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THE SITUATION ROOM
Russia Responds To Wolf's Interview With Pompeo; Source: Trump Agreed With Dems To Spend $2 Trillion On Roads, Bridges And Broadband Because It Sounded Bigger And Better; Trump Agreed With Democrats To Spend $2 Trillion On Roads, Bridges And Broadband Because It Sounded Bigger And Better; Trump Team Sues Banks To Block Release Of Financial Records; Biden Opens Wide Lead Over Democratic Field; Americans Divided On Barr's Handling Of The Mueller Report; Interview With Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL); Crisis In Venezuela; Biden Leading Polls. Aired 6- 7p ET
Aired April 30, 2019 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: 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. Can this rare moment of bipartisanship last?
Early lead. Joe Biden makes his 2020 campaign debut in Iowa with a big bump in CNN's exclusive new Democratic presidential poll. Tonight, Biden is playing to the party's base by leaning into his relationship with President Barack Obama.
And bank shot. The president, his children and his business, they have all launched a new lawsuit to block two banks from giving financial records to Congress. House Democrats say it's proof that the Trumps are scared of what the banks might reveal.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the uprising in Venezuela.
Moments ago, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told me that President Nicolas Maduro was ready to leave his country and flee to Cuba, until Russia convinced him to stay, this after Venezuela's opposition leader launched his boldest attempt yet to oust Maduro, unleashing violent clashes and protests.
Also breaking right now, new insight into why President Trump found rare common ground with Democrats, agreeing to spend $2 trillion to improve roads, bridges, utilities, and broadband Internet across the country, a source telling us CNN Mr. Trump thought that number sounded bigger and better.
But there are still major hurdles ahead, with no plan on how to pay for it. This hour, I will talk with Democratic Senator Doug Jones. He sits on
the Armed Services Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's go to journalist Stefano Pozzebon. He's in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas.
Stefano, what's happening there right now?
STEFANO POZZEBON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What is happening, Wolf, is that we're still yet to hear sort of an end of the violence from opposition leader Juan Guaido.
He was the member, the key member of the opposition who triggered this military uprising, saying that the defining moment of Operation Freedom had started.
We're still to understand from him to a balance of what happened to -- for the rest of the day and if many, many more ministry units have indeed joined his call to arms, which doesn't seem to have happened yet.
But for now, and for your viewers, we put together a small piece of what is -- a taste of what was the situation here in the capital of Venezuela today in this crucial day, 30th of April. Take a listen.
POZZEBON (voice-over): A violent battle for control is playing out in Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro's military tanks driving directly into protesters, as opposition leader Juan Guaido declares Operation Freedom has begun.
After months of clashes, Guaido today escalating the tension by calling for a full military uprising.
JUAN GUAIDO, PRESIDENT, VENEZUELAN NATIONAL ASSEMBLY (through translator): We're asking the army and the military to join this political fight.
POZZEBON: Also urging his supporters to take to the streets to help him wrest the leadership from Maduro once and for all.
GUAIDO (through translator): It is clear to us that the armed forces are with the Venezuelan people and not with the dictator.
POZZEBON: Both Guaido and Maduro have declared themselves presidents of the troubled country. Now at a breaking point, both say they are targets of an attempted coup.
One major difference, Guaido has the backing of some of the international community, including the United States.
JOHN BOLTON, U.S. 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 military.
POZZEBON: But here in Caracas, at least some of the military are conflicted. Those with the blue armbands back Guaido. Those behind the wheel of these tanks are acting on behalf of Nicolas Maduro.
Maduro himself tweeting: "Nerves of steel." Maduro's former chief of staff says the opposition party is putting Venezuela at risk.
TEMIR PORRAS PONCELEON, FORMER MADURO CHIEF OF STAFF: The only strategy of the Guaido camp in this crisis is to generate, to increase the pressure and generate a regime crisis in the country, with the risk, of course, of the country going down the path of political violence.
POZZEBON: Violence playing out right now with tear gas and bullets raining down on the capital city.
Their anger is fueled by months of economic collapse, severe food shortages, and near nationwide blackouts. Whether conditions will improve depends on which leader can withstand this volatile face-off.
POZZEBON: And these volatile conditions are still volatile, Wolf.
