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Will Congress Hold Attorney General in Contempt?; Pompeo Visits Iraq; School Shooting in Colorado; Interview With Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO); Experts: Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro Clinging to Power with Help from Russia, Cuba. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired May 7, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:01]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Two suspects are in custody, as police reveal new details, all of this unfolding just miles from Columbine High School.

Surprise trip. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo travels unannounced to Iraq, amid growing concern Iran may be preparing to strike U.S. forces in the region. The latest sign, intelligence showing Iran moving short-range ballistic missiles by boat.

In contempt? Democrats at the House Judiciary Committee huddle, as former White House counsel Don McGahn joins Attorney General William Barr in defying the panel's subpoenas. A vote on holding Barr in contempt is hours away. Will McGahn face contempt charges as well?

Case closed? Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tells Congress it's time to move on from the Mueller investigation, prompting a very sharp rebuttal from Democratic leaders, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi calling McConnell's statement -- and I'm quoting now -- "a brazen violation of his oath."

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories tonight, including a school shooting near Denver that's left at least seven people injured.

Police there have just announced they have two suspects in custody.

Also breaking, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo making an unannounced trip to Iraq to discuss growing tensions with Iran. CNN has learned that intelligence shows Iran moving short-range ballistic missiles by boat. And sources say that's among the reasons U.S. warships are heading for the region right now, amid fear of a possible strike on U.S. forces in the area.

And there's more breaking news, a meeting of Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee, as former White House counsel Don McGahn joins the attorney general, William Barr,in defying a subpoena from the panel, McGahn acting on White House instructions to ignore demands for documents, as Barr faces a contempt vote for refusing to give the committee the full, unredacted Mueller report.

Our correspondents and analysts are standing by with full details.

Let's get the latest, first of all, on the school shooting near Denver. It's happened again.

CNN's Nick Watt is joining us. He's following the late-breaking developments.

So, what are you learning, Nick?

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we have just learned in the past couple of minutes that the lockdown in that school district has now been lifted.

As you mentioned, two suspects in custody. SWAT teams were going room by room through that school to make sure that there was not a third shooter. Now, on those suspects, we hear from the local undersheriff that she believes that they are juveniles, but no more information them so far, no indication whether they were actually students at this school.

We're told that the shooting, they believe, began in the middle school. And there was, luckily, a sheriff's substation just a block away. So officers were on the scene very, very quickly. And they report that shots were still being fired as they entered the building. And they also reported some kind of struggle going on between the suspects and people from the school.

We're waiting to get more details on that itself. And, as you mentioned, Wolf, seven or possibly eight people injured right now. This is a large school, 1,850 students K-12.

Now, we have spoken to some local hospitals, one hospital where five people are being treated. We are told that one of those people is in fair condition and four others are in serious condition. No word yet on the ages of those victims.

But, as you mentioned, Wolf, this is just seven or eight miles from Columbine, and that shooting just over 20 years ago where two students killed 13 people, and obviously so many lessons learned from that now employed at school shootings like this to try and keep as many people as possible safe -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, I know you're following the story, Nick. We will stay in close touch with you. You get new developments, you will let us know right away.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

Meanwhile, another breaking story we're following tonight, the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo's, surprise unannounced trip to Iraq.

CNN's Barbara Starr and Kylie Atwood are working on the story for us.

First, Barbara, to you. What are you picking up?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo now at this hour back in the air, making his way to London after meeting with Iraqi officials today.

He told President Trump last night that he was going to change his plans and leave Germany today and make this unannounced trip to Iraq, by all accounts, because of rising tensions with Iran in the region and what the U.S. says is a rising Iranian threat.

He talked to the Iraqis about a number of matters related to Iran. But, look, from the Pentagon point of view, they say that U.S. officials are seeing intelligence about a rising threat, the latest, that Iran is moving short-range ballistic missiles around the region by boat.

[18:05:14]

That would make them dangerous mobile platforms. It could hold U.S. troops in the region at risk. It could pose a threat in the Persian Gulf, all the way to the Red Sea to the west, where ships come out of the Suez Canal. It could pose threats to civilian populations.

