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THE SITUATION ROOM
Convicted Russian Agent Speaks Out; President Trump Lashes Out at Mueller Team; Biden Under Fire; Interview With Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ); Trump Welcomes Putin's Statements on North Korea; New Poll Shows Majority Say Mueller Report Did Not Clear Trump; Maria Butina Sentenced to 18 Months in Prison. Aired on 6-7p ET
Aired April 26, 2019 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And more unfounded claims by the commander in chief.
Reopening the wound. The president insists his response to the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, was perfect, while praising Confederate General Robert E. Lee. We will break down his latest attempt to rewrite history.
Joe money. The newest member of the Democratic presidential pack raises more than $6 million in campaign cash in just 24 hours. As Joe Biden scored in the money race, did he stumble in a TV interview?
And Russian agent speaks. Maria Butina begs for mercy, before she's ordered to serve 18 months in prison. She's also been talking to CNN from behind bars. We're going to tell you what she revealed.
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: new evidence Americans aren't buying President Trump's claim he was exonerated by the Mueller report. A new national poll shows 53 -- 53 percent do not think Mueller's investigation cleared Mr. Trump of all wrongdoing.
The president is now likening the Russia probe to an attempted coup against him, standing by that unfounded comparison in new comments just a while ago.
Also breaking, Joe Biden beats his Democratic presidential rivals in the early money race, the former vice president $6.3 million in the first 24 hours of his campaign. But his first TV interview since announcing is getting some mixed reviews.
Among other things, Biden declined to directly apologize to Anita Hill for his handling of the 1991 Clarence Thomas hearings.
This hour, I will talk with Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by. First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, as Americans are weighing in on the Mueller report, we heard from President Trump just a little while ago. What did he say?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
President Trump is trotting out his latest conspiracy theory, this time on the Mueller report, claiming that he was the victim of an attempted coup as a part of that investigation. But that was not the only reality-bending comment of the day made by the president as he tried once again to whitewash his handling of the violence in Charlottesville.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Without providing any evidence, President Trump fired up a crowd of gun rights enthusiasts at the National Rifle Association's annual convention by alleging special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe was an attempted coup aimed at toppling his administration.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They tried for a coup. It didn't work out so well.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
TRUMP: And I didn't need a gun for that one, did I?
TRUMP: A disgrace. Spying, surveillance, trying for an overthrow, and we caught them. We caught them.
ACOSTA: It's an unfounded claim he also shared on one of his favorite TV shows.
TRUMP: Bigger than Watergate, because it means so much. This was a coup. This wasn't stealing information from an office in the Watergate apartments. This was an attempted coup.
ACOSTA: The president also tried to knock down one of the most remarkable findings in the Mueller report, that he ordered former White House counsel Don McGahn to fire the special counsel.
TRUMP: I never told Don McGahn to fire Mueller. If I wanted to fire Mueller, I would have done it myself. And I'm a student of history. I see what you get when you fire people, and it's not good.
ACOSTA: Mr. Trump is now savaging Mueller, a man he called honorable a few weeks ago.
TRUMP: We had 18 people that were Trump haters. That includes Mr. Mueller. He was a Trump hater.
JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Very fine people on both sides?
ACOSTA: The president is also relitigating his response to the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville after former Vice President Joe Biden slammed Mr. Trump for saying there were very fine people on both sides.
TRUMP: And if you look at what I said, you will see that that question was answered perfectly. People were there protesting the taking down of the monument of Robert E. Lee. Everybody knows that.
ACOSTA: But that's not true. There were also neo-Nazis and other white nationalists chanting anti-Semitic slogans. CNN pressed Mr. Trump on this in the aftermath of Charlottesville.
(on camera): Sir, the neo-Nazis started this. They showed up in Charlottesville. They showed up in Charlottesville to protest the removal of that statue.
TRUMP: But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You had people in that group -- excuse me. Excuse me. I saw the same pictures as you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue, and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Still, the president seems to relish a matchup with Biden. The president would rather have the 2020 race turn on the economy, as he tweeted out the latest government data showing the nation's GDP grew 3.2 percent in the first quarter, far above expectations.
