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THE SITUATION ROOM
Dozens Injured In Venezuela's Political Upheaval as U.S Embassy Warns Americans to Shelter in Place; Trump Set $2 Trillion Figure for Road and Bridge Repair Because it Sounded Bigger and Better Than $1 Trillion; Attorney General Barr Facing Subpoena Threat Amid Battle Over Format of Testimony To House Judiciary Committee; Joe Biden Opens Wide Lead Over Democratic Field; Interview with Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired April 30, 2019 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter. I'm Jake Tapper. You can Tweet the show at The Lead CNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks for watching.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: Happening now, breaking news. Violent uprising. Dozens of people are injured in clashes in the capital of Venezuela, where a political uprising is escalating the country's crisis.
Tonight, a warning to Americans still there. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo joins me live this hour.
Two trillion reasons. President Trump surprises democrats by agreeing to spend $2 trillion on fixing the country's roads, bridges and more. Now, we're learning why the President was willing to cooperate.
Out front. Joe Biden pulls ahead of the democratic pack in the first poll since he announced his bid for the White House. He's now the frontrunner. Is that scaring President Trump?
And blocking stone. Federal Prosecutors urge a judge to deny Roger Stone's request to see the unredacted version of the Mueller report. How does Stone think it might help his case and what will the judge decide?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in The Situation Room.
We're following breaking news. The political power struggle in Venezuela turning violent as opposition leader Juan Guaido makes a new push to oust President Nicolas Maduro. Dozens of people have been injured in clashes in the capital, where the U.S. embassy is now warning all Americans to shelter in place. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will join us live this hour. We'll talk about U.S. options.
We'll also talk to Congresswoman Veronica Escobar of the Judiciary and Armed Services Committee and our correspondents and analysts are also standing by. First, let's get the very latest on the breaking news. CNN's Brian Todd is joining us. Brian, Venezuela's political crisis is clearly escalating.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is escalating, Wolf. There's been a lot of violence on the streets of Caracas today and it is not at all clear tonight which leader has the full backing of the Venezuelan military.
TODD: It is one of the most violent moments of this spontaneous uprising that continues tonight, as protesters swarmed one of Venezuela's armored military vehicles, pelting it with objects, another swept in from the left, slamming into the crowd. Seconds later, as the chaos swirls, another vehicle comes into view on fire.
All of this unfolded today outside La Carlota Military Air Base in Venezuela's capital. Venezuelan opposition leader, Juan Guaido, today declared this is the final phase in the effort to topple President Nicolas Maduro. Guaido, recognized as Venezuela's President by the United States and more than 50 other nations, has led months of protests against Maduro. But today, it escalated as Guaido made a more sweeping call for Venezuela's military to back him.
Tonight, it's not clear who is in control. Throughout the day, scenes like this played out on the streets. Crowds scattering as shots were fired. And on a bridge in the Altamira section of the city, tear gas and gunshots came in rapid, terrifying bursts. Security forces at times firing tear gas and other rounds at protesters. At times, advancing before realizing the protesters outnumbered them, then peeling back and running for their lives. Guaido says he has the military's support.
JUAN GUAIDO, VENEZUELAN OPPOSITION PRESIDENT: Today, it is clear to us that the armed forces are with the Venezuelan people and not a dictator.
TODD: But based on the limited information on the ground, that remains unclear. Maduro, the country's longtime strong man, Tweeted he's got the total loyalty of the military after speaking with commanders. Nerves of steel, the embattled President Tweeted, we will win. Both Maduro and Guaido have declared themselves President of this besieged country and both are claiming their opposition have launched coups against them. President Trump's National Security Adviser disagrees with Maduro's characterization.
JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: This is clearly not a coup. We recognize Juan Guaido as the legitimate Interim President of Venezuela. And just as it's not a coup when the President of the United States gives an order to the Department of Defense, it's not a coup for Juan Guaido to try and take command of the Venezuelan militaries.
(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD: Now, John Bolton, no fewer than eight times earlier, accused Cuba of putting security forces into Venezuela and propping up Nicolas Maduro. Bolton said that there are some 20,000 to 25,000 Cuban security forces there. He called them Cuban thugs. He said that the Cubans even were propagating motorcycle gangs on the streets of Caracas trying to support Nicolas Maduro and John Bolton accused the Russians of being involved in supporting Maduro.
Of course, both of those governments vehemently deny those accusations. Wolf?
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Brian, thank you very much.
Let's get some more on the breaking news, the unfolding crisis. The journalist, Stefano Pozzebon, is joining us in the Venezuelan Capital of Caracas. Stefano, the opposition leader Guaido called on members of the military to defect and join him. Did that happen?
STEFANO POZZEBON, JOURNALIST: Well, Wolf, some of that happened. We can -- we have seen several members of the military forces, several members of the National Guard, standing side by side with Juan Guaido, and that has been a key developing point of today's story here in Caracas. But perhaps what many of us, many observers, were waiting to see was the support from the top brass of the military, the lieutenant, the generals, the colonels, those who really have the power in Venezuela. And that support Juan Guaido, it seems, still doesn't have.
