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THE SITUATION ROOM
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) Is Interviewed About Deployment Of Warships In The Middle East; Treasury Secretary Refuses To Give House Dems Trump's Tax Returns; Trump Awards Presidential Medal Of Freedom To Tiger Woods; Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) South Carolina Open To Mueller Testifying In Public After Trump Reverses Course And Says Mueller Should Not Testify; Russian Foreign Minister Warns Against U.S. Intervention in Venezuela; Harry And Meghan Announce Birth Of Son. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired May 6, 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: Happening now, breaking news: eye on the Tiger. President Trump is moments away from awarding the nation's highest civilian honor to Tiger Woods, following his comeback at this year's Masters.
But there's more to their relationship than their love of golf -- tonight, new details of their business ties.
Deadline dance. Ahead of the deadline set by House Democrats, the Treasury Department refuses to turn over President Trump's personal tax returns, just hours after the Justice Department missed a deadline to give lawmakers the full Mueller report. So what will Congress do now?
Cohen turns himself in. President Trump's former fixer and personal attorney, Michael Cohen, reports to prison to begin serving his three- year sentence, but not before taking a parting shot at the president.
And it's a boy. Prince Harry and his American wife, Meghan Markle, announce the birth of a son, but many details remain a mystery tonight, including the baby's name and even where he was born. Why so much secrecy around the latest royal birth?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news tonight: Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has just sent House Democrats a letter refusing their demand to turn over President Trump's tax returns.
This comes just hours after Attorney General William Barr missed a deadline to hand over the full Mueller report to lawmakers, who have now scheduled a Wednesday vote on whether to hold him in contempt. And we're watching the White House right now, where President Trump is about to award golfer Tiger Woods with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.
We will talk about that and much more with Congressman Adam Kinzinger of the Foreign Affairs Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, the president and Tiger Woods, they have a pretty long history.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They certainly do, Wolf.
And this is going to be quite an event. We will see the president come out here in just a few moments with the golf champion Tiger Woods. He just won the Masters last month.
And, typically, with these Presidential Medal of Freedoms, Wolf, as you know, they're typically handed out and issued to notable figures after a career of achievements, at the end of their careers typically for these recipients. Tiger Woods, it seems the president was so excited about Mr. Woods winning the Masters Tournament last month that he decided in a tweet to issue this Presidential Medal of Freedom.
And so we're going to see that taking place in just a few moments. One thing that we should note, "The New York Times" did a story about this just in the last 24 hours, asked the White House to essentially defend why the president was having Tiger Woods out here.
And Sarah Sanders in a statement to "The New York Times" said that the president is issuing this Presidential Medal of Freedom, not only because of his winning the Masters Tournament and all of his achievements in the world of golf, but also for breaking barriers in the sport.
So, that's the word from the White House about that. We should note, Wolf, that President Trump and Tiger Woods do have a history that predates his administration. They have been friends for many years, and, as a matter of fact, back in 2013, the president tweeted about how he has stood by Tiger Woods when he was going through some personal trauma in his life, and the president was taking credit in that tweet essentially for standing by Tiger Woods in all of that.
And so while the president is sometimes criticized for not always showing loyalty to people who work for him, people that work in his administration, people who work inside this White House, it should be said that he has shown some loyalty to Tiger Woods over the years.
Now, we should also note, Wolf, that the president and Tiger Woods do have something of a business arrangement. The president's company, the Trump Organization, hired Tiger Woods to design a golf course at the president's company's golf course in Dubai.
Wolf, that obviously shows that there are some business ties between these two men. And I suppose a critic could argue, after watching all of this, that there might be somewhat of an advertisement going on here, TV ad going on here, in handing out this Presidential Medal of Freedom to Tiger Woods.
It is, in effect, publicizing one of the Trump golf courses there in Dubai that Tiger Woods had a hand in, although we should point out that particular course has not opened yet.
And so, putting all of that aside, this is going to be quite a moment. Tiger Woods, as you know, Wolf, was sort of back in the pack in the golf world for many years after he had some stumbles in his personal life, and he did manage to climb back to get to this point right now.
It is a rather stunning turnaround in his personal life and in his professional life. No matter what the critics might say, Wolf, this is going to be a pretty incredible moment, when we see Tiger Woods walk out here into the Rose Garden of the White House and accept this Presidential Medal of Freedom in just a few minutes from now, Wolf.
BLITZER: And we will go there when it happens.
Jim Acosta in the Rose Garden for us, stand by.
I want to bring in Jeff Babineau, former golf writer for "The Orlando Sentinel" who has covered Tiger Woods extensively. He's now with golf services technology, the company called SKYiGOLF. Also with us, Kyle Kopko of Elizabethtown College, who wrote a study on the Medal of Freedom awards, and CNN Sports Analyst, Christine Brennan. She is also a sports columnist for "USA Today."
Well, Kyle, let's talk about this. You studied how different presidents have used the medal of freedom. President Obama really enjoyed holding these ceremonies. What message do you believe President Trump is sending out today?
