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Interview With Former FBI General Counsel Jim Baker; Interview With Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R), Illinois; Rep. Jerry Nadler (D) New York Says There May Very Well Be A Formal Impeachment Inquiry; 2020 Dem Rivals Pounce On Biden After He Backs Limits On Federal Funding For Abortion; Russia Intercepts U.S. Aircraft Over Mediterranean Sea. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 5, 2019 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The vice president delivers Mr. Trump's tariff threat directly to Mexican officials, despite growing protests within the GOP. Is this the issue that's finally getting President Trump and his allies to turn?

Reelectable? CNN's exclusive new poll reveals Americans increasingly believe that President Trump will win a second term, this as Democratic front-runner Joe Biden is giving his primary rivals new reasons to pounce.

Branding problem. President Trump suggests the answer to climate change is a new name. He claims it's actually called extreme weather, adding to concerns that he's misinformed about the serious global threat.

And aggressive maneuvers. A Russian warplane intercepts a U.S. aircraft in international airspace three times in less than three hours. U.S. Navy officials sounding the alarm that Russia's actions were dangerous and irresponsible.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on President Trump's threat to slap Mexico with new tariffs five days from now and the backlash emerging within his own party.

Vice President Pence just wrapped up some high-stakes talks with Mexican officials, laying out U.S. demands to ease illegal migration to avoid the new tariffs. But Republicans in Congress are increasingly worried that the tariffs will go through and that American consumers will pay the price.

Key Republican senators telling CNN they want Mr. Trump to speak to them directly after he returns from overseas, so they can plead with him to back down. Also breaking, the House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Jerry Nadler,

telling me just a little while ago that there may ultimately be a formal impeachment inquiry of President Trump, even though there doesn't appear to be support for it now.

This hour, I will speak to Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger. He's a key member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's in Normandy, France, right now ahead of the D-Day commemoration.

Jim, as President Trump honors a turning point in World War II, he's facing some very serious battles here at home.


President Trump will be here in Normandy tomorrow to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasions. But the president has been sounding awfully combative lately, whether it's his call to raise tariffs on Mexico or his battles on Twitter.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Landing in Ireland one day before the world marks the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, President Trump is making waves, stepping up his warning that he will impose new tariffs on Mexico to crack down on the border.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think Mexico has to step up. And if they don't, tariffs will go on. And the people aren't going to have to worry about paying the tax, because the companies are going to move back in to the United States. There won't be any tariffs.

ACOSTA: But part of that is not quite true, as economists predict those tariffs would lead to higher prices for American consumers. Still, the White House is sending mixed messages.

After GOP lawmakers began to rebel against the plan, aides to Mr. Trump cautioned the tariffs may not happen after all.

PETER NAVARRO, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE OFFICE OF TRADE AND MANUFACTURING POLICY: After the tariffs are put in place, the Mexican government will bear costs of that. We believe that these tariffs may not have to go into effect precisely because we have the Mexicans' attention.

ACOSTA: Heading into the D-Day anniversary, the president addressed criticism that he avoided service during the Vietnam War, arguing in an interview on British television that he's helping the military as commander in chief.

TRUMP: Well, I was never a fan of that war. I will be honest with you. I thought it was a terrible war. I thought it was very far away. And I think I'm making up for it rapidly because we're rebuilding our military at a level that it's never seen before. ACOSTA: The president also defended his decision to ban transgender

people from serving in the military, insisting their prescription drug costs are too high, while ignoring that other service members run up medical bills too.

TRUMP: They take massive amounts of drugs. They have to. And, also -- and you're not allowed to take drugs. You know, in the military, you're not allowed to take any drugs.

ACOSTA: Mr. Trump was also back to denying climate change, something the scientific community agrees is happening.

TRUMP: I believe that there's a change in weather. And I think it changes both ways. Don't forget, it used to be called global warming. That wasn't working. Then it was called climate change. Now it's actually called extreme weather.

ACOSTA: The president also found time to launch a Twitter attack on Bette Midler, calling her "washed-up psycho and a sick scammer," after the actress mistakenly misquoted Mr. Trump.

Despite the odd timing of that insult, the RNC's chairwoman said the president should be celebrated on D-Day.

