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THE SITUATION ROOM
Multiple Injuries After Shooting At School In Suburban Denver; Iran's Movement Of Ballistic Missiles Prompted U.S. Military Buildup In Middle East; Contempt Vote Against Barr Still Set Despite Negotiations; Secretary Of State Mike Pompeo Makes Unannounced Trip To Iraq; Interview With Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) On Middle East Tensions; Judiciary Chairman And House Dems Discuss Next Steps In Barr, McGahn Standoffs; Pompeo Makes Unannounced Trip To Iraq To Discuss Increasing Tensions With Iran; Jill Biden Opens Up About Her Life, Marriage, and Family. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired May 7, 2019 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And our thanks to Bill Weir. We're going to continue to follow that breaking news, that school shooting outside Denver, Colorado. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks so much for watching.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news: next steps. The powerful chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, meets with his fellow Democrats to plot strategy in a growing standoff with the Trump White House.
A contempt vote against the attorney general, William Barr, remains set for tomorrow, despite negotiations this afternoon. The White House also ordered Don McGahn to ignore a committee subpoena to turn over his documents.
Could he be cited for contempt as well?
Democrats are livid after the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declares case closed on the Mueller investigation. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the case is not closed.
Is she correct when she complains President Trump is, quote, "goading us to impeach him."
Iran threat: CNN is learning alarming new information about what led to a new U.S. military buildup in the Middle East.
Why are the Iranians moving short-range ballistic missiles by boat?
And he's ready: Joe Biden's wife, Jill, sits down with CNN's Dana Bash to discuss her family, the shattering loss of Biden's son, Beau, and the controversy over her husband's questionable touching of other women.
How does she feel about his new race for the White House?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories. House Democrats are meeting right now to discuss what to do after this afternoon's negotiating session involving committee staffers and the Justice Department. A vote to cite the attorney general, William Barr, for contempt of Congress remains set for tomorrow.
Barr is refusing Democrats' demands for access to the full Mueller report. And in another missed deadline, former White House counsel Don McGahn failed to turn over documents requested by the committee. The White House is raising the possibility of invoking executive privilege.
Also breaking, new details in what's behind the alarming increase in tensions between the United States and Iran. U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the situation tell CNN intelligence shows the Iranians likely are moving short-range ballistic missiles aboard boats in the Persian Gulf.
They say it's a critical reason why the U.S. decided to move an aircraft carrier strike group and B-52 bombers into the region.
Democratic Senator Chris Coons, a member of the Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees, is standing by to take our questions. And our correspondents and analysts, they will have full coverage of the day's top stories. All that coming up.
But let's begin with another story that's breaking right now, this one in Colorado, where multiple students are injured in a shooting incident at a school. CNN's Nick Watt is monitoring the situation for us.
Nick, what can you tell us?
NICK WATT, CNN REPORTER (voice-over): Well, Wolf, the latest we are hearing is two people injured and also we have just heard from the sheriff's department, two suspects are in custody.
Now it is unclear if there are any other active shooters in the area. But the authorities tell us that they are still looking to make sure there is not at least one more active shooter on the loose.
And they are also right now clearing that school, room by room. It is the STEM school in Highlands Ranch, which is a suburb of Denver. It's a K-12 charter school, about 1,850 students. And the call came in at 1:53 local time that shots had been fired.
As we're saying, the latest we're hearing on injuries is two injured. The local sheriff's department is still the lead on this. But the FBI and the ATF are also involved.
Wolf, of course, we have just passed the 20-year anniversary of the horrific Columbine school shooting, also in the Denver area. But the latest we are hearing now, two injured, two suspects in custody. Authorities checking there is not another shooter on the loose. And they say they'll get back to us with more information in about 10 minutes -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We'll check back with you, Nick Watt, reporting for us. Thank you.
Let's also get the latest right now on the standoff between the Trump administration and congressional investigators. Let's go to our Chief White House Correspondent, Kaitlan Collins. She's joining us right now.
Are there any signs of cooperation?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Not really, Wolf. And today, just more so evidence of that, of the standoff between the White House and House Democrats after the White House told the former counsel, Don McGahn, not to comply with the subpoena to turn over documents that he has because, instead, they're saying they're not asserting executive privilege yet.
But Wolf, they want to make sure the Democrats --
COLLINS: -- know they still feel that they have that possibility, even though there are questions inside the White House and around Washington about whether or not they can invoke executive privilege over Don McGahn's testimony.
COLLINS (voice-over): Tonight, the White House is stopping Don McGahn from turning over documents to House Democrats, the latest jab in the oversight showdown with the administration.
In a letter, current White House Counsel, Pat Cipollone, telling the House Judiciary Committee, that the former White House counsel will be ignoring their subpoena, arguing that President Trump may want to assert executive privilege in the future and McGahn does not have the legal right to disclose these documents to third parties.
