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Sen. Mazie Hirono (D) Hawaii Is Interviewed About Treasury Secretary Defying Subpoena For Trump Tax Returns; Refusing To Budge; Ignored Warnings; Barr On Russia Probe: Some Explanations Don't Hang Together; Trump Uses Twitter To Test Policy, Take Pulse Of His Base. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 17, 2019 - 17:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news.

Refusing to budge. The treasury secretary refuses to turn over President Trump's tax returns, defying a subpoena from a powerful Democratic committee chairman. Will the battle now move to the courts?

Ignored warnings. President Trump says he was not warned about his one-time National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn. What about that Oval Office warning from President Obama right after the election?

Helping to obstruct. New court documents show Flynn told Robert Mueller that people tied to Trump or to Congress contacted him, potentially trying to sway his cooperation with the special counsel. Is this a clear case of obstruction?

And validating his views. President Trump goes off on a tirade of tweets on the Russia investigation, Iran, and immigration. Is he using Twitter to validate his viewpoints and make policy decisions?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

BLITZER: Breaking news. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin defies subpoena requests from a powerful House Democrat, refusing to turn over six years of President Trump's tax returns. The issue is now certain to move to the courts.

Also tonight, President Trump seizes on new documents from the Russia investigation, showing how one-time National Security Adviser Michael Flynn told the special counsel that people tied to the Trump Organization, the Trump administration, or Congress had contacted him potentially attempting to obstruct the probe. The president today tweeted that someone should have warned him about Flynn, but President Obama personally warned him about Flynn right after the election.

The president also tweeted that his campaign had been spied upon using the word "treason" as the attorney general of the United States uses the words "witch hunt." I'll speak with Senator Mazie Hirono of the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees and our correspondents and analysts will have full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's begin with our Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, more false claims from President Trump, this time about his former National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. President Trump is misleading the public about his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's cooperation with the special counsel. The president claimed nobody warned him about Flynn, but that's not true. Both the president and Attorney General William Barr, meanwhile, are warning that they are moving forward with their plans to investigate the investigators.



ACOSTA (voice-over): Dodging questions from reporters, the president took to Twitter to poke holes in a stunning revelation in the Russia investigation, that one of Mr. Trump's attorneys was in contact with former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn about his cooperation with federal investigators.

The president tweeted, "It now seems the General Flynn was under investigation long before was common knowledge. It would have been impossible for me to know this but if that was the case and with me being one of two people who would become president, why was I not told so that I could make a change?"

But that's not accurate. Less than one week after Mr. Trump was sworn into office, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates told the White House that Flynn had lied to the vice president about his contacts with the Russian ambassador, a falsehood that could make the National Security Adviser vulnerable to blackmail. Those lies were also cited as the reason why the president fired Flynn.


SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: We had wanted to tell the White House as quickly as possible and to state the obvious you don't want your National Security Adviser compromised with the Russians.


ACOSTA: The president also knew there were long-standing concerns about Flynn. Former President Barack Obama warned Mr. Trump about Flynn in the Oval Office just days after the 2016 election, something the White House conceded to reporters.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's true that the president made it -- President Obama made it known that he wasn't exactly a fan of General Flynn's, which is frankly shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that given that General Flynn had worked for President Obama, was an outspoken critic of President Obama's shortcomings.


ACOSTA: Though the White House denied there were any concerns about what Flynn might tell investigators.


ACOSTA (on camera): Is the White House concerned that General Flynn has damaging information about the president, his aides, his associates, about what occurred during the campaign with respect to Russia?



ACOSTA (voice-over): The president warned he's going after the investigators who worked on the Russia probe, tweeting, "My campaign for president was conclusively spied on. Nothing like this has ever happened in American politics. A really bad situation. Treason means long jail sentences and this was treason."

In an interview on Fox, Attorney General William Barr echoed the president's talking points.



WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I use what words I use, and it was an investigation. But I think if I had been falsely accused, I'd be comfortable saying it was a witch hunt.


