Friedman, who says Mr. Trump is wasting the border crisis.

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: Breaking news tonight, investigators are now getting a window into President Trump's secret finances. CNN has learned that Deutsche Bank has started turning over documents related to loans made to Mr. Trump and his business in response to a subpoena from the New York state attorney general.

This comes as the president says he's fighting all the subpoenas issued by House Democrats in the wake of the Mueller report, calling their demands ridiculous. Tonight, the House Oversight Committee chairman says Mr. Trump and his

attorney general are openly ordering federal employees to ignore congressional subpoenas, calling it a massive, unprecedented and growing pattern of obstruction.

This hour, I will talk with House Oversight Committee member Ro Khanna. "New York Times" columnist and author Tom Friedman is also standing by, along with our correspondents and analysts, as we cover all the breaking news.

First, let's go to our Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, some of the president's fiercely guarded financial records are now heading to investigators in New York.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That is right, Wolf. It sounds like they're being pried open. There's another dark cloud over hanging over this White House tonight.

And the president can't do much about it, as New York state investigators have begun to obtain financial records from Deutsche Bank that are related to Mr. Trump's businesses. But on nearly every other front, as you mentioned, in the Trump investigations, the president sounds like he's in a fighting mood. But that could be setting up a big constitutional showdown.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president came out swinging against the investigations launched by House Democrats, giving a thumbs down to their demands for his tax returns and a subpoena for the testimony of former White House Counsel Don McGahn.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're fighting all the subpoenas. Look, these aren't like impartial people. The Democrats are trying to win 2020. They're not going to win with the people that I see. The only way they can luck out is by constantly going after me on nonsense.

ACOSTA: But there's another big headache for the president. CNN has learned Deutsche Bank is now providing financial records to the New York attorney general, who issued a subpoena for documents connected to loans to Mr. Trump's business empire.

Earlier in the day, the president claimed he's been cooperative with congressional investigators, even as he scoffed at them. But that's not true. The president has not released his long-sought tax returns.

TRUMP: I have been the most transparent president and administration in the history of our country, by far.

ACOSTA: A source familiar with discussions inside the president's legal team told CNN, Mr. Trump's attorneys believe special counsel Robert Mueller already has them, something the president assumes as well. TRUMP: Now, Mueller, I assume, for $35 million, checked my taxes,

checked my financials, which are great, by the way. You know they're great. All you have to do is go look at the records. They're all over the place. But they checked my financials. And they checked my taxes, I assume.

ACOSTA: Democrats say they're not giving up on obtaining the president's tax returns.

REP. JUDY CHU (R), CALIFORNIA: It is the oversight duty of Ways and Means to see that the law is properly complied with. And the chair is exercising his duty to make sure that the returns of the president were done properly. And we also want to know whether the president is paying his fair share of taxes.

ACOSTA: The White House is also pushing back against a report in "The New York Times" that former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was blocked by Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney from talking to the president about Russian election meddling.

Mulvaney released a statement saying: "I don't recall anything along those lines happening in any meeting. But, unlike the Obama administration, who knew about Russian actions in 2014 and did nothing, the Trump administration will not tolerate foreign interference in our elections. And we have already taken many steps to prevent it in the future."

[18:05:00]

Former President Obama says he warned Russia is Vladimir Putin to stay out of U.S. elections.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I felt that the most effective way to ensure that that didn't happen was to talk to him directly and tell him to cut it out, and there were going to be some serious consequences if he didn't.

ACOSTA: White House critics wonder whether the West Wing is getting serious about Kremlin interference, given the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner's comments on the subject this week.

JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: You look at what Russia did, buying some Facebook ads to try to sow dissent and do it -- and it's a terrible thing -- but I think the investigations and all of the speculation that's happened for the last two years has had a much harsher impact on our democracy than a couple of Facebook ads.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: A senior White House official conceded the president and his team have been more focused on border security than on cybersecurity in recent months, saying it was the first, second and third topic on the president's agenda.

Still, this official suggested former Secretary Nielsen may be attempting to repair her image with the public, saying she didn't want to be remembered as the secretary of immigration -- Wolf.