RONNA MCDANIEL, CHAIR, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: We're celebrating the anniversary, 75 years of D-Day. This is a time where we should be celebrating our president, the great achievements of America. And I don't think the American people like this constant negativity.


ACOSTA: Republicans may be feeling more confident about Mr. Trump's chances in 2020, after a new CNN poll found most Americans think he will win reelection.

Back in Ireland, the president still has his mind on his real estate business, as he swatted away questions that he was only stopping in the country to promote his golf course there, where he's spending the night.

TRUMP: No, this trip is really about great relationships that we have with the U.K. And I really wanted to do this stop in Ireland. It was very important to me because of the relationship I have with the people and with your prime minister.


ACOSTA: And Wolf, as you were just mentioning a few moments ago, Vice President Mike Pence was meeting with high-level Mexican officials over at the White House earlier this evening to see if they can figure out some kind of way to avoid these tariffs going into effect next week.

I asked a senior White House official earlier in the day as to what the chances are, in terms of whether they're not the president might decide against imposing those tariffs. That senior White House official said that that would be a very small chance of that happening, the president deciding against imposing those tariffs.

And, Wolf, as for what's happening here for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, the president will be here tomorrow to deliver some remarks to dignitaries who are going to be gathered here from across the world. And much of the world will be watching you to see whether or not the president could put aside those differences, those distractions, those grievances to mark the heroism that arrived here on the shores of Normandy 75 years ago -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta reporting from Omaha Beach in France.

Jim, we will stay in close touch with you. Thank you.

Let's go to Capitol Hill right now and more breaking news on the Republican opposition to the new tariffs on Mexico.

Our Senior Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju, is joining us.

Manu, I take it some Republican senators, they're asking that the president speak to them directly before he actually goes ahead and implements these tariffs. What are you learning?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Republican senators are telling me that they want to hear directly from President Trump, make the case to him directly to hold off on these tariffs, to explain to them how these tariffs, if they were to go into effect, could hurt their states, hurt their businesses, hurt voters, because earlier this week, senior officials from the White House and the Justice Department did meet behind closed doors with these Republican senators.

And that did not go well. They got ample pushback. But the president continues to move forward. So, now Republicans are saying they want the president to hold off on that Monday deadline and make the case directly themselves.


SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R), LOUISIANA: I don't particularly favor the tariffs. I'm afraid that it might endanger some American jobs, but obviously it has been effective.

RAJU: Would you support them if it comes to a vote on the Senate floor?

CASSIDY: I'm hoping that it doesn't come to a vote.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Millions of jobs in Texas depend on international trade and in particular trade with Mexico. But this is the wrong solution to the crisis.

RAJU: Would you vote to stop it?

CRUZ: I doubt it's going to come to this. Right now, what we're seeing, this is like a giant game of chicken.


RAJU: So the big question, Wolf, is whether or not if this moves forward Republicans will in fact defy him in such large numbers that they would have a veto-proof majority to prevent the president from moving forward on these tariffs.

And, as you can see, Republicans don't want to answer that question yet, because they're hoping they can convince the president to hold off. But, ultimately, if he does move forward, that confrontation could only grow here on Capitol Hill -- Wolf.

BLITZER: On another sensitive issue, Manu, I just spoke with the House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Jerry Nadler, about opening a formal impeachment inquiry.

You were listening. Does it sound like he's moving closer to doing exactly that?

RAJU: Well, he's certainly not ruling it out. He is getting pressure from a number of members, including on his committee, to move forward with an impeachment inquiry.

And, Wolf, notably, when you asked him whether or not he and Nancy Pelosi are on the same page, Pelosi, who opposes moving forward an inquiry right now, Nadler would not say.


BLITZER: Mr. Chairman, why not open a formal inquiry?

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: As I said, it may come to that.

BLITZER: But why not now? What's the problem if you start it right now, and you begin the process? You're going to go ahead with investigations to begin with.

NADLER: Well, right now, there doesn't appear to be the support for it.

BLITZER: Are you on the same page with the speaker, Nancy Pelosi, when it comes to impeachment?

NADLER: As I said, we are launching an inquiry now, and whether we will launch an impeachment inquiry, it may come to that.