So this is something that has the U.S. concerned, not to say, Wolf, that there isn't plenty of skepticism out there about the intelligence. There are long memories in the region about 2003, when the U.S. incorrectly thought or claimed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and went to war over it.

There are plenty of skeptics about the intelligence and skeptics about the hawkish attitude that the Trump administration has to Iran and questions about the intelligence right now. But U.S. officials tell us it's a very serious matter, that they believe Iran is moving this kind of weaponry around -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, Pompeo canceled a visit with the chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, in order to make this unannounced visit to Iraq.

Kylie, what are you learning about the discussion that actually took place in Iraq with the Iraqi leadership while the secretary of state was there?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well, Secretary Pompeo, as Barbara said, called President Trump last night, and they agreed that, on this trip, it would be important to position Iraq so that its relationship with the U.S. remains strong.

Obviously, Iraq is one of those countries that faces the threats, these escalating threats that the U.S. has been pointing out, coming from Iran. So Pompeo wanted to discuss that. He was on the ground for just over four hours. He met with the prime minister. He met with the president. An official that I talked to from Iraq ahead of this trip was hoping that this would be an opportunity for the U.S. and Iraq to kind of recalibrate where they were in their relationship and share some information with one another.

What we don't know is if there was an actual specific intelligence information that Pompeo shared with his Iraqi counterparts. When he was asked by reporters traveling with him to Baghdad if there was a tipping point for this trip, he said that there wasn't. It was more about these escalating threats from Iran writ large.

So we're still learning -- waiting to learn more about what his conversations actually looked like and what he shared with the Iraqis.

BLITZER: Kylie Atwood, Barbara Starr, thanks to both of you. I know you're working your sources. We will get back to you. This story is continuing to develop.

Meanwhile, there's another story that's breaking right now, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee planning to move forward with a vote on a contempt charge against the attorney general, William Barr.

And now the former White House counsel, Don McGahn, is joining him in ignoring the committee's subpoena.

Our White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, is working this part of the story for us.

Kaitlan, the Trump administration is defying House Democrats now on multiple fronts.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they are, Wolf.

And this is just another step of that. But, this time, at the center of it is Don McGahn, a man who was critical to Robert Mueller's report and whose name was mentioned over 150 times. And now he's ignoring a request, at the instruction of the White House, to turn over documents to House Democrats.

Now, Wolf, we should note the White House is not yet asserting executive privilege, but they want Democrats on Capitol Hill who are trying to conduct oversight of the administration to know they still feel that they have the ability to do so when it comes to McGahn.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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 harassment, embarrassment. Eating fried chicken and acting like fools is not part of the oversight function last time I looked.

COLLINS: Republicans are urging Congress to move on.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): 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: 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.

[18:10:08]

Democrats had a blistering response to McConnell's claim that the case is closed.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): 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: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Trump is making his own case for obstruction of justice.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): 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. Just wants to solidify his base.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: I'm honored to be here today.

COLLINS: And, today, the FBI director breaking with the attorney general.

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yes, I think spying did occur.

COLLINS: 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: 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-NH): 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 VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Now, Wolf, as far as McGahn goes, Democrats could certainly still choose to initiate contempt proceedings against him, to hold him in contempt of Congress. But whether or not they're going to do that still remains unclear.

BLITZER: Kaitlan Collins over at the White House, thanks very much.

Let's get some more on all of this.

Democratic Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado is joining us. He's a member of the Intelligence Committee. He's also a Democratic presidential candidate.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

And I know you have been following this latest school shooting in your home state of Colorado in Highlands Ranch. And our hearts certainly go out to the community there, everyone affected. You also have a lot of experience as the former superintendent of Denver Public Schools.

First of all, I know you're monitoring this. What can you tell us on the very latest?

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D-CO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think, Wolf, that you have got the same information we do, which is that, so far, we know there are eight people wounded to varying degrees, and that they have two suspects in custody.