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

Also tonight, as House Democrats are struggling with the president's stonewalling and the prospect of impeachment, they're getting advice from Hillary Clinton. The 2016 Democratic presidential nominee has a new op-ed in "The Washington Post."

Let's bring in our political director, David Chalian.

So, what is Hillary Clinton's message, David?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, Hillary Clinton notes that some people may say that she's not anything but a flawed messenger on this because she was his 2016 opponent.

But she's making a clear argument here, Wolf, for how House Democrats should proceed. Take a look at this first part of what she said.

"Our election was corrupted, our democracy assaulted, our sovereignty and security violated. This is the definitive conclusion of special counselor Robert S. Mueller III's report. It documents a serious crime against the American people. The debate about how to respond to Russia's -- quote -- 'sweeping and systemic attack' and how to hold President Trump accountable for obstructing the investigation and possibly breaking the law has been reduced to a false choice, immediate impeachment or nothing."

Clinton goes on to say: "Congress should hold substantive hearings that build on the report and fill in its gaps, not jump straight to an up-or-down vote on impeachment. In 1998, the Republican-led House rushed to judgment. That was a mistake then, and would be a mistake now."

And, Wolf, what is so interesting here is that Hillary Clinton speaks to her unique historic perspective on this. She was a staff member, as you know, in 1974 on the Watergate -- the House impeachment inquiry. And she says Watergate should be the model, not what the Republicans did in 1998.

She is envisioning Watergate-style televised hearings to try and educate the public, she says, so that they can understand fully what this very dense legal document that Mueller put forth said.

And she summarizes at the end this way in this "Washington Post" op- ed: "The Mueller report isn't just a reckoning about our recent history. It's a warning about the future. Unless checked, the Russians will interfere again in 2020, and possibly other adversaries such as China or North Korea will as well. This is an urgent threat.

Nobody but Americans should be able to decide America's future. And unless he's held accountable, the president may show even more disregard for the laws of the land and the obligations of his office."

BLITZER: Are you surprised, David that Hillary Clinton is weighing in on all of this at this sensitive moment? CHALIAN: I'm not surprised that she feels so committed to seeing this

through all the way to the end, and she thinks that involves this thorough investigation by the House, not just Robert Mueller delivering a report.

But I do think it is fascinating, important and really noteworthy that she's not leaving this argument for others to make, that Hillary Clinton wants to take to the pages of "The Washington Post" and be in this argument, be in this fight, and make this case herself.

BLITZER: Let's see how long it takes the president to respond to Hillary Clinton's op-ed.

CHALIAN: Yes.

BLITZER: I suspect it will be quickly.

All right, David Chalian, thank you very much.

Let's go to Capitol Hill right now, where Democrats are ramping up their criticism of the president's defiance of the subpoenas.

Our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, is joining us.

Phil, Democrats, they are clearly furious right now. What are you hearing tonight?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, each day that has passed has seemingly ratcheted up the outrage, and with good reason, according to congressional Democrats.

The White House position of open and outright defiance, the sheer scale and scope of it, has been laid bare. If you go through the last couple of days, Wolf, you can just tick through subpoenas that were not complied with, outright blocked, for testimony related to census issues, testimony related to security clearance issues, a letter yesterday from the treasury secretary making very clear the administration likely has no plans to comply with requests for the president's tax returns, a lawsuit from the Trump Organization, President Trump's personal lawyers trying to block one of President Trump's accounting firms from turning over documents in compliance with a subpoena on those grounds.

[18:10:04]

Time after time after time, it has become clear the White House is just outright saying no to every one of House Democrats' demands.

And that led to this today from House Oversight Committee chairman Elijah Cummings, saying -- quote -- "This is a massive, unprecedented and growing pattern of obstruction. Both President Trump and Attorney General Barr are now openly ordering federal employees to ignore congressional subpoenas and simply not show up, without any assertion of valid legal privilege.

These employees and their personal attorneys should think very carefully about their own legal interests, rather than being swept up in the obstruction schemes of the Trump administration." And the end of that statement is actually a key point there, Wolf.