He's also defending his handling of Otto Warmbier, the American college student who died after being imprisoned by North Korea. Despite Warmbier's death, the president is describing himself as "the greatest hostage negotiator that I know of in the history of the United States."
Mr. President Trump weighed in on reports that North Korea asked for $2 million for Warmbier's release.
TRUMP: We don't pay money for hostages. The Otto case was a very unusual case, but I just want to let you know, no money was paid for Otto.
ACOSTA: Now, getting back to the saga of Don McGahn, I just asked the president in the Oval Office a short while ago whether or not he believes the former White House counsel could somehow be charged with perjury, since his recollection of events differs from that of his former White House counsel.
Wolf, in the meantime -- the president did not really answer that question. He said he wanted to answer it at a different time. In the meantime, we should point out "The Washington Post" has a story
out this evening about another major figure from the Russia investigation, the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein. It says in this "Washington Post" article that, last September, Rod Rosenstein came over to the White House to try to assure top officials over here that he still had their back in the Russia investigation when a report came out that said he was willing to wear a wire and was -- there was some talk about the 25th Amendment.
According to this "Washington Post" story, Rod Rosenstein became teary-eyed as he tried to reassure the then chief of staff, John Kelly. And he also got on the phone with the president at that time and told the president that he can land the plane of the Russia investigation.
And we should point out, this afternoon, there are sources telling CNN that Rod Rosenstein did not become teary-eyed about all of this. But it does seem, Wolf, that Rod Rosenstein in the middle of this very tense moment in the Russia investigation was trying to reassure the White House that he essentially had their back in the Russia investigation, as there were all these questions as to what the Department of Justice was doing during a very critical time in that probe, Wolf.
BLITZER: He did say he got emotional, angry from time to time in that speech he gave yesterday, which is totally understandable.
ACOSTA: That's right.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta, thank you very much.
Now to Joe Biden's presidential campaign. He's touting a very impressive fund-raising haul in the first 24 hours since his announcement. Some Democratic voters may have found his kickoff TV interview, however, less impressive.
Let's bring in our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, covering all the politics for us.
He's trying to make a very good new first impression, even though he's been around for a long time.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: He sure has, Wolf.
And he is trying to make that first impression, but he's also trying to live up to that front-runner's billing. In his first sit-down interview since jumping into the race, he seemed to enjoy his long- distance sparring with President Trump. But he also showed he's still struggling to answer a question that has been hanging over him for nearly 30 years.
That's the treatment of Anita Hill during the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ZELENY (voice-over): Joe Biden flexing his fund-raising muscle, with his campaign announcing tonight he raised $6.3 million during his opening day in the race.
The former vice president outpacing the first day totals of all Democratic rivals, trying again today to keep his fight focused squarely on President Trump's conduct in office.
BIDEN: The rest of the world, I mean, they look at us like, my God.
ZELENY: Biden also responding to Trump's latest attack on his age, despite both men being just four years apart.
TRUMP: I am a young, vibrant man. I look at Joe, I don't know about him. I don't know.
BIDEN: If he looks young and vibrant compared to me, I should probably go home.
ZELENY: But appearing on ABC's "The View," Biden is also confronting questions about his own long record, repeatedly declining to directly apologize to Anita Hill for her treatment during the 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas.
BIDEN: I'm sorry she was treated the way she was treated. I did everything in my power to do what I thought was within the rules to be able to stop things.
ZELENY: Expressing regret, but stopping well short of accepting responsibility, considering he was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Hill told "The New York Times" she was not satisfied with a recent call from Biden, the first in 28 years.
QUESTION: I think what she wants you to say is, I'm sorry for the way I treated you, not for the way you were treated. I think that would be closer.
BIDEN: Well, but -- but I'm sorry the way she got treated.