And why is that? Because many members of the military sit in Nicolas Maduro's cabinet himself. And they're linked in very, very strongly with the leadership of Nicolas Maduro. We have seen the lower ranking military and soldiers have been defecting and joining sides with Guaido. We haven't seen the generals yet, Wolf. And this could be very, very crucial.
BLITZER: Certainly could be. Stefano, explain to our viewers why this uprising that's unfolding in Venezuela right now could potentially have very serious consequences around the world and why the White House is closely watching what happens.
POZZEBON: Of course, key geopolitical consequences. Let's remember, Venezuela is a key member, first and foremost, of OPEC. Everything that happens in the streets of Caracas has a direct repercussion in the price of oil everywhere in the world, but also the interest from countries, such as China, Russia, and now increasingly, Iran, who are looking at Caracas, who are looking at Maduro as a key ally to work as a sort of head of a bridge towards the western hemisphere.
Of course, the White House is not happy about that. He's not happy seeing other powers around the world strengthening their alliances with what they consider is an authoritarian regime here in the western hemisphere. And that's why the White House will monitor very, very closely to see how real the support that Maduro gets from the Chinese, from the Russians, from the Iranians actually is, and if that support will be enough to save Maduro, or if this uprising is successful in toppling the embattled authoritarian President here in Caracas, Wolf.
BLITZER: And Maduro also has the support of the Cubans as well as Turkey, a NATO ally. We'll discuss that and more, that's coming up. Stefano, thank you very much. Stefano Pozzebon, joining us from Caracas. We're going to get a lot more on all of this in just a few minutes, when I'll be joined live by the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. Stick around for that.
There's more breaking news we're following right now, new details emerging of why President Trump agreed with democrats to spend $2 trillion to fix America's roads, bridges and a lot more. Let's go to our White House Correspondent, Pamela Brown. She has new details of today's surprisingly very cordial meeting over there at the White House.
Pamela, apparently, the President set the $2 trillion figure, because he thought it sounded bigger and better than something in the $1 trillion range.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. And the democratic leaders said actually the number they proposed was less than that, but then he raised it to $2 trillion. And the democrats leaving the White House today certainly struck a distinctly different tone than past meetings here at the White House. They said the meeting on infrastructure was productive, they said there was goodwill. This, as the White House Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, cast doubt on any bipartisanship -- any bipartisan deal being reached, while there are these congressional investigations into President Trump.
BROWN: Tonight, President Trump and democratic congressional leaders signaling optimism, after meeting at the White House on infrastructure spending.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We're very excited about the conversations that we had with the President.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): And it was a very constructive meeting. It's clear that both the White House and all of us want to get something done on infrastructure in a big and bold way.
BROWN: The rare courteous outward display standing in stark contrast to the grappling behind the scenes, as the White House fights subpoenas from House Democrats trying to investigate President Trump's finances.
SCHUMER: In previous meetings, the President has said, if these investigations continue, I can't work with you, he didn't bring it up.
BROWN: The democrats encouraged about the possibility of spending $2 trillion on a potential deal, far more than the Trump administration had previously proposed. SCHUMER: Originally, we had started a little lower, even the President was eager to push it up to $2 trillion. And that is a very good thing.
BROWN: Though where the money will come from could become a major sticking point. And the President's acting Chief of Staff cast doubt on any potential deal while the investigations into the President are ongoing.
MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: To have an impeachment hearing on Monday, say, and then to think you're going to talk infrastructure on Tuesday, that's not how the world works, let alone Washington, D.C.
BROWN: In an escalation of the feud between the White House and democrats, President Trump, his family and the Trump organization are now suing two banks to block them from releasing any of Trump's financial information to House investigators.
REP. MAXINE WATERS (D-CA): He is obviously afraid that we are going to learn more about his relationships with Deutsche Bank, more about his bankruptcies, perhaps, more about whether or not there's money laundering that's been involved in some ways.
BROWN: And President Trump widening the rift with democrats over his administration's immigration policies, issuing a memo calling for sweeping changes to the U.S. asylum process aimed at curbing the number of migrants entering the country. Some of the proposed changes include ruling on asylum applications within 180 days, requiring fees for asylum and work permit applications and borrowing all migrants entering the U.S. illegally from receiving work permits before protection is granted.
REP. LUCILLE ROYBAL-ALLARD (D-CA): The President's memo is another tragic step in the wrong direction.
BROWN: Just hours after the memo's release, acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan faced pointed questions from democrats at a house subcommittee hearing.
REP. NITA LOWEY (D-NY): It seems like the car is driving off the cliff with no one to take the wheel. Although, I guess, Mr. Secretary, you are now the driver. Congratulations.
BROWN: He testified for the first time in his new role, saying he will be requesting more funding to help deal with the flood of migrants crossing the border this year.