It's a K-12 STEM school in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, which is in Douglas County, just south of Denver, the school district that I used to be superintendent of. And, as we are talking, my understanding is that parents are still waiting to be reunited with their children.

So, obviously, this is a very terrible situation for all of them.

BLITZER: It is an awful, awful situation. And it's awful every time we hear about a school shooting.

Do law enforcement agencies where you are, not right now, but in Colorado, have the resources they need to respond? Because, unfortunately, it's happening all too often.

BENNET: Well, I think it's not just a matter of law enforcement. We have got to have the resources in our schools to prevent this kind of thing from happening to begin with. And I don't want to really talk about policy today. But I will say that I talked to my daughter on the way over here tonight, who is 14 years old and is at home.

And she said, "Yes, I heard it was two kids."

And I said, "Well, I think the number is eight."

And she said: "Oh, I thought it was a small shooting. Now it's a big one."

I mean, our kids are having to worry about this when they go to school and that -- every day, when something like this happens. It's not right. They shouldn't have to do that. And I just hope that all the parents tonight that are there to find their children find their children, are reunited, and that law enforcement and others that need to be first-responders here, including the doctors and nurses, get the support they need from our community, which I know they will.

Unfortunately, Wolf, as you know, in Colorado, like so many other places around the country, we have faced more than our share of this. Columbine was now 20 years ago, when 12 children were killed and one teacher was shot.

And then we had the Aurora school -- the Aurora movie theater shooting that wasn't that long ago either. So, it's obviously a terrible day for everybody.

[18:15:00]

BLITZER: I have spoken to so many parents, Senator, who are also upset that it's almost become a regular, routine matter that these young little kids in elementary schools and middle schools and high schools, they now on a regular basis have to have these so-called shooting drills...

BENNET: Yes.

BLITZER: ... to practice, God forbid, if something were to happen at their schools.

And these kids come home and they say, we had to do X, Y and Z.

How does a community deal, on a regular basis, especially in Colorado, where you're from?

BENNET: Yes.

I mean, that's it. That's it, Wolf. The kids -- my kids -- every time one of these things happen, we sit in my living room. We have a conversation with our daughters about this. And they do drill for it regularly.

In fact, you can see in the photos of the school today that there are kids who know exactly how to line up, kids who know exactly what they're supposed to do when something that happens.

And, obviously, tonight is not the night to talk about what to do about it. But I do think -- say, as a former school superintendent, and as a parent, that it's just deeply unfair that our children are having to endure this in our country. Children in other countries don't have to endure it. Other generations of American children haven't had to endure it.

This is a burden that we have placed uniquely on the next generation of Americans. And it's deeply unfair.

BLITZER: It certainly is.

And it's, unfortunately, a sign of the times that these little kids have to go through a drill like that and come home and tell their moms and dads, you know, they were practicing in case a killer, a shooter comes into our school.

BENNET: Yes.

BLITZER: It's a really sad commentary on what's going on.

Senator Bennet, I know you have got a lot going on. We're grateful to you for joining us. Thanks. We will have a substantive policy discussion on many issues down the road.

BENNET: Yes. I appreciate your having me, Wolf. Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, appreciate it very much.

We're going to have a lot more on all breaking news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:21:38]

BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories.

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee meeting tonight, as former White House counsel Don McGahn joins the attorney general, William Barr, in defying a subpoena from the panel.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, is on the scene for us up on Capitol Hill.

Manu, Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are discussing their next steps. What are you learning?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right.

The House Judiciary Committee staff and the Justice Department have been engaged in discussions for much of today about trying to head off a vote to hold the attorney general in contempt tomorrow.

Now, this comes as Democrats have demanded the full Mueller report and the underlying evidence to be turned over by Capitol Hill. But the Justice Department has defied a subpoena, saying that that is not a legitimate oversight request, now trying to negotiate a middle ground.

But just moments ago, I caught up with Jerry Nadler, and he made it clear the committee still plans to hold the vote to hold the attorney general in contempt.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(CROSSTALK)

RAJU: ... contempt tomorrow?

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): It's still scheduled.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Now, he wouldn't discuss other next steps,including potentially holding the White House counsel Don McGahn in contempt.