ZELENY: Finally, Biden said this:
BIDEN: Look, there are a lot of mistakes made across the board, and, for those, I apologize. But I believed Dr. Hill from the beginning.
BIDEN: From the beginning.
BIDEN: And I said it.
ZELENY: Biden also struggled to apologize to women amid allegations that he made them feel uncomfortable.
BIDEN: So I invaded your space. And I am -- I'm sorry this happened. But I'm not sorry, in the sense that I think I did anything that was intentionally designed to do anything wrong or be inappropriate.
ZELENY: But Biden, notorious for his exuberant up-close-and-personal campaign style, said he would be more mindful going forward.
BIDEN: I have to be aware of it. So, I have to be more cognizant. And we all have to be more -- a woman or a man has a right to say, particularly a woman, say, no, this is not my space.
ZELENY: Yet Biden also showing a deeply emotional side when asked about his late son Beau, who always hoped his father would run again for president.
BIDEN: He's not why I'm running, but I hope, as I just -- this sounds stupid. I -- when I get up in the morning, I think about, you know, I hope he's proud of me. I hope he's proud.
ZELENY: But Joe Biden also said age was a legitimate issue in the campaign. He is 76, President Trump 72.
But asked today if he would make a pledge to serve only one term, he said no, adding this: "Hopefully, I can demonstrate that with age comes experience and wisdom. But that's for you to decide, not for me" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We will be watching this very, very closely.
Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much.
Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego, a member of the Armed Services Committee.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
Let me get your reaction...
REP. RUBEN GALLEGO (D-AZ): My pleasure.
BLITZER: .. to Joe Biden's launching his presidential bid.
Do you believe the former vice president is the right person to represent your party going into 2020?
GALLEGO: Well, I think he's joining a great cast of candidates.
I think he's going to have a great campaign, and I think he potentially is a good match for Donald Trump. I'm not jumping on board the Biden train, just to be clear. But, you know, I think many of us are welcoming as many great candidates as possible to get into this fight. BLITZER: Biden featured the white supremacist rally in
Charlottesville, Virginia, in his announcement yesterday in that video.
And you heard President Trump defending his comment that they were -- quote -- "very fine people on both sides" of that rally. He says everybody knows they were protesting -- this is the president -- protesting the removal of a monument to General Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general, who he calls a great general.
What's your reaction to that?
GALLEGO: Well, number one, you know, he's absolutely wrong. There were, you know, men with tiki torches chanting about Jews.
And, as a father of a Jewish son, that's really insulting. And it was very well-known they were chanting anti-Semitic language the whole time. And even if they were there to protect or protest the removal of Robert E. Lee, why are you standing up for an absolute traitor to this country?
I think it totally misses -- he's totally missing the point about why people are really disappointed in this presidency.
BLITZER: Was -- you believed Joe Biden did the right thing by focusing in on that event in Charlottesville in his introductory announcement, the video yesterday?
GALLEGO: I think, you know, he has to make those decisions for his campaign. But at least the rhetoric that the president's trying to use to somehow change the tone of what the protests were is incorrect.
And saying that somehow Robert E. Lee is a great general, and not forgetting the fact that he was a traitor to this country, I think, is a big insult to every veteran in this country.
BLITZER: As Democrats navigate the way forward on the Mueller report, Congressman, this new poll from "The Washington Post" and ABC News shows that more than half of Americans, at least right now, say you shouldn't start impeachment proceedings.
How much does that guide your thinking when it comes to launching impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives?
GALLEGO: Well, really, for me, what guides my perspective is the Constitution of the United States. And our founding fathers didn't say anything about whether to impeach or not to impeach regarding how the polls are doing.
I do believe we have to build a case, and I think we can build a case in that regard by making sure we bring Mueller to come and speak and maybe a couple other people that were mentioned in the Mueller report.
But I don't believe we should be afraid of the option of impeachment. It's our job to really hold up the Constitution of the United States, the norms and precedents of this country. And everything this president has done really has undermined the institution of democracy in this country, and we need to do whatever we can to protect it.