What Democrats hope at this point, given the White House clear-cut position, is that the individuals they are subpoenaing -- and that includes former White House Counsel Don McGahn -- will choose to comply on their own. However, there's no expectation that will happen. And what that means is likely a court battle.

Democrats are weighing the possibility of holding these individuals in contempt. But the reality is, there will likely be lawsuits to come. And that means this process could play out, not over the course of days or weeks, but perhaps months and even years, something that some people involved with the Trump administration have acknowledged might go past the election.

It might be something the Trump administration might actually want, a fight they're clearly gearing up for at this point in time, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill, thank you.

Joining us now, Congressman Ro Khanna. He's a Democrat, serves on both the Oversight and Reform Committee, as well as the Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for coming in.

REP. RO KHANNA (D), CALIFORNIA: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: What's your reaction to the advice offered by Hillary Clinton in this "Washington Post" op-ed?

KHANNA: I agree with every single word of that op-ed. Every member of Congress should read it.

I take three things away from it. One, she's basically endorsing the strategy Speaker Pelosi has outlined. The committees should do their job. Second, she understands the power of television, and how that can actually inform American public opinion.

And, finally, she says, let's listen to Sam Ervin as a model, and how Sam Ervin got White House aides to testify and got around the executive privilege.

BLITZER: You obviously want these hearings. You want them on television. You know how powerful that would be, to hear some of the president's former aides say on television what they said to the Mueller team, and that's all in writing.

But the president is vowing, as you know, to fight every single subpoena that House Democrats issue. Do you agree with the chairman of your Oversight Committee, Elijah Cummings, who says this is a -- this represents a growing pattern of obstruction?

KHANNA: It does. And it's unprecedented. I mean, every White House goes to war with the legislature, but they

at least give some documents. They at least have some people come and testify. This has been no cooperation.

And, look, these individuals can be held in the contempt of Congress. That's a serious thing. It could destroy their future career. So, they need to weigh carefully whether they really want to take a bullet for the White House and be held in contempt.

BLITZER: Well, what does a subpoena from Congress really mean, if the president says, no way, you're not getting anything?

KHANNA: Well, look, Sam Ervin in Watergate, he said he was going to send the sergeant of arms to get folks. And people showed up. I don't know if we will go that far. But we could vote to hold them in contempt.

And then, in the courts, we will win because Congress' power to subpoena is at its peak when there is misconduct.

BLITZER: But a legal battle like that in the courts could go on for months and months and months.

KHANNA: I agree with that. And that's the president's strategy, to drag this out, to drag it past the election. That's why I support holding them in contempt and voting on contempt.

And I don't see why any single person would want to be held in contempt of Congress.

BLITZER: Your Democratic colleague Gerry Connolly of Virginia says the president's actions, in his words, "are pushing a lot of Democrats into the impeachment camp."

Do you think that's true?

KHANNA: We're not going to be swayed by the president's action. We're going to be swayed by the facts. And we need to do our job and let the committees do their job.

But this is a data point. He's certainly not helping his cause.

BLITZER: As you know, the president has specifically directed two officials not to comply with your committees' subpoenas. You say you're going to go to court over this.

But how is a fight like that going to unwind, continue over the next few weeks?

KHANNA: Well, let's take the example of Don McGahn.

I don't understand why he wouldn't want to come testify. I mean, he's actually the hero in this case, where he's defying the president.

BLITZER: He's the former White House counsel, who is now a private citizen. KHANNA: Private citizen. And he's the one who convinced the president not to fire Mueller. The president should be thanking him. And McGahn should be coming in front of Congress to redeem himself.

I mean, he did the right thing. So my hope is that McGahn is going to look at this and say, why am I going to cover up for the president, when I did the right thing? And I'm going to tell the Congress what I did.

BLITZER: He spent 30 hours answering questions from the Mueller team. So this notion of executive privilege seems to be far-fetched, if they have already let him do that.

KHANNA: Exactly.

I mean, he waved his executive privilege by already talking to the Mueller team. So for him to claim executive privilege now is wrong. I think this will get settled. What happened in Watergate is, public opinion shifted. And public opinion at least demanded that people come to these committees.