House investigators subpoenaed the documents as part of their investigation into obstruction of justice and were hoping to make McGahn their star witness.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: It's harassing and embarrassing. Eating fried chicken and acting like fools is not part of the oversight function, the last time I looked.
COLLINS (voice-over): Republicans are urging Congress to move on. SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: We had two years for Mueller to take a look at this. He filed a report. It's on the Internet. Everybody can see it. It's over.
COLLINS (voice-over): But the gap between them and Democrats is wide, with Democrats still trying to gain access to the full, unredacted Mueller report.
Today, staff from the House Judiciary Committee met with Justice Department officials to try to reach an agreement on the matter. But the committee is preparing to hold attorney general Bill Barr in contempt of Congress if he doesn't turn it over. Democrats had a blistering response to McConnell's claim that the case is closed.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: So our leader says, let's move on. It's sort of like Richard Nixon saying, let's move on at the height of the investigation of his wrongdoing.
COLLINS (voice-over): House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Trump is making his own case for obstruction of justice.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: Trump is goading us to impeach him. That's what he's doing. Every single day, he's just like, taunting, taunting, taunting, because he knows that it would be very divisive in the country. But he doesn't really care. He just wants to solidify his base.
CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: I'm honored to be here today.
COLLINS (voice-over): And today the FBI director breaking with the attorney general.
WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: Yes, I think spying did occur.
COLLINS (voice-over): Chris Wray telling lawmakers he doesn't agree with Bill Barr's use of the word "spying."
WRAY: Well, that's not the term I would use. Look, there are lots of people that have different colloquial phrases. I believe that the FBI is engaged in investigative activity and part of investigative activity includes surveillance activity of different shapes and sizes and to me the key question is making sure that it's done by the book.
COLLINS (voice-over): Barr said last month the Trump campaign was spied on during the FBI's investigation into potential collusion with Russia, an assertion Wray said he couldn't back up today.
SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: And at this time, do you have any evidence that any illegal surveillance into the campaigns or individuals associated with the campaigns by the FBI occurred?
WRAY: I don't think I personally have any evidence of that sort.
(END VIDEOTAPE) COLLINS: Now Wolf, U.S. stocks fell sharply today as the markets were reacting to the latest news about these trade talks with China. Right now, our sources tell us that the U.S. trade delegation is sitting back and waiting to see if China's chief trade negotiator does show up in Washington this week because they think, if he does, it's a good sign for the talks.
But, Wolf, if not, you can expect those tariffs to go into effect at midnight on Friday.
BLITZER: Lots at stake in those talks, as well. Kaitlan Collins over at the White House, thank you.
Let's go to our Congressional Correspondent, Phil Mattingly. He's up on Capitol Hill, where Democrats are discussing their next steps in the face of several missed deadlines and continued defiance from both the White House and the Justice Department.
You know, Phil, there was a meeting today between the Department of Justice staffers, House Judiciary Committee staffers.
What have you learned?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN U.S. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: "All systems go," Wolf. Those are the words from one House Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, who just emerged from a closed door meeting of Democratic members to discuss next steps forward.
They are still planning at this moment to hold that contempt vote related to the attorney general, William Barr, and their subpoena for the full unredacted Mueller report, as well as the underlying investigative materials.
Now as you noted, earlier today, there was a meeting here on Capitol Hill between Justice Department staffers and committee staffers. I'm told that the Justice Department did lay out an offer that would have included expanding the universe of people who could come to DOJ and view the Mueller report.
At least at this moment in time, that was not good enough for House Democrats, at least those emerging from the closed door meeting just a short few minutes ago.
Now they do say that the Justice Department and the Judiciary Committee will continue negotiations through the night, to see if there is some type of way to reach an amicable resolution. But at this point in time, given the Justice Department's position and given the Democrats' --
MATTINGLY: -- broad request for materials that the Justice Department has made very clear, over several letters and several exchanges with the committee, they are not willing to comply with, at least not in full, at this moment in time, at 10:00 am tomorrow morning, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a vote to hold the attorney general in contempt -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Could the former White House Counsel, Don McGahn, be next to face a possible contempt of Congress vote?
MATTINGLY: It's definitely a possibility. Look, Judiciary Committee members and staff are still discussing the way forward on that. It's interesting to note; in the letter to the committee from the attorney for Don McGahn earlier today, they noted that the White House said that some of the documents, more than three dozen types of documents that the committee had subpoenaed, could potentially run afoul of executive privilege issues.
Now the White House has not invoked executive privilege. They have just said that they declined to allow Don McGahn to turn over those documents. What they did not address -- and what I'm told by sources has not been figured out yet -- is whether or not they will also decline to allow Don McGahn to come testify in a couple of weeks, which he was also subpoenaed to do.