ACOSTA: And Barr said he, too, wants to get to the bottom of whether anything illegal occurred.

[17:05:03] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARR: If we're worried about foreign influence, for the very same reason we should be worried about whether government officials abuse their power and put their thumb on the scale. And so, I'm not saying that happened, but I'm saying that we have to look at that.


ACOSTA: Barr also denied he lied to Congress when he testified about the findings in the special counsel's report.


BARR: I think it's a laughable charge. And I think it's largely being made to try to discredit me. Partly because they may be concerned about the outcome of a review of what happened during the election. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: At a speech to realtors in Washington, the president continued his attacks on the press, accusing reporters of making up stories about tensions over his Iran policy.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everything is "a source says" -- there is no source. The person doesn't exist. The person is not alive. It's bullshit, OK.



ACOSTA: The president took issue with reports that there was friction behind the scenes among his advisers over Iran. Mr. Trump said his National Security Adviser John Bolton and his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are both performing well to his satisfaction. In the meantime, a senior administration official told CNN the president's national security team is working to provide more evidence of Iran's military activity that has concerned his advisers inside the White House. That evidence, the official said, should be released in the coming days.

Wolf, one other item we should note, the treasury secretary has sent a letter over to the House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, saying that the White House, the Trump administration, will not be turning over the president's tax returns and getting to that comment the president made earlier this afternoon, when he described anonymous sources who talked to the press as being BS, Wolf.

We can state confidently and accurately, truthfully to the American people that, Wolf, we do use sources over here all the time. That officials over here at the White House speak anonymously to us and we talk to them and quote them as being senior administration officials. And so what the president is saying is not true. We should also note that much of the BS we hear over here at the White House is very much on the record, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House for us. Thank you very much.

Let's bring in CNN Reporter, Kara Scannell and CNN Senior Justice Correspondent, Evan Perez.

Evan, if Flynn did, in fact, tell Mueller that there were individuals associated with the Trump administration or with Congress, trying to get him to change his testimony in order, presumably, to make it more favorable toward the president, why wouldn't Mueller have brought specific charges of obstruction against individuals?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: You know that's a big question. I think members of Congress are going to be drilling down on exactly that, that question, Wolf. I think we get a few hints in the Mueller report. We can see that, according to the Mueller report, they couldn't reach to this issue, simply because there's an attorney general/client privilege issue.

There's a reference to this in the report, that there is a Trump personal attorney who had reached out and left this voice mail, this voice mail in which you know a sort of oblique reference to, you know we want to keep you on the team so to speak, we want to get you a heads up on what you're saying. And you know I think that's a big issue.

That was a big issue that the special counsel, the prosecutors would not have been able to cross and certainly not being able to talk to that person, not being able to understand whether or not they were being directed to try to interfere and to try to get Michael Flynn to change his story or to align his story with the president's. I think that's the reason why they couldn't get there on this one issue.

BLITZER: They've got this transcript of that voice mail that was left, but apparently this federal judge wants to actually release the audio. Why is that significant?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: So this - there's one thing to read a transcript. There's another to hear the voice and the tone and the back and forth of the conversation. And really, we only have a snippet of it in the Mueller report. But to hear the entire voice mail recording, you would get a sense of just you know it would probably reflect some previous conversations.

You know, you kind of get a sense of the tone and the direction of where they're going with this. And that's something that the American public can judge for themselves on whether they thought it was coercive or suggestive. I think we're seeing judges starting to believe that more and more of this information should become public, because the public, it seems through a number of decisions and unredactions that judges believe that the public should have a chance to know what the findings are.

BLITZER: And Evan, a key question seems to be, if the president was aware that some individuals associated with his administration or with Congress were talking to Flynn's lawyers about trying to convince him to be more supportive of the president in his testimony to Mueller.