[18:15:00]

House Democrats aren't going to roll over. I know Elijah Cummings. He's going to fight back.

BLITZER: He's a tough guy, as we know.

KHANNA: He is. Tough and fair.

BLITZER: Congressman Ro Khanna, thanks so much for coming in.

KHANNA: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, the journalist Tom Friedman, we will get his take on the Mueller report, impeachment and recommendations or non- recommendations.

And the immigration wars, why is he now concerned? He's convinced, apparently, that there really is a crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories, including Hillary Clinton's new warning to Democrats that rushing to impeach -- impeach President Trump would be a mistake, despite what she calls -- and I'm quoting her now -- "a serious crime against the American people" that's documented in the Mueller report.

Let's discuss this and more. Joining us now, "New York Times" columnist Tom Friedman. He is the author of the very important book "Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations."

Tom, thanks, as usual, for coming in.

THOMAS FRIEDMAN, COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Great to be here, Wolf.

BLITZER: What's your reaction to the Hillary Clinton column?

FRIEDMAN: Well, I think she certainly makes an important point that, for me, the most important part of the Mueller report was the deep dive on Russia's interference in our election, that they interfered in our election for three main purposes, to divide us, to suppress the vote, and to elect Donald Trump, because they thought he is a man who would keep the country in turmoil, make it less of a rival, effective rival to the Sov -- to Russia, and, at the same time, have an America that really could not lead the West against Russia.

[18:20:16]

And the evidence that he had induced that this interference was at a scope and scale, Wolf, that was unprecedented. Yes, other countries, including Russia, have tried to intervene before. It was unprecedented.

And that fact and the fact that the president has never really -- hasn't given a single speech about this attack on our democracy, hasn't really initiated any sanctions -- he was -- grudgingly accepted those imposed by Congress -- that, to me, is the most troubling part of this story, because you have got a 2020 election coming up.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: You heard Jared Kushner, his senior adviser, son-in-law, say, what the Russians did me, they bought a couple of the Facebook ads.

FRIEDMAN: Actually, they bought 3,500. And it wasn't just Facebook ads. It was a whole strategy.

Did it tip the election, Wolf? I don't know. Democrats should have run a better election. I certainly feel that. But the fact is, we have got another election coming up. We want to make sure we're resilient and resistant to that kind of intervention again.

BLITZER: Is there enough here for the Democrats to actually launch impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives?

FRIEDMAN: You know, Wolf, I'm not a legal expert here.

But from a political point of view, which is how I look at it, I'm a firm believer that Donald Trump has to be voted out the way he was voted in, by persuading a majority of American people that he is not fit to be president for another term.

And if I had one wish for the Democrats, whatever they do on these kind of investigations -- I'm not an expert on those -- I would be focusing all my energy right now, Wolf, on registering voters and making sure that those three constituencies that tipped the midterm election, suburban women, independents and moderate Republicans, stay in the Democratic camp and have a Democratic presidential candidate who they will support. Wolf, this is about power. Everything I have been listening on your show right now, Trump resisting all these subpoenas, you can tell them that's illegal, we're going to take you to court, you're a bad guy, no president -- these guys understand one thing. They understand power.

And when they have got it, they exercise it. And unless you take power away from them, all these other arguments are utterly, I'm afraid, irrelevant.

BLITZER: When you say these guys, who do you mean?

FRIEDMAN: I mean Trump and the Republican Party.

I go back, Wolf, to my main point. We have discussed it before. We have a president without shame. He is backed by a party without spine. And they're both backed by a network utterly without integrity that has become the Pravda of American journalism.

That is an incredibly powerful trifecta. It can only be defeated, ultimately, at the ballot box, by Democrats putting forward a candidate who is more compelling to the American people, and registering enough voters, getting enough support for that candidate to win.

My view, nothing else matters.

BLITZER: But some Democrats argue they have a constitutional responsibility to begin impeachment.

Even if it's not going to go anywhere...

FRIEDMAN: Yes.

BLITZER: ... they think it's their constitutional responsibility.

FRIEDMAN: Well, one thing I really liked about Hillary's op-ed was basically saying, well, before we get there, how about we just hold hearings on what Mueller had to say about Russia?

