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THE SITUATION ROOM

Attorney General Bill Barr Defiant; Trump Versus Biden; Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein Resigns; Interview With Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA); FBI Informed Of Threatening Social Media Post Five Minutes Before Synagogue Shooting; Rep. Jerry Nadler Pushes Back On Terms Of Mueller Report Testimony As Attorney General Barr Threatens To Skip Hearing; Joe Biden Holds First Campaign Rally As Trump Attacks Him, President Ignoring Warnings Against Elevating His Democratic Rival; Joe Biden Holds First Campaign Rally As He Spars With President Trump Over White Nationalist Violence; China's Military Expands Its Global Influence On The Doorstep Of A U.S. Base. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 29, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, he has parting words for President Trump, making Trump nervous. Joe Biden just held his first campaign rally, telling Pennsylvania voters they're key to defeating the president, this as Mr. Trump has been on a Twitter tear against the former vice president, ignoring his own political team's advice.

Barr brawl. The attorney general is threatening to cancel his House testimony on the Mueller report as he battles with the top Democrat over who can ask him questions. Tonight, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler is sticking to his terms and talking about the possibility of a subpoena.

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 are following breaking news on what authorities are calling a chilling terrorism plot. A U.S. Army veteran in court tonight, accused of planning a large-scale attack near Los Angeles this past weekend.

A top prosecutor says the suspect was consumed with hate and bent on mass murder as he sought revenge for attacks against Muslims.

Also breaking, Joe Biden holds his first rally since announcing his bid for the White House, as President Trump is focusing in on his 2020 attacks on the former vice president.

CNN has learned that Mr. Trump's advisers warned him not, repeat, not to elevate Biden or other top Democratic candidates, but the president clearly isn't following that advice.

I will talk about the breaking news with Democratic Congressman John Garamendi. He's a member of the Armed Services Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to CNN Law Enforcement Analyst, Former FBI Supervisory Agent, Josh Campbell. He's joining us from Los Angeles right now.

Josh, first of all, what are you learning about this alleged terror plot?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Hey, Wolf.

Chilling details we are learning from officials tonight regarding the arrest of a 26-year-old former Army infantryman, a resident here in the Los Angeles area who what they describe was in the process of attempting to place a bomb in a crowded area here in the Los Angeles area.

This is a case that involved FBI undercover agents, informants and the suspect himself attempting to gather ingredients for this device. Let's listen here to officials describe his role.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NICK HANNA, U.S. ATTORNEY: This is a case in which law enforcement was able to identify a man consumed with hate and bent on mass murder, and stop him before he could carry out his attack.

Nevertheless, the criminal case outlines a chilling terrorism plot that developed over the past two months and targeted innocent Americans. Mr. Domingo had requested the construction of improvised explosive devices which he planned to use in the attack.

He allegedly purchased several hundred three-inch-long nails to be used in IEDs as shrapnel, specifically because the nails were long enough to penetrate the human body and puncture internal organs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMPBELL: This plot began, Wolf, just last month, as the subject was on an online forum posting what law enforcement authorities have described as hatred and vitriol.

He was talking about wanting to seek retribution for the New Zealand attack there at two mosques in Christchurch. He came on the radar of law enforcement, Wolf. They introduced an undercover that made contact with him.

He also described wanting to create another Vegas-type attack here in the United States. Now, the plot had continued on, where the suspect actually believed that he was working to gather an actual device that he was going to place near a rally.

Once he and an undercover employee showed up in this location in Long Beach, California, and were prepared to place this device, Wolf, he was taken into custody by FBI agents.

BLITZER: I take it they were also very concerned that he was potentially going to target Jews out in the Los Angeles area. How was he radicalized?

CAMPBELL: Yes, Wolf, this is -- that's part of the chilling details we're hearing from law enforcement.

They're describing this radicalization phase was very quick from the time he became radicalized until the mobilization to violence, where he actually wanted to act and actually carry out this attack. As you mentioned, his targets included Jews, included churches, included police officers.

Ultimately, he decided on this rally, a political rally there in Long Beach, where people would be gathered, a large number of people. One thing that also sets him apart, Wolf, we have seen these incidents in the past where you have someone who comes on the radar and we have inert devices from law enforcement.

One thing that sets him apart is that he also had three rifles and talked about conducting shooting attacks. So this isn't just someone who was trying to get his hands on a device. He could have gone off at any moment with these firearms. He talked about conducting drive- by shootings and mass attacks.

It's only due to the work of law enforcement this afternoon that he was taken off the deck on Friday afternoon, and now sits in federal jail here in Los Angeles, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, glad they got him.