KYLE KOPKO, POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR, ELIZABETHTOWN COLLEGE: I think he's trying to send a message about what he believes to be great accomplishments.
And I think clearly he does value athletic accomplishments. More -- half of his recipients to date, four out of eight, have had significant athletic accomplishments. Just to place this in context, since the Medal of Freedom was established under the Kennedy administration and through the Obama administration, only 4 percent of recipients were athletes.
Under President Trump, half of his medal recipients were athletes. So this is clearly something that's of great importance to the president.
BLITZER: Our camera is zooming in to the Oval Office there, just inside the White House, the West Wing. You're looking at it from the Rose Garden, where this ceremony will take place. At some point, the president will walk out with Tiger Woods and this ceremony will begin. Christine, this comes at a time when we have seen many athletes take a
stand on political issues and social justice issues. We have seen skipped visits to the White House which have been so traditional over the years, but Tiger Woods has maintained his relationship, his friendship with the president. How has he done that?
CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Tiger is not that guy. Tiger is not going to take that stand. A lot of people want to project onto Tiger something he's not.
Back when Tiger was 21, Wolf, and had just won the Masters for the first time in 1997, really burst on the scene, President Clinton invited him to the 50th anniversary celebration of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball. Tiger said, no, he would not show up, and he went on vacation instead.
Years later, he apologized. But that was Tiger Woods at 21. So, it should be no surprise that Tiger Woods at 43 is very comfortable hanging out with Donald Trump. And you're right. We have seen a lot of athletes, especially athletes of color.
Recently, Alex Cora, the manager of the Red Sox, has just said he will not go to the White House when the team, the Red Sox, go there later this week. Of course, he's Puerto Rican. He says for the obvious reasons of the hurricane and all of the issues there.
And many have taken a stance. Tiger's not that guy. He's not going to take a stand. I don't think he ever will. And that's OK. It's his right, but he's not that person who is going to make the stand the way Serena Williams or LeBron James or Cora or others are doing.
BLITZER: Jeff Babineau, you have been covering and reporting on Tiger Woods' golf career for decades now. What do you make of his getting this lifetime achievement award at the age of 43?
JEFF BABINEAU, EDITOR, GOLFWEEKF: Well, certainly, the timing is a little questionable.
It's awfully young. I think, if you look at the athletes who have received this award, maybe the closest one would be Michael Jordan in his 50s. The other golfers receiving this award, Arnold Palmer was well in his 70s. Jack Nicklaus was into his 60s, and Charlie Sifford was into his 90s when he received it.
So it's seen as a lifetime award. That's the one little bit of questionable thing here, that Tiger is getting it so young. Maybe getting it so young will prompt him to do even bigger things that he's doing off the golf course. He has been doing some great things in terms of education with his foundation. He's changing lives of students and youngsters, but he's very early on in his lifetime journey.
So it just seemed a little peculiar he would receive this award at such an early age.
BLITZER: You know, Kyle, Democrat or Republican, there's no debate that Tiger Woods is a phenomenal athlete. Do you think this potentially is a unifying choice?
KOPKO: I think so.
Generally speaking, athletic accomplishments are neither Democratic nor Republican accomplishments. These are things that all Americans can rally behind. And I think that President Trump's emphasis on athletic achievement is probably intentional.
There's enough controversy already in his presidential administration. This is an opportunity for him to associate his presidential brand with a nonpartisan form of greatness, at least a form of greatness that he greatly appreciates.
BLITZER: We see the vice president there. Vice President Pence is there. The White House Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, is already there. It looks like, you know, Jared Kushner is there as well, although his face is turned away. I think that's him. But they're in the front row.
But you see a lot of empty seats still there. They're going to be filled up, I assume, with representatives of Tiger Woods there as well. So, it looks like this is still a few moments away.
Christine, could Tiger Woods face any serious backlash as a result of this?
BRENNAN: I don't think so, Wolf. Of course, the game of golf, a lot of Republicans play golf. A lot of wealthy people play golf.
So, they're probably...
BLITZER: Let me interrupt you. That's Donald Trump Jr. there. It's not Jared Kushner. I misspoke.
BRENNAN: Sure. Sure. And...
BLITZER: I just saw the side of his face.
BRENNAN: And so -- and the golf industry and the golf world is very pleased to -- I am sure, with a lot of Donald Trump's policies, tax cuts, et cetera.
So, no, Tiger, I don't think will face a backlash from the game of golf at all, and, in fact, he has played golf with -- Tiger Woods, with the president several times, as has Jack Nicklaus. Jack Nicklaus is still revered. Tiger is revered as well.
So, it's just part of the game of golf that I think is obviously at a very elite level. And -- but others certainly, I think, are surprised to see Tiger here, and it is telling about Tiger. And he's allowed to do whatever he wants. Jeff is right about the foundation. Tiger is doing some very good
things. But Tiger has never wanted to take a political stance, and he certainly isn't going to take one now, other than showing up here, which I guess is taking a political stance in many ways.