Let's understand this deeply. If Republicans aren't interested, maybe we are interested, and we should be sharing with the American people how big a threat that was, what the implications are, what the right size of it is, and what we do about it.

BLITZER: Let's talk about another important issue, border security.

You did a lot of reporting. You went to the U.S.-Mexico border. You have written a very powerful article. I recommend our viewers go to "The New York Times" and read it.

Among other things, you write this line -- quote -- "The whole day left me more certain than ever that we have a real immigration crisis, and that the solution is a high wall with a big gate, but a smart gate."

So you're talking about a wall. You want to wall along the U.S.- Mexico border, a high wall with a -- what you call a smart gate.

FRIEDMAN: A big gate, a smart gate and a compassionate gate, I have said.

Wolf, I'm as radically pro-immigration as they come, but it's pretty clear to me that, unless we can assure a significant number of Americans that we can control our border, we're never going to have the proper immigration flow I think we need, we desire and that we have actually a moral responsibility, given our history, as a nation of immigrants and a refuge for people fleeing persecution.

I think the only way is a compromise on this. The tragedy -- and that's why my column was -- said Trump is wasting this crisis. A crisis is a terrible thing to waste. We have a president, actually, when you think about it, Wolf, he has that -- he has the chops with his base.

If he were to sit down, call Nancy Pelosi up, say, we're going up to Camp David, you bring your immigration team, I will bring mine, I will leave Stephen Miller at home, and we will actually sort out a compromise here, where -- because Democrats are ready to defend more border security.

But, at the same time, we're going to create a legal pathway for people here. We're going to limit the number of ICE arrests. And we're going to have a rational inflow of people, of the kind of people that are both high-energy, high-I.Q. that can actually drive our country forward.

[18:25:10]

We need a compromise.

BLITZER: When you say, though, you want a high wall with a big gate, a smart gate...

FRIEDMAN: Yes.

BLITZER: ... but a high wall, that's going to sound a lot of folks out there that's what Donald Trump wants.

FRIEDMAN: Well, I think you got to control the border.

When you have an increase of illegal -- apprehensions of illegal entries by -- of 374 percent since October, obviously, you have got a situation where the border security is not sufficient. And that's going to drive people who we should want to be pro-immigration against immigration.

Democrats have been willing to fund more border security, OK? I'm for a high wall with a big gate, a compassionate, a smart gate, so we can keep immigration going. But you're not going to do that. Wolf, if people think people can just walk into this country, they're not going to support the immigration that we need.

BLITZER: And you're pro-immigration. It's interesting that Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law,

senior adviser, trying to bring peace to the Middle East, a subject you and I have covered for many years, but now, all of a sudden, he's going to be in charge of immigration as well. What do you think?

FRIEDMAN: I have no idea of what his views are on this.

But if somehow he is able to bring a little more sense to this, take it away from the hard-liners, the Stephen Millers, and the FOX hosts who seem to be driving this issue for Trump, because the tragedy is, Wolf, when you think about it, Donald Trump, again, I say he has the chops with his base.

If he wanted to have a compromise, he could do something historic. We know the deal is there. It was there under Bush. There's always been a core of Republicans and Democrats in Congress ready for a compromise.

Can he be the guy to do it? I have no idea. All I know is, the people currently running immigration policy, the Stephen Millers of the world and the FOX hosts, who seem to be the key players in this, if you have someone like Jared Kushner, who can actually elevate the discussion, I don't know.

I have no idea whether that's even his intention.

BLITZER: But you know the president of the United States says he's running immigration policy. Forget about Stephen Miller. Forget about the hosts on FOX News. It's the president of the United States.

How do you convince him to work for what we used to call comprehensive immigration reform, the compromise you support?

FRIEDMAN: Yes. I'm afraid you don't.

The only way you do it, Wolf, is you have to actually elect a different president, because President Trump has decided not to be the forger of a compromise. He's decided to use immigration and the wall as a wedge to divide the American people and energize his base.

And as long as that's the case, I don't think we're going to get the compromise we need. That doesn't stop me from saying, here is the compromise we need. Let's have an intelligent discussion about it.