At these very hours, you can see movements of opposition protesters, here in Altamira Square, drivers coming up and going down, because the key military air base is just a couple of hundred feet on my back. And we're still to understand who will eventually prevail, Wolf, in the dramatic power tussle here at the heart of Caracas -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Critically important moment right now.
Stefano Pozzebon, thank you very much for your reporting.
Now to the Trump administration's take on this uprising in Venezuela.
Listen to what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told me here in THE SITUATION ROOM just minutes ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Wolf, we have -- we have 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. BLITZER: 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. He was heading for...
BLITZER: Do you blame -- so you blame Russia for the violence right now?
POMPEO: He was headed for Havana.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's bring in our Senior White House Correspondent, Pamela Brown.
Pamela, we heard from the secretary of state. President Trump also has been tweeting about the situation in Venezuela. As we say, this is a really dramatic moment right now.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It's very dramatic. It's fluid.
President Trump just in the last hour tweeting about the situation in Venezuela and singling out Cuba's role in everything, saying that the administration will impose full and complete embargo, as well as the highest level of sanctions on Cuba, if it doesn't seize military operations there in Venezuela.
But there is a notable omission in the president's tweet. And, of course, that is Russia's role in all of this. Given what we just heard there from Secretary Pompeo about Russia stopping Maduro from fleeing today, the national security adviser, John Bolton, also called out Russia, saying it has been warned to stop propping up the Maduro regime.
But these warnings are not coming from the president himself. And as the president is monitoring the situation on the ground of Venezuela, Democrats who met with the president here at the White House today are striking a more positive tone after meeting with the president on infrastructure.
BROWN (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump and Democratic congressional leaders signaling optimism after meeting at the White House on infrastructure spending.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), CALIFORNIA: We're very excited about the conversation that we had with the president.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: 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: Although 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), CALIFORNIA: He is obviously afraid that we are going to learn more about his relationships to Deutsche Bank, more about his bankruptcies, perhaps, and 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 silent 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 barring all migrants entering the U.S. illegally from receiving work permits before protection is granted.
REP. LUCILLE ROYBAL-ALLARD (D), CALIFORNIA: 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), NEW YORK: 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 SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: 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 sources say that funding request from the administration to Congress is expected to be less than $10 billion in additional funding to cover the costs of the influx of migrants crossing the border, not for the wall, according to these sources.
But this funding request, Wolf, could, of course, run into problems with Democrats, who are already skeptical about the administration's immigration policies and the intent for the immigration funding -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Pamela Brown at the White House, thanks very much.
Joining us now, Senator Doug Jones, a Democrat. He serves on the Armed Services Committee.
Senator, thanks very much for coming in.
Let's start with Venezuela.
You just heard moments ago the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, tell me here in THE SITUATION ROOM that the Venezuelan president, Maduro, had a plane ride on the tarmac ready to go to take him Havana, Cuba. He was ready to leave. But the Russians talked him out of that.
How concerning is that to you?
SEN. DOUG JONES (D), ALABAMA: It is very concerning.
I mean, look, everyone has to be concerned about what Russia is doing, interfering with our elections, interfering with everything we're doing. And this is, I think, a really troubling factor that's going on right now.
We have seen the violence. We see things happening. We see people losing their lives down there. And something's got to give. Maduro needs to leave. And the Russians need to get out and leave -- leave our part of the world alone and let them deal with it.
BLITZER: The secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and other Trump administration officials say -- continue to say that all options are on the table as far as the U.S.' response is concerned. When I hear all options are on the table, I think of military options.
Are you ready to use military options, if necessary?
JONES: No, I don't think anybody's ready for that. But I think certainly, from the administration standpoint, they would be remiss not to say that all options are on the table.
I don't think anybody in Congress is ready for that, but we will see what happens. I mean, certainly, if there is some more intervention with Russia, then I think it escalates the problems there. We will just see how this goes.
But I think what they're doing right now through diplomatic efforts is the way to go.
BLITZER: And you heard that the secretary of state say his basic message to Maduro right now is...
BLITZER: ... get on that plane and fly out of Venezuela.
And I think you will find every member of Congress saying the same thing. It's time for him to leave and let this new leadership take hold and try to get this country back in order.
BLITZER: And there's wide bipartisan support for that.