BLITZER: Mueller decided not to formally charge President Trump with either collusion or obstruction.
But take a look at this, the latest economic numbers that came out today. The economy grew at 3.2 percent in the first quarter. That's very impressive, very good numbers. Unemployment numbers are very good right now. Do you give President Trump credit?
GALLEGO: No, I give the American worker credit.
But I am happy that this is occurring. I think it's been long past due. I would like to see wages go up, but I would also like to see the president actually help the American worker by trying to gut -- by stopping his efforts to gut the Affordable Health Care Act and taking away protections for preexisting conditions.
It's not just one thing where we can be making more money in our pocketbook, but also our salaries get taken away because of the cost of health care. So it's great that, you know, in some areas, we're doing well, but GDP also is not reflective of every worker's income.
If anything, we know corporations are doing well, but not necessarily workers.
BLITZER: But if there are good GDP numbers, good unemployment numbers, the stock market is achieving record highs, what does that mean politically for Democrats going into 2020?
GALLEGO: Well, I think, politically, what it means for Democrats in 2020 is that we're still going to win.
You know, the American voter is not going to keep standing by, you know, with this presidency and this administration that just lies, cheats and steals, that is going to -- continually trying to gut health care, and that basically has continually allowed them to be undermined by a foreign adversary.
And they're not going to be bought off by better economic news. At the same time, again, the -- our GDP is great. You know, the economy seems to be doing better. But that has to do a lot with corporations having high profits, but not necessarily actual salary increases for everyday workers.
BLITZER: Congressman Gallego, thanks so much for joining us.
GALLEGO: Thank you for having me.
BLITZER: All right, just ahead, is Joe Biden making President Trump nervous and getting under his skin? We're going to take a closer look at the evidence.
Plus, before Maria Butina was sentenced to more time behind bars, she gave a prison interview to CNN. We're going to tell you what the admitted Russian agent revealed.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the presidential race, the newest Democratic candidate, Joe Biden, beating his primary opponents in the early fund-raising contest.
He's reporting a $6.3 million haul in the first 24 hours since his announcement.
Let's bring in our analysts.
Very good numbers for the former vice president, Jeff Zeleny.
ZELENY: No question.
But he has one of the biggest and best Rolodexes in all of political life. So this first 24-hour fund-raising number is probably not that surprising.
And this is something that actually has become more of a fad in this campaign. I don't recall it in previous campaigns, putting out this 24-hour fund-raising number.
The reality is, we're not going to see Joe Biden's numbers since the middle of July. So, we're taking the campaign's word for it here. And there's a lot we do not know. They said there are 96,000 separate donors.
Well, Bernie Sanders got about 2.5 times that. So, yes, it's a big number, no question, just slightly above what Beto O'Rourke had and Bernie Sanders had. But I think the bigger question is how much he can raise over three months.
I don't think money is going to be a problem for Joe Biden. The question is how much time it will take him to raise it. He's going to fund-raisers and doing events, not simply sending out an e-mail, like Bernie Sanders, that it just comes pouring in.
You know, Jamie, clearly, the Biden announcement hit a nerve with the president, with President Trump.
Watch a little bit of the president's reaction today when it came to the sensitive issue of these men and their age.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: How old is too to be president?
TRUMP: Well, I think that I just feel like a young man. I'm so young. I can't believe it. I'm the youngest person. I'm a young, vibrant man. I look at Joe, I don't know about him. I don't know. QUESTION: Is he too old?
TRUMP: I would never say anyone is too old. But I know they're all making me look very young, both in terms of age and I think in terms of energy. I think you people know that better than anybody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So what do you think, Jamie? Young and vibrant.
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Young and vibrant.
For the record, both men are in their 70s. If we want to talk young and vibrant, let's talk about Mayor Pete, who is 37.
But I think what we're really seeing here, Wolf, is that Donald Trump is scared of Joe Biden. He is the $6.3 million man. He started off yesterday, his campaign, with two words, Charlottesville, Virginia. He's going right after Donald Trump.