PEREZ: Yes, I mean, look, I think that's a very big question. Again, this goes to what Congress is trying to get to the bottom of. Look, clearly, Mueller decided that there wasn't enough here for them to charge the president. Again, if you look at volume II of the Mueller report, they say that the fact that he is the sitting president is a big reason why they couldn't reach or they did not reach a decision on whether or not he obstructed or did not, right? They just punted on that issue.

[17:10:07] So, again, Congress -- this is where Congress gets in. And why it's important for us to get -- for them to get more of this information and continue their investigation as to whether or not this is something that is a high crime, is it something that's impeachable. We don't know?

BLITZER: Clearly the Democrats in the House, they want to hear from Mueller. They want to hear from Flynn. They want to hear from everyone associated with this. Don McGahn, former White House counsel. Guys, thanks very much.

Joining us now, Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, she's a key member of both the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees. Senator thanks so much for joining us.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D), HAWAII: Good to see you.

BLITZER: Let's begin with the breaking news. What's your reaction, first of all, to the treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, defying a Congressional subpoena to get six years of the president's tax returns?

HIRONO: I think this kind of defiant attitude comes straight from the top. This is a committee that is entitled to the tax returns and really, we have to ask, what is the president hiding? Now, we know that probably he didn't make a lot of money.

He actually was a terrible businessperson. And that he probably didn't pay taxes and took a lot of losses and write-offs. So, sure, I would think that the president is very interested in having his treasury secretary just stonewall everything. But this kind of stonewalling comes from the top. And that's the president. He's protecting himself.

BLITZER: Richard Neal, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in the House issued a statement just now, but he concluded by saying, given the treasury secretary's failure to comply today, I am consulting with counsel on how best to enforce the subpoenas moving forward. I assume that means they're going to go to court.

HIRONO: I think so. But isn't it amazing that this is the kind of modus operandi of this administration and this president that they just stonewall everything. It's very much the way he transacted business when he was not the president. You just stonewall everything. You force everybody to go into court. You wait everybody out. You have people holding the bag. And this is what the president does. The rule of law in his view does not apply to him.

BLITZER: All right. Let's move on to some other sensitive issues. Does Congress right now need to subpoena the president's fired former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, so he can give his account of people trying to influence his cooperation with the Special Counsel Robert Mueller?

HIRONO: Well, that is a bombshell. So maybe they should just invite Michael Flynn. Maybe, you know, he'll be very cooperative with the Congress, also. But if he doesn't come on his own volition, then they should subpoena him. Because, obviously, he has a lot of information that is relevant to what the House has to look at. And sadly, none of that, apparently, is the going to happen in the Senate.

BLITZER: Flynn is, by the way, awaiting sentencing as we speak. What, specifically, Senator, would you ask Flynn if he did appear before your committee? HIRONO: A lot more about what could be deemed an obstruction of justice effort by the president and his team. And yes, there might be legal issues involved, attorney/client privilege and all of that, but there's nothing like hearing from the source. And that means Michael Flynn. In addition, we're still waiting to have Mueller come and testify.

And there are, you know, Barr should testify, especially after the press conference that he gave recently, where he seemed to be just enjoying himself immensely, being the president's personal lawyer as opposed to the attorney general of the people of this country.

BLITZER: If these contacts with people inside the White House or Congress were intended to influence Flynn's cooperation with Mueller, why do you think Mueller declined to charge any of these individuals potentially with obstruction.

HIRONO: Well, as your previous commentator said, that there may be attorney/client privilege issues, we don't know. That's why we need to hear from Mueller. We need to hear from Flynn. We need to hear from a whole bunch of other people, probably.

So starting with Mueller and now that we have this revelation about Flynn, thank goodness that there is a Judiciary judges who are not just going along with whatever the president and Barr wants. The independence of the Judiciary is critical and we see that almost on a daily basis now.

BLITZER: Attorney General Barr says he's moving ahead with his plans to investigate the origins, the Russia investigators, whether it's the FBI, the Justice Department, the CIA, elsewhere. He says he has a lot more questions today than when he started and raised the specter of U.S. government officials potentially abusing their power as they carried out the probe. What do you make of the attorney general's concerns about this new investigation into origins of the Russia probe?