JONES: Absolutely, no question.
BLITZER: All right. Let's move on to some other news out of the White House.
There was an extraordinary meeting -- extraordinary meeting -- at the White House today where the Democratic leadership from the House and the Senate, without any Republicans present.
BLITZER: They went, spoke with the president and his aides, and they agreed to a $2 trillion funding proposal for infrastructure, roads, bridges, airports, rail lines.
It was -- it was a pretty extraordinary moment, the praise that was going on between the White House and the Democratic leaders today.
JONES: Right. Well, we should mark this day down, because it was an extraordinary moment.
But infrastructure is the kind of thing that everyone can agree on the goals of infrastructure. That includes not just roads and bridges. What's really important too is broadband, getting rural broadband into the areas of the country that are not serviced by broadband. I think it was a great meeting. I think it was a very, very
productive meeting. Obviously, the devil is going to be in the details on, how do you pay for a $2 trillion program?
A lot of people believe that infrastructure can pay for itself in the long run. And I tend to think that that's the case. It's an investment in the country. But we have got to figure out a way to pay for it and go forward. And I think, right now, this meeting today is a great first step.
BLITZER: Let's talk about the vice -- former Vice President Joe Biden.
You support his campaign.
BLITZER: You're a surrogate for the Biden campaign.
Look at the new CNN poll that was released today. He's got a nice bump as a result of announcing. In March, he was at 28 percent. Now he's at 39 percent. That's a pretty impressive 11-point bump. Bernie Sanders has gone down from 19 to 15 percent. Everybody else is in single digits.
Can the vice president, Joe Biden, sustain this?
JONES: Well, you know, Wolf, everybody gets a bump in initial polls. We're a long way out. The polls are going to fluctuate. They're going to go up and down.
What I think is important is the message that Joe Biden has. And it's also important to look at his fund-raising numbers that exceeded everyone else's on the first 24 hours.
But I think it's the message that's resonating. And that's what I think can sustain him for the duration, his message about the middle class, jobs and restoring the soul of America.
BLITZER: He's really taking on the president. He's going after President Trump, saying at issue right now is the soul of the nation.
He's outlining his positions on middle-class issues and other issues. He's really not going after other Democratic candidates. When does he do that?
JONES: Well, I don't know if he does that. I think he takes out his positions.
BLITZER: Some of his other Democratic candidates are going after him already on substantive policy issues, whether Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, or others.
JONES: Well, when you see that bump in the polls, whoever is sitting at the top of the polls, somebody's going to come after you. Everybody knows that. Joe Biden knew that going in there.
He knew the minute he announced that people were going to come after him. And there's disagreements on the number of policy issues among Democrats. That's why we have a primary process. That's why we have an electorate.
He came out of the gate with what Joe Biden does and does best, and that's appealing to a cross-section of America on the issues that are important, what I -- what we call the kitchen table issues, the jobs, the economy. Health care is a big issue and all of that as well.
So he will stake out that claim. And that's his sustainability, I think.
BLITZER: Bernie Sanders, he's not a shy guy, as you know, your colleague from Vermont.
BLITZER: He hit Joe Biden yesterday and today, including today in an interview on CNN.
He listed Biden's vote for the Iraq War. He opposed the Iraq War. He listed Biden's support for NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, support for TPP.
How does the former vice president address these issues?
JONES: Well, look, there are going to be differences, and it's all appropriate for people to point out differences in their issues and the differences they have had with their record.
I would expect that the vice president may come out with an opposition to having felons that are in prison today voting, which Senator Sanders said the other day. You're going to see that. That's the part of the primary process.
That's what's healthy. You're going to see the differences. And at the end of the day, I think Democrats will come together and coalesce.
BLITZER: And you endorsed Biden already, because you think, what, he's got the best chance of beating President Trump?
JONES: Well, I...
BLITZER: Or because you agree with him on the substantive policy issues?
JONES: Well, it's a little of both.
I mean, I think he's got the best chance of winning. But, more importantly, I think he's got the best chance of governing once he gets elected. I think Joe Biden has demonstrated consistently his ability to govern, to reach across, to talk to people across the aisle or within his own party to try to reach the consensus that's necessary to go forward and restore the respect for the institutions of the United States government.