And whether you talk to Republicans, people in the White House, Democrats, even Democrats who might support more progressive candidates in the field than Joe Biden, a lot of people think that, in the general election, Joe Biden has the best chance against Donald Trump.
I will say one word, Pennsylvania. That's where Joe Biden was born. That's where he's going to be spending a lot of his time. We used to hear Florida, Florida, Florida. You're going to be hearing a lot of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, and Donald Trump knows it, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. They -- with his blue-collar roots, Joe Biden, in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, three states the president won, they think he would be very, very competitive. And I know the Republicans are nervous about that.
Joey, let's talk a little bit about Biden featuring Charlottesville, Virginia, the white supremacist rally there, in his announcement video yesterday. The president was asked today if he still thinks there were -- quote -- "very fine people on both sides."
Listen and watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: If you look at what I said, you will see that that question was answered perfectly. And I was talking about people that went because they felt very strongly about the monument to Robert E. Lee, a great general. Whether you like it or not, he was one of the great generals.
People were there protesting the taking down of the monument of Robert E. Lee. Everybody knows that.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: And I will remind our viewers, Joey, this is what the president said in the days after Charlottesville. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: You also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You had people in that group -- excuse me. Excuse me. I saw the same pictures as you did.
You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: But you remember, Joey -- we all do -- the neo-Nazi signs, the chanting, the tiki torches, "The Jews will not replace us," the slogan that was going on there.
It was an awful, awful time.
JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I think, Wolf, that he likes to define his own reality, and that's not the reality of our time.
What the reality was, was far different than the picture he depicted. Let's start with his opportunity when asked a question to perhaps perform a mea culpa, perhaps to give us some moral leadership from the top, perhaps to condemn once and for all what is wrong is wrong, what is right is right.
Hate is right -- hate is wrong. Evil is wrong. And standing for justice would be the proper thing. Instead, he doesn't take the opportunity. He says that, you know what, this general, Robert E. Lee, fine general, despite the fact that he owned slaves, despite the fact that he treated them brutally, despite the fact that he had, you know, slaves that were gone or missing, whatever, get them recaptured, et cetera.
And so it just sets the wrong tone. You know, no one has a monopoly on wisdom. Sometimes, when we say things, we're wrong. I think it was incumbent upon him to say that. I think Joe Biden struck the proper chord with him. I think it's going to be a hampering factor in this campaign.
And finally, Wolf, we are at this very time in the fight for the heart and soul of this country. I think Mr. Biden said it perfectly.
BLITZER: You know, he was on "The View" today, the former vice president, Rebecca, and we all watched. What did you think?
REBECCA BUCK, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, it was a mixed bag, Wolf.
I mean, there were some moments really for everyone, detractors, people who don't plan to support Joe Biden, people who support him, and those who are still making up their minds.
Some of the really positive highlights, I think, were the moment where he answered a question about his age, said, it's a show-me business. I'm going to show you I have the energy to take this on.
This question he had about why he's running, did that have to do with his son Beau, and it was a very emotional moment with him talking about his late son.
But then there were moments where he was addressing the Anita Hill controversy, where he was addressing some of his interactions with women that are really going to be questions. He didn't dispatch with them in this interview. And they're going to be questions throughout this Democratic primary for Joe Biden.
One of the real tests of his campaign is going to be, will he be able to move past those questions, focus on the things that he wants to focus on?
BLITZER: Let me get Jamie Gangel to weigh in.
What did you think, Jamie?
GANGEL: Wolf, I just want to weigh in on the Anita Hill.
There's been a lot of talk about it today, and not to discount how she feels, not to discount apologies. It was 28 years ago. And in the lens of today with MeToo, it's a very, very different subject. But I think that we also have to keep in mind Donald Trump, the "Access Hollywood" tape, more than at least 15 women who accused him of alleged harassment or assault.