These are all open questions that still need to be figured out. The one reality here is, when you talk to Democrats, they say because of how much of Don McGahn's testimony was unveiled into the public realm through the Mueller report, he has essentially waived executive privilege.
So has the White House. The White House, at least based on their response today, doesn't necessarily agree with that assessment. What that means more than anything else is this, along with several other issues right now, not just in the Judiciary Committee but multiple committees, Wolf, it is likely to end up in court.
It is likely to be a very interesting battle in terms of the full scope and scale of what executive privilege means and it could take a long time. But there is still a very open question as to whether this will pertain to Don McGahn's testimony, something committee staff, committee members and the White House are going to have to figure out in the days ahead -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill with the latest there. Thank you.
Also breaking tonight, an alarming increase in tensions between the United States and Iran. The Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, today abruptly canceled his scheduled meetings with German officials and left on an undisclosed mission. Let's go to our Pentagon Correspondent, Barbara Starr.
Barbara, is the U.S. on the brink now of a significant, potential confrontation with Iran?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The Pentagon certainly hopes not. They are still working on deterrence. Here is the latest we know about the threat, Wolf.
U.S. officials are telling us that what they have seen is that Iran is likely moving short-range missiles around, ballistic missiles, on boats in the Persian Gulf. You look at the map, you look at the vast area involved, it's the Persian Gulf.
And there is concern that Iranians are also moving these kinds of weapons over to the Red Sea, where U.S. shipping comes down from the Suez Canal.
What to do about it remains the next question. We know the threat it could pose to shipping, the threat it could pose to U.S. forces up and down the Persian Gulf. They are spread out throughout the area.
The U.S. now talking behind the scenes about possibly sending additional forces, sending anti-missile capability, perhaps Patriot missiles, to the region. They hope that the aircraft carrier, that the B-52 bombers will be enough to deter Iran, that Iran will see that it could not succeed if it were to launch some kind of an attack.
But the real possibility exists tonight that they will send additional force Patriot missile batteries, possibly, because these ballistic missiles -- the problem is, if they are moving around on the water, the U.S. will have further difficulty trying to track them, trying to find out if these missiles have been put ashore and are being planned for any launch in these areas, launched against U.S. forces -- Wolf.
BLITZER: How concerned, Barbara, are U.S. officials, military officials, over at the Pentagon and intelligence community right now about Iran's involvement, activities going on with the Shiite militia support in Iraq right now?
And I did some checking. The U.S. still has 5,200 U.S. troops in Iraq, almost 7,000 contractors in Iraq and Syria, mostly in Iraq, half of whom are U.S. citizens. Others are third country nationals.
What's the latest thinking over there at the Pentagon about what Iran is up to in Iraq?
STARR: Well, this is one of the very critical issues, Wolf, because these Iranian-backed militias, Iran's Revolutionary Guard corps, led by the most militant wings, these are the portions of Iranian security, military force that often may not be under complete control of the central government in Iran.
So what are their intentions?
What are they planning?
And there is a real concern that it is those very militia groups that exert tremendous influence in places like Iraq and Syria. But they are not always under control of the government.
And if they are the ones, especially the Revolutionary Guard corps, stirring up this kind of trouble, that's something the U.S. may find even more difficult to try to get a handle on -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, we're just learning --
[17:15:00] BLITZER: -- right now, even as you're speaking, Barbara, that CNN has learned that the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, did make this undisclosed visit to Iraq right now, to discuss growing tensions with Iran.
This is a significant development. He was supposed to meet, I think tomorrow, with Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany. But he canceled that visit and made this undisclosed visit to Iraq right now amidst this growing tension that's going on between the U.S. and the Iranians.
What else can you tell us on that front?
STARR: Well, let's just go back one second, Wolf, to what you were saying. In fact, Iran's militias, some of the most militant wings of Iranian security forces, do operate inside Iraq. This has been a real concern for the U.S.
The Iraqis, because of their proximity, there has been Iranian influence in and out of Iraq over the years. So that's point number one.
There is also concern, because, of course, the Trump administration is trying to shut down Iran's oil exports. And that is something that is causing the Iranian government, obviously, to be very unhappy. They don't want to lose that revenue stream.
So these economic relationships between Iraq and Iran are something that the U.S. tries to keep a very close eye on. We don't know exactly what the secretary of state talked to the Iraqis about.
But you can assume very fairly, I think, that all of this was on the table and that Secretary Pompeo is trying to get support within the region about an understanding that the U.S. view, at least, is Iran is up to an escalation of tensions.
And let's be very clear. The administration has not publicly said what this threat is. And there are a lot of people around the world that have a lot of doubt about any U.S. administration claiming a new threat in the Middle East.