BLITZER: He's fortunate to have you as a surrogate and a supporter.
Senator Jones, thanks very much for joining us.
JONES: My pleasure. Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.
There's more breaking news ahead on the uprising under way right now in Venezuela and the new information we have just received from the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, that the Russians talked Nicolas Maduro out of fleeing his country at the last minute.
And Joe Biden visits the battleground state that ended his last bid for the White House. How's he doing right now in Iowa?
BLITZER: Tonight, Joe Biden is in new territory just days into his presidential campaign.
He's visiting Iowa for the first time since his 2020 announcement. And he's opened up a commanding lead over his Democratic rivals in CNN's exclusive new national poll.
CNN's Jessica Dean is covering Biden's visit to the lead-off presidential caucus state.
Jessica, you're there in Iowa. What's the former vice president's message to Iowans?
JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Biden telling Iowans today that they're going to see a lot of him in the next few months and that no one's going to work harder for their support, Wolf.
And he thinks he can get that support by talking more about the dignity of work and growing the middle class.
DEAN (voice-over): Tonight, Joe Biden making his first trip to Iowa since announcing his run for president. It's a crucial state that ended his 2008 presidential run.
JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The good news and the bad news, you're going to see a whole heck of a lot of me.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
BIDEN: I promise you this. No one's going to work harder in Iowa than Joe Biden to get your support and gain your confidence.
DEAN: The big difference this time, Biden is currently the front- runner.
BIDEN: I'm proud of my record.
DEAN: Biden's entrance into the race has earned him a significant bounce in the polls. A new nationwide CNN poll shows Biden at 39 percent among Democrats and independents who lean Democratic. That's up 11 points from last month and puts Biden more than 20 points ahead of his nearest competitor, Senator Bernie Sanders, with most voters saying they could still change their minds.
But to help keep that momentum, the campaign today releasing a new video featuring a very familiar voice.
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is an extraordinary man with an extraordinary career.
DEAN: The Biden campaign plans to lean heavily on his relationship with former President Barack Obama. Though Obama has no plans to endorse during the primaries, a source tells CNN the Obama team was made aware of the video rollout plan and did not object.
As Biden surges, he's also laying out his plan on how to court Trump voters with the economy doing so well.
BIDEN: For the vast majority of working-class and middle-class people, it's not significantly better. It's not significantly better. And they know they're not being treated very well. This is about restoring dignity.
DEAN: And Biden continues to talk more and more about how, while the economy is strong, it's not strong for everyone, that he wants to bring everyone into that growth. That's the message we're expecting to hear tonight here in Dubuque.
Wolf, the doors just opened. We're expecting to see the former vice president within the hour.
BLITZER: Jessica Dean on the road covering Joe Biden, thank you very, very much.
Just ahead: President Trump's surprisingly productive meeting with the Democratic duo he calls Chuck and Nancy. How long can he keep his anger at opposition leaders at bay?
And we're getting a new read on the attorney general's handling of the Mueller report, even as William Barr's threatening to cancel his House testimony all about it.
BLITZER: Breaking news: new details on President Trump's talks with Democratic leaders and his agreement to spend $2 trillion to improve roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
Let's bring in our analysts.
This was pretty remarkable, Gloria. When they walked out, the Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate, they said it was a very constructive meeting. They didn't talk about some of the other issues, the administration stonewalling Congress in these investigations, for example, is the cooperation, his latest cooperation, going to continue?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, who can predict that? I don't know. But you can see that each side believes it's in their own self-interest to do some kind of infrastructure bill. The Democrats have wanted it. And what was stunning -- and so has the President.
And what was stunning about this was that the Democrats came in with a $1.9 trillion proposal and our reporting says, wait minute, the President said, you know, why don't we just round that up to 2 trillion because I like the way that sounds better. So you can imagine how stunned the Democrats were.
And if they can get this bill through, I think they're going try and cooperate with him and walk and chew gum at the same time regarding the President's behavior and the Mueller report.
BLITZER: Because, David Swerdlick, if they do get a deal, a $2 trillion deal, to rebuild the roads, the bridges, the broadband across the country, the airports across the country, that would be a huge political victory for the President who is up for re-election.