I think people have to remember that Joe Biden, in his own way, he's not always very articulate about it, but he has tried to make amends for this. He is not charged with assaulting anyone. He was the chairman of this committee with allegations against Clarence Thomas -- Wolf.
BLITZER: That was the Judiciary Committee going through the confirmation hearings.
Everybody, stand by -- much more right after this.
[18:32:33] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're back with our analysts with a new snapshot of Americans' views of the Mueller report.
Jamie, look at this, the new "Washington Post"-ABC News poll, 53 percent say the Mueller investigation did not clear, did not clear President Trump of all wrongdoing. 31 percent say yes. What do you think?
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's clear that America is divided. They don't want him impeached, but they don't believe he's telling the truth. But I think the most interesting thing is how Donald Trump is reacting to this, and that is he's worried about it. He -- and he believes it's a problem and it's getting under his skin. We saw that with his speech to the NRA about putting down a coup.
I mean, I think we've heard just about everything, and then he says something like that, which is not only totally unfounded but bizarre. So I think what's most interesting here is how we're seeing the president react to it.
BLITZER: In the same poll, Rebecca, 56 percent say Congress shouldn't begin impeachment proceedings, 37 percent say Congress should begin impeachment proceedings. How do you think Democrats are going to look at this new polling?
REBECCA BUCK, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, they're trying to thread a needle here, Wolf. And you've seen this question play out in the Democratic primary with Elizabeth Warren saying we do need to pursue impeachment for the president. Some others like Castro joining her, and then others like Cory Booker is saying, wait, wait, let's just continue investigations and see where this goes.
And I think that's going to be sort of the middle ground for Democrats and leadership in Congress who don't necessarily want to go down that road, they see the political risk here with potentially pursuing impeachment, and of course it's a dead end in the Senate because they don't have the votes there. So just continuing these investigations, saying, we're going to hold the president's feet to the fire and look under every rock that we possibly can.
BLITZER: You know, Joey, the president continues to dispute the findings of the Mueller report as far as Don McGahn, who was the White House counsel. He says, legally I have absolute right to fire, but I never told Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller. What's going to -- how is this going to play out? Because someone here is lying.
JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, let's answer it this way. One of those two parties, right, McGahn spent 30 hours with the special counsel reviewing, investigating, asking questions.
[18:35:01] Another person did not appear before the special counsel, submitted written answers to the special counsel, which were deemed to be deficient, in which he didn't recall things numerous times. Another person, that is McGahn, said, you know what? I am going to leave as opposed to carry out this directive. The other individual claiming, hey, it never happened.
And so one has a reputation for truth and integrity. Another one has a reputation for telling things and falsehoods over and over again. And so it's a question of credibility. At the end of the day, you know, consistent with what Rebecca was speaking of, they don't have the votes to impeach him. It will be America's decision as to whether integrity matters, whether the heart and soul of this country matters, and whether a narrative that is consistent with the truth ultimately matters.
BLITZER: Listen to Lindsey Graham years ago talking about the impeachment proceedings that were beginning in the House of Representatives as a result of Watergate. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Congress was going through its oversight function to provide oversight of the president. When asked for information, Richard Nixon chose not to comply and the Congress back in that time said, you're taking impeachment away from us. You're becoming the judge and jury. It is not your job to tell us what we need. It is your job to comply with the things we need to provide oversight over you.
The day Richard Nixon failed to answer that subpoena is the day that he was subject to impeachment because he took the power from Congress over the impeachment process away from Congress, and he became the judge and jury.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You know, Jeff, that was during the Bill Clinton impeachment proceedings 20 years ago.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. It was also pre-Lindsey Graham before the Donald Trump era, before he became his BFF. So the reality here is Senator Graham is not going to be calling for anything of the kind. In fact, earlier this week in South Carolina, he said he's done with all of this. The Mueller investigation is over. Move on. So the reality is there's always hypocrisy on both sides depending on who is in charge and who's in issue here.