HIRONO: These concerns are the concerns of somebody who is the president's lawyer and not the attorney general of our country. Remember when he was up for his confirmation hearing and he was asked, do you think the Russia probe is a witch hunt and he said, "no."

[17:15:05] So now suddenly that he is the attorney general, he acts more and more like the total mouthpiece of the president. It is more than disappointing and I had called on him earlier to resign and he should do so. But, of course, we all know he's not, because he's just enjoying himself.

BLITZER: Senator Hirono, thanks so much for joining us.

HIRONO: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, President Trump claims he didn't know his one-time National Security Adviser was under investigation, but he was personally warned about various problems involving Michael Flynn by the then president, President Obama. So what is behind the president, President Trump's statement today?


[17:20:32] BLITZER: In a day highlighted by Twitter rants, President Trump falsely claimed he wasn't given any warnings about his one-time National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, but he was warned repeatedly.

Let's bring in our political and legal analyst and talk about the president's latest claims. Lots of claims, but Susan Hennessey, I want to talk about this transcript that's a sensitive transcript involving Michael Flynn. Somebody left a voice mail for him, suggesting maybe rethink his cooperation with Mueller, the president likes you.

Let me read from the transcript of the voice mail. "It wouldn't surprise me if you've gone on to make a deal with the government. If there's information that implicates the president, then we've got a national security issue. So, you know, we need some kind of heads up.

Just for the sake of protecting all our interests, if we can. Remember, what we've always said -- what we've always said about the president and his feelings towards Flynn and that still remains." The voice mail from some unnamed individual left for Flynn's lawyer.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: So taken in isolation, I think it just looks deeply inappropriate. Put in context, though, of everything that Trump and his associates were up to, it really adds to the overwhelming body of evidence to the extent of which the president, his lawyers, and his associates were engaged in a wide-ranging campaign to prevent people from fully and completely cooperating with a federal investigation.

Now, that might not have met all the statutory elements of obstruction or Mueller might have declined to render a traditional prosecutorial judgment, but what they actually did is laid out for everyone to see. And it does appear as though this particular judge is inclined to make even more information potentially -

BLITZER: Including the actual audio, we'll hear what we've seen in this transcript?

HENNESSEY: I think it's possible. The judge has ordered the government to actually submit this material via public filings. So we'll see whether or not we actually get that audio. So it's really interesting to see the degree of congressional response even to the transcript, in part because this voice mail transcript is not technically new.

There are elements of this transcript that were in the Mueller report itself and so seeing the degree of congressional interest in this voice mail, in this particular exchange, I do think illustrates the extent to which even Congress itself has not been able to fully digest this 400-page report. There are dozens of really devastating, damaging little tidbits and details in this report. And I think its evidence that the tale of the Mueller report, the extent of impact and devastation for the president is really just beginning.

BLITZER: Are you surprised that no one was charged by Mueller in connection with this?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I don't think surprised. I'm trying to do my sort of Vulcan mind meld with Robert Mueller here. And I can only draw one conclusion. And that is a man who I never saw shy away from decision, tell me what you think around the table, here's what we're going to do.

Tough decision, should we arrest the terrorist? Tough decisions on reappointing people on the FBI, never shy away from a decision, didn't see many gray areas, all of a sudden he decides not to make a decision in this case and he says, as you know, in the document, makes some comments about Congress picking up the case. I can only draw one conclusion. It wasn't that he was afraid to make a decision. It was that he thought based on the law and the president that he shouldn't make a decision.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: But also he makes the point that because of the question of privilege, he wasn't going to be able to get to the bottom of this, because the conversation between the attorney who had left the voice mail and his client, the president, was privileged. And so that would make it very difficult for him to make a case.