Maybe, because we got another year-and-a-half of Trump, there's a there's a way to bring sense to him. But one can hardly be optimistic.

BLITZER: One thing about Tom Friedman, you actually do reporting. You go to the border.

FRIEDMAN: I do.

BLITZER: You see what's going on. You go out and travel around the world. You see what's going on. You write powerful columns, but based on serious reporting... FRIEDMAN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: ... which has always been very...

(CROSSTALK)

FRIEDMAN: Appreciate it.

BLITZER: Tom Friedman, thanks so much for coming in.

FRIEDMAN: Great to be here with you, pal.

BLITZER: More breaking news ahead on the Trump financial records being turned over to the New York state authorities by Deutsche Bank.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:33:02] BLITZER: Breaking tonight, the House Oversight Committee Chairman says Mr. Trump and the Attorney General openly ordering federal employees to ignore congressional subpoenas. This is Hillary Clinton's warning House Democrats against rushing toward impeachment. Let's bring in our analyst.

And Jeff Zeleny, I'll read from Hillary Clinton's op-ed to The Washington Post. "Congress should hold substantive hearings that build on the Mueller report and fill in its gaps, not jump straight to an up-or-down vote on impeachment. In 1998, the Republican-led House rushed to judgment. That was a mistake then and would be a mistake now." Is she offering good advice?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORREPONDENT: Well, she's certainly offering advice that falls in the line of what Speaker Nancy Pelosi is trying to get Democrats on Capitol Hill to do. So in that respect I think politically it probably is sound advice at least to goes with the mainstream and it could be used as an argument for other Democrats to follow along here to who knows better about any of this then perhaps Hillary Clinton, she's a unique figure as she argues in this case.

And I think the question here is how much will this presidential campaign interfere with all of this, because of course Elizabeth Warren is jumping out there really ahead of any other presidential candidate, Senator Kamala Harris is following close behind saying, "I do believe it's time for impeachment." But, of course, this is a function of the House.

So I think one effect of this op-ed is to kind of cool tempers in the House and say, "Do your work. Follow the Mueller report and do more investigating." Impeachment might be too easy.

BLITZER: What do you think, Susan?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY ATTORNEY: I think that's just right in making the case, but the choice right now is not between impeachment or not impeachment. It's about whether or not it's time to initiate as an inquiry, a serious fact-finding about whether or not the impeachment decision needs to be made. That's obviously true.

The information in the Mueller report is more than enough. Clinton notes that there are serious gaps in the record, gaps in the factual record, gaps that also in public understanding about what occurred, giving an opportunity, public hearings for people to tell their own stories before the American people. Her op-ed also notes that we shouldn't let Republicans off the hook here, just because the President is a member of their own party, that doesn't mean that they get to shirk their constitutional obligations and I do think that's an important point.

It may sound sort of naive to the point of absurdity to suggest that after serious fact-finding and the kind of evidence we see in the Mueller report that seven Republicans in the Senate might say, "Actually we believe as a matter of our conscience and constitutional duty that we should remove the President." And I think it's not unreasonable to say, "Hey, let's give them a chance to make that decision and if not let's force them to record their votes for history."

[18:35:46] BLITZER: You need two-thirds, majority of the Senate to remove, to convict, even if the President is impeached in the House of Representatives the Hillary Clinton article, Hillary Clinton argues, Laura, that televised hearings in her words would add a new dimension to this investigation in a way that no dense legal report could. Do you agree?

LAURA COATES, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I absolutely do and the power of television is extraordinary, mostly because in a political process like impeachment would be which relies on constituents to guide the hands of those representing them in Congress, you have to have every American electorate become the jurors and actually assess credibility, weigh what's going on in real time. Certainly we can all look through a 400-page document and hopefully all are thoroughly reading it in a comprehensive way, footnotes included.

But the power of actually hearing somebody tell the story to actually name somebody as a problem to talk about the villainization of one person as legitimate or not, that's very, very important and should be used. Remember, politicians rely very heavily in the public debate process for that very reason to be able to say I want to talk to American and let you judge who I am and assess my credibility as the actual person to represent you. Same thing is true in this conduct especially because impeachment is about a political decision and it relies on the constituents to guide those in power.