People remember the weapons of mass destruction, the run-up to the Iraq War in 2003. There is a lot of doubt out there, when the U.S. suddenly starts talking about this. John Bolton, the national security adviser, a very well-known Iran hawk, a lot of concern that he is escalating, by approving some of these efforts of sending U.S. troops, that he's certainly -- U.S. forces. He's certainly not objecting to it.
Is he escalating the threat?
These are the questions that people are asking because the administration, this intelligence is highly classified. They're certainly not at the point where they're going to show it to the world. They are hoping, at least here at the Pentagon, that essentially there
is silence, the dog doesn't bark, that the Iranians begin to understand that they cannot succeed, if they were to take this step to attack U.S. forces in the region, that this deterrent strategy of an aircraft carrier, a strike group, the U.S. bomber force, possibly Patriot missiles will be enough to deter Iran. That is what they hope at the Pentagon, what the secretary of state may be up to can be a completely different question -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I want you to stand by, Barbara. Michelle Kosinski is over at the State Department. She's getting more information on this unannounced visit by the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, to Iraq, amid these growing tensions with Iran.
What are you learning, Michelle?
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Finally, we're able to report this, that he spent roughly four hours on the ground. He met with the prime minister and president of Iraq.
And he did speak to reporters on the plane who, of course, weren't allowed to give any details until just now. He spoke to them before he landed, though. So before the secretary had these meetings, he talked about why he was going, because of the Iranian threat that Barbara just described in great detail.
He said he wanted to talk to the leadership there to assure them that the U.S. stands ready to ensure that Iraq remains a sovereign country. Also, he talked about energy independence for Iraq.
And this is not about the U.S. making energy deals and making more commerce with Iraq but to try to separate them as much as possible from the influence of Iran. So he wants to talk to them about remaining energy independent from Iran.
He also talked about the severity of this threat, that it is significant. So he wanted to make this emergency trip, to change his schedule, to go there and speak face to face with leadership, in the face of this looming threat and to make sure that they knew that the U.S. is onboard and to continue those discussions from there -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, Michelle, it's sort of pitiful; it's very, very sad that, 16 years after the U.S. invaded Iraq to get rid of the Saddam Hussein regime, now 16 years later, an American secretary of state or any other senior American official can't go to Iraq without it being highly classified, very secret, no advance word --
BLITZER: -- getting out, given the awful security situation that still remains in Iraq after all of these years.
It's a very, very sad commentary on what's going on in Iraq right now, that Pompeo felt that American reporters, traveling with him in that so-called pool, couldn't disclose where he was going because of security concerns, that he and that delegation could be in danger. What are you hearing from U.S. officials about the awful situation in
Iraq 16 years after the war?
KOSINSKI: Well, they're saying very little about this but we knew from the start that when the State Department -- or for that matter, the White House behaves this way regarding travel -- we know it's an area of active hostility, somewhere where the security situation is so sensitive that they want as few people as possible to even know that the official is traveling there.
So we knew there were only a couple of places that fit this description and, of course, Iraq is one of them. We've heard plenty from this administration over the last few weeks about the threat that Iran poses to the region.
And we see that this is now a growing threat, based on that excellent reporting that Barbara Starr got, about that, as we speak, Iran is moving short-range missiles around by boat, posing an additional threat to U.S. travel to Iraq.
A close ally of the U.S. in this region, such a key country that the U.S. wants to keep as independent as possible from Iran, and you can see how critical that is right now -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It certainly is. We're showing our viewers pictures of the secretary of state meeting with the top Iraqi leadership in Baghdad just a little while ago. I want you, Michelle, to stand by, as well. I want to continue this conversation with Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. He's a key member of both the Foreign Relations and the Judiciary Committees.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us. Let me get your reaction to the breaking news, the secretary of state Mike Pompeo making this unannounced trip to Baghdad in Iraq in light what the U.S. officials, Trump administration officials claim is a new and escalating threat for Iran.
SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: Wolf, this is a striking development. It's a reminder of how hard we need to work to protect American forces in Iraq and Syria, in Bahrain and in Qatar. We still have significant forces in the region. We are still, obviously, actively engaged in Afghanistan, which is not that far. It's just on the other side of Iran.
And I am concerned about public reports that American troops in the region may well be at risk of Iranian attacks. So I'm encouraged that Secretary Pompeo is investing the time and the initiative to buttress our relationship with our Iraqi partners.
But as you just mentioned, Wolf, it's also striking to think about the fact that, so far, so many years after the conclusion of our active combat role in Iraq, it is still not safe, it is still not settled. And I frankly think we need to be working more closely in coordination with our core allies.
The ways in which our president has recently made significant policy announcements on Twitter or abruptly, without consultation with our allies, undermines efforts to try and build a regional coalition to contain Iran and to make sure that everyone who is working with us, whether it was in the counter-ISIS coalition or in a coalition to contain Iran, is fully informed and on board.