All right, Josh, thank you. We're going to have more on the story coming up.

[18:05:01]

But let's get to some other breaking news right now from the Justice Department here in Washington, the formal official resignation of the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein.

Let's bring in our Justice Reporter, Laura Jarrett. She's working the story for us.

Tell us more about the timing of the resignation and what he's saying upon his exit.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was a complicated figure.

For his critics, his original sin is his participation in the firing of FBI Director James Comey. Remember, he wrote that letter that was really critical of Comey's handling of the Clinton investigation. That gets used as the pretext by President Trump for the firing initially.

But then everything gets turned on its head and he actually appoints the special counsel, after some of the reporting coming out about how the president was really leaning on Comey in terms of the Flynn investigation. And so I think that's the duality that you see in the deputy attorney

general. And later on, of course, he comes under attack repeatedly by the president. Remember, the president even tweeted out a picture of him behind bars.

And so in this letter, his resignation letter, he's not resigning until actually May 11. So it's upcoming. But he praises the president at length. And then he says this in the final paragraph, Wolf -- quote -- "We enforce the law without fear or favor because credible evidence is not partisan. And truth is not determined by opinion polls. We ignore fleeting distractions, and focus our attention the things that matter, because a republic that endures is not covered by the news cycle."

He's a pretty defensive person when it comes to his handling of the Mueller investigation. And you can be sure he's sending a message here in this statement.

BLITZER: Yes, he was highly respected coming into the Justice Department, as the former U.S. attorney out in Baltimore for many years. Democrats and Republicans in the state of Maryland always praised him.

Now there's some controversy surrounding his tenure over at the Department of Justice. Tell us a little bit more about in recent days how he's been defending his role in the Mueller probe.

JARRETT: Well, he gave us blistering speech somewhat kind of out of nowhere.

It was a Bar Association event where he was being honored for his service, both under Republican and Democratic administrations. And he hit -- really hit back against his critics. He threw Comey under the bus. And he talked about how there's press reports that have described him as teary at times.

And he said, heck, wouldn't you? I have been angry. He also talked about his facial expressions at a press conference with Bill Barr recently. So he's been much more, I should say, unleashed than usual about the investigation and always stalwart in terms of thinking and really expressing his support for Mueller and his support for the investigation, the man who he appointed.

BLITZER: Yes, he's going out there and speaking publicly.

I assume the House Judiciary Committee, maybe some other House committees, they're going to want him to come and answer questions and appear to testify at some point.

JARRETT: Absolutely. They're going to want to question him at length about the Mueller investigation, his role in producing the report.

Remember, he, along with the attorney general, Bill Barr, found that the president did not obstruct justice, even though Mueller punted on that question. They're going to want to talk to him about that. It's amazing he hasn't had to testify yet about that explosive reporting last year about him contemplating wearing a wire on the president, as well as talking about invoking the 25th Amendment, at least some musing about that.

So there's plenty there if members of Congress want to dig on that.

BLITZER: And they're going to have to find a new deputy attorney general now. And some names are already out there.

JARRETT: Yes.

So Jeffrey Rosen, the number two Transportation -- over at Transportation, he's actually had his confirmation hearing. He is awaiting a Senate vote.

BLITZER: So he's presumably going to get confirmed. We will see how he does. Not an easy job, by any means.

JARRETT: Not at all.

BLITZER: You're doing an excellent job, though, covering the Justice Department for us, Laura.

JARRETT: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

Let's get to the presidential race, dramatic developments unfolding over the past few hours, Joe Biden's first campaign rally out in Pennsylvania, a state Democrats desperately need to take back in order to take back the White House.

Let's go to our Political Reporter, Arlette Saenz. She's in Pittsburgh for us.

So, Arlette, tell us what Biden's message was just a little a while ago.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Wolf, Joe Biden was making an argument about electability, saying that he is someone that could win a state like Pennsylvania.

It's late in the primary process, but he very clearly already has his eyes on a general election match-up against President Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAENZ (voice-over): Joe Biden taking the stage at a union hall in Pittsburgh for his first campaign rally as an official 2020 contender.

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If I'm going to be able to beat Donald Trump in 2020, it's going to happen here. It's going to happen here.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

SAENZ: The Pennsylvania-born Biden putting the focus on the middle class.

BIDEN: The country wasn't built by Wall Street bankers, CEOs and -- and hedge fund managers. It was built by you.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BIDEN: It was built by the great American middle class.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

SAENZ: Biden's pitch comes as he picks up a key endorsement from a firefighters union.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joe is a lot like our firefighters. He is a problem-solver who cares deeply about America.