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It would. And if you're the Democrats, you don't necessarily want to give President Trump a win 18 months out from an election. With that being said, think back to 2010, President Obama wanted to repeal don't ask, don't tell. Republicans said, OK, give us an extension of the Bush tax cuts. They got a deal done. I think in this case, Democrats just have to say the President wants a win, what can we ask for in return.
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't mean to be Susie Pessimist over here, but I think -- I mean, the President has a tendency that when someone is in front of him, he likes to -- he says what they want to hear. Mick Mulvaney, his Chief of Staff, is very conservative, he was all the way on the other coast in California when this meeting was going on.
There were no Republicans in that room. I have a feeling he'll come down to earth once he hears from people in his party. Because maybe -- let's say the 2 trillion number stands. How it gets paid for is going to be a big fight.
BORGER: But they haven't worried about how to pay for it.
BLITZER: Yes, go ahead, Jeffrey. JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, why are we always talking about how it's going to be paid for? I don't hear any Republicans talking about --
KUCINICH: I don't know. Because it's an open question?
TOOBIN: But, no, how the Republicans talked about when their gigantic tax cut went through, nobody cared about how that was paid for. This is an investment. And, people, has anyone been to an airport recently? They stink. I mean, we need -- this is such an obvious thing. We have bridges falling down in Minnesota. I mean, this is just like what the country needs, like modern countries have modern airports and bridges.
KUCINICH: And I understand. I don't underestimate the ability of Congress to quibble over something that might actually matter to the American people.
BORGER: Well -- and also don't forget. Last time they were discussing infrastructure, they were talking about a public/private partnership which the Democrats didn't want. And that wasn't what they were talking about today. Trump just said, okay, fine, this is what I want to do, and some Republicans might not like it. But let's do two trillion.
BLITZER: We've driven around the Washington, D.C. area lately on some of these highways, the potholes are awful. You've really got to maneuver. Otherwise, you're going to have a broken axle and flat tires and all of the above.
Jeffrey, the Trump family, the Trump organization are now suing two banks, major banks, to stop them from releasing sensitive financial information to House Democrats. First of all, tell us what's behind this move and what's likely to unfold.
TOOBIN: Well, what's behind it is they don't want the records turned over. But it is so common for banks to respond to subpoenas that they have entire offices of people who do nothing but respond to subpoenas. This is not an unusual request from Congress. Prosecutors always ask for bank records.
I don't understand what the argument even is that the Trump family thinks they can prevent these records from being turned over. But like everything else, they are hoping that there is a court fight that extends this controversy out for months until people don't care about this anymore. That's a victory even if they wind up losing the case.
BLITZER: And, David, is that a possibility that this will just drag on and on and on through the courts?
SWERDLICK: I think it is possibility. And I think there's a possibility that the courts might throw up their hands. I mean, even if Congress prevails in some of these cases, then what happens if the White House stonewalls. But I think at the end of the day, this is going to have political consequences for both sides. On the one hand, you have the Democrats potentially not getting what
they want out of the White House, and the other hand, you have the White House looking like they have something to hide.
BLITZER: Joe Biden -- yes, go ahead.
TOOBIN: What's a little different about this fight is that the documents are in the hands of the bank, not of the White House or the Trump family. So the Congress has a better chance in this circumstance than the other.
BLITZER: Take a look at the new poll that we released today, Gloria. Biden is doing very, very well. But March, before announced, he was at 28 percent. Now, he's bumped up 11 points to 39 percent. Bernie Sanders has gone down from 19 to 15. Everybody else is in single digits right now.
BORGER: Well, it's hard to be the frontrunner because you don't know what's going to happen to you in future months. But this means the people of Democrats, like Joe Biden, they like him more now that they've been seeing him.
But what was also interesting, if you look down in the numbers in our poll is that what's more than half of democratic voters say what's important to them is that they want somebody who can beat Donald Trump. And I think this high number reflects the fact that they believe that Joe Biden may have the best chance of defeating Donald Trump.
If I were Kamala Harris though, I'd be heartened by this even though her number has gone down because a lot of democratic voters in our poll say they want to learn more about her. There are also Democrats who don't really know who all these candidates are, understandably, by the way.
BLITZER: Bernie Sanders is going after the former Vice President pretty harshly, not on personal issues or anything but they disagreed on the war in Iraq, for example, on NAFTA, TPP, and Bernie Sanders is making that clear.