HENNESSEY: And this is a really important point. Wherever you have attorneys engaged in this kind of behavior, while it's unethical and inappropriate, because they have an obligation to zealously represent their clients, it's really hard to say this was obstruction under the legal sense of the term, rather than just, you're trying to be a good lawyer, you're trying to make that zealous representation.

So to Gloria's point, in order to actually prove a crime, you would need to know the president's conversations with his lawyers. That really is the core of attorney/client privilege.

BLITZER: You know, Abby, the president reacted to all of this with a tweet -- not unusual -- today. The tweet says this, "It now seems that General Flynn was under investigation long before it was common knowledge. It would have been impossible for me to know this but if that was the case and with me being one of two people who would become president, why was I not told so that I could make a change?"

But he was warned about Michael Flynn, warned and we'll put it up on the screen, the former president Barack Obama shortly after the election said this guy is a bad guy, don't hire him. Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general testified openly that raising her concerns with the White House about Flynn and the Russia investigation. Even Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor, Trump transition official, warning that Flynn is a bad guy. So the president did receive plenty of warnings.

[17:25:02] ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean that tweet is revisionist history, at best. And as you laid out, there were multiple warnings to the president about Michael Flynn being not the kind of person that he would need or want to bring into his administration. But in spite of that, you know, particularly after Sally Quinn - I'm

sorry, Sally Yates warned the president - warned the administration about Michael Flynn, the president came out publicly and said a number of positive things about Michael Flynn. He said he was being treated unfairly, he said he was a good man. He basically implied that he was being unfairly targeted.

And so, it's only now, after this information is being revealed to the president about this extent of Michael Flynn's cooperation and the degree to which Michael Flynn provided testimony that goes toward obstruction of justice that the president is now suddenly changing his tune about whether or not Michael Flynn was a good guy. I think it's -- it tells you something about what the president really knew Michael Flynn was up to. And I think that has really changed his view. This person he spent almost two years defending publicly in the face of all of this evidence, of all of the things that Michael Flynn did that were unethical or even illegal.

BORGER: You know there are two ways to think of this. First of all, during the transition and there was once he became president. During the transition, as you point out and you point out, Wolf, not only Barack Obama, but Chris Christie, and I remember reporting at the time, that when Chris Christie was head of the transition and they were having a transition meeting, he said, I don't have any jobs for Michael Flynn. I don't think that he should be in this administration.

And the president felt that Flynn was so loyal to him, because he was the first person with brass on his shoulders to endorse him and he heard it, he heard the criticism of him. Not necessarily that meeting, but at other times and said, you know, I still want to stick with him.

Then, once he became president and Sally Yates rushed to the White House with her hair on fire and talked Don McGahn, White House counsel, McGahn then personally told the president that there was a problem with General Flynn. And it took, what, 18 days for them to fire --

BLITZER: It was very fast.

BORGER: Yes, it was slow, yes.

BLITZER: All right guys, stick around. There's a lot more we need to follow. There's a lot more breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll be right back.


[17:31:57] BLITZER: We're back with our political and legal experts.

And, Susan Hennessey, the Attorney General, Bill Barr, he's giving interviews now. And he's reverting to what he had told Congress that there was spying -- he used the word spying once again -- going on, whether by the FBI or the CIA or others in the U.S. intelligence community, Justice Department, against the Trump campaign. And he's trying to get to the bottom of it. At one point, he says, I found that a lot of the answers have been

inadequate, and I've also found that some of the explanations I've gotten don't hang together. In a sense, I have more questions today.

HENNESSEY: So Barr is now launching a third inquiry into, essentially, the origins of the Russia investigation. There is already an Inspector General's investigation ongoing, and the Attorney General in Utah is also -- also has a related inquiry.

And Barr hasn't actually said why he thinks those two other investigations aren't enough and now this third one is needed. I do think it's really telling, though, the type of investigation that he's launching and the type of investigation that he's not launching.