SAENZ: The Pittsburgh event showcases Biden's play for working-class voters in states like Pennsylvania.

[18:10:03]

The state had been a Democratic stronghold in recent elections, voting for Barack Obama and Joe Biden in 2008 and 2012. Donald Trump flipped the state from blue to red in 2016, the first Republican to carry the state since 1988.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We won the state of Pennsylvania remember?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: Remember? Remember that incredible night in November? Remember that incredible night?

SAENZ: Today, President Trump showing the front-runner, Biden, is on his mind, tweeting about him four times in the span of 23 minutes, saying: "The dues-sucking firefighters leadership will always support Democrats, even though the membership wants me. Some things never change."

Biden fired back on Twitter: "I'm sick of this president bad-mouthing unions. We need a president who honors them and their work."

BIDEN: Folks, America is an idea.

SAENZ: Since he entered the race, Biden has framed his campaign as a rebuke of Trump, specifically citing the president's response to the violent clashes in Charlottesville.

BIDEN: Shocked the conscience of this nation.

SAENZ: Biden stressing that argument on the trail today.

BIDEN: We are in a battle for America's soul. I really believe that. And we have to restore it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAENZ: Biden also offered a bit of a preview of what a policy platform could look like, talking about a $15 minimum wage, and went on, when he was talking about health care, saying that Americans should be able to buy into a public option.

Biden said he would delve more into policy details in the coming weeks. Tomorrow, Wolf, Biden's heading to Iowa for his first official visit as a presidential candidate in 2020.

BLITZER: All right, Arlette, thanks very much, Arlette Saenz reporting from Pittsburgh.

Now to the president and his fixation on the former vice president, even as Mr. Trump keeps trying to defend his response to white supremacist violence in Charlottesville.

Let's go to our White House Correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, the president has been tweeting. And he's been making it clear that the former Vice President Joe Biden is very much on his mind.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

Wolf, privately, in recent weeks, the president has been asking people what they think about Joe Biden and whether or not they think he could beat the president in the upcoming election. But, today, we saw the president's unease over Joe Biden burst into the public view, as Arlette noted, with several tweets today just on Joe Biden and his endorsements from those unions alone.

But now, Wolf, that the president is looking ahead to 2020, he's being forced to look back at comments he made in 2017.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS (voice-over): Tonight, a president usually known for his confidence appears to be unnerved by his latest rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Aides insist President Trump isn't worried about running against Biden, but he's clearly on his mind.

TRUMP: I don't know what the hell happened to Biden. I never saw that before. I -- I don't know. It just doesn't look like the same Biden. I said, is that really Joe Biden? He doesn't look the same to me.

COLLINS: Trump referenced the former vice president on Twitter at least four times today alone. And while some advisers are urging the president not to single out any Democratic presidential hopefuls just yet, those closest to the president are following his lead on Biden.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Why is he using Charlottesville to launch a candidacy, as somebody who was in the Senate for decades, who was vice president for eight years?

COLLINS: The White House has been on defense after Biden made Trump's comments about a 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville that left a counterprotest dead a central focus of his campaign announcement.

CONWAY: When President Trump condemned racism, bigotry, evil violence, and then took it many steps further and called out neo- Nazis, white supremacists, KKK...

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Was his response perfect?

CONWAY: ... that is -- that is darn near perfection.

COLLINS: After a shooting at a synagogue outside of San Diego left one person dead and several others injured this weekend, President Trump offered a full-throated denouncement of hate at his latest rally.

TRUMP: We forcefully condemn the evil of anti-Semitism and hate, which must be defeated.

COLLINS: The latest shooting six months after a shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh killed 11 has put the rise of white nationalism at the forefront of the 2020 race.

The FBI says hate crimes are on the rise for the third year in a row. But six weeks ago, after a gunman killed 49 Muslims at two mosques in New Zealand, Trump downplayed the threat.

TRUMP: I don't really. I think it's a small group of people that have very, very serious problems.

COLLINS: His allies say his critics are misrepresenting his remarks about what happened in Charlottesville.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: You go back and look what Trump said, Trump said clearly that he was opposed to the white supremacists, he was opposed to Klansmen, he was opposed to Nazis. I mean, he says it clearly.

COLLINS: But after the protests two years ago, the president blamed both sides.

[18:15:01]

TRUMP: We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.

COLLINS: Then, two full days later, after facing widespread criticism from Republican lawmakers and CEOs, the president named names.

TRUMP: Those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as American.

COLLINS: The next day, after fuming from coverage that said he hadn't gone far enough, Trump defended his first statement.