But there's no question that there is going to be a legal confrontation over all of this. But Speaker Pelosi is slow-walking impeachment for a reason. She's watching those poll numbers as well. So as we end a week here, even Hillary Clinton, we'll have to remember days ago, said that should not be the first step. So what a week.
BLITZER: Where you sit is where you stand.
ZELENY: No doubt.
BLITZER: All right, guys, stick around. There's more news we're following. Maria Butina's last-minute appeal to a federal judge before the admitted Russian agent was sentenced. We're going to have details on that. Plus her prison interview with CNN.
[18:42:18] BLITZER: Tonight Russia is slamming the United States for the 18-month prison sentence ordered for Maria Butina, calling it politically motivated. The admitted Russian agent learning her fate in a Washington, D.C. federal court.
CNN's Sara Murray has been doing a lot of reporting on this.
Butina spoke for, what, about five minutes, pleading to be released, allowed to go back to Russia. But this federal judge wasn't buying it.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No, she really wasn't. She sentenced Butina to 18 months. Butina has already been in jail for nine, so she's looking at potentially nine more months behind bars. And, you know, the judge said this was not just a simple misunderstanding by an overeager foreign student. This wasn't just a filing violation. She said that, you know, what Maria Butina did, it was serious, it was sophisticated, it was dangerous.
It could have jeopardized national security here in the U.S. and she pointed out that, look, this was all happening where Butina's activity was at a time when Russia was trying to interfere in the U.S. elections. And Maria Butina did speak in her own defense. You know, she apologized. She said she was actually trying to improve relations between the U.S. and Russia, and ironically she realized this actually damaged them.
We've also heard from the Russian Foreign Ministry which is weighing in on her case today. They said the charges and her sentence are politically motivated. They said the charges she faced were completely farfetched and fabricated in nature.
BLITZER: You had an opportunity to go behind bars to talk to her before the sentencing today. Tell us what she said.
MURRAY: I did. I visited her a couple of times in the Alexandria Detention Center under the agreement that I wouldn't use anything until after she had been sentenced. And you know, she was really looking forward, first of all, to going back to her hometown in Siberia. She said she didn't want to become a media darling or a television star. That's what happened to Anna Chapman when she went back, you know, was sent back to Russia as part of the 2010 spy swap. And she also said this has been really difficult on her family. You know, she's had to answer questions from her parents when prosecutors said she was trying to trade sex for access. You know, they later walked that back, but she had to answer some awkward questions from her father when those allegations initially came out.
I also asked her about some of the other folks who were allegedly involved in this scheme. You know, she's been cooperating with prosecutors against her boyfriend, Paul Erickson, but she said that she hopes he doesn't face any charges. He's in enough potential legal trouble already. Aleksandr Torshin was her Russian handler. She says he's basically cut her off entirely.
BLITZER: All right. I'm sure you're going to continue to work this story for us. Great reporting as usual, Sara. Thank you, very, very much.
Just ahead, surreal scenes in Russia as Kim Jong-un looks for gravitas and Vladimir Putin tries to get in the middle of Kim and President Trump.
[18:49:26] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Tonight, President Trump says he welcomes Vladimir Putin's support on North Korea after the Russian leader summit with Kim Jong-un. Putin is trying to position himself as an intermediary in nuclear talks that went off the rails during the Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi just a little while ago.
Our senior international correspondent Matthew Chance has been covering the Putin-Kim summit in Russia.
Matthew, there were surreal scenes as Putin cozied up to Kim.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I mean, in fact, whenever Kim Jong-un goes, it's always a little bit surreal, isn't it? And in this first trip by the North Korean leader to Russia was no exception.
[18:50:07] CHANCE (voice-over): His send-off to Russia was wildly enthusiastic. Before boarding his special armored train, Kim Jong-un bid farewell to high-ranking North Korean officials while flower- waving crowds roared their approval of his brief getaway.
But this was a carefully polished visit. Russian state television caught the trap getting a last-minute clean and many hours later as it pulled into the Vladivostok station. No dirty carriages soiling this summit. Kim's grand arrival marked about this awkward moment while they tried to line up the train door with the red carpet and an error which Kim seemed to eventually side step with a smile.