KUCINICH: We've seen him willing to kind of throw elbows at several different people at this point. And I think he's trying to draw a contrast in this field which is why I think we're really not going to see how this field starts to shake out until the debate, when you have every one standing next to each other, and really being able to draw contrast and people will be engaged in watching it in real-time.
But you're right, people know Joe Biden. I think only 3 percent of people in the poll said that they didn't know about Joe Biden or as some of these other candidates, 40 percent of people don't know. So there's still a lot for this democratic electorate.
BLITZER: Clearly, a likely democratic voter is the fact that he was the Vice President under President Barack Obama is clearly going to help him. Look at this in our CNN poll. We asked who they support, likely democratic voters, white versus non-white.
Among non-white Democrats, Biden is at 50 percent, Sanders is at 50 percent, Warren, 7 percent, everybody else in the low single digits. Among white voters, Biden is at 29 percent, Bernie Sanders 15, Buttigieg is at 10 percent, everybody else is in single figures
SWERDLICK: Right. It tells you two things, Wolf. One is that who's on Twitter and who is popular out there in real America is two different things. I think it also tells you that, yes, as Jackie was saying, when you get to the debates, that's when we're going to sort of separate the wheat from the chaff.
I do think Vice President Biden is going to have some trouble with some of those questions but he is popular with non-white voters, especially African-American women, the heart of the democratic race (ph).
BLITZER: And a lot of Democrats think he has the best chance as a candidate of beating Trump in a general election.
Everybody stick around, we have more breaking news on the Attorney General, William Barr and his handling of the Mueller report. We'll be back in a moment.
BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, another exclusive new CNN poll is now out. It shows Americans are divided how the Attorney General, William Barr, handled the release of the Mueller report. 44 percent approved. 43 percent disapproved. 13 percent are unsure. This comes as Barr is set to testify about the report before a Senate panel tomorrow. Our Chief Political Analyst, Gloria Borger, has the story.
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: I want to wish our new Attorney General great luck and speed and enjoy your life. Bill, good luck, a tremendous reputation.
BORGER: Bill Barr came to the Trump administration with a long resume, dating back to the George H.W. Bush administration.
MICHAEL MUKASEY, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: He was Deputy Attorney General and he was Attorney General. He's had quite a government career in addition to having been partner in a substantial law firm.
BORGER: And now, a political lightning rod largely because of the way he handled the release of the Mueller report in a way that pleased the President and angered Democrats.
Was he putting his thumb on the scale for the American public?
RON KLAIN, CHIEF OF STAFF FOR VICE PRESIDENT GORE AND BIDEN: He was putting his fist on the scale for the American public. It was a lot more than a thumb.
BORGER: And when he said this --
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think spying did occur.
BORGER: -- he made the President very happy.
TRUMP: I think what he said was absolutely true. There was absolutely spying into my campaign.
BORGER: Now, Barr, a republican with establishment credentials, facing Congress at the center of a political fire storm. It started with his decision to summarize the Special Counsel's 488 page report in a four-page letter that even some on Mueller's team thought downplayed and mischaracterized their damaging findings about the President.
KLAIN: He wrote up a spin letter. He then went before Congress and spun the spin letter. He then did a press conference where he used a non-legal phrase, non-collusion, as many times as he could without being comical in a short period of time.
BARR: There was no evidence of the Trump campaign collusion. No collusion. No collusion.
BORGER: Barr also cleared the President of obstruction even though the Special Counsel made no decision.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think he should have participated in the decision on obstruction and to have substituted his legal judgment for Bob Mueller about the appropriate legal theory, I believe, was a significant misjudgment on his part and I don't think it reflected well on the department.
BORGER: Did you get that sense from Barr, like he wished Mueller had made a decision?
MUKASEY: Sure. And so the only person left who could make a decision is the Attorney General, and he did.
BORGER: What if Barr had just decided not to do anything?
MUKASEY: And sort of leave it out there?
MUKASEY: Not impossible. Irresponsible.
BORGER (voice-over): Then explained it in a press conference before anyone read the Mueller report.
WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: That the president was frustrated and angered by his sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency. BORGER (on camera): Could that be interpreted as excusing the
president's bad behavior?