TRUMP: Yes, I think there's blame on both sides. You look at both sides, I think there's blame on both sides.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Wolf, the president did not answer a question earlier today here at the White House about whether or not he still doesn't think white nationalism is something that's all the rise here in the U.S.

But one thing that aides are worried the president is going to talk about too much are these Democratic hopefuls. They say that the more the president sees these Democrats on TV sucking up the political oxygen, that the president is not going to be able to resist getting involved.

BLITZER: He's already getting involved.

All right, Kaitlan, thank you very much.

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman John Garamendi. He serves on the Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), CALIFORNIA: Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Let's get to the breaking news, Rod Rosenstein making it official, announcing his resignation effective May 11.

How do you judge his legacy?

GARAMENDI: Questionable. It's questionable.

Obviously, he had a great reputation coming into the job. He had a role. But his first effort out was to try to define why Comey should be fired. And then we go on from there on the Mueller report, the rollout of the Mueller report. What role did he have in all of that?

So let's see where it goes. But I would use the word questionable.

BLITZER: You would like him to testify before House committees.

GARAMENDI: Oh, absolutely.

All of these folks should testify. This is a very, very important issue, the Mueller report, all of the issues, the way in which the Trump campaign worked or at least encouraged the Russians to be involved, and then, of course, the question of obstruction of justice.

BLITZER: Speaking about testifying, the attorney general, Bill Barr, is now threatening not to appear before the House Judiciary Committee Thursday morning, because Jerry Nadler, the committee chairman, wants at the end 30 minutes of Republican staff lawyers and 30 minutes of Democratic staff lawyers, an hour, after the members... GARAMENDI: Right.

BLITZER: ... each get five minutes, to ask specific questions. And he thinks that's inappropriate.

GARAMENDI: Why would that be inappropriate? What is he fearful? Why does he fear an attorney, staff attorney for the Republicans and the Democrats ask him a question? What does he fear here?

He should come before Congress, answer all the questions. Staff attorney questions are not always asked, but they should be and could be. Let's get forward here. He has some questions to answer.

BLITZER: Because Chairman Nadler is threatening a subpoena. But the question is, can he enforce a subpoena against the attorney general, if he decides not to appear Thursday morning?

GARAMENDI: I don't think he wants to find out whether the huffing and puffing really has authority.

Congress has enormous authority over many, many aspects of what this Justice Department and really what Mr. Barr has the opportunity to do, not the least of which is money.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the vice president, the former vice president, Joe Biden. He hit the campaign trail, his first rally today, speaking a lot about the president and the economy, saying that the tax cuts that were implemented really only affect the top, top, top 1 percent of the American people, big business as well.

How strong of a case do you think that Vice -- former Vice President Biden is making moving towards 2020?

GARAMENDI: I think he's going to be very, very strong.

He's got a lot of experience. He knows America. He's campaigned throughout America. He's going to be a very, very strong candidate. And, frankly, he's prepared to be president, should it come to that.

BLITZER: He's also making a major issue in an introductory video, and today once again, saying that soul of the nation, soul of America is at stake.

And he's really going after President Trump for the way he spoke out and behaved after Charlottesville, what was going on there.

Is this an effective strategy for the former vice president?

GARAMENDI: I think it is. But, beyond that, the soul of America really is in question.

We're seeing the rise of white nationalism. We're seeing more anti- Semitism. We're seeing all of these things. Why did it -- why is it coming about? Is it just that it's a time of a season? I don't think so. I think we have a president that, when he reads from the teleprompter,

says the right thing, and then, when he goes off-script, his soul is exposed. And, frankly, it is not a very pretty picture.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about another story that's developed over these past few days.

The former U.S. diplomat special envoy to North Korea, Joseph Yun, who helped secure the release of the American hostage...

GARAMENDI: Right.

BLITZER: ... the University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier from North Korea, says that he believes the president personally signed off on his signature, on Yun's signature, that there would be a $2 million payment to North Korea for hospital expenses involving Otto Warmbier.

[18:20:10]

The money was never paid to North Korea. But what's your reaction to this? You're on the Armed Services Committee.

GARAMENDI: Well, we need to know.

This is one more issue where the Congress has the right to know, the right to oversee this. Was money being paid for a hostage, or was money being paid...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: We're told no money was actually paid, even though there was a signature by the ambassador, the envoy, that there would be $2 million.

GARAMENDI: Questions told by whom?

We do know that this administration has a serious problem with the truth. They have hidden the facts. They have lied repeatedly, not just the president, who is a prolific liar, but also the rest of the administration. We can't trust them.

That's why these hearings are critically important. We have got so many issues out there, the issue of classified people -- or getting classification. All of those issues are out there. We need to know, the American public needs to know, were laws broken? We don't know.