BLITZER: The Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, he canceled a scheduled meeting with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the German foreign minister in order to make this unannounced visit to Iraq. I know you're being briefed on the latest development.
How urgent is this Iranian threat to U.S. interests in that part of the world?
COONS: Wolf, I have not gotten a specific briefing on the current intelligence about the Iranian threat, so I don't want to misrepresent how many members of the Senate have been briefed on this.
I think it is, at this point, at a very high level, only the most senior folks here and folks on intelligence. So obviously, what I know is just from press reports.
Iran does have an advanced and sophisticated ballistic missile capability. Iran is a very malign actor in the region. And for them to support the Houthi rebels in Yemen, including by sending them missiles, they have engaged in a lot of illicit shipping of material in the region.
I suspect that, in order to raise the alarm to this level, where we're deploying an aircraft carrier group and where the secretary of state is making this unannounced visit, there must be much more pressing intelligence or reasons why we need to be more actively engaged in protecting our troops in the region.
BLITZER: Yes, the U.S. is moving that aircraft carrier battle group, that strike group, to the region, also some bombers, as well. Earlier today your colleague, the independent senator, Angus King of Maine, said, and I'm quoting him now, "I have this creepy feeling that this is a weapons of --
BLITZER: -- mass destruction in Iraq and that there are motions towards a confrontation with Iran, that it would be, it would be a very, very serious conflict."
He's suggesting that he's worried about whether all of these escalated fears are genuine.
COONS: Well, that is a legitimate concern. As you mentioned in a previous segment, others around the world still remember the tragic error of our invasion of Iraq on faulty intelligence.
I do think it's important that we in Congress both hold the administration accountable for briefing us fully before taking any significant military action but also, keep in mind, that we've got troops at risk in that region. And Iran is a truly bad actor, not just in this immediate region but
around the world. So we have to strike a responsible balance here on this particular issue, Wolf, and make sure that we are protecting our troops while still making sure that the intelligence presented is sound and is credible and actionable.
BLITZER: Well, I want to move on to some other issues.
But do you have confidence in the president's national security team, the secretary of state, the national security adviser, the acting Secretary of Defense?
COONS: There's nothing about this situation that would give me grounds to say I don't have confidence in them. I have real concerns about how they've been conducting foreign policy; in particular, taking us out of important multi-lateral agreements, putting at risk our long-standing alliances with NATO or in the Pacific.
But I have no reason to have a lack of confidence in the decision- making in this specific scenario.
BLITZER: All right. I want to move on to some other issues. We're going to continue to stay on top of all the breaking news involving this unannounced visit by the secretary of state Mike Pompeo to Baghdad. But let me get your thoughts on some other developments unfolding. And you're on the Judiciary Committee.
The White House says that Don McGahn, the president's former White House counsel doesn't have the legal right to provide documents subpoenaed by Congress.
Do you believe this is a valid legal argument?
COONS: Well, I don't think so. I think Don McGahn -- frankly I think it's the president who has waived executive privilege by allowing Don McGahn to testify to the special counsel and share things to the president's own personal attorneys. That's an issue that may end up being litigated in court.
More broadly, it's pretty striking that, just a few weeks ago, the president was claiming complete and total exoneration and is now taking steps to prevent Don McGahn, the White House counsel who provided so much information to the special counsel, from even appearing in front of Congress.
I do think this is one of those instances where -- I'll repeat a line I said a number of times before. If the president's truly innocent, he ought to act like it and allow White House counsel McGahn to testify to Congress.
BLITZER: One of the arguments they make over at the White House is that the president allowed Don McGahn to spend 30 hours testifying before the special counsel, Robert Mueller and his investigations, because that was also within the executive branch, the Justice Department, of the U.S. government. And it's different than allowing McGahn to testify before the
legislative branch, a different branch of the U.S. government, namely the Congress.
Do you believe that's a valid argument?
COONS: I don't. We have a specific and unique role under the Constitution in the Congress in terms of overnight and accountability for actions of the President of the United States. And if there's anything we learned from the Mueller report, it was, first, there is a blinding clarity now, that Russia really did engage in a broad spectrum effort to interfere in our 2016 election.
And we need to be doing more to protect our upcoming elections in 2020. But second, that there were 10 different specific instances when members of the administration or the president himself engaged in conduct which could credibly be described as obstruction of justice or the elements of an obstruction of justice.
And I think that deserves oversight by the Congress of the United States.
BLITZER: Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, thanks so much for joining us.
COONS: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: We're going to stay on top of all of the breaking news and several stories that are unfolding right now. We'll do that right after a quick break.
[17:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: We're following two major breaking stories right now. We've just learned Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Iraq today to discuss escalating tensions between the United States and Iran. Much more on that coming up.
Here in Washington, House Democrats are plotting their next move after a round of negotiations with the Justice Department over demands to see the unredacted, full Mueller report. Let's get some more from our experts, our reporters, our specialists.