GEORGE TERWILLIGER, DEPUTY ATTORENY GENERAL FOR PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH: I don't -- I don't think it should be interpreted that way because I don't think he was trying to excuse the president's behavior, bad or otherwise. I think he was simply trying to explain the basis for a decision he, as a prosecutor, was reaching.
RON KLAIN, CHIEF OF STAFF FOR VICE PRESIDENTS GORE AND BIDEN: He didn't explain a decision. He went out there justifying reckless behavior by the president. He wasn't serving as attorney general. He was serving as the president's guidance counselor.
BORGER (voice-over): But Barr's decision not to prosecute wasn't a complete surprise. He had already made his views known in an on unsolicited 19-page memo sent to the Justice Department in June 2018, saying among other things that the theory of the obstruction investigation against the president was fatally misconceived.
(on camera): Is this something people do all the time?
BOB BAUER, WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA: You mean former government officials who produced long legal memoranda and bring them to the government on pending issues and ask officials in power to look at them?
BAUER: No, no. That's not common practice. I think it's a reflection of the passion of which he views that issue but it's unusual.
BORGER: Do you think it was an audition for a job?
TERWILLIGER: Definitely not. We talked about the memo at the time. The idea of being attorney general or taking any job with the administration was the farthest thing from his mind.
KLAIN: He didn't get this job by accident. He got this job because he promised in advance, essentially, he wouldn't find the president guilty of obstruction and so he did exactly what he said he was going to do.
BORGER (voice-over): Back in the 1998 interview unearthed by CNN's KFILE, Barr was more sympathetic to the independent counsel's plight, complaining that Attorney General Janet Reno wasn't doing enough to protect Ken Starr from hatchet jobs and ad hominem attacks.
Yet he's remained silent as the president continues to lob grenades almost daily at the Mueller team. DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We just went through
the Mueller witch hunt where you had really 18 angry Democrats that hate President Trump.
BORGER: Barr's loyalties will be tested again as the president says he will not comply with House Democratic subpoenas.
TRUMP: We're fighting all the subpoenas. Look, these aren't like impartial people.
BORGER: And he could well have Barr on his side. In 1989 in another memo, Barr warned against what he called congressional incursion against the office of the presidency.
TERWILLIGER: I think Bill's view is a constitutional one. It's grounded in the separation of powers and if one of the branches over steps its bounds, he will call that branch on it.
BAUER: It would be really disappointing if he enabled the president to pursue a theory like the one the president has articulated which is because the house that is asking for this information is in hands of the other political party, he's not going to permit anybody to testify. That is lawless position. It's one thing for the department --
BORGER (on camera): Lawless.
BAUER: Lawless. It's utterly lawless.
BORGER: And a matter ultimately that another branch of government, the courts, could decide.
BORGER: Wolf, as you know, because we'll be covering it tomorrow, the attorney general goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee. And he's going to undergo some tough questioning, no doubt, from Democrats who want to know why he decided what he decided on the Mueller report, why he decided, for example, that there was no obstruction and why he decided to issue that four page letter which they believe mischaracterized the special counsel's work.
BLITZER: Terrific report, Gloria. We'll have special coverage tomorrow morning starting at 9:00 a.m. Eastern.
Much more on all of the news right after this.
[18:54:05] BLITZER: There is more breaking news, the Russian foreign ministry responded to my interview here in THE SITUATION ROOM with the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Pompeo accused the Russians of intervening in Venezuela where Nicolas Maduro was apparently preparing to flee the country before Russia stepped in.
The Russian foreign ministry says in a statement and I'm quoting now: Washington tried its best to demoralize the Venezuelan army and now used fake news as a part of an information war. CNN will, of course, stay on top of this story, significant developments and tension on the streets of Caracas, in Venezuela, escalating as we speak.
Also tonight, as President Trump and Democrats are talking about spending trillions and trillions of dollars to improve roads, bridges and a lot more throughout the United States, there is a new snapshot of the challenges facing our elected officials in a very changing nation.
[18:55:03] It comes from USAFacts, a non-partisan, non-profit initiative that compiles and analyzes government data without a political agenda.
We are joined by the founder of USAFacts, Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft, the owner of L.A. Clippers, pretty good basketball team.
Steve, thanks very much for coming in.