Perhaps because it was how this moment looked, because most important, meeting Russia's strongman president for the first time, building a strategic alliance and appearing more statesman, less rocket man.
This Russian rapport has the marking of a relationship that will send a clear message to President Trump.
KIM JONG UN, NORTH KOREAN LEADER (through translated): I am proposing a toast to the happiness and beautiful future of our two countries people as well as the health of our comrades and friends here.
CHANCE: But Kim Jong-un can be an unreliable partner even for Russia, arriving at this planned military ceremony in Vladivostok more than two hours late. And it was relief when he finally showed up.
(on camera): Well, this is a rare glimpse of the reclusive North Korean leader who simply we don't see very often in public. But here he is dressed in his hat and long coat about to lay a wreath at this Russian war memorial. And he seems to be basking in the public spotlight, especially in a country where he's received such a warm welcome and absolutely zero criticism.
(voice-over): Of course optics are important for President Putin, too. He wants to cast himself as a power broker on the global stage. The summit also helps silence Kremlin critics, next to the eccentric North Korean leader, Russia's own autocratic may seem more reasonable choice.
CHANCE: It went well for Vladimir Putin as well. President Trump saying that he welcomed President Putin's involvement and essentially an acknowledgment to the Kremlin leader that he will play a key role in this issue -- Wolf.
BLITZER: In Vladivostok, Russia for us, Matthew, thank you.
Just ahead, new reaction to the president's insistence that he handled the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville perfectly.
[18:57:19] BLITZER: Tonight, the white nationalist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and President Trump's response front and center once again.
We're joined by CNN's W. Kamau Bell. He's a host of "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA", that begins his fourth season this Sunday night.
Kamau, we'll talk about that in a moment. But you heard the president say today that everybody knows his words that people in Charlottesville were there protesting the removal of a monument to Confederate General Robert E. Lee who the president calls a great general.
What does that tell you?
W. KAMAU BELL, CNN HOST, "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA": The fact he says everybody knows it means he knows that nobody knows that. I mean, we -- that was one of the lowest points in his presidency and this president had several low points so for me he's trying to go over that and sort of redo the history of that shows that he knows it is a weak moment. And, you know, this season in the United States of America we have people who are seeing where the country is at and feeling like if the leaders of the country won't take care of this, I'm going to stand up and do something myself.
BLITZER: Yes, we're looking forward to it, coming back Sunday night. I want to show viewers what they will see in the new season of "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA."
Kamau, watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BELL: Your Christianity.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why not have some kind of influence that is righteous.
BELL: His ability to protest.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a never-ending process.
BELL: Does it got to be never-ending? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm afraid so.
BELL: Her voice for the voiceless.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Whoever voice I have to be, I will be that voice.
BELL: Their courage to fight.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People tell you not to be angry and you see this (EXPLETIVE DELETED) and you better me angry.
BELL: This season of "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA", it all comes down to us.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get up off my ass and do something.
BELL: You don't look like a Nazi fighter.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, come on, you're so funny.
When was the time you said, I got to get involved?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My children and every other child will stay involved.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you ask questions, sometimes it effectuates change.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is no point of hating people. We should all just get along.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You always tackle a diverse set of the issues, Kamau. So, what's the focus of the new season?
BELL: I mean, it's like I said in that promo, it all comes down to us. These are people who have seen the news. They watch CNN and they see the president not doing the right things and these people are going out in their communities and helping.
Duke who said it is time to get off my ass was talking about Charlottesville and what happened there and how he felt like as a white man he used white privilege to do anti-racism work.
So the theme is that it all comes down to us. As you could see it is a wide variety of people. It's a diverse season. We're talking about all sorts of people who know this country is not headed in the right direction and it is up to us to get it back on the right track. BLITZER: Thanks for doing this news series, Kamau. We really
To our viewers, the new season of "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA" starts Sunday night, 10:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.
Thanks for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.