BLITZER: We saw Melania, the first lady, and we see the president walking out right now. He's going to be introduced. Let's watch this ceremony unfold.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States, accompanied by Eldrick Tiger Woods.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much. Please.
Melania and I are delighted to welcome you to the White House on this beautiful spring evening. This is the Rose Garden, for those of you that don't know, and we use it seldom, but this is one of the times we're using it, Tiger.
Today, it's my privilege to award our nation's highest civilian honor to one of the greatest athletes in the history of sports, Tiger Woods.
Tiger, congratulations on receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
TRUMP: We're thankful to be joined on this occasion by our great vice president.
Mike, thank you very much.
Members of my Cabinet, some of our nation's governors and many distinguished members of the House and the Senate. Thank you all for being here.
We're also pleased to have us -- with us is Tiger's mother, Kultida, his daughter, Sam, and his son, Charlie, his girlfriend, Erica, and his caddy, Joe LaCava.
Where is Joe LaCava? Stand up, Joe. It's a good job. Good job. Wow.
TRUMP: Good job, Joe.
For over five decades, the Presidential Medal of Freedom has been given to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to American life, history, and culture.
This evening, we are in the presence of a true legend, an extraordinary athlete who has transformed golf and achieved new levels of dominance. He's also a great person. He's a great guy. Tiger introduced countless new people to the sport of golf from every background and from every walk of life.
He inspired millions of young Americans with his thrilling wire-to- wire victories. Tiger Woods is a global symbol of American excellence, devotion, and drive.
At just 6 months old, Tiger watched from his high chair as his dad, a very special guy also, Earl -- I got to know him -- a veteran of the Vietnam War and Army Special Forces -- and he was tough, Tiger, wasn't he? But good.
TIGER WOODS, PROFESSIONAL GOLFER: Not as tough as her.
TRUMP: Well, I think she might be tougher.
TRUMP: She might be tougher.
Practiced in the garage of his family home. At 18 months, Tiger was on the driving range, and he was looking good. People were saying, wow. Starting at age 15, he won three successive U.S. junior amateur titles, and, at 18, he became the youngest ever winner of the U.S. amateur tournament.
At 20, he capped off his amateur career with an unrivaled third consecutive title. So, that would be six in a row. And I say that's a record that can never be broken. That's an incredible -- stroke play, match play, everything. That will never be broken.
And in 1996, he burst onto the professional stage as rookie of the year. But it was in 1997 at Augusta National, Bobby Jones' temple to the sport of golf, that the game would forever change.
For four straight days at the Masters Tournament, Tiger stunned the world with his power, grace, and strategic brilliance. He shaped perfect 350-yard drives down Augusta's rolling fairways, went flag- hunting at tucked-away pinned with the heart-stopping precision like nobody has ever seen before. And he buried one clutch putt after another.
On that Sunday, we saw Tiger crush the field by a record margin of 12 strokes -- unheard of -- with the lowest score in Masters history, 270. At 21 years old, he became the youngest Masters champion of all time and the first person of African-American or Asian heritage to win the storied tournament or any of golf's four majors.
As the "New York Times" headline said the next day: "Woods Tears Up Augusta and Tears Down Barriers." Incredible achievement.
After clinching the Green Jacket...
TRUMP: Amazing. After clinching the Green Jacket, Tiger marched straight to his first
coach, his dad, and embraced the man who inspired his enduring love of the game. Then Tiger turned to hug his mom, the steady presence throughout his life -- that's true -- I have seen that, I have watched that -- and the person who told him that red is his power color.
Wow, that was a good move.
TRUMP: That was -- in the years that followed, Tiger launched one of the single most dominant runs in the history of sports. He holds the record for the lowest scoring average in PGA Tour history, 68.17 in 2000.
And, remember, he only plays in the hardest tournaments. That's a pretty amazing thing.
I wonder what would happen if you played 35 a year. Let's try it, Tiger. Come on, that back is in good shape.
TRUMP: He played a record 142 consecutive PGA events without missing a cut. That's incredible. He has a PGA Tour winning percentage of 23 percent of the events he played, a figure that nearly defies comprehension. Nothing like it.
At the punishing 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, the entire field shot over par, but Tiger finished 12 under, the first time in U.S. Open history anyone beat par by double digits. He led the field by 15 strokes, setting the record for the largest margin of victory in the 150-year history of a major golf tournament.
That was the most amazing day of golf I have ever seen.
Tiger's cumulative stroke total was 29 better than the field average. A month later, at the British Open in St. Andrews, the home of golf, Tiger finished 19 under par and eight strokes ahead of the field. He then took the 2001 Masters, becoming the only player in the modern era to win all four major championships in a one-year period, a feat known now as the Tiger Slam.
Tiger's determination and work ethic drove golf to new heights of athletic competition and popularity. The age of Tiger gave us moments that will live forever in sporting lore, such as his unbelievable chip-in on the 16th hole at the Masters.
The shot rolled perfectly along the slope of the green and hung on the edge of the cup for a breathtaking three seconds, before finally dropping in. We have seen that shot many, many times.