Barr is asking for sort of a general review here. He is not launching a criminal inquiry. And I do think that it's fair to say that if there was enough to establish a criminal predicate, actually have an actual criminal investigation, Barr would be doing that. And so I do think the fact that he's not is some indication that that evidence isn't there.

It's also significant that he's asking John Durham, the United States Attorney in Connecticut, to conduct this review. Durham has a very strong reputation for being fair and thorough. He also has a reputation for taking a very, very long time to do his work.

And so I do think that there -- paired with sort of Barr's comments, it little bit raises the specter that maybe the game here is about sort of ginning up the appearance of an investigation, if not an actual investigation, in order to cast a pall over former FBI officials who might be inclined to criticize the President.

And also the Mueller investigation generally, to provide a little bit more fodder for President Trump's efforts to essentially respond to the really incriminating material that report finds by discrediting the investigators.

BLITZER: Because he says -- Barr, the Attorney General -- one of the problems is so many of the FBI officials, Justice Department officials, intelligence community officials, they're gone now. They're no longer in the government, and that's why he needs to launch this major investigation.

MUDD: I actually think this isn't a bad thing. You look at one of the most significant political investigations in my lifetime, going back to Watergate, and I suspect that there was some nastiness in the generation of the investigation. That is, how do we decide to go up on a FISA that is an intercept to Carter Page?

I agree completely on the characterization of Durham that -- the investigator who was brought in to do this. He investigated some of my friends at the CIA for some of what happened in the interrogation program. And behind the scenes, they would tell me they thought he was fair.

So there's stuff to investigate. I think he's going to find dirt, but let's not pretend that the Attorney General picked somebody out who's just going to find dirt for political reasons. This is a good investigator.

BLITZER: What do you think, Gloria?

BORGER: No, I agree. I think it also does pour kerosene on a fire that -- with people who say that the whole investigation should never have occurred and that it was politically motivated. And that's just going to be there.

[17:35:00] And I think it could be -- because Durham is so thorough, this could last beyond the election. And it does give a talking point, for better or worse, to Republicans to say, look, you know, this is being investigated.

If there is one doubt that this -- that this investigation was not started properly --

MUDD: Yes.

BORGER: -- I think for the sake of the FBI, that it ought to be investigated. And Christopher Wray doesn't seem to be pushing back on that, does he? I don't think so.

MUDD: I don't know.

PHILLIP: There also is a need to pacify President Trump. He's made it very clear that this is what he wants his Attorney General to do.

The fact that Jeff Sessions did not do that was the -- a source of constant, constant consternation for the President. He talked about it almost every day and did not really allow Jeff Sessions to do his job in other aspects of the job.

And so for Bill Barr to continue as Attorney General, there is some need for him to really address this issue. But there is, perhaps, a deeper need for the agency itself, for the Justice Department, to have some clarity about what actually happened here. And if this inquiry does provide that, then that actually might end up being good for the agency.

BLITZER: The President makes it clear, he knows what was going and he's got one word for it. He says treason. He tweeted today.

He said, my campaign for president was conclusively spied on. Nothing like this has ever happened in American politics. A really bad situation, treason -- all in caps -- means long jail sentences and this was treason.

BORGER: No. Like, that's outrageous. That's outrageous.

BLITZER: Totally outrageous but that's the President.

BORGER: Well, but that's outrageous for the President --

BLITZER: And it's an official government statement on Twitter. BORGER: Because the President is already making a judgment before

there is an investigation.

BLITZER: Yes. All right --

BORGER: And that's ridiculous.

BLITZER: -- stand by. Everybody, stand by. This afternoon, the President used a vulgar term once again to denounce reports of dissension on his national security team. But amid all the tough talk, there is little impact.

Up next, why aren't the President's policies making a difference with Russia, China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran?


[17:41:30] BLITZER: During a speech this afternoon, the President used a rather vulgar term to deny reports of dissension on his national security team over how to deal with Iran. I want to bring in our Senior Diplomatic Correspondent, Michelle Kosinski.