BLITZER: What Congress does is oversight. That's one of its responsibilities.

GARAMENDI: That's oversight. That's our job.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much for coming in.

GARAMENDI: Always.

BLITZER: John Garamendi of California. Just ahead: the showdown between the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and the attorney general of the United States, William Barr. Tonight, there are threats of subpoenas and boycotts.

Plus, more on the breaking news: the alleged terror plot uncovered out in California and how the FBI says this U.S. Army veteran, the suspect, was planning to commit mass murder.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:25:18]

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the resignation of a key figure who oversaw the Russia investigation. We're talking about the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, this as the Justice Department and House Democrats are now escalating their battles over the Mueller report.

Tonight, the attorney general's scheduled House testimony is in very serious doubt, as he balks over who can actually ask him questions.

The Judiciary Committee Chairman, Jerry Nadler, is pushing back. And he's now threatening a subpoena.

Let's go to our Senior Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju.

Manu, what are you learning?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Democrats want to allow for staff members to question, in addition to members.

What Jerry Nadler is proposing what the committee will actually vote on, on Wednesday, in advance of this Thursday hearing, is to allow for committee staff attorneys to engage in half-an-hour of questioning on both sides.

But the attorney general is saying, no. They are rejecting that approach, saying that only members of the committee should be allowed to question.

And now Bill Barr is threatening not to show up at Thursday's hearing. And I am told, Wolf, that Democrats plan to move forward with this hearing even if Bill Barr doesn't show up. There could be visuals potentially of an empty chair.

There was no significant progress made on that front, or as part of the Democratic demands to try to get the full Mueller report, of which they have issued a subpoena for. A closed-door meeting today between Democratic staff on the Judiciary Committee and the Justice Department yielded no progress, both sides at loggerheads.

And now Jerry Nadler threatening to issue a subpoena if Bill Barr doesn't show for Thursday's hearing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JERRY NADLER (D), NEW YORK: He is not going to dictate the format of the Judiciary Committee.

What we have -- what we're planning to do is that after the members finished questioning for five minutes, the Democratic counsel will have half-an-hour to question and the Republican counsel will have a half-an-hour to question.

And that's a standard method of doing things. Sometimes, it's used. Sometimes, it's not. It's an -- in my judgment, an effective way of doing things. And the witness is not going to tell the committee how to conduct its hearing, period.

QUESTION: What does it say if A.G. Barr doesn't back down on his rejections?

NADLER: Then we will have to subpoena him, and we will have to use whatever means we can to enforce the subpoena.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RAJU: Now, if Barr doesn't show up, this would be a dramatic escalation between the White House and House Democrats over a range of oversight requests.

Democrats have issued a number of either subpoenas or letters that the White House has essentially ignored. This would be a very significant decision not to appear, and still a question whether or not the Democrats will get what they have been asking for, the full Mueller report and the underlying evidence, by this Wednesday.

But, Wolf, Democrats plan to take this -- that matter to court. We will see what they ultimately decide to do if Bill Barr doesn't show on Thursday -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Speaking of subpoenas, Manu, what's the latest on the House subpoena to hear from the former White House Counsel Don McGahn?

RAJU: Well, the White House is threatening to invoke executive privilege to prevent Don McGahn from answering certain questions.

But Jerry Nadler told us yesterday that he has been told that he expects Don McGahn to still appear before his committee. And he says the White House can't waive executive privilege for Don McGahn to testify before the special counsel, then try to reassert it before Capitol Hill.

Another potential legal fight that could play out if the White House moves to block his testimony -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm sure there's going to be many more beyond those two.

All right, Manu, thank you very much.

Just ahead, we will have more on Rod Rosenstein's exit from the Justice Department in the tense aftermath of the Mueller report, as the attorney general is battling with House Democrats.

And is President Trump making the Democratic presidential race right now all about Joe Biden? Our analysts are standing by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:30:00]

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news on the changing of the guard over at the Trump Justice Department. The Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, formally resigning with the release of the Mueller report and his days overseeing the Special Counsel now behind him.

Let's bring in our analysts. Laura Jarrett, you cover the Justice Department for us. His message, in this letter that we've all now read the bottom line message was?

JARRETT: The bottom line message is this is one of the more interesting figures, I think, of the entire Mueller investigation, because Rod Rosenstein is not all one thing. He's got a lot on enforcing the rule of law, and that's the most important thing. You hear that in all his speeches.