In the midst of this success, Tiger suffered severe injury. In 2008, he entered the U.S. Open with two leg fractures and a torn ACL. On the third day at Torrey Pines, he was one over par after the 12 hole, and it really looked like he had no chance. Then came some of the most riveting scenes in golf history.
He eagled the 13th.
Do you remember that, Tiger?
WOODS: I do.
TRUMP: Huh? I thought so. He's got a great memory, this guy.
And he remembers the good stuff, which is really important, not the bad. We don't want to remember -- we just -- what you did there was amazing, because he chipped in for birdie on the 17th and then eagled the 18th hole, all very vivid memories for all of us.
In the final round on the 72nd hole, his ball was buried in very thick rough 101 yards from the pin. And he had to get it up and down to keep his U.S. Open hopes alive.
After hitting a 60-degree wedge to within 15 feet, Tiger willed the putt in to force a playoff. That was a great playoff with Rocco. He fought through the pain and won the dramatic 19-hole playoff on Monday.
Unfortunately, two days later, Tiger announced that he would be unable to compete the rest of the season due to his injuries.
In the years that followed, Tiger endured knee surgery and four excruciating back surgeries.
I know that, you remember, too. That's not good. But it ended up good.
Including a spinal fusion in 2017. He fell from number one in the world rankings to 1,199th. I don't believe that. Even if he had one leg, I don't believe that.
TRUMP: That's got to be the best bet anybody ever made.
Tiger's injuries were so profound that, for two years, he could barely swing a club. As Tiger said: "There was a point in time I didn't know if I would ever do this again," if he would ever play again.
But Tiger fought through the terrible pain, and he fought all the way back to the summit of golf. Last year, we saw a sign of what was to come when he won the Tour Championship. People forget that, but he won the Tour Championship last year.
Then, just weeks ago, the world turned in to the 2019 Masters. And that was something special. What happened next was one of the most incredible comebacks that golf or any sport has ever seen.
On Saturday, Tiger shot six birdies for a score of 67, sending him into the final round tied for second place and just two strokes behind the leader. And they were looking. They were watching. They were saying, oh, no, here we go again.
In gusting winds on Sunday, still behind by two strokes on the 12th, Tiger called upon his wisdom and experience to play for par, while other players shot, and, unfortunately, they found the water. There was a lot of water they found.
He birdied the par five on the 15th to take the lead for the first time in the 2019 Masters. Then, on the 16th, he shaped a perfect draw, and the patrons roared, like they can only do, frankly, at Augusta. As the ball rolled to within feet of the hole, Tiger was back on top and won his first major in 11 years.
And that was some major, with record-setting television.
TRUMP: I don't know if you know about that, Tiger, record-setting ratings.
Just as he did after sinking his final putt on the 18th hole, all the way back in 1997, he went straight to his loved ones and embraced his kids, who were too young to remember the last time he won a major.
As of today, Tiger has 81 PGA Tour victories, one behind the all-time record.
Going to catch that soon.
He's won the second most major championships. He holds the record for most weeks at number one in the world, more than twice as long as anyone else. That's an amazing number.
In addition to his incredible playing career, Tiger is a successful entrepreneur, to put it mildly, and devoted philanthropist. That's how I originally met Tiger. His TGR Foundation supports junior golf programs around the country. His Learning Lab has helped over 165,000 students pursue their dreams in STEM fields.
Tiger, we are inspired by everything you have become and attained. The job you have done is incredible. Your spectacular achievements on the golf course, your triumph over physical adversity, and your relentless will to win, win, win, these qualities embody the American spirit of pushing boundaries, defying limits, and always striving for greatness.
That's what he does.
Congratulations again on your amazing comeback and your amazing life, and for giving sports fans everywhere a lifetime of memories. We can't wait to see what's next, Tiger. It's going to be good. We know that. It's going to be good, because there are no winners like you. [18:25:10]
And now I would like to ask the military aide to come forward and read the citation for Eldrick Tiger Woods' Presidential Medal of Freedom.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eldrick Tiger Woods is one of the greatest golfers of all time. He is second all-time in both professional victories with 81 and major championships with 15, including five Masters, three U.S. Opens, three Open Championships, and four PGA Championships.
With a record-setting performance in 1997, he became the youngest person and first African-American to win the Masters. And, in 2019, he became the tournament's second oldest champion.
Off the course, Tiger established the TGR Foundation, which has empowered students to classroom and career success for more than 20 years.
The United States is now proud to honor Tiger Woods, whose tenacity, willpower, and unyielding drive inspire us all.
WOODS: Thank you, Mr. President, Mrs. Trump.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
WOODS: Thank you, guys. Thank you.
WOODS: I just want to say this has been an unbelievable experience.
And to have the support that I have had for all these years -- and everyone here has seen and been with me for -- some of you for my entire life and some of you for more than half my life. You have seen the good and the bad, the highs and the lows. And I would not be in this position without all of your help.
In '97, yes, I won the Masters. And I was there to -- I ended up hugging my dad and my mom. My dad is no longer here, but my mom is here.