BLITZER: In the article, David, she acknowledges she may not be the right messenger, the best messenger for this, but it's impossible to ignore and she mention that she was a young staff lawyer for the House Watergate committee back in the '70s. Her husband was impeached. He was the First Lady of the United States 20 years ago and she was a Democratic presidential nominee.

CHALIAN: Yes and she adds to that that she was Secretary of State and worked across the table from Vladimir Putin and understands exactly what his an attack plan would be against this country and she also mentions the notion of being a senator from New York having served during 9/11 and having gone through the 9/11 commission and their fact-finding mission saying that something similar should happen about election security in this country.

That's why Jeff was saying it truly is unique. I mean you can't find somebody that has all of those pieces in one body to put their own perspective on this, but I do think what is important to note here - well, Nancy Pelosi says one step at a time let's hold hearings and the Hillary Clinton seems to be in the same place. Hillary Clinton seems to be leaning into the notion that she believes very much that those hearings would inevitably lead to an impeachment inquiry. I'm not sure Nancy Pelosi is quite there yet.

BLITZER: Stick around. There's more news that we've got to follow. We will do that right after a quick break.

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[18:43:01] BLITZER: We're back with our analysts and our experts. And David Chalian, a U.S. official tells CNN and I'm quoting, "That was like pulling teeth to get the White House to focus in on Russian election meddling." How alarming is that revelation?

CHALIAN: I think this whole thing is really alarming about learning how the President has obviously inspired a culture around him that says he wants nothing to do with this topic on his desk, that Mick Mulvaney, the Chief of Staff is saying although he says he doesn't recall this, but that he's saying this doesn't need to get to the President's level. What are we talking about?

This is a clear and present danger to the American democracy and his Chief of Staff is saying this shouldn't be at the President's level. They have to pull teeth. This is, I think, the largest abdication of his responsibility as President that he's had to date.

ZELENY: But it's also something that he's never been able to reconcile with because he has said from day one that his legitimacy will be questioned if he even entertains a discussion about any vulnerabilities. So that is why he doesn't want to talk about it, but it is extraordinary. You're right this is now the third chief of staff in a row who has not really brought this to his desk to say, "Mr. President, this is an issue."

And what if they would try to help the Democrat in 2020?

CHALIAN: Of course.

ZELENY: I mean we do not know sort of the political leanings of some exterior force here, so that's why everyone should be concerned about this 18 months from now we'll have an election.

HENNESSEY: And on the basic level it shows the President sort of placing his own ego over basic National Security. One thing that the Mueller report makes clear not just the report but also the indictments that came before it was the degree of the Russian assault on the U.S. election. We now know that the President was aware of that and welcomed and encouraged it even if he didn't participate in terms of being a part of a criminal conspiracy, he wasn't concerned about it as a candidate and he's not concerned about it now as President.

You have to ask yourself if you're Vladimir Putin, you're saying they're trying to make the calculus of what you're going to do in 2020, you're looking at what the President has said and done, would you have any hesitation whatsoever about running the exact same play book again.

[18:45:05] COATES: Well, Putin or any other country that has an interest in interfering with our elections and by the way it's kind of chicken versus the egg argument.

One of the reasons people have doubted the president's loyalty to his duty and his abdication of his throne, which he thinks he has at the times it appears is because, think about Helsinki, think about the moments in time where it was easy to actually confirm the intelligence community or even saying, yes, Russia has endeavored to interfere with the election but instead he has chosen not to do that because he questions whether or not it will question his own legitimacy.

And so, you have this circular argument going around and around, which is one of the reasons why, and as people want to interview the president of the United States and ask him questions about what was his motivation behind being so pandering it seemed in catering to people like Putin and other causes.

BLITZER: The main Russian goal was to weaken American by sowing dissent in this country and from the Russian perspective, clearly mission accomplished. I've said that repeatedly.

Stick around. There is more news.

Kim Jong-un gets a warm welcome in Russia just ahead of his summit with Vladimir Putin. Are the North Korean and Russian leaders making President Trump jealous?