But then he has got these bizarre lines about the President's courtesy and humor and their personal relationship, making it seem like they're so close and they're so buddy buddy. He almost lost his job because of reporting about the fact that he contemplated wearing a wire on the President after the firing of FBI Director, James Comey.

The President Tweeted a picture of him behind bars. And this is his resignation letter. It's just he's one of the more complicated multi- facetted figures of this entire investigation, I think.

BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, what do you think?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: You know, Deputy Attorney General is usually a pretty obscure role. I don't think there's any doubt that Rod Rosenstein is the most famous Deputy Attorney General in American history.

[18:35:03]

And because, as Laura said, he is all over the place in this story in some respects. He acts like he's Trump's pawn when he comes up with this ridiculous memo to justify the firing of James Comey, just a completely preposterous document, and then he turns around and hires Robert Mueller, who was, of course, the bet (INAUDIBLE) of the Trump administration.

You know, at some times he seems like his angry at Trump and he's threatening to wear a wire and talk about the 25th amendment, getting him out of office. At other times, he looks almost like a sick oh fan. Like in this letter, it is a bizarre interesting story and that's what it is.

BLITZER: Let me get Bianna out of the way and go ahead, Bianna.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: What's also one of the reasons, I believe, Jim Comey described him in his book as a survivor, and I don't think he was trying to be complimentary in that description, you have many layers of Rod Rosenstein. Remember when early on, the President was accusing him of not being a republican, questioning whether there were really any Republicans in Baltimore. And as Laura mentioned, there were some very unflattering Tweets from the President as well.

And then you flip over to now the past few weeks, he is supporting the Attorney General as far as the Mueller investigation goes, saying that he did not see any grounds for obstruction of justice. Clearly, he was involved in that scenario. He was the one who obviously put Mueller on the investigation. But at the same time, as Jeffrey said, it was because, as we now know of his involvement in the firing of Jim Comey, it's a very complicated situation and story.

BLITZER: Mark, should we expect Rosenstein to testify before Congress now?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't know. It would be interesting to see if democrats force him to come up there and compel him be come up there and then will there be some kind of DOJ privilege, and, you know, if they can do that. But you know, when we you talk about Rosenstein, we talk about any of these characters in this case, I like to look forward about 20 years, and say what are the historians going to say about people's actions now. And I do think that some people are going to -- perhaps they're not looking that far in the future about what historians are going to say of them.

BLITZER: Speaking about testifying, is Bill Barr going to appear before the House Judiciary Committee, Thursday? We know he is going to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Lindsey Graham is the Republican Chairman of the committee on Wednesday morning. But what about Thursday morning with the House?

JARRETT: Well, Manu Raju, our colleague, is reporting, they may have an empty chair there as sort of setting up a dramatic scene without the Attorney General. Look, his position is he doesn't want to be questioned by staff counsel. Now, there is some precedent for it, some of it dates back to Janet Reno. There's not a lot of it.

Obviously we have seen staff counsel question before behind closed doors. He does not want to do it in front of the cameras. He does not want to be questioned about the unredacted portions of the Mueller report. He's offered members of Congress to come look at the report at DOJ in a closed setting. So I could see a situation in which he simply does not show up, and they may dig their heels in on this.

But their position is, look, we gave you the full report, mostly unredacted, and we are coming to the Senate. And that could be fiery (ph). I mean, there's a whole bunch of presidential candidates on the democratic side who are pouncing on Bill Barr.

BLITZER: You know, Mark, let's talk politics for moment. In Pittsburgh today, the union hall, the former Vice President, Joe Biden, argued that the economy is not serving the middle class. Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: The stock market is roaring but you don't feel it. There's $2 trillion tax cut last year. Did you feel it? Did you get anything from it? Of course not, of course not. All of it went to folks at the top.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And follows -- take a look at this Washington Post poll. It seems to underscore what the former Vice President is saying. The question is who do you think the economic system in this country mainly works to benefit, those in power, 62 percent, all people, 34 percent.

PRESTON: I'm not surprised by that number at all. I mean, I would think that that's probably going to be a similar number we have seen since the beginning of time, right? If you are in a position of power, you often do things that are going to take care of yourself, which just as so important about that message though is who he was delivering it to, and where he was delivering it.

He was delivering it in Pittsburgh, he was delivering it to folks who live in middle America, not folks who live here like we do, perhaps in Washington along the East Coast, New York, Boston, Atlanta, you know, folks that perhaps their cities are doing a bit better. You go to Middle America and that's where Joe Biden sees his path.

BLITZER: And, Bianna -- I was going to say, Bianna, in the speech, he also, once again, as he did this introductory video, highlighted the rise of white nationalism and blasted the President of the United States.