And, Dana Bash, what's the latest, first of all, in this fight for access to the unredacted Mueller report?
BASH: There's still a standoff, Wolf. I mean, that's just the bottom line. But I think the good news here is that, for the first time that I can remember, there's actually a negotiation. Whether or not it gets anywhere, that's an open question.
[17:34:52] But the fact that Justice Department officials were talking to members of the House Judiciary panel, Democrats who are demanding this information, is better than what we've seen on a whole host of other issues where the White House has just said, no, we're not -- we're not doing that, we're not giving it to you, end of story. Whether or not it ends with Democrats getting what they want or even
more importantly, them coming to some conclusion or compromise, that is definitely TBD.
BLITZER: Sabrina Siddiqui, what will it signify if the committee in Congress moves forward with tomorrow's vote to hold the Attorney General William Barr in contempt?
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: Well, it would certainly mark a major escalation on the part of Democrats in Congress and send a clear message that they have not found the Attorney General to be in compliance with their request to see the full, unredacted Mueller report. They have not found the Justice Department to be transparent.
But to Dana's point, the question is, what, if anything, will actually change in terms of the negotiations between the House Judiciary Committee and the Justice Department around those redactions? Around whether or not Congress is able to access grand jury material, which Jerry Nadler, the House Judiciary Committee has said he believes Congress is entitled to?
What Democrats are seeking is for the Attorney General to work with them on a court order to allow them to access that grand jury material, so will moving forward with this contempt vote, perhaps, end up in a situation where you see another breakdown between both sides with respect to those negotiations?
But it will also provide an opportunity for Democrats to take some action, even if it is symbolic at a time when there are other voices on Capitol Hill from within the party who are calling for the Attorney General to be impeached. That's something that Democrats are not acting on at this stage.
BLITZER: Susan Hennessey, the Judiciary Committee Chairman, Jerry Nadler, is also considering holding the former White House Counsel, Don McGahn, in contempt. In contempt after the administration instructed him not to cooperate with Congress. How much power does the Chairman, Jerry Nadler, have over Barr and McGahn for that matter?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Well, initially, it's not clear whether or not McGahn is actually going to go along with the White House on this. The White House doesn't actually have any power over McGahn as a former employee, and McGahn might decide that it's not worth sort of the stress and money of litigating something, especially because the White House really has -- does not have a meritorious legal argument.
You know, we should -- they have clearly waived executive privilege, and we should consider for a minute how crazy their position is. Their position is that there is executive privilege over information that any one of us could go right now and read on the Department of Justice's Web site because they themselves have released it. It's a little bit absurd.
Now, obviously, Bill Barr is refusing to testify before the House right now. If McGahn went -- if McGahn did the same and decided to side with the White House and essentially refuse to testify, Nadler could hold them both in contempt of Congress, either or both of them.
Now, ultimately, that's not going to go any -- that's not going to have much practical consequence. If Nadler decided to pursue what's called statutory contempt charges, he would need to ask the Department of Justice to prosecute that.
The Department of Justice, headed by Bill Barr, is not going to do that. That's essentially what we saw happen whenever Eric Holder was held in contempt of Congress back when he was the Attorney General.
Ultimately, though, this probably isn't going to be decided by a court. These things tend to be resolved through a process of negotiation. You know, the Attorney General cannot stonewall Congress forever.
And it's also not clear how much more of his life Don McGahn is willing to give up, you know, in terms of cost and really having a court battle for a president who is, after all, accusing him on Twitter of committing crimes by lying to investigators, even right now.
BLITZER: Ryan Lizza, what is the Trump administration afraid of, specifically the President, if McGahn were to testify before Congress in open session? What are they afraid he might reveal?
RYAN LIZZA, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, ESQUIRE: Yes.
BLITZER: I ask the question because he did reveal a lot in 30 hours of questioning by the Mueller investigators, and we read all of that in great detail in that 400-page report.
LIZZA: Yes, absolutely. And I don't know that it's his -- if they're afraid that he will reveal anything new. I mean, what is revealed in the Mueller report by Don McGahn is probably one of the most damning passages in that report.
In the section on obstruction of justice, there is a very detailed narrative that partly comes from McGahn that the President asked him to fire Mueller, and he basically ignored his requests. So McGahn was a very important witness for Mueller. He's a very important witness when it comes to the obstruction of justice allegations.
And I think the Democrats want maybe a little bit more from him in terms of the narrative and what his view of this was. But most importantly, they want him in front of a camera, saying what the Mueller report said. They want, you know, frankly, for certain political reasons to be the face -- you know, the key witness and face of the President obstructing justice because that is the -- he is the key witness in the Mueller report.
[17:40:04] So, you know, as Susan said, it's sort of silly that they're talking about executive privilege. I mean, that privilege was already waived, right? We already -- we already have the account. We already have the facts, they're in the report. But Democrats want that face up on the Hill.