STEVE BALLMER, FOUNDER, USAFACTS: Thanks for having me, Wolf.
BLITZER: Let me -- I will get to USAFacts in a moment. But you just heard the president and Democratic leadership agreeing to $2 trillion to improve infrastructure, roads, bridges, airports, broadband, all across the United States. Do the numbers add up?
BALLMER: Well, I'll give you a perspective on that. The country today, government today spends about $240 billion a year. If you take that multiply it by 10, you are close to the 2 trillion. I guess we will double the amount of money we spend on infrastructure, doubling is a big change.
And at the same time people talk about our bridge quality, government numbers say our bridges have actually gotten better and better over the last 20 years. Our roads, slightly worse. You can take a look at the numbers.
BLITZER: Have you been to major airports lately? Have you seen what's going on?
BALLMER: And there -- I'm not saying there aren't areas of investment. But if you were to say to somebody in business, we will double the budget on this one thing, you have to say, OK, what numbers are we going to move? What are we trying to do for delays at airports? What are we trying to do?
So, I'd ask the question to both parties, you want to double the budget, that's a big change, 2X is a big number. Are you really going to buy that kind of improvement for us?
BLITZER: It seems President Trump is not concerned about the deficit and the national debt right now. You will spend $2 trillion on infrastructure. It's a lot of money.
BALLMER: I'm going to reframe that as $200 billion a year. BLITZER: OK.
BALLMER: It's important. The deficit is quoted on an annual basis. We lose about $850 billion a year as a country.
BLITZER: It could be a trillion dollars this year.
BALLER: It could be a trillion. We don't make forecasts. We only use actuals.
But $200 billion per year would be significant on top of the $750 billion we are already losing. Of course, there may be new revenue teams. We didn't hear about that today. But that could come.
But, literally, if you say, hey, Wolf, we want to spend the double the money on your house remodel, you'd probably want to say, what do I get for that?
BLITZER: Good point.
Tell us about USAFacts. Why should our viewers care?
BALLMER: I think that in this world, particularly, of alternate facts and fake news, the one thing that I think you can ground on and say is accurate is numbers, not adjectives, that reflect what went on in the past. And I think government numbers, not forecasts or third party analysis tells us the best story. I believe in the professionals we have in our government.
So, if you really want to know what are reading proficiency scores, if you want to know not just who we collected our tax money from? Which I think a lot of people want to know. Where do we spend that money? It turns out we spend 86 percent of all government dollars in just eight areas.
And then if you want to also ask the question, because it's government, what are the outcomes? Are we getting healthier? Are we getting better educated? Are wages going up? Standards of living improving?
We have kind of cover all of that. We just released our annual report for this year. We also do like a business, a full big old fat 10k which businesses files with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
But we believe government should be analyzed and held accountable by the numbers.
BLITZER: People can go, what, USAFacts.org.
BLITZER: To get all these information.
When you look at the numbers right now, what do you see as the one of two biggest problems we are facing?
BALLMER: Well, now I'm giving you my perspective.
BLITZER: Based on the numbers.
BALLMER: I encourage other people to think about it. Reading proficiency, 8th graders, 38 percent. Now some people say it's great. It's up from 34 percent.
I might look at it and say 38 percent reading proficiency scores probably don't bode well for the futures of our country and our economy. I would underline and underscore that if you will, despite the fact education spending has risen dramatically per capita. You can look at the specific numbers in the report. We have not improved educational outcomes that much.
I think that is a very big problem, when people talk about the hollowing out of the middle class. We'll take a look. You can see, what does life look like for people in the mid-20 percent, which means now in America, household income of 33,000 to about 65,000 bucks. Look at it and I think people will be surprised.
BLITZER: You know, I'm an NBA fan, a Washington Wizard season ticketholder.
How are the Clippers going to do next year?
BALLMER: I'm pretty bullish about our team. We've got a great core. We had a great season. Who knows what might happen in the offseason?
BLITZER: You like being an owner of a basketball team?
BALLMER: I love it, Wolf.
BLITZER: I don't blame you. I'd like to be an owner of a basketball team, too.
Thanks so much for coming in. Good luck.
Usafacts.org, people can go there and find out what's going on.
Appreciate it very much.
BALLMER: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.