I love you, mom. Thank you.
WOODS: And Sam and Charlie, for all your love and support. I love you guys so much. And, Erica, thank you.
I mean, everyone has been -- you guys have meant so much to me in my life. And I have battled. I have tried to -- I tried hang in there, and I
have tried to come back and play, play the great game of golf again. I have been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to do it again, and I found a game that has allowed me to do this.
And the amazing Masters experience that I just had a few weeks ago certainly is probably the highlight of what I have accomplished so far in my life on the golf course, to have had that type of experience and to be able to come out on top and win.
Joey, thank you. All the great reads, too.
WOODS: I just want to say thank you again.
This is an honor. I know that I'm the fourth golfer to have received this award, the late Arnold Palmer, the great Jack Nicklaus, and Charlie Sifford, who is -- I always called grandpa because he was like the grandpa I never had.
And I ended up becoming so close with him, that I ended up naming my son, Charlie, after him. And so to have been chosen as the next golfer after Charlie is truly remarkable.
So, thank you again.
And thank you, Mr. President.
TRUMP: Come on. Come on up. Come on up, Sam, Charlie.
Thank you very much, everyone (ph).
BLITZER: So there it is, the ceremony, the presidential Medal of Freedom to Tiger Woods, the President and the First Lady applauding. They're going to walk back into the White House. Let's just see if some reporters shout a question or two.
REPORTER: Mr. President, any comment on Michael Cohen, sir?
BLITZER: All right. They're going back into the Oval Office. So you heard one question shouted about Michael Cohen, who began a three-year prison sentence today outside of New York City.
Christine Brennan, let's get your reaction.
BRENNAN: Well, certainly, Tiger was more heartfelt and more emotional than Donald Trump, who I think he didn't skip even one sentence of the Wikipedia entry on Tiger Woods. My goodness, that went on forever. And you can see Donald Trump wants to attach himself to Tiger Woods. And that's what, I think, this was about.
The other part of this whole thing is that when you think about golf and you think about these two men linked together, this was just kind of a bro event, almost like a 19th hole without the alcohol, in the sense that just talking golf. And that's okay. That's what it was, but let's not make it more than it was. It was all about golf and Trump Attaching himself to Tiger Woods.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta, what did you think?
ACOSTA: I think that's right. I mean, this was essentially a moment to put politics aside and really recognize somebody who has, as the President was saying just a few moments ago, experienced this meteoric rebound in his sport.
As we all know in the '90s, Tiger Woods was somebody that we were all watching and cheering on, as we watched him play golf and break barriers in that sport. And as the President was noting during his remarks, Tiger Woods fell pretty far down the ladder in terms of the golfing world, and to be able to climb all the way up to the top and win the Masters as he did last month. It's a pretty stunning achievement in sports.
And you heard Tiger Woods there mentioned the only other three golfers who have been awarded with the presidential Medal of Freedom. And I think that that speaks for itself, Wolf. We just saw, I think, a bit of history here in the Rose Garden of the White House to see Tiger Woods out here.
We did see his family go in with the President and Melania Trump, the First Lady, into the Oval Office a few moments ago. And so I suppose, Wolf, they're having some more -- I guess more time to talk about everything that's unfolded here in the last hour or so.
But, Wolf, I think this was just one of those moments where, yes, it's a rough and tumble world of politics in Washington these days, everybody is at each other's throats. And despite what people think of the President, this was just one of those moments to recognize greatness in the sports world. There's just not going to be another person like Tiger, Wolf -- excuse me, Tiger Woods to come along in this -- in our lifetime, Wolf. And it was pretty remarkable to see that play out in front of us just a few moments ago.
I should point out y did try to ask a question to the President as he was making his way out of the Rose Garden. I asked if he had any comment on Michael Cohen, his former personal attorney who reported to federal prison today. He didn't obviously have a comment for that, but we do have to try. And It is worth noting, Wolf, despite what we were just saying a few moments ago about putting politics aside and honoring somebody who achieved greatness in the world of sports, the President and his team really avoided the questions today, really avoided the cameras today. The President did not really engage in any kind of way to talk about all of these stories with respect to the Mueller report, with respect to whether Robert Mueller should testify. He did Tweet about it, obviously. And, of course, I think what is really a very important and remarkable and profound moment in all of the Trump investigations, and that is to see the President's former personal attorney report to prison, the President not Tweeting about it, not talking about it, but nevertheless, still a very, very big moment in the presidency of Donald Trump, Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, Kyle Kopko, you have written a study on the presidential Medal of Freedom. What did you think?
KOPKO: I thought that this was what we might expect from Donald Trump. Certainly he loves golf. He has a close relationship with Tiger Woods. So I think recognizing him wasn't unexpected. But I think that he also underscored what he values to be an example of American exceptionalism. It's not just athletic achievement, it's perseverance, it's coming back, it's working hard and trying to tell the American people these are characteristics and traits that we should all value. And I think that's something that all presidents try to do when awarding the presidential Medal of Freedom as the nation's highest civic honor.