We do expect the committee to release a statement tonight in the aftermath of the White House instructing McGahn not to turn over records to the committee, citing a potential breach of confidential discussions.

Democrats have rejected any effort to try to invoke executive privilege. They still want Don McGahn to appear in public before the committee. They have a subpoena that says, by May 21, he is to appear.

Uncertain whether or not he will do that and whether the White House will take steps to block that. But, nevertheless, Democrats on multiple fronts battling the White House and do plan to hold the attorney general in contempt at the moment, unless a late last-minute deal can be reached -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Manu, thank you very much, Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill.

Meanwhile, we're following the breaking news in Colorado. At least seven people, maybe eight, are injured after a school shooting near Denver. We're awaiting a news conference by authorities.

We will take a quick break. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:28:25]

BLITZER: Among the breaking stories we're following this hour, the House Judiciary Committee is now hours away from voting on whether to hold the attorney general, William Barr, in contempt for refusing to give the panel the full, unredacted Mueller report.

Let's dig deeper with our correspondents and our analysts. And, David Swerdlick, the Judiciary Committee chairman, Jerry Nadler, he said today that tomorrow's vote to hold the attorney general in contempt is still scheduled. So what does that indicate to you?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, it indicates, as Manu just reported, that negotiations have broken down or are not going where they need to go between House Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, up to and including Chairman Nadler, and the Justice Department, up to and including Attorney General Barr.

Look, I think Democrats are well within their legal rights to proceed to contempt at this point. Attorney General Barr has held them in contempt, both in the formal legal sense and in the sort of colloquial sense of just completely waving them away and brushing them off.

What I wonder, though, Wolf, is whether Democrats have played this right or smartly politically. They could have had the attorney general in front of their committee last week, if they had not insisted on having their staff counsel interview him, instead of members interviewing him.

They could have just gone with the way that Attorney General Barr wanted to do it, then wrangled later about getting the full, unredacted report. Now I suspect we're headed to court. And I wonder when we will see Attorney General Barr before the committee.

BLITZER: Yes, this could drag on and on and on.

Jerry Nadler, Rebecca Buck, met with Democrats on the panel after the meeting between committee staffers and Department of Justice officials. It ended without a resolution today.

[18:30:03]

Are House Democrats any closer to seeing the full unredacted Mueller report and the underlying evidence? They want that as well.

REBECCA BUCK, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Right. Well, certainly the fact that they are moving forward with this vote or if you're poised to move forward with this contempt vote suggest that this is going to drag on and on and on. And you can see as, David referred to, the political gamesmanship that is at work on both sides, frankly. Because democrats, while they are highlighting just how obstructive they believe the administration and, of course, the DOJ, specifically, are being, republicans are saying this is over. Mitch McConnell said case is closed as concerns the Mueller report.

And so republicans are trying to portray democrats now as overstepping, as being irrational, as being rash. And the longer this drags on, the more republicans will potentially be able to make that case. And so there's a risk for democrats potentially in making this drawn out fight also, of course, a reward if they can get that unredacted report.

BLITZER: Phil Mudd, all this comes as the White House is telling the former Counsel at the White House, Don McGahn, not to cooperate with Congress. What is the administration so afraid McGahn may reveal given the fact that he already spent 30 hours answering questions before the Mueller investigators. And we've read all the explosive information he provided in the Mueller report.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERRORISM ANALYST: Yes, we've read it but he hasn't said it. I think there's a stylistic piece to this. Nobody -- a lot of people haven't read 450 pages. There's a credible witness, and I suspect he's going to be a clear minded, clear spoken witness who's going to talk into 10, million, 20 million, 50 million American living rooms.

Let me give you one scenario that if I were the White House, I'd worry about. Question one, Mr. McGahn, did the President ask you to fire Robert Mueller? Yes or no. Let's say McGahn says yes, as the report talks about. Mr. McGahn, did you interpret that as an effort by the White House to obstruct or impede the Mueller investigation? If McGahn answers yes to that one, the democrats look around Nancy Pelosi and others say we are looking for facts that determine whether we had to pursue obstruction because Mueller didn't. Want do you want us to do? The White House Counsel just said he got an order that he himself thought it was obstruction. I think this has tremendous potential to embarrass the White House and beyond that, Wolf.