KEVIN MCALEENAN, ACTING HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Given the scale of what we're facing, we will exhaust our resources before the end of this fiscal year, which is why this week, the administration will be sending a supplemental funding request to the Congress.
BROWN: And here at the White House, President Trump also brought up immigration with democrats setting the stage for that request from the administration to the Hill and funding expected to be less than $10 billion for the influx of migrants crossing the border, according to multiple sources. But, Wolf, that funding request could run into problems with democrats who are skeptical of the administration's intent with this immigration funding, and, of course, the overall policy on immigration. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, Pamela, thank you. Pamela Brown at the White House.
Let's get some more on all of this. Democratic congresswoman, Veronica Escobar of Texas is joining us. She's a member of the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees. So, Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us.
Let's quickly go to Venezuela, the breaking news, you heard it. The President's National Security Adviser, John Bolton, says this is not, repeat, not a coup and that all options for the United States remain on the table. What's your reaction to this situation and the violence we're seeing on the screen as it unfolds today?
REP. VERONICA ESCOBAR (D-TX): Thank you so much for having me on, Wolf. I really appreciate the opportunity. What we're seeing unfold in Venezuela is very, very troubling. We are all keeping a very close watch on what is happening. We want there obviously to be a peaceful transfer of power. The Venezuelan people want democracy. We want to see democracy in that part of the world. We have a stake in that. But we need to just -- everything is unfolding minute by minute. We need to keep watching, we need to be cautious, we need to be supportive.
The international community has acknowledged to the rightful leader of Venezuela is, and we want there to be a peaceful transition.
BLITZER: So are you with Maduro or Guaido?
ESCOBAR: Well, with Guaido.
BLITZER: You are with Guaido?
ESCOBAR: Yes, yes. And so -- and the international community has recognized him as the leader. And so we want to see that transition. We don't want to see the military firing on its own people. We want to see a de-escalation.
BLITZER: All right. Let's move on and talk about some other major developments today, out of the White House. The President, he met with leaders of the Democratic Party, as you saw. They have all come out of that meeting, which was very cordial, we're told, and they've proposed a $2 trillion infrastructure plan. They've got the broad outlines of that, the $2 trillion. A lot of details, of course, of remain to be worked up. Do you think you and members of Congress can turn this proposal into a reality or will this fall apart, like so many other initial agreements between the President and democrats?
[17:15:02] ESCOBAR: I know we can, Wolf. There are needs that are significant across this country. And it's not just in literal infrastructure, like highways and bridges, but infrastructure like broadband and clean water, infrastructure that's been neglected for far too long.
So in the House, at least with the majority, I have heard nothing but a willingness to cooperate with the White House in order to get a deal done, in order to deliver for the American public. So I think you will see from the House a real willingness to solve America's infrastructure crisis.
BLITZER: Are democrats willing to give President Trump a victory on this critical issue of infrastructure before the 2020 election?
ESCOBAR: We want to give the American people a victory. It is so important. You know, I'll tell you, Wolf, you know, many of us, especially the freshmen, we are very much like hot off the campaign trail. The American public wants a long list of things for us to deliver. We have been working in the House, delivering on those promises, infrastructure is one of them. So regardless of who's in the White House, we want to deliver for the American people.
BLITZER: And if you see the state of so many bridges and highways and airports all over the country, you know this is a critically important issue that deserves enormous bipartisan support.
ESCOBAR: That's right.
BLITZER: Let's move on to some other issues, Congresswoman. It all comes as the administration is fighting your oversight efforts with the Attorney General, William Barr, now threatening to skip your House Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday morning due to the format. The Chairman, Jerry Nadler, says there's no middle ground to negotiate. Why are you willing to risk losing this opportunity to question the Attorney General?
ESCOBAR: You know it's really the risk that he is willing to take. Our hope and our expectation is that he believes in transparency, that he knows that he works for the American people, and that he has an obligation to come before the Congress and answer our questions. The format is nothing unusual in the Capitol and it's nothing that anyone should be concerned about. I think if he's got nothing to hide, he should be there on Thursday, and we expect him to be there.
BLITZER: Yes. He says he's willing to answer all the questions from the members of the committee. He's doing the same thing before the senate judiciary committee tomorrow morning. But he doesn't want to spend an hour or 30 minutes answering questions from republican staff members and democratic staff lawyers.
ESCOBAR: Right. You've got to wonder what he is so afraid of. This is an opportunity for him, again, to be completely transparent. What we saw, what the American public saw, what Congress saw, was a very different tale that he told versus what we saw in the redacted Mueller report. We have a lot of questions. And if he stands by his statements, he should be completely forthcoming and unafraid. BLITZER: Let's turn to the critically important issue of immigration. You represent the border city of El Paso. The Trump administration says that it will request more money to deal with the flow of immigrants at the southern border. That money would go to processing facilities, increasing personnel, more beds and ICE facilities. Do you think more funding will help improve the situation, first of all, in your community?