BLITZER: Well, is there any chance, Mr. Chairman, you would open up an impeachment inquiry without Speaker Pelosi's support?

NADLER: I think that if -- when that decision has to be made, it will be made not by any one individual. It will be made by the -- probably by the caucus as a whole.

Certainly, Nancy will have the largest single voice in it, various committee chairs, and rank-and-file members. (END VIDEOTAPE)

RAJU: Now, Wolf, he would not say whether or not he would break ultimately from Pelosi or stay on the same page with her and move forward with an inquiry, even if she doesn't support it.


That was a significant comment there. The question is whether or not ultimately Pelosi decides to support opening up an impeachment inquiry, Nadler decides to move forward.

That's still a question in the days and weeks ahead, Pelosi making very clear today that she does not favor moving forward with impeachment, saying she's feeling no pressure whatsoever. She is concerned that people believe that the House can simply impeach and remove the president.

But, of course, the Senate, controlled by Republicans, would need to vote by a two-thirds majority to convict and remove him from office. So that tension only bound to intensify, but Nadler making it very clear the support right now within the caucus is not there to move forward with an impeachment inquiry.

And one big reason why, of course, is because of Nancy Pelosi -- Wolf.

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

Joining us, Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. He serves on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining.


BLITZER: Let's get to some of these issues.

Will you support President Trump and vote for tariffs on Mexico if it comes down to that?

KINZINGER: No, I don't intend to.

And here's the thing. And I need to stress this. There is a massive crisis on the border. I have actually worked it as a Guard pilot. I didn't just throw on a windbreaker and go get my picture taken. I worked it. It is a massive issue. It has to be addressed.

And, thus far, our friends on the other side of the aisle have refused to address it with us. And I hope, if the president does it, he's successful in getting Mexico to make a move.

But I don't think linking policy differences with a trade issue like tariffs is the right thing to do, for a couple of reasons. We're already in a pretty intense trade battle right now with China. It's the right battle to have with China. It should have been done 20 years ago.

There is a massive effect on my district and my district's farmers, on top of the fact that everything's flooding right now and they can't get the crops in the field. To now open a second trade battle with our largest trading partner would have a devastating effect on the people I represent.

And, frankly, I think it could give an opening for China to move into that market. So I support the president's assessment of the problem 100 percent. But what I don't like is the idea of using tariffs just because we have a policy disagreement, as massive as it may be.

BLITZER: And I know you're just back from the Air National Guard. You spent some active duty in the Reserves along the border, not far from the border with Mexico.

If this is still unclear, if it's still unclear, Congressman, that this is just a threat from the president, or if this tariff will hold at only 5 percent, or will it go all the way up to 25 percent in the following months, how do the farmers, the manufacturers plan around this, because the impact will be enormous, especially on your constituents?

KINZINGER: Yes, I mean, it's certainly a problem.

And keep in mind Mexico is now our largest trading partner. And so this has massive implications at a time when, frankly, my farmers are still very supportive of President Trump. They say it's costing them, but they understand that, on behalf of the country, we have to win this war and that China's targeting them because they're Trump's base.

So I think focusing on that one thing right now is the right thing to do and finding hopefully other carrots or sticks, whatever it takes, to get Mexico to play ball with us. They really need to. And I think there's a lot of things they can do.

But, like I said, if the president goes forward with this, I hope he succeeds, because it's a real problem. But I will have to do what's in the interest of my constituents if a vote is ever put before me.

But I'm also going to caveat that to say all the votes that the Democratic Party has put before us in the House, they have thrown some super political elements in there and I don't think really intend to do anything. So we will see what it ends up looking like.

BLITZER: Congressman, according to the Customs and Border Protection service, 133,000 people crossed the southern border illegally last month alone, including 11,000, 11,000, unaccompanied children.

And now the Department of Health and Human Services is actually scaling back activities for children due to this influx, in some cases canceling those activities altogether.

What needs to happen to address this, because this is a heart- wrenching situation?


And this is, Wolf, why I think Republicans and Democrats have got to for a moment put our politics aside. I think this is -- this is fixable. I don't know all the answers. I'm going to be clear about that, because if I did, I would probably write an article and it would be adopted and everything.