GOLODRYGA: And here, the President is, five days later, still talking about one of his worst, lowest moments, right? You have news reports that his top aides are suggesting that he stop talking about it, stop bringing up Charlottesville, stop going there and saying that, you know, I meant what I said about good people on both sides, it had to do with monuments.

[18:40:09]

It's not winning him any points.

So if people were questioning whether the rollout, whether the focus on bringing back true American ethics and values should have been the right focus for Joe Biden, at least one weekend, it appears so. It appears to have gotten under the President's skin.

And if I could just address one other issue because there is baggage that Joe Biden brings, obviously his long history, but also the fact that the positive is that he can address an audience, like he did today, and I feel your pain sort of way, but he's also very comfortable in bigger cities, in New York, in Washington, on the coast, right? And he appeals to a lot more of the conservative democrats who are a bit more skeptical and worried about some of the more radical things they believe they are hearing from some of this other democratic candidates.

BLITZER: Jeffrey, what do you think?

TOOBIN: Well, you know, the fact that the President of the United States who said that, you know, both sides had good people in them in this white nationalist rally, and the fact he said this weekend that he expressed himself perfectly, perfectly. I think, you know, that just shows where he is. This weekend, he was also Tweeting in support of the second person drafted in the NFL draft who was a white guy who had expressed racist sentiments.

You know, this is who the President is. You turn off the teleprompter when his, you know, obliged to say something, you know, that politically acceptable. When you go to Donald Trump expressing himself on his own, the white nationalist message is always there.

BLITZER: Laura, what do you think?

JARRETT: You know, I think to the extent Biden can keep drawing the President into discussions about things like Charlottesville and some of the darker times, that may work for Biden, but for how long. Certainly, the fact that we have such uprisings and violence and increasing hate crimes, and just this weekend, the terrible shooting obviously at the synagogue, keep the story in the news, but is that enough for Biden, throughout the course of the campaign, remains to be seen.

BLITZER: It's going to be lively as we can anticipate. And by the way, Jeffrey, I just want to congratulate you on that excellent article article on Michael Cohen that you wrote in the New Yorker Magazine. I recommend that all of our viewers go read it. He starts this three-year prison sentence a week from today. But it was good that you had a chance to sit down and talk with him.

TOOBIN: He's not happy.

BLITZER: I'm sure that he's not.

All right, everybody stand by. There's more breaking news. We're following, we're learning more about the thwarted terror plot out in California, and the U.S. Army veteran suspect, investigators say, was consumed with hate and bent on mass murder. Plus, new details emerging of the deadly synagogue shooting and the warning the FBI received just minutes before.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:47:36] BLITZER: Tonight, as the victim of the California synagogue shooting is laid to rest, we're getting new details about a threatening social media post under the same name as the alleged gunman. FBI officials made aware of the post minutes before the attack.

CNN's Sara Sidner joins us from Poway, out in California.

Sara, formal charges I understand now have been filed against the shooting suspect?

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The suspect, John Earnest, now charged with one count of murder, three counts of attempted murder with hate crime enhancement.

Today, as everyone is turning their eyes towards those who suffered at the hands of the suspect and laying to rest one of their own.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER (voice-over): Five minutes, that's the heads up the FBI received about an anonymous threatening post on social media before police say a 19-year-old nursing student opened fire at a crowded California synagogue. According to an FBI official, the post didn't include a location. And agents were trying to figure out who wrote it when police say John Earnest opened fire inside the synagogue.

Sixty-year-old Lori Kaye was killed, the community laying her to rest today.

SAM HOFFMAN, PRESIDENT, CHABAD OF POWAY: We stand tall against a dark darkness of evil and anti-Semitism.

SIDNER: Three others were wounded.

Investigators say he acted alone. His motive: pure and simple hate. His alleged manifesto posted on social media spelled out his white supremacist ideals.

The rabbi whose fingers were shot off in a hail of bullets while trying to protect his congregation is still in disbelief.

RABBI YISROEL GOLDSTEIN, WOUNDED IN FOWAY SYNAGOGUE ATTACK: I think to myself, this is not supposed to happen. This isn't Nazi Germany, this isn't a pogrom.

SIDNER: But it is yet another recent attack on a place of worship, one of several headline-making hate crimes in recent months. Eight- year-old Noya Dahan no longer feels safe anywhere. She was hit by shrapnel in the face and leg.

NOYA DAHAN, SURVIVED POWAY SYNAGOGUE ATTACK: The world isn't supposed to be like this. It's supposed to be peaceful and quiet and not like wars and bad stuff.

SIDNER: Her father says he's at a loss for how to protect his family. His daughter and brother-in-law were both injured in Saturday's shooting.