BLITZER: I think there's a couple of things, Wolf. I think, number one, there should be not a single penny that goes to additional bed space. Bed space costs this country and taxpayers $125 per day per person. The amount of people, the number of people that the Trump administration wants to incarcerate is -- that number would be extraordinary, it would be -- it should be offensive to every taxpayer. There are alternatives to detention that are humane, effective, that are far cheaper. So not a single dime would I support for more bed space.
I think in terms of the humanitarian response, I would be willing to support more funding for humane processing centers that get individuals who are pleading for asylum out the door, processed and out the door within 72 hours. But the Department of Homeland Security right now receives a significant sum of money.
We also, at the same time, have to look at how they've been spending their money. They are using highly paid, highly trained law enforcement officers to do things that civilians could do, like data entry or like case management. And so they need to be smarter and more strategic. I'm not unwilling to make investments, but they have to be smart, humane investments that reflect American values.
BLITZER: Congresswoman Escobar, thanks so much for joining us.
ESCOBAR: Thank you.
BLITZER: All right, there's more breaking news just ahead. I'll speak with the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, about the escalating crisis and the violence that's rocking Venezuela right now. Plus, Joe Biden surging right now out of the gate in our new CNN poll, we'll take a closer look at what the numbers reveal for all the democratic contenders.
BLITZER: We're standing by to speak this hour with the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. I'll get his thoughts on the chaos that's unfolding right now in Venezuela. Stay tuned. That's coming up momentarily.
Also tonight, a brand-new CNN poll shows former Vice President Joe Biden surging among democrats less than a week after formally announcing his run for the White House. CNN's, Arlette Saenz is tracking the Biden campaign. She's joining us from Dubuque in Iowa right now. Arlette, the former Vice President, he struggled in Iowa during his 2008 run for the democratic nomination. Is he campaigning like a frontrunner for 2020 right now?
ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: He sure is, Wolf. And in just a short while, he's going to take the stage here in Dubuque. This, of course, is Joe Biden's third run for the White House. And today, he told Radio Iowa here that he doesn't feel any pressure as the frontrunner, but he's going to work like the devil to win the state.
SAENZ: Joe Biden hitting the campaign trail in Iowa today as the clear frontrunner in the democratic field.
JOE BIDEN, U.S. FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: Folks, it's really good to be back.
SAENZ: His first trip to the early caucus state comes as a new CNN poll shows Biden with a commanding lead of the democratic pack, earning the backing of 39 percent of democratic voters, his lead extending across every major demographic far ahead in support from non-white voters with 50 percent, more than a double-digit lead over Bernie Sanders at 14 percent.
BIDEN: And we build the middle class, rebuild the middle class this time, I'm going to make sure everybody comes along, everybody, regardless of their race, their gender, their ethnicity, their religion, where they live, whether they have a disability, everybody gets in this time, everybody.
SAENZ: Biden's trip to the state comes more than a decade after he stumbled here in his last run for the White House, earning less than 1 percent in the Iowa caucuses in 2008.
BIDEN: Hi, everybody.
SAENZ: With the 2020 Iowa caucuses 279 days away, Biden is now betting his more than four decades of experience will pay off.
BIDEN: The good news and the bad news, you're going to see a whole heck of a lot of me. And I promise you this. No one is going to work harder in Iowa than Joe Biden to get your support and gain your confidence.
SAENZ: Also on display, Biden's full embrace of President Obama.
BIDEN: Barack Obama is an extraordinary man.
SAENZ: Releasing a new video using the former President's praise of his partner.
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: He could not have been a more effective partner in the progress that we've made. The best part is, he's nowhere are close to finished.
SAENZ: While Biden continues his trip through the Hawkeye State, his closest competition, Sanders, is aiming to draw a sharp contrast between himself and the former Vice President.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT): I voted against the war in Iraq, in fact, helped lead the opposition to what turned out to be the worst foreign policy disaster in the modern history of America. Joe voted for it. I voted against NAFTA. I voted against permanent noble trade relations with China, two trade agreements which cost us millions of good paying jobs. Joe supported those agreements.
SAENZ: But as his democratic opponents pounce, Biden is keeping his focus on the man in the White House.
BIDEN: Everybody knows who Donald Trump is. I want to make sure they know who we are, who I am. We choose hope over fear.
SAENZ: Joe Biden also made a stop at a local ice cream shop where he was asked by reporters about that criticism from Bernie Sanders. Biden said that he is proud of his record and that he'll be ready to engage with his democratic rivals in the debates. Wolf, that first debate is less than two months away.
BLITZER: It certainly is. All right, Arlette, thank you. Arlette in Dubuque, Iowa. We're going to have a lot more on Joe Biden, all the late-breaking political developments in just a few moments.
But right now we have more on the breaking news. The escalating political crisis in Venezuela, sparking street clashes that have left dozens of people injured and prompted the United States Embassy in Caracas to warn Americans to shelter in place.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is joining us now from the State Department. Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for joining us.
MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF THE STATE: You bet, Wolf. Great to be with you, sir.
BLITZER: Thank you. Did you know -- did the United States government know this uprising was coming?
POMPEO: I don't want to get into precisely what we knew, but we've had good information all along as we've been working with the Venezuelan people and Juan Guaido and the National Assembly to restore democracy inside of Venezuela. We've been on that mission for a while. We're still on that mission. We've watched events unfold today. We were urging there to be a non-violent solution. Maduro simply should leave. It's his time. He has no answers for the Venezuelan people and the United States is determined to assist the Venezuelan people and restoring democracy and beginning to build back their economy.
BLITZER: Did the United States back this push by Juan Guaido or give any assurances to Guaido that the U.S. would support him?
POMPEO: We've made clear assurances, Wolf, all along that we'd support Juan Guaido and the National Assembly. They're the duly elected leaders of the Venezuelan government. So, yes, we've provided strong assurances to them. I indicated that again this morning, as the President throughout the day.
BLITZER: We've seen the violence on the streets of Caracas and elsewhere. It certainly looks like Maduro is not going to go without a significant fight. So here is the question. What specifically is the United States prepared to do if Maduro arrests Guaido?
POMPEO: Well, I'm not going to get into specifics, but we've made very clear, we will consider that a major escalation, Wolf.
We've watched throughout the day. It's been a long time since anyone has seen Maduro. He had an airplane on the tarmac. He was ready to leave this morning, as we understand it, and the Russians indicated he should stay.
We think the situation remains incredibly fluid. We know that there were senior leaders inside the Maduro government that were prepared to leave. They told us as much over the past few weeks, and we're convinced that the Venezuelan people are going to get their democracy back.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: So if you say he was getting ready to head over to the airport and the Russians talked him out of it, are the Russians responsible now for what's going on?
POMPEO: We -- we've made clear all along, Wolf, that Maduro's surrounded by Cubans and has been supported by Russians there in Venezuela. And we've told the Russians and we've told the Cubans that's unacceptable. It's unacceptable to starve people. It's unacceptable to allow sick children not to be able to get their medicine.
The nations of the region and the Lima Group, the Organization of American States, are all demanding that we get democracy restored and that we get dignity back to this once-great nation. It's a -- it's a country that has the capacity for great wealth.
And the United States is prepared to stand with the Venezuelan people, to support the interim government, to help a free and fair election take place, and then to build back this country.
BLITZER: When you say you've spoken to the Russians, you've spoken to the Cubans, clearly, they're not listening because their support for Maduro continues. So what are you going to do if that continues down the road and looks like this violence is simply going to escalate?
POMPEO: Well, we're continuing to work. One should -- one should measure the progress that the Venezuelan people have made. They're continuing to accrete influence and power, and I'm convinced that will -- that will be the case, not only today but in the days ahead as well. BLITZER: What's very concerning is the Russians -- and correct me if
I'm wrong, Mr. Secretary -- they have missiles on the ground in Venezuela right now. That, in effect, could restrict U.S. military options if, in fact, there are any U.S. military options. I ask the questions because you and your colleagues keep saying all options are on the table.
POMPEO: Wolf, the President has made very clear that all options are on the table. That certainly includes a military option. We're working to make sure that doesn't need to be the case. That we've delivered this outcome for the Venezuelan people in a way that doesn't put life and limb at risk and there are -- there's not violence.
But I don't think anyone should be fooled that if the President makes that decision, if he chooses a military option, that the United States military has the capacity to execute that option in a way that will achieve the outcome the President intends.
BLITZER: How violent does it have to get before the U.S. does unleash a military option?
POMPEO: We're working to make sure there's not violence, Wolf. We're working to make sure that we stop what it is Maduro is doing, relying on Cuban thugs to protect himself from his own people, from the Venezuelan people.
I hear people talk about military intervention. Well, that's happened. There's Cuban military on the ground, and they're doing so without the consent of the lawful government in Venezuela. And they did it at the behest of Maduro but without the permission from Juan Guaido and the National Assembly.
That's the incursion. That's the invasion. And it's what the Venezuelan people are demanding be overturned.
BLITZER: But there's a lot of violence going on right now. We've been showing these images, horrible images, all day of what's happening on the streets of Caracas and elsewhere in Venezuela right now. It looks like -- it looks like its continuing. So, once again, how much more violent does it have to get before the U.S. intervenes?
POMPEO: Wolf, we're not going to talk about exactly where our red lines are and where our triggers are for this. We've been determined, we remain determined. The nations of the region remain determined.
Ten percent -- 10 percent -- of the Venezuelan people have already had to flee their country. The United States stands ready, as we do in many places in the world, to support democracy and freedom and to protect the rights of the Venezuelan people. We're going to continue to do that.