BLITZER: You make an important point. Jeffrey Toobin, does Nadler's threat to hold Barr and McGahn in contempt of Congress have real legal consequences?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it has legal consequences because contempt is a legal judgment rendered by Congress but it doesn't have practical consequences. I mean, it's not going to result in Barr being disbarred, going to jail. He'll get a pat on the back from the President of the United States who is advising him to defy Congress in every respect.

I think what democrats are learning is the limitations of their power. Because even if they are right legally, and I think they are mostly right legally, the long journey through the courts that hasn't even begun yet on all of these document requests and testimony requests have the ability to diffuse my of these investigations and that's obviously the purpose of the sort of -- the objections by the Trump administration.

BLITZER: Let's get to other breaking story we're following. Phil Mudd, what do you think is behind Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's unannounced trip to Iraq?

MUDD: I think it's pretty straightforward. Number one, he's got to pass along the facts of the President of Iraq. This is the intelligence we have and this is why we're concerned even as we have U.S. forces in Iraq, which obviously is a neighbor to Iran.

The second answer, I think, is more significant. The Iraqis, including the individual that Mike Pompeo was speaking to have incredibly tight relationships with the Russians. Pompeo is going to explain the seriousness of which we take these threats and he's going to expect and maybe even ask the Iraqis to talk to their friends next door and say, don't do anything. The Americans are onto you and their serious.

BLITZER: Do they have tight relations not only with Russians but with neighboring Iranians as well?

MUDD: Yes, that's right. I mean, you look at not only the Iraqi military which has had obviously some engagement with Iranian militias. You look at the leadership that Mike Pompeo was talking with, The President of Iraq has talked to Iran for years, even during the time Saddam was there. So he knows those guys in Iran and Pompeo says, we're serious, the President of Iraq can pick up the phone to Iran and say, be careful.

BLITZER: Everybody stand by. There's more news we're following, including Bernie Sanders' policy positions, where they are rooted and how some have evolved. We have new information. Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:35:00]

BLITZER: He is certainly one of the top contenders for the democratic presidential nomination and many of Bernie Sanders' position set him apart from the pack. But have they changed in the more than four decades Sanders has been involved in politics? CNN's Ryan Nobles has been investigating for us.

Ryan, Sanders is registered as an independent but caucuses with the democrats in the Senate and he calls himself a democratic socialist.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. And our KFILE team has exhaustively poured over hundreds of press releases, different types of background from Bernie Sander's past.

[18:40:05]

And what we discovered is that the Bernie Sanders of the 1970s isn't all that different than the Bernie Sanders of today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT): Thank you, Madison.

NOBLES: Bernie Sanders, one of the leading contenders for the democratic nomination.

SANDERS: There is nothing that we cannot accomplish.

NOBLES: Preaching a message very similar to his 2016 run.

SANDERS: People cannot afford the medicine they need.

They cannot afford the medicine they need.

Start paying their fair share of taxes.

Start paying their fair share of taxes. NOBLES: One that's not all that different from his political posture more than four decades ago as an unknown activist in Vermont.

SANDERS: My name is Bernard Sanders. We are going to be looking at poverty in Vermont.

NOBLES: Sanders often fights for low-income Americans but he recently drew some criticism after his tax returns revealed his own income topped a million dollars in 2016, in 2017 largely due to two bestselling books after his last presidential campaign.

SANDERS: So if anyone thinks that I should apologize for writing a bestselling book, I'm sorry, I'm not going to do it.

NOBLES: But according to a CNN KFILE investigation, in his early years, Bernie Sanders felt differently. Nobody should earn more than a million dollars, Sanders said in a 1974 article. That's the equivalent of a little more than $5 million today. And anything above $1 million dollar, he believed, should be 100 percent taxed. He said it should be illegal to amass more wealth than a human family could use in a lifetime and that members of the Senate should earn the median income of their constituents.