BLITZER: Let's get a thought from Jeff Babineau. What do you think, Jeff?
BABINEAU: Well, Wolf, I mean, having watched Tiger Woods since he was a teenager, I think now at 43, you see emotion in him, the meaning in a day like this, in an honor like this. It means a lot. It means a lot to have his kids there to see this. He's going to think about his dad, Earl, on a day like this, who always stressed education to him.
I thought it was unfortunate the President chose to focus solely on the golf. Tiger Woods' legacy is going to be well beyond golf when he's said and done. Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer and Charlie Sifford, they all won golf trophies but they all did bigger things off the golf course. Jack and Arnold built huge hospitals and Charlie helped broke through on what was a Caucasian only men's golf tour (ph).
So I think the bigger picture here is that Tiger Woods is -- his legacy is going to be built and it's ahead of him in the future and I thought it was a little unfortunate just to focus on his golf.
BLITZER: Tiger Woods got emotional, which is totally understandable at this ceremony in the Rose Garden. We have a lot of breaking news that we're following here in The Situation Room. We'll get to that right after this quick break.
BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories including two missed deadlines and fights between the Trump administration and democrats in Congress. The Treasury Department just responded to House Democrats' demand to see president Trump's tax returns.
Let's go to CNN's Lauren Fox. She's joining us from Capitol Hill. So what are you hearing, Lauren?
LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICS CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, we heard today that the Treasury Department will not fulfill that request for six years of the President's personal and business tax returns. So the question now is what does House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, the man who requested this information, what does he do next. His office released a statement just a little bit ago, very brief. It said, quote, I will consult with counsel and determine the appropriate response.
And he has a couple of tools at his disposal. Essentially, he could issue a subpoena on top of the request he's already made for the President's tax returns or he could immediately sue, go to court, basically say that the Treasury Department is not fulfilling his request that he believes, under the law, he has the ability to request the President's personal and business tax returns.
But, of course, Wolf, this is just an escalating fight in information that the democrats on Capitol Hill want and the information that the Trump administration is not willing to give them, so just another chapter today in this fight for information on Capitol Hill. Wolf?
BLITZER: There will be many more, no doubt. Lauren Fox, thanks very much.
Let's stay up on Capitol Hill. Our Senior Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju, is following more of the breaking news for us. Manu, the Attorney General, William Barr missed the democrats' deadline to hand over the unredacted full Mueller report. So where does this all go from here?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The House Judiciary Committee plans to have a vote on Wednesday to hold the Attorney General, Bill Barr, in contempt for missing that deadline set by a subpoena to turn over the full Mueller report and the underlying evidence.
Now, the Justice Department did respond this afternoon and said they would try to reach some sort of compromise. They wanted to see if they could cut a deal and have their own meeting with Jerry Nadler, the Chairman of the Committee, on Wednesday. We do expect the House Judiciary Committee to respond to that request.
Now, at the same time, the House Judiciary Committee is trying to get Bob Mueller to testify before their panel despite the President changing his position and now saying he opposes Bob Mueller testifying.
And on the Senate side, Wolf, the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee told me today he is open to Bob Mueller testifying, Lindsey Graham said that he -- if Bob Mueller wants to discuss the phone call that he had with Attorney General Bill Barr in the aftermath of Barr's release of a four-page letter summarizing the overall conclusions of the Mueller report, if Mueller wants to testify, graham told me that he is open to seeing him in public testimony.
Others want him to talk about much more, including Susan Collins, the republican of Maine, who said it would be helpful for the public to hear Mueller's testimony.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: It appears that Mr. Mueller would like to testify. And I think it would give the opportunity for the public to get additional views and clarifications on some parts of his report.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now, Richard Burr, the Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman, is signaling he does not have an interest in bringing in Bob Mueller. So, Wolf, you're seeing a divide among republicans about what to do with Bob Mueller next. Wolf?
BLITZER: Very interesting. All right, Manu, thanks very much.
Let's get some more on all of this. Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois is joining us. He's a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. And as you know, the Treasury Department says it can't, in their words, lawfully fulfill this request to hand over President Trump's tax returns. This is likely now going to go to the courts. But if the President has nothing to hide, why not release his tax returns and move on, as all American presidents have done going back to the Watergate scandal in the '70s?
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: So, look, I said from the beginning, the President should release his tax returns. But what we're talking about is something different now. This is now compelling the President to release his tax returns, which is not a requirement of being president. Sure, it's been a tradition, but it's not a requirement.
And now, Ways and Means has basically said, we want this information. They did not provide a good reason for it. So it's not based on something specific. It's based on, I think, laws like 6103, which says that they can request tax information, but there also has to be a reason.
[18:45:00] So the Justice Department in their response -- well, actually, the treasury secretary in his response cited the Justice Department saying that in fact they're not saying there's a good reason for it.