Michelle, the President's policies, at least so far, haven't had much of an impact on U.S. adversaries.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, drama seems to be a driving force of Trumpian foreign policies. These big gestures, big statements, that threat of all options always being on the table. So Trump is good at applying pressure, but this lingering question among analysts, both conservative and not, is, is any of it really working and can it work?


KOSINSKI (voice-over): President Trump has sent warships to the Persian Gulf, has choked Iran's cash flow, and members of his administration are openly encouraging regime change. But sources tell CNN, lately, he's been irritated by hawkish members of his team, like John Bolton.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I actually temper John, which is pretty amazing, isn't it?

KOSINSKI (voice-over): Today, he hit back at those reports, insisting he is not angry.

TRUMP: Mike Pompeo's doing a great job. Bolton's doing a great job. It's bullshit, O.K.? It's bullshit.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): Trump now wanting to talk to Iran.

TRUMP: I'd like to see them call me.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): A senior official telling CNN they are, quote, sitting by the phone, waiting for Iran to take them up on that, which could be a good thing. But it's appeared chaotic with zero diplomatic progress since Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal.

Trump blames the media for potentially confusing Iran, but lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are confused by the administration.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I'd like to know why we took the action we did. I think there are a lot of senators who, like me, are in the dark. And they dropped the ball on this.

RICHARD HAASS, PRESIDENT, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: So there's not a clear Trump policy on Iran, but there is a pattern here.

The President often stakes out wildly ambitious goals -- denuclearization of North Korea, essentially embracing regime change in Iran, a remaking of the Chinese economy -- and then he often is either stuck there or has to contemplate backing down.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): Trump, self-described dealmaker, relies on what he believes are good personal relationships with America's adversaries, like North Korea's Kim Jong-un.

TRUMP: And then we fell in love.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): But without the painstaking diplomatic process of hammering out details, which in the past has taken years, his two biggest summits have yielded not even a shared definition of denuclearization.

With China's President Xi --

TRUMP: I did get, last night, a very beautiful letter.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): -- the latest round of trade talks broke down. No deal.

TRUMP: We actually had a deal and they broke it, O.K.? I mean, I'm used to that. I've done it many times myself.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): In Venezuela, the sanctions and call for what the U.S. clearly thought would be a swift end to Nicolas Maduro's presidency seems to have stalled out for now.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: He had an airplane on the tarmac. He was ready to leave this morning, as we understand it, and the Russians indicated he should stay.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): And on Russia, Trump has played very good cop to his administration's penalties on Vladimir Putin, leading some analysts to question whether a lack of clarity, a lack of cohesive vision, and a reliance on pressure campaigns could end up sabotaging Trump's big dreams of fixing things like no one else could.


KOSINSKI: There are plenty of people on both sides of the aisle who welcome novel approaches to these problems. But now, when you ask the administration what's happening with this one or that one, they say, well, these things take time.

[17:44:56] Well, O.K., everybody knew that they take time. But in the beginning, the administration would say we are doing things differently. We're not waiting around. Denuclearization has to happen rapidly. Troops have to come out of Syria right now. Only to find out later that it's more like the opposite, Wolf.

BLITZER: Michelle Kosinski reporting for us. Good report. Thank you very much.

KOSINSKI: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, policy by tweet. We're taking a closer look at the President's reliance on Twitter to back his international policy decisions and other key moves.


[17:50:04] BLITZER: President Trump fired off a dozen tweets today on topics ranging from the Russia investigation to Iran to immigration, underscoring just how much he relies on Twitter.

Brian Todd has been looking into this for all of us. Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, just a short time ago, President Trump defended his use of Twitter, saying social media is a powerful tool for him.

But we've spoken to historians and Trump biographers who say the immediacy of Twitter is intoxicating for Donald Trump, and they're worried that the -- that the extent to which he is now turning to the social media feed is getting unhealthy.


TODD (voice-over): For a president obsessed with polls, ratings, and adulation, there is nothing he loves more than that popularity barometer in his pocket, his Twitter account.