BLITZER: I understand you don't want to discuss military options. Let's talk about diplomatic options right now, political options. What are you doing right now to try to stop the violence from escalating? POMPEO: Well, first of all, we're making clear to everyone that we're
watching. We will hold accountable those who turn to violence or inflict violence upon the Venezuelan people. So there will be a day for accountability for all those who engage in this.
And we're encouraging all the parties on the ground to resolve this peacefully. This is a duly elected leader, an interim leader, Juan Guaido, and it should be a political process for free and fair elections that should lead to the handover of all of the power inside of Venezuela. It's what the State Department is determined to achieve.
BLITZER: To the average American watching us right now, Mr. Secretary, what does all of that mean from the U.S. perspective?
[17:34:53] POMPEO: Well, Wolf, it means that we have a nation that has demanded democracy. It's demanded to have food for starving children or medicines for sick kids. It seemed like basic things. I think every American can understand that.
And the United States, and frankly nearly every country in the region, is working to support that. The American taxpayers have been most gracious and put a couple of hundred metric tons of food on the Venezuelan border, and Maduro denied the ability to get that food into them.
This won't stand. The Venezuelan people won't stand for this. It may take just a little bit longer to get there, but I'm convinced -- I'm convinced that democracy will return to Venezuela. And then all of us, the entire world, the coalition of 54 nations, will stand together to help the Venezuelan people restore their economy as well.
BLITZER: And I just want you to elaborate, Mr. Secretary, on what you said earlier, that he was apparently ready to leave, head off to the airport, Maduro, but the Russians talked him out of that. Is that right?
POMPEO: That's right.
BLITZER: So you blame --
POMPEO: He was heading for the --
BLITZER: Do you blame Russia for the violence right now?
POMPEO: He was headed for Havana.
BLITZER: Well, talk about that. How do you know?
POMPEO: I can't tell you. There's -- you see this, you see all the open source material that's out there. There's lots of information.
We're talking to scores and scores of people on the ground -- civilians -- talking to folks at the military, talking to opposition leaders. Many, many conversations that have given us every indication that the fact that Maduro's plane was parked on the tarmac. And he was preparing himself to depart is a fact.
BLITZER: So you -- so you want him to leave the country. You don't want him to stay in the country, even if he gives up power. Is that what I'm hearing?
POMPEO: That's right. There's no way -- there's no way that Maduro can stay in the country, in a nation that he has so decimated. It just simply -- we can't imagine a way that that would possibly work, so it's time for him to leave Venezuela.
And it's time for those who join democracy and freedom to understand that we're prepared to make sure that they get to be part of a transition and to begin to work alongside all the nations in the region as well as the Venezuelan people in restoring that very democracy.
BLITZER: So if leaders in Cuba are watching us right now, what's your message to the Cuban leadership? And the same question as far as the Russian leadership is concerned.
POMPEO: With respect to the Cubans, we've have had the opportunity to communicate to them that we find it unacceptable that they're protecting this thug. You've seen the actions that the State Department has taken in terms of Helms-Burton Act waivers that we no longer have in place.
We're about to put another set of restrictions in place. The President has communicated that we're going to continue to raise the cost for this malign activity that the Cuban government is engaged in.
It's the same kind of human rights violations that there are inside of Cuba today they are now foisting on the Venezuelan people, all for 50,000 or 75,000 barrels a day of sub-market-priced crude oil. That's unacceptable, and we're going to raise the cost for the Cuban leadership if they continue to engage in this behavior.
BLITZER: So who's been worse, from the U.S. perspective, in preventing Maduro from leaving, the Cuban -- you're calling them the Cuban thugs who are on the ground over there in Caracas and elsewhere, or the Russians?
POMPEO: The Cubans are the ones that are the deepest, have been there the longest, have the most direct relationship, are closest to the protection that is being provided to Maduro, and so they are at the center of this malfeasance.
BLITZER: The -- Maduro also gets support from other countries, Iran, for example. But what's surprising to me -- and maybe you can explain this -- the NATO ally, Turkey, supports Maduro right now. I'm sure you've had conversations with the Turkish leadership on that. Why?
POMPEO: We got conversations with any country. You spoke about Iran, talked about Russia. We've had conversations with the Chinese government, as well. We've talked to the Turks. We have urged each of them to get on the right side of history, to support Venezuelan democracy. That's the -- that's the plea we've made to them. It's the request
we've made to them. It is the thing that will drive us to raise costs for them, in the event that they don't choose to head down the right path. This is -- this is all about helping the Venezuelan people, and we've urged every nation to engage in that.
BLITZER: Has the President spoken with President Putin about this?
POMPEO: I don't want to get into all the conversations that have been held between us and other parties. Suffice it to say, I am confident that the Russians understand the American position on this and understand the harm that is being inflicted on the Venezuelan people.
BLITZER: I want you to speak directly to Maduro right now. What is your message to him at this very, very sensitive, potentially explosive moment?
POMPEO: Fire up the plane.
BLITZER: And if he doesn't?