BLITZER: You know, John Kirby, you're a retired admiral. You were the Pentagon spokesman. We're learning now that Iran is likely moving short-range ballistic missiles by boats in the Persian Gulf.
We're also learning about additional equipment the U.S. is deploying to the region, including an aircraft carrier, strike force bombers, and the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo making an unannounced visit to Baghdad because of what the administration sees as escalating tensions with Iran. What does this say to you?
JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Well, certainly, it conveys to me that whatever the intelligence they had was specific and urgent enough to warrant additional capabilities.
As you know, Wolf, we have a very robust force presence there in the Middle East. These kinds of forces, to include now, according to Barbara Starr's reporting now, perhaps missile defense capabilities, tells me that they want to establish an overwhelming capability that Iran definitely could not try to get -- to thwart.
So this is about deterrence. It's about convincing Iran that anything they might do to threaten U.S. allies or U.S. forces in the region would be met with overwhelming force.
BLITZER: The -- I mean, I'm just curious to get your thoughts because you've been involved in this situation for a long time. What does it say to you that 16 years after the war in Iraq in 2003 to get rid of the Saddam Hussein, an American Secretary of State still -- still -- can't visit Baghdad without it being top, top secret, out of fear of -- concern of security involving the Secretary of State?
KIRBY: Well, I think you answered it in the question yourself, Wolf. It tells you that the securities environment there in Iraq is still very, very tenuous and still very dangerous. But I do think that his trip was the right call.
I mean, I suspect that he really wanted to go to assuage Iraqi leaders that what we were moving into the region wasn't just to protect us but to protect them as well. That this wasn't to be seen as a threat to Iraq and to express, I hope, that he understands that the Iraqi government does have a relationship with Iran that we need to respect.
There are Shia militia on the ground. Some of them are supported directly by Tehran, and some of them, quite frankly, have been useful in the fight against ISIS. So what I'm hoping he went to do was to let the Iraqis know that we're moving these forces in to deter, not to start a war, and that any decisions that we would use or that we would make with respect to the use of force would be done in concert with them as an ally and a partner.
BLITZER: How worried should Americans be about the Americans who are still serving in Iraq, John, right now? And we did some checking, 5,200 U.S. military personnel deployed to Iraq right now.
KIRBY: Yes. BLITZER: Another 7,000 or so contractors, half of whom are American
citizens. The others are third-country nationals. Their families, who may be watching right now, how concerned about their security should they be?
KIRBY: I don't think that these latest -- these latest moves are necessarily indicative of an impending conflict, Wolf, but I think the concern is certainly real. And I can understand why family members of people that are deployed over there would be concerned, particularly after we designated the Revolutionary Guard, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, as a terrorist group.
One of the reasons why we wouldn't do that in the Obama administration was specifically because we were afraid that it would just heighten the risk, and that is, of course, exactly what the Trump administration did. I find it a little ironic, in these new moves that the Trump administration is making, that it's a bit like sending the firefighters to the blaze that you helped start.
They didn't have to designate the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group to continue to try to thwart Iran's influence in the region. They did this -- they made this overt decision and in a -- in very -- into a very real degree, created this elevated risk that now our troops, our allies and our partners and, certainly, our families are now feeling.
BLITZER: Because the Iranians have replied by suggesting they're going to declare the U.S. military a terrorist group.
BLITZER: All of the U.S. military's central command, for example, the troops who were deployed not only in Iraq but in the United Arab Emirates or Bahrain or Kuwait --
KIRBY: That's right.
BLITZER: -- or Saudi Arabia, that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard will regard them as a terrorist group.
KIRBY: That's right, Wolf. The Revolutionary Guard has regional reach. I mean, they are active, supporting Hamas. They're supporting Hezbollah. They're active in supporting the Houthis in Yemen. And we know this.
And they are certainly -- they certainly have the ability to create more havoc and more problems not just for, again, our troops and our forces but those of our allies and partners. So it's a very significant threat.
BLITZER: Everybody, standby. We're following all the breaking stories, including some political developments. Jill Biden, former Vice President Joe Biden's wife, has sat down with CNN to discuss her revealing and candid new book about her marriage, her career, her family. She spoke to our own Dana Bash. We'll have that when we come back. [17:45:04] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Tonight, we're getting an intensely personal and close up look at Joe Biden, the man and the politician. Our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, sat down with Biden's wife, Jill, to discuss her new book called "Where the Light Enters."
Dana is back with us. So, Dana, what did she tell you?
[17:49:59] BASH: Well, Wolf, she was a very young woman when she fell in love with a widower with two young boys, a man who happened to be a U.S. senator, and she gives a really human account of navigating that. Being an introvert, she says, married to the ultimate political extrovert and the unimaginable tragedy in their family.