I honestly think, Wolf, the reason they want President Trump's tax returns is to go through it and try to further embarrass him. We have to file something every week on March 15th or May 15th, which is our statement of economic interest. You can know everything I'm worth, every asset I hold and debt I hold. The president has done that also. So, this is just, I think, an example to further try to embarrass the
president without a real reason to get these things.
BLITZER: It comes as the Trump administration, Congressman, has also missed today's deadline to provide the unredacted Mueller report to Congress. Does it bother you to see the power of the House of Representatives diminished in this way?
KINZINGER: Well, I obviously think we are an equal branch of government, and we have a lot of rights that are equal or in some cases greater than what the president has.
Now, here's a situation with the Mueller report. Chairman Nadler, from what I understand, has not even taken the opportunity to go see the less redacted version of the Mueller report. He's refused to do it. And what he wants to see is something completely unredacted which in many cases especially when you talk about underlying evidence like grand jury testimony, is supposed to be sacred and protected.
So, if Chairman Nadler wants to go and read the less redacted version and then say, hey, there are parts that are redacted that I think could say somehow Trump colluded with Russia, that's one thing, but right now, it seems to me, and I'm someone who tries to be a fair arbiter of these things, but it seems like he's just trying to constantly move the goalpost. He wanted to see the report, then he wanted to see it less redacted, now he wants to see no redactions.
And, fine, if he gets called in to see a no redacted report, what's next? Because it will be something.
BLITZER: It's unfolding, all of this, as the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, actually met with his Russian counterpart today, they met in Finland. Delivered the message that Russian meddling in the U.S. elections is not appropriate, that the U.S. will do everything it can to deter Russia. So, how powerful is that message from Pompeo to Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister, when President Trump refuses to say the same thing to Vladimir Putin?
KINZINGER: Yes, I think it's powerful. I wish the president would say that directly to Vladimir Putin. I have said that a number of times. You know, I think one of the best things we can do to prevent Russian meddling is to expose it. So, if you're on new media, for instance, and you see a story that's completely unrealistic that was originated from RT, it's probably going to be fake news in an attempt to change an election outcome.
So, I think putting light on this is very important, but we have done a lot of things against the Russians when it comes to sanctions, lethal weapons to Ukraine, pushing back against them in Syria, and other things. Yes, I wish the president would directly mention that to Vladimir Putin, but to somehow say that now all of a sudden he's accepting Russian meddling I think is a bridge far.
BLITZER: The U.S. is now deploying an aircraft carrier battle group to deter what the use is calling Iranian aggression. You served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Were you surprised to see this announcement come from the president's national security adviser, John Bolton, as opposed to the Pentagon, which almost always is the one that describes the movement of U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups?
KINZINGER: I think I was surprised by the fact that they have intelligence about this. I'm not necessarily surprised or disappointed that John Bolton did it because I think part of the reason with his announcement is to make it very clear to the Iranians to not attack Americans or allies. Not to close the Straits of Hormuz or whatever this potential attack was.
Keep in mind, a quarter of Americans, a quarter of the Americans that died in the Iraq war were either directly or indirectly related to Iran. So, I think in this case moving the carrier group, being very clear that we will defend ourselves and our allies, is probably the first and most important step to prevent that aggression in the first place.
If you show weakness in that part of the world, they will exploit the weakness. If you show strength, which America can win any conflict it's in against Iran, I think it makes actually aggression from Iran less likely.
BLITZER: Congressman Kinzinger, thanks so much for joining us.
KINZINGER: Anytime, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Let's dig deeper with our correspondents and our analysts.
Jeffrey Toobin, as you heard, the secretary of the treasury, Steve Mnuchin, says they can't lawfully hand over the president's tax returns because in the words of the Treasury Department, there's no legitimate legislative purpose. Do you believe that will hold up in court?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I don't, but I think a court fight will accomplish what the Trump administration has been trying to do in all of this defiance, which is kick the can down the road. It will take months to resolve this, but you know, sometimes laws are complicated.
But the laws about disclosures of tax returns are not complicated. When the House Ways and Means Committee says, we want tax returns, the secretary of the treasury shall. That's the word in the law, shall turn them over.
It's really not complicated, and I think the courts will see it that way eventually.
[18:50:03] BLITZER: Rebecca Buck, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Chairman Neal, he's been cautious so far. But how soon do you expect him to bring all of this to the courts?
REBECCA BUCK, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Wolf, I think cautious is the keyword there. And we saw the statement from Neal today saying he's going to consult with counsel on this but he's going to evaluate his options.
And what Democrats want to demonstrate here is that they're taking their time. They're not rushing into anything. They're not being rash. They want to bring the American people with them, make sure they understand their rationale so there isn't any political backlash.
And so, as Lauren laid out in her report, Lauren Fox, there could be a subpoena, there could be legal action taken moving forward and those are the options before the committee, before Neal. But I think they are going to be cautious and take their time here and not rush into anything because they don't want to take a political risk, they don't want to overstep.
BLITZER: Sabrina Siddiqui, the Trump administration also missed the House Judiciary Committee's deadline for the unredacted Mueller report. But the Justice Department extend said an offer to negotiate the continued efforts to negotiate on Wednesday.