POMPEO: The cost for he and those who protect him will continue to increase. And unfortunately, I'm not sure he cares as much about this as I would hope and pray that he does. The destruction that he will do to the very people he pretends to care about, the harm that he will bring to them will only increase.
[17:39:59] We implore him, it's time for him to leave. It's time for him to depart Venezuela, and we'd urge him to do this at the earliest possible moment.
BLITZER: And if he gets on that plane, the U.S. will ensure that he can fly safely to Havana?
POMPEO: Mr. Maduro understands what will happen if he gets on that airplane. He knows our expectations.
BLITZER: What does that mean?
POMPEO: He knows our expectations, Wolf.
BLITZER: But he will be able to fly safely to Havana. Is that right?
POMPEO: Wolf, he knows our expectations.
BLITZER: We'll leave it on that note. Mr. Secretary, it's a sensitive moment, and you were very generous with your time to join us. Thank you very much.
POMPEO: Thank you very much, sir.
BLITZER: All right, let's discuss all of this with our political and legal experts.
Dana Bash, this is a sensitive moment right now.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wow.
BLITZER: And you just heard what the Secretary of State had to say.
BASH: Yes. I mean, the fact that he revealed that they -- their understanding was that Maduro was on a plane about to leave and was convinced not to by the Cubans and the Russians is absolutely fascinating.
And the message at the end there, that was the -- the news he made at the beginning and the message at the end there was fire up the plane. They want him out. And there is -- there is absolutely no -- there's -- they're not vague at all. They're crystal clear that this is the American policy.
Obviously, we've seen the American policy -- the Trump administration policy be very much in -- on the side of Guaido and about getting Maduro out for some time. But to take it to this level, to the point where they are obviously openly encouraging what you're seeing on the streets there, not the violence, of course, but the -- to get the people out on the streets and to more actively protest against Maduro and to try to prop up Guaido is pretty remarkable.
The other thing is Russia. I mean, this administration has had the most complicated relationship with Russia. The President himself has tried very, very hard against a lot of criticism to woo Vladimir Putin as somebody who he can work with. And Secretary Pompeo didn't want to answer whether or not the President has specifically called Vladimir Putin to say butt out, back off, let this guy leave. And I thought the non-answer was quite telling.
BLITZER: Yes. You know, it's a very, very sensitive moment right now. And I want to bring in our CNN military and diplomatic contributor, our analyst, retired Rear Admiral Kirby, John Kirby.
What did you think of what we just heard from the Secretary of State?
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: In some ways, predictable, Wolf, you know, trying to talk about a peaceful resolution to this and a diplomatic path forward. Maduro has to leave office.
But I agree with Dana. I was quite stunned at how bald he was -- bold he was about the fact that Maduro needed to leave the country. Not just step down from power but leave the country. And it didn't appear to me like he had any specifics in terms of how that was supposed to be supported, how you're going to go forward.
The other question he didn't really get to was, what if Guaido succeeds here in the next day or two? What does that mean for U.S. intervention and involvement, diplomatically, militarily, economically? There's -- there doesn't seem to be a lot of meat on the bones here for how this thing is unfolding.
And I think they were caught off guard by how quickly this happened, and they're really trying to come to grips of what the aftermath might be. There's no answer for the "what next?" and that really surprised me.
BLITZER: Yes. What surprised me was how blunt he was in blaming Russia, for example, from talking Maduro out of leaving. He was getting ready to board a plane according to the Secretary of State and fly to Havana.
BLITZER: How blunt he was in directing that anger towards Russia and, of course, towards the Cubans.
KIRBY: Yes. He seems to blame everybody but Maduro for the problems inside Venezuela. Let's not forget where this all started two, three years ago when he started to starve his own people and ran his economy into the ground.
Yes, the Cubans had been in support but not in a meaningful way in terms of the civil unrest there in Cuba. And the Russians only recently, under the guise of a military cooperation agreement, have put some resources on the ground. This really should be laid at Maduro's feet.
I also found it interesting, you know, that he won't commit -- he, Pompeo, won't commit to what they would do in terms of treating Russia further as Russia continues to now involve themselves in the political situation much more deeply.
BLITZER: You spent years in the U.S. military. You retired as an admiral. You were the Pentagon spokesman. When he says and the President says, the national security adviser says, all options are on the table, that means a U.S. military option right now.
Is that realistic that the U.S. would use a military option, send troops, send missiles, do whatever the U.S. military does in a situation like that? I assume there are -- there are all sorts of contingency plans --
BLITZER: -- because there always are contingency plans at the Pentagon.
KIRBY: So they'll be planning for a spectrum of operations, Wolf, not just full-on conventional intervention but maybe humanitarian relief, maybe the safeguarding of American diplomats. There will be a whole range, from low intensity all the way to high intensity, that they'll have to be ready for.
[17:45:05] But make no mistake, when the Russians put missiles in there and they put some advisers and some bombers in there, that wasn't just a poke in Trump's eye to say, hey, we have a vested interest here. They are trying and making it very clear that they want to make any U.S. military intervention that much more costly, that much more difficult, whatever it is.