BASH: You were married briefly as a young woman, and your husband was a Joe Biden fan.
JILL BIDEN, WIFE OF FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Yes.
BASH: You went to him to then-Senator-elect Biden's victory.
BIDEN: Yes. I did. I went on the promise of a dinner. You know, my then-husband said I'll take you to dinner and -- because I wasn't interested in politics. I mean, I always say I'm not political.
And so we were there in the crowd in the Gold Ballroom in the Hotel du Pont. And Neilia walked through the crowd, and I walked up and I shook her hand and I said congratulations.
BASH: You sought her out.
BIDEN: On --
BASH: You said on your book that --
BASH: -- she was so striking, you were drawn to her.
BIDEN: Yes, yes. And so I -- and that's why I walked up to her to say congratulations.
BASH: You must take that with you and have taken that with you when you started to date him and also get to know his sons.
BIDEN: Well, you know, she gave me such a gift. I got her three boys. And so I always felt, during our marriage, that I needed to honor her, to honor her memory.
BASH: You write about Beau's death. You say you still don't have words to express your despair, which is understandable. You write, since Beau's death, I'm definitely shattered. I feel like
a piece of china that's been glued back again. The cracks may be imperceptible but they're there.
BIDEN: Yes, they're there. I mean, you have a son. You probably -- when I -- when you probably read that part in my book, I'm sure you just thought to yourself I can't imagine it.
And I don't think any parent can imagine it. I mean, they can't even put their head in that space. And so, you know, you just -- it's not something you get over. I don't think any mother who has lost a child is ever the same.
BASH: Let's talk about running for president.
BASH: For people who say, he's old news, he's too old, you say?
BIDEN: I say no, he's not too old. And that's for the American people to judge, but they need to watch him and see how much energy he has. And compassion and passion and experience. If we get elected, Day One, he is ready.
BASH: The physical way that your husband expresses himself has gotten a lot of attention, some criticism from some women. I was struck that you, in the book, write about your own experience coming into the Biden family. You said that you are not someone who was used to public shows of affection and that was an initially uncomfortable development.
BIDEN: Yes, he comes from a very affectionate family. They're always touching. And I think Joe is -- one thing I've admired about Joe is the way he makes connections with people. But recently, I mean, things -- times have changed, and Joe has heard that -- you know, to back off and give people their space, and he has now taken responsibility for that.
And someone asked me, you know, did this ever happen to you? And I have to say it has happened to me and I -- like 20 years ago, and I did not have the courage to speak up then and say, stop that, you're in -- you're in my space. Now, I would have the courage, but 20 years ago I wouldn't. Times have changed.
BASH: Was there ever a time over the decades where you said, honey, I know this is your DNA, but maybe it's not the way that you should, you know, interact with people, especially when you're dealing with women? They might take it the wrong way.
BIDEN: No, I didn't say anything to him. I guess because that's the way he -- I mean, that's just the way Joe was. But times have changed, and now things are different. And he has to back off a little bit and let people come to him. He shouldn't go to them.
BASH: You are the only second lady -- I believe, correct me if I'm wrong -- to hold a full-time job. BIDEN: Yes.
BASH: So did you want to continue teaching because you love teaching or to maintain your independence or both?
BIDEN: Both. I -- both. When we were elected, I said to Joe, Joe, you know, I have to continue doing what I love, and he said, yes, you do. So I was in the classroom, I think, seven days after the inauguration, and I've been there ever since. Full-time, every day, I'm, you know, in the classroom.
[17:55:01] BASH: And would you keep teaching as first lady?
BIDEN: I don't know. If I could, I would. I don't know, you know, whether it would be advisable because of just security reasons, but I'd love to. Are you kidding?
BASH: And, Wolf, she is in the middle of finals right now, teaching her class at Northern Virginia Community College even as she's on the campaign trial. One other thing I wanted to say is that she says that she's well aware of a race, potentially -- they have to get the nomination first.
But even if they get close to that, again, Donald Trump being different from any other opponent that Joe Biden has had in his almost, you know, half a century of politics, she said that they are determined not to take the bait but understands, based on recent history and in 2016, his Republican rivals, not to mention Hillary Clinton, it's often hard to resist -- Wolf.
BLITZER: As you say, first, he's got to get the Democratic presidential nomination.
BLITZER: Long road ahead on that front. Dana Bash, good work as usual. Thanks very much.
BASH: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Coming up, the latest on our top story. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo makes a secret trip to Iraq as tensions between the United States and Iran threaten to boil over.
Plus, we'll bring you an update on a school shooting in the suburbs of Denver. Again. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
[17:59:53] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. School shooting. Gunfire at a Denver area school leaves at least seven people injured, some in serious condition. Two suspects are in custody as police reveal new details. All of this unfolding just miles from Columbine High School.