TRUMP: I guess we have 60 million -- almost 60 million on Twitter.

TODD (voice-over): The President has become so reliant on Twitter that Politico says, in a meeting earlier this year, he stopped a conversation with frustrated lawmakers about his decision to pull troops out of Syria in order to consult his Twitter account.

Quote, get Dan Scavino in here, the President reportedly called out. Scavino, Trump's social media adviser, walked in. Politico says Trump then instructed Scavino to, quote, tell them how popular my policy is. Scavino reportedly then took the Congressman through the positive response Trump had gotten to the Syria decision on social media.

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, AUTHOR, "THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMP": I think the thing that matters most to the President is that he be affirmed by the people who love him. The people on Twitter who follow him and respond every time he says something. He uses Twitter almost as a personal polling service.

TODD (voice-over): The President has often relied on Twitter to share his grievances and announce major decisions. But those who study him say, more and more, he seems to be using Twitter to gauge the reaction of his base over the advice of his administration.

A far cry, historians say, from presidents who relied on polling, intelligence briefings, and background documents.

TIMOTHY NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Donald Trump gives us the impression that he doesn't really use any of the work or not much of the work that the -- that the institutions provide him and seems to rely on Twitter. Not only for a sense of how well his policies are doing, for what -- but for what those policies ought to be, and that's -- well, that's actually unprecedented.

TODD (voice-over): Twitter is where the President goes to take the pulse of his base, analysts say, before he makes a decision. But it's also a vehicle to validate his viewpoints. Illustrated by his frenzied binges of retweeting others.

D'ANTONIO: He has all the power that comes with the office and yet he's insecure. He's so insecure that he's going to his Twitter feed to pump himself up.

TODD (voice-over): Sometimes, the sources from which the President retweets have questionable credibility or are downright dangerous, like his 2016 retweet of three videos from a British anti-Muslim Twitter account. So what does his Twitter dependence say about Trump's view of reality?

D'ANTONIO: A president who spends most of his time either watching T.V. or tapping out tweets on his phone is going to have a warped sense of reality. He's not in the everyday existence that the rest of us share.

TODD (voice-over): The President, today, touted his use of Twitter as a way to circumvent traditional media.

TRUMP: I have to go through a different source. It's called the switches. And go with our social media stuff which is quite powerful, I must say.

TODD (voice-over): And aides defend Trump's practice of not reading thick briefing papers or relying solely on advisers, saying Twitter gives Trump an effective way of having two-way communication with voters.

CLIFF SIMS, AUTHOR, " TEAM OF VIPERS: MY 500 EXTRAORDINARY DAYS IN THE TRUMP WHITE HOUSE": He's able to control so much of the news cycle through Twitter and other things. It allows him to see that and then react to it in real-time.


TODD: But historians are warning tonight of the dangers of Trump's reliance on Twitter to inform so much of what he does as president.

One historian says, to solve an international crisis, for instance, a president often has to figure out what the other side is looking for, to understand that and find a common interest. He says you don't get that kind of information when you're only tapping your Twitter feed and seeing your followers telling you to be a tough guy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point. How much has the influence of this one aide to the President -- the social media advisor, how much influence as he -- does he have and how has it grown?

TODD: It's astounding, Wolf. The former Trump strategist, Steve Bannon, quoted in Politico as saying of that aide, Dan Scavino, that Scavino is essentially the communications department of the White House because so many communications directors under Trump have left.

That's extraordinary for a man who, before he came to the White House, he had been a caddy, and he had managed one of Trump's golf clubs.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, reporting, thank you. Coming up, breaking news. The Treasury Secretary refuses to turn over President Trump's tax returns defying a subpoena from a powerful Democratic committee chairman.


[17:59:52] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. No new tax returns. The Trump administration just defied another subpoena from House Democrats, refusing to hand over the President's tax information. Is the showdown now headed to court?

Why was I not told?