So they -- any military planning that's going on now has to factor in the Russian capability on the ground. There's no question about that.
BLITZER: All right. John Kirby, stand by. Everybody, stand by. There's a lot more breaking news unfolding, including dramatic developments in the race for the White House right now. We'll go back to Iowa. We'll be right back.
[17:50:23] BLITZER: Tonight, former Vice President Joe Biden is out on the campaign trail in Iowa as he opens a wide lead over the rest of the Democratic field. That according to a brand new CNN poll. Let's get some analysis from our experts.
And look at this poll, Mark, Biden campaigning in Iowa. Right now, he's at 39 percent among potential Democratic voters. In March, he was at 28 percent. Bernie Sanders is second. He's gone down from 19 to 15. Everybody else is in single digits.
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: OK. So the take away from this poll, the most fascinating thing, is really what the divide that we're going to see in the Democratic Party between the centrist Democrats, those who want to defeat Donald Trump who are not as, quote/unquote, radical when they're talking about pushing liberal progressive policies.
That is what you're going to see right there, and that is that poll. The Joe Biden wing, more moderate, more centrist, and then the Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren wing who tend to be more liberal. That is going to become more and more evident over the coming months.
BLITZER: How significant, Dana, is this bump for the Vice President?
BASH: Oh, I mean, it's very significant. Look, I mean, there are so many different case studies you can take in history, in recent history, about being a front-runner early. Some positive, some negative.
But the most recent is Donald Trump was ahead at the beginning pretty much right after he announced, and that was it. Nobody ever could catch up to him. He was well known. People understood him as a reality star. Joe Biden is well known as a leader, as somebody who has been in public service and public life for almost half a century.
And that the -- was the other thing that I found really fascinating about the poll is that only seven percent said that they didn't know very much about Joe Biden. They were unsure or unclear about where he stood, seven percent.
But then half of them said they didn't know a lot about his record, which is why you've seen Bernie Sanders on "ANDERSON COOPER" and, again, today with Brooke, really try to delineate, like Mark was saying, the differences, the very real differences, between them on issues like trade and using the military.
BLITZER: And he was President Obama's Vice President for eight years, so he's obviously well known to a lot of people. BASH: Yes.
BLITZER: Look at this other number in this poll, Sabrina. Among potential Democratic voters, if you'd -- if you split them up between White voters and non-White voters, Biden, among non-White voters, get 50 percent of the non-White Democratic potential voters. Among White voters, 29 percent. Bernie Sanders is second among non-White with 14 percent. Once again, everybody else pretty much in low digits.
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: Well, he certainly enters the race with unparalleled name I.D., and he benefits from the legacy of the Obama years and the so-called Obama coalition of voters largely compromised of people of color and as well as millennials and single women. So I do think there's some built-in support that Joe Biden has, having come into this race as an early front-runner.
But it also means that you can't discount some of the relationships that he continues to hold with these communities of color stemming from the Obama administration's own record. And he does have some catching up to do, certainly, in South Carolina which is where African-American, in particular, play an outsized role.
And these two candidates of color, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, they've put a lot of their organizing efforts there. And so Joe Biden will have to catch up in terms of his own infrastructure and his own fundraising.
But as people do scrutinize his record, some of his past comments on race, his handling of the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings, of course, in the early 1990s, this polling does tell us that you can't discount some of the support that he does continue to enjoy from those communities of color, those non-White voters.
BLITZER: He released, Susan, a very powerful video today -- Joe Biden -- featuring the former president, Barack Obama. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He could not have been a more effective partner in the progress that we've made. The best part is he's nowhere close to finished.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And we're told that President Obama and his folks approved the use of this image, that sound in that video.
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: So, certainly, Biden is going to benefit from his close relationship with Obama even if Obama doesn't make a formal endorsement in the primary. Obama is going to be one of the most, if not the single most important Democrat, in terms of securing an endorsement. Selecting someone as your vice president is a form of endorsement. It tends to -- it tends to stick. And so, certainly, we're going to see Joe Biden leaning into that,
running a little bit on Obama's record. At the end of the day, Obama and Joe Biden are very, very different people. They are very, very different candidates. One thing we can be absolutely sure of is, to the extent that Biden actually does secure the nomination, he'll be leaving -- he'll be leaning heavily on Obama in the general election.
BLITZER: And we know that, over the eight years, they had a very, very close relationship. Everybody, stick around. There's more breaking news.
The Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, revealing here in THE SITUATION ROOM just a few moments ago that the Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro, was about to flee his country amid the escalating violence but one thing stopped him. We have details.
[17:55:08] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. In the streets. Chaos and clashes as Venezuelans rise up against their strongman president with the backing of the Trump administration. Tonight, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tells me the stunning events that have been happening behind the scenes in Caracas.
[18:00:00] Bigger and better. We're told that's the message President Trump wanted to send when he reached the new $2 trillion agreement with Democrats.