Do you think that's simply a stall tactic?
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's hard to say. It does look like the Justice Department wants to pull back on what has been a dramatic escalation between Democrats in Congress and the Trump administration. And what he effectively said to Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is, come by on Wednesday, and let's try and hash out a way forward. This was, of course, missing the deadline Nadler had set forth 9:00 a.m. today to share an unredacted version of the Mueller report with Congress, and the underlying evidence that was directly cited in the report.
The real question is whether there's going to be any breakthrough on grand jury information. That's what this is all about. Nadler believes that members of Congress are entitled to grand jury information, and they're asking the Justice Department to work with them to seek a court order so that Congress can access that information.
I think anything short of that from the Attorney General William Barr will not be sufficient in the eyes of Democrats who are prepared to move forward on Wednesday with a vote to hold Barr in contempt of Congress.
BLITZER: You know, Jeffrey, the president has also now has reversed himself on the special counsel's testimony before Congress. The president now says Mueller should not testify. What do you think he's potentially afraid of?
TOOBIN: Well, I think he just doesn't want more attention to this story, and obviously Mueller's testimony would be an enormous focus.
You know, it's one thing to have a 450-page document that some people may read. It is also a very different thing to have the author of that document telling the story. Look, most people get their news from screens. They don't get them from print, and this would be a very big deal. What's complicated here is that the attorney general has said
previously he had no objection. What Barr will do is not clear to me, but it is also possible that Mueller will simply leave his position. He's going to leave it soon anyway. He'll then be a private citizen. At that point, it'll be up to him whether he testifies, not up to his superiors in the Justice Department.
BLITZER: Everybody, standby.
We have more news coming up and we'll do that right after a quick break.
[18:55:58] BLITZER: Just days after President Trump talked with Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met face-to-face with his Russian counterpart in Finland today.
Let's go to our Senior International Correspondent, Fred Pleitgen. He's on the scene for us in Finland.
Fred, what happened?
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's exceptional to see the change in tone in some of the administration officials. When you look at some of the things that Mike Pompeo told you for instance last week, for instance, about Russia's maligned activity as he called in Venezuela, today, a completely different tone of voice. And the Russians are very happy about it.
Here's what we saw.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): Tonight, Russia's foreign minister clearly pleased following a meeting with Secretary of State Pompeo in Finland.
SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): I think we had a pretty significant step forward in developing the discussion that President Putin and President Trump had in their phone conversation a few days ago.
PLEITGEN: The meeting comes after President Trump's phone call with Vladimir Putin last Friday. The crisis in Venezuela was high on the agenda. America saying embattled President Nicolas Maduro must lead power, and the Russians continuing to back Maduro.
But while administration officials just last week said Russia needed to get out of Venezuela, Secretary Pompeo telling Wolf he believes Moscow was even preventing him from fleeing, something Russia denies. Tonight, a far more moderate tone.
MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: We have interests that are definitely different, and there'll be places where we run into hard stuff pretty quickly, but there was no doubt there was a desire to begin to try and find paths where we can make real progress, places where we have overlapping interests, as narrow as they may be and hope we can achieve it.
PLEITGEN: While U.S. officials continue to insist the use of military force in Venezuela remains on the table, since the call between President Trump and Vladimir Putin, after which President Trump said he doesn't believe Putin wants to get involved in Venezuela, the Russians clearly aren't spying America's threats.
LAVROV (through translator): We are categorically against military actions, wherever they would be. I from my contacts with the American colleagues and others do not see any supporters of a reckless military solution, and I hope that this understanding that all the participants have will be turned into practical policy, that there will not be a military intervention because that would be catastrophic.
PLEITGEN: While President Trump said he didn't bring up Russia's election meddling in their recent call, Secretary Pompeo said he did raise the issue with Lavrov.
POMPEO: Same thing I shared with him each time we had a chance to cover that particularly topic which is that it's not appropriate and we're going to do everything we can to deter it.
PLEITGEN: You know, Wolf, one of the things that the Kremlin has consistently been saying is they've been saying they've always believed that President Trump wants better relations with the Russians, but that it's pressure from Congress and also the special counsel investigation in the past that made that impossible.
Now, of course, special counsel investigation is over and the Kremlin and the White House also seem to see inroads to try and get those relations on track fairly quickly, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Fred Pleitgen, thank you very much.
Finally tonight, Britain's Prince Harry and his American wife Meghan Markle, they've announced the birth of their son, a climax of months of mania among royal watchers. The baby weighed in -- get this -- seven pounds, three ounces. No name has been announced, at least not yet.
But in an Instagram post, the duke and duchess of Sussex thanked the public for all the support and kindness they're receiving. And the duke of Sussex did speak on camera.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRINCE HARRY, DUKE OF SUSSEX: Meghan and myself had a baby boy early this morning, a very healthy boy. Mother and baby are doing incredibly well. It's been the most amazing experience I could ever possibly imagine.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Congratulations to the new mom and dad. Our best wishes to them.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. Thanks for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.