(on camera): We're afraid where we are now because of anti-Semitism, you show up here and what do you see in this synagogue?

ISRAEL DAHAN, FAMILY WOUNDED IN SYNAGOGUE ATTACK: A war.

[18:50:01] It's looking, it sounds like a war. SIDNER: Since 2014, hate crimes have risen dramatically to more than

7,000 incidents a year in the United States alone, according to the FBI. This latest hate-filled attack following deadly incidents in Sri Lanka last week, New Zealand last month, and, of course, a synagogue in Pittsburgh in October.

LYNETTE LEDERMAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE TREE OF LIFE SYNAGOGUE: We know that he hated Jews. But we also know that he was incited to act.

SIDNER: This time, hate spread to Poway, California. A community forced to say their final good-byes to congregant Lori Kaye. She was shot to death while she worshiped

ISRAEL DAHAN: A big loss to the community in Poway. She was an amazing woman.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER: And now, the family of the alleged gunman is speaking out saying in part that what he did was their greatest shame. He's now part of the history of the evil that's been perpetrated on Jewish people for centuries -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Our hearts go out to the family.

Sara Sidner, thank you so much.

There's more breaking news we're following just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:55:43] BLITZER: Tonight, we have an exclusive look at China's military power expanding its global influence and threatening America's defenses.

CNN's Arwa Damon reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We're on the Horn of Africa, but all the new construction in Djibouti is mostly Chinese. It's a sight becoming all too familiar across the continent as America's adversary pushes its influence further around the world, and in this case right down the road from the U.S.

(on camera): This is where it gets a bit more interesting. Just right there, that is China's first prominent military base overseas.

(voice-over): China's military, the People Liberation Army, is flexing its muscle, just a 15-minute drive from the U.S. naval base Camp Lemonnier. The two super powers are now occupying the same crucial piece of Red Sea real estate, placing Beijing right at the doorstep of U.S. military's intelligence gathering and counterterrorism operations.

(on camera): When you first heard about the Chinese military presence and their desire to build a base here in Djibouti, what was your initial reaction?

REAR ADM. HEIDI BERG, DIRECTOR OF INTELLIGENCE, U.S. AFRICA COMMAND: So the fact they put their first military base out here makes sense, however their behaviors here has proven to be challenging not constructive.

DAMON (voice-over): Behaviors the U.S. military says that include the Chinese prompting military grade lasers, something the Chinese deny. But U.S. concerns move well beyond isolated incidents. In a few short years China's military has push past its borders building islands thought to be like unsinkable aircraft carriers in the South China Sea and quietly stationing its troops around the globe.

But it's how China invests says the U.S., using debt to create financial chokeholds that is now the focus of the Trump administration.

BERG: Seeing the investment, the level of influence China has been able to achieve, there's been raising awareness of the predatory practices in place of the debt burdens that can undermine sovereignty.

DAMON: It's just one striking example of the great power computation playing out between the U.S. and China, which according to one U.S. official America is losing.

Here in Djibouti, nearly 80 percent of the country's debt is owned by China.

(on camera): Camp Lemonnier does not have direct access to the water, which is why this, Djibouti's container port is such a vital lifeline for the Americans. But the U.S. does have some concerns, given how much of Djibouti's debt China controls, could China try to maneuver that into control over Djibouti's ports?

It's happened before on another continent. In late 2017, the Sri Lankan government surrendered a major port to China after failing to pay back its loans.

Djiboutian authorities at the notion, aware of the risks of literally banking on China.

ABOUBAKER OMAR HADI, DJIBOUTI PORTS AND FREE ZONES AUTHORITY CHAIRMAN: We don't want to depend on only one site or one continent or for one country.

DAMON (on camera): Yes, the Americans and Europeans are a bit behind the ball.

HADI: Yes, yes, I believe so.

DAMON (voice-over): At an annual U.S. naval exercise where the Chinese were America's invited guests for the opening ceremony, the Chinese military declined to be interviewed. But the Chinese have long maintained its investment comes with no strings attached, and the investments continue to come. China has tripled its loans to Africa since 2012. To counter China's financial dominance, America is trying to push

itself as the military partner of choice. But if the current trends are anything to go by, it may not be enough.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DAMON: And, Wolf, right now as we look at what's happening even outside of Africa and the way that China is using its money too as the U.S. is very concerned wield power, you have this Belt and Road initiative that is the government's signature infrastructure policy. And just this year alone, Wolf, they have already given out $90 billion in loans, money that potentially could be used for manipulation.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon, excellent reporting as usual. Thanks very much.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

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