That philosophy on wealth disparity became the bedrock of Sanders platform, railing against the ties linking economic and political power.

SANDERS: The economic misery totally unnecessary, in my view, that is grinding down the lives of tens of thousands of (INAUDIBLE) --

NOBLES: Sanders' foray into politics was somewhat by accident. A pacifist, he avoided the Vietnam draft by applying for conscientious objector status. By the time his application was denied, he was too old to be drafted.

He was working a carpenter in Vermont when he attended a meeting of a small left wing group called the Liberty Union Party. He emerged as their candidate for U.S. Senate.

JOHN BLOCH, SEN. BERNIE SANDERS' FRIEND SINCE 1970S: We're in this meeting and we've done all our business and here, we don't have anybody for the U.S. Senate slot. I turned over and I see this bushy haired guy in his rumpled clothes and I'm saying, hey, you. You want to run for this seat? We need some fresh meat to sacrifice on the altar of the ballot.

JIM RADER, SEN. BERNIE SANDERS' FRIEND SINCE 1970S: I don't think he had any illusions about winning and I think he surprised me and I think perhaps surprised himself by volunteering to run for the Senate. And that was the beginning of his electoral career.

NOBLES: That campaign included some of Sanders most extreme ideas, including legalizing all drugs, including heroin, and even legalizing hitchhiking, which he often did to get from event to event.

Doris Lake campaigned with Sanders in 1972 as the Liberty Union's congressional candidate.

DORIS LAKE, FORMER CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE, LIBERTY UNION PARTY: Bernie was the one who told me, well, this is what candidates do. They go in and they shake hands and say to the workers, vote for me and I'll take care of you.

NOBLES: Sanders lost that election earning just 2 percent of the vote but he continued to sharpen his rhetoric against big corporations and the wealthy. In 1976, he ran for Governor of Vermont.

SANDERS: I think it's clear to anyone who follows the debates that both of these people are concerned about interest of the two 2 or 3 percent of the population who owns the State of Vermont and not the other 97 percent of the people who work for a living.

BLOCH: Bernie has not -- for better or worse, has not deviated.

SANDERS: And the billions and billions and billions of dollars --

Hundreds of hundreds of hundreds of billions of dollars --

Hundreds of billions of dollars --

BLOCH: The joke is now you turn on the telly, he starts and we finish the speech.

NOBLES: He lost that race and every other he entered in the 1970s. Sanders was socially progressive. The Liberty Union's 1971 platform called for abolishing all laws related to abortion, birth control and homosexual relationships. A 1972 Liberty Union magazine edited by Sanders suggested lowering the voting age to 14, ending requirements to go to school and punishing business who the state without compensating workers.

SANDERS: The concept of democracy is not long for this country or for this state.

NOBLES: His first major victory finally came in 1981 when he was elected Mayor of Burlington by just ten votes. The policies he's held on to since then, like universal healthcare, free public college and raising taxes on the wealth are largely what appealed to his supporters today.

[18:45:00] SANDERS: I have run for office in state of Vermont on many occasions. Sometimes I've lost. More often I've won.

What all of that showed is that those ideas were not radical ideas. They were common sense American ideas that the American people supported.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBLES: And while much of what Sanders advocated for early on in his career remains the same today, there are some of the more radical positions he's changed on. A campaign spokesperson confirming for us tonight that Sanders now

believes that compulsory education is a good idea. He no longer believes that we should lower the voting age to 14. He no longer supports nationalizing many private industries. And he no longer supports legalizing all drugs including heroin -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good report. Ryan Nobles, thanks so much for that.

The breaking news continues. The Secretary of State Mike Pompeo makes an unannounced trip to Iraq as intelligence shows Iran moving ballistic missiles by boat.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:50:43] BLITZER: Violence and political unrest in Venezuela have dramatically weakened the grip of the president, Nicolas Maduro. But Maduro may be holding onto power with some outside help.

Brian Todd is joining us now with the latest.