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[18:50:48] BLITZER: Tonight, Kim Jong-un is getting the red carpet treatment from Vladimir Putin. The North Korea leader has arrived in Russia for his first meeting with the Kremlin boss.

Our Senior International Correspondent, Matthew Chance is at the summit site for us.

Matthew, so what do we expect from this Kim-Putin summit?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf. Well, the main event of the day is coming up in the next few hours with those face-to-face meetings between President Putin of Russia and Kim Jong-un. The Kremlin calling it first contact with the North Korean leader.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) CHANCE (voice-over): After a lengthy armored train ride from Pyongyang, North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un today made his entrance into Russia. Greeted with a traditional offering of bread and salt and honored by members of the Russian military.

It's the young dictator's first visit to Russia and the timing is key. Less than two months after failed nuclear negotiations with Donald Trump from Vietnam, Kim is welcoming the spotlight with Vladimir Putin. He even stopped to speak with Russian state television

KIM JONG-UN, NORTH KOREAN LEADER (through translator): I came to Russia with the warm feelings of our people. I hope that this visit will be successful and useful, and that during the negotiations with esteemed President Putin I will be able to specifically discuss issues of resolving the situation on the Korean peninsula.

CHANCE: The Kremlin says talks about North Korea's nuclear program are scheduled for Thursday. But the rest of Kim's plans with Putin remain shrouded in secrecy.

(on camera): This is an important visit for Kim Jong-un, because he wants to show that he has, you know, basically he is not isolated internationally, he has powerful allies not just China but now Russian support as well. And he wants to send that message very much to the U.S. president.

(voice-over): The trip comes as Washington and Pyongyang are at an impasse. Kim unwilling to give up his nuclear arsenal in exchange for sanctions relief from the United States.

Now, he may be hoping for support in pressuring the White House from someone proven to get Trump's attention.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHANCE: Well, the Kremlin already saying they don't expect to have a joint news conference at the end of this, or even joint statement. So, expectations for this summit are already pretty low -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll watch it pretty closely with you. Matthew Chance, thanks very much.

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

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[18:57:39] BLITZER: Tonight, Iran's foreign minister slamming the Trump administration, accusing the U.S. officials of seeking a confrontation with Tehran. It's part of what he calls a very dangerous policy.

Let's bring in our National Security Reporter, Kylie Atwood.

Kylie, Javad Zarif had suggested the president's national security team is simply trying to pick a fight. KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: That's right. Foreign

Minister Zarif said that the Trump administration, alongside its allies in the region, are plotting confrontation with Iran and leading U.S. policy towards disaster.

He said that the folks leading this charge include national security adviser John Bolton. He said that this is team B. It also includes prime minister to Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. It also includes foreign -- sorry, crown prince to the United Arab Emirates, Mohamed Bin Zayed, and Saudi crown prince, Mohamed Bin Salman.

He said that plotted accidents are increasingly possible by these actors against Iran. And that those are even more possible as we come up on elections, obviously U.S. election, presidential elections are just next year.

This is important because it's something that the U.S. Congress is also worried about with the Trump administration. They've been asking the administration officials, Secretary Pompeo if the administration is looking for military confrontation with Iran.

And I actually asked the secretary about that just last week and Pompeo said that, no, we are not. But he left the door slightly say jar, saying Trump will act within his authorities. That they understand the legislation that would put control on such action, and that, you know, essentially they have the authority.

So, leaving the door slightly open there which is noteworthy.

BLITZER: Javad Zarif, the foreign minister, also proposing, what, a prisoner swap with the United States?

ATWOOD: Yes, he said that he has the authority to do it and ready to do it. That is an invitation to the U.S. in a very important invitation, because there are at least six unjustly detained Americans in Iran.

And now, the State Department said they saw the comments and referenced their position here which is not yes or no when it comes to a prisoner swap but saying that Iran should be the first to act, to show how serious they are to release all of the Americans first.

What they didn't respond to was that Zarif said that he asked about this six months ago and had heard nothing.

BLITZER: Kylie Atwood, good reporting. Thank you very much.

Let's get those Americans home.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT' starts right now.

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