So, what are you hearing, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have new information tonight on the help that Nicolas Maduro is getting from at least three of America's most dangerous enemies. CNN has just reported on Iran's latest threatening moves in the Middle East. Well, we have information that Iran is acting as a malign influence in Venezuela as well, along with operatives from Russia and Cuba.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): President Trump's top national security aides have been pounding the message for weeks. Embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, they've said, is being propped up by some of America's most formidable adversaries.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Without the Cubans, there are no possibility he was still in power. They are -- they are at the center of this, indeed, it's the Cubans who are performing the security cordon for Maduro today.

TODD: That was evident last August during an apparent assassination attempt as he spoke to his troops.

A drone latent with explosives went off above his head. Security operatives in plain clothes immediately covered him with shields.

A former White House security adviser on Latin America says Maduro's protectors were not Venezuelans.

FERNANDO CUTZ, FORMER NSC OFFICIAL FOR LATIN AMERICA: Those are the Cubans, right? So, those are the folks who are actually there to protect his life. Those are the folks he actually trusts his life with.

TODD: Trump's national security adviser John Bolton said there are some 20,000 Cuban security personnel inside Venezuela. Cuban officials flatly deny that and deny propping up Maduro. But one analyst believes there are at least a couple of thousand Cubans there performing crucial operations.

CUTZ: They are acting as bodyguards. They are acting as intelligence officers. They are trying to find out when the next coup attempt may take place so that they can get ahead of it.

TODD: The Russians also have a significant presence in Cuba, U.S. officials say. Analysts say they have flown in dozens of troops, weapons and supplies to help Maduro forces. What's Vladimir Putin's motive?

CUTZ: You're getting the real turmoil with the Russians showing up in our neighborhood. So, I think it's another strategic move on his end, another way to kind of poke us in the eye and see how we react.

TODD: But there's also another dangerous enemy of America's which the Trump administration says has gained a foothold in Venezuela.

POMPEO: Iran is in there today. Well, they need to leave as well.

TODD: Analysts say Iran has established a presence in Venezuela through its proxy, the terrorist group Hezbollah which they say have sent operatives to Venezuela.

EMANUELE OTTOLENGHI, FOUNDATION FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: It gives them access not just to a friendly that has a similar ideological outlook of anti-Americanism. It allows them to conduct all sorts of illicit operations such as money laundering and drug trafficking.

TODD: But experts say the presence of Hezbollah operatives in Venezuela supported by Maduro's government also presents a more immediate security threat to America.

OTTOLENGHI: The minute you create infrastructures with operatives that blend into society, you actually can activate cells if you wanted to carry out terrorist operations.

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TODD: Now, if Juan Guaido takes power in Venezuela, will he be able to root out Hezbollah, as well as Iranian, Cuban and Russian operatives? Analysts say with all the other challenges that Guaido will face, that could take a while. They believe he can eventually drive out those entities, but he's gong to need a lot of help from U.S. intelligence to do that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us, thank you.

We have much more news right after this.

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[18:58:47] BLITZER: Updating our breaking news. At a news conference just now, authorities said eight students are hospitalized. Several in critical condition after shooting incident at a school in suburban Denver, Colorado. A school official says quite a few shots were fired over the course of a few minutes. Police arrived while shots still were being fired. Two suspects, both students at the school, are now in custody.

We'll have more on this coming up.

Finally tonight, an update on a story we highlighted on World Press Freedom Day last Friday. Two "Reuters" journalists jailed in Myanmar for more than 500 days have now been released. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were pardoned as part of presidential amnesty of more than 6,000 prisoners. The men were sentenced to seven years in prison for their reporting on a massacre of Rohingya civilians, a Muslim minority in the mostly Buddhist country. While their reporting went on to win a Pulitzer Prize, their appeals were rejected most recently by Myanmar Supreme Court as their incarceration became a global cost.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had a joyful reunion with their families. Wa Lone got to hold his daughter for the first time she was born after he was jailed. We certainly welcome their release and remember other journalists around the world who remain imprisoned simply for doing their job reporting the truth.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

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