But when you have a parent sending a minor up through cartel territory unaccompanied, 11,000 of them, first off, you got to wonder what's going on there, obviously a very desperate situation. But then you have a child that shows up. We literally run out of space. So you have two options.

You can call and see if they have a relative in the United States. If they don't want, one that we can get a hold of, you either have to hold on to them, send them back to the country of origin, or -- I mean, you can't walk into the middle of Dallas and release an 11-year- old child alone.

So this is the problem. It's not the Trump administration being mean. It's not the Obama administration, when they were doing it, being mean. It's the fact that there is really no option.


And so, yes, maybe more facilities, that kind of stuff. But the reality is, is, this migration problem is way overwhelming the infrastructure that we have, and it's going to take bipartisan agreement to fix it, and be damned the political consequences of it.

BLITZER: But, Congressman, you and I know this is a great country, and we have the capability to help 11,000 kids who are unaccompanied and make sure that they're safe and secure.


And whatever we can do, we ought to do that. Part of it is through not-for-profits that take care of these children, also seeing, of course, if they have parents there. At one point, they were talking about housing people at military bases. And that was controversial, because, oh, my gosh, it's a military base.

So the question is, yes, do we have the capability? We do. But that capability is not taking 11,000 children, putting them in strangers' homes in the United States, or releasing them out into the streets. You have to do something. And you have to prove, for the ones that do come up with parents, that it's actually their parents, because sometimes they will just grab an unaccompanied minor and say, this is my kid.

BLITZER: Let me turn into a different topic, as we commemorate D-Day.

President Trump, as you know, he never served in the U.S. military. But he says he's making up for that by rebuilding the U.S. military right now. You're a veteran. You're in the Air National Guard. You served

active duty only last week down in Texas. What do you make of that point that the president is making?

KINZINGER: Well, I don't think you can ever make up for not serving by doing anything.

We don't need everybody to serve. We don't want everybody to serve, but service is a special breed of people that ought to be honored and recognized for that.

I do think the president is rebuilding the military. And as a guy in the Guard, I can tell you my flying hours have increased, the training has increased. The morale has increased, because the funding is back. We're now investing in future weapons system, which we had dried up over the last 10 years, which is why China and Russia in some cases have parity on some of that.

So that's a good thing. But this is a moment where tomorrow we recognize the importance that America has had in the world. And I think it's an opportunity for all of us, Republicans and Democrats, to try to remember what it used to be like when we put politics at just inside the water and not outside of the water's edge and see if we can restore some of that.

Everybody bears responsibility for some of that. And if we as a country can take a deep breath, and just appreciate what we have done for the world and for the people that live here, that would be a good start at least.

BLITZER: Congressman Kinzinger, thanks so much for your service.

KINZINGER: You bet. Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, just ahead, we're going to have the latest on whether Robert Mueller will testify before Congress. I will talk to the former top FBI lawyer during the Russia investigation.



BLITZER: Breaking news tonight on the push for impeachment.

The House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Jerry Nadler, tells me it may very well come down to a formal impeachment inquiry, even if the support isn't there, at least not yet.

Joining us now, the former top lawyer at the FBI during the Russia investigation, Jim Baker.

Jim, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: So, Nadler tells me that he believes Robert Mueller, the former special counsel, is an honorable person, in his words. He said he doesn't think they will need to issue a formal subpoena to get his testimony. But, if they do, he can't imagine Mueller defying the law.

But Mueller did make it clear when he spoke out publicly he really doesn't want to do this. Do you believe he has an obligation to speak directly to the American public?

BAKER: I mean, I think if Congress asks him, he will go and do what it...


BLITZER: Subpoena or no subpoena?

BAKER: Yes, I would doubt that he would need a subpoena to come. And he will show up.

And I think he -- as you said, he made it perfectly clear he really doesn't want to do this. He's not going to go beyond really the four corners of the document. But that doesn't mean he wouldn't. And that doesn't mean there's not value for the American people from hearing from him directly, at least in summary form, to try to understand the scope of that 448-page report.

BLITZER: Because, as you know, most Americans have not read the 448- page report, but they would see him on television talking about it.

BAKER: Exactly. Exactly.

And it's a -- and I think members of Congress could ask reasonable questions of former Director Mueller to get a sense, a clear sense of what it was he was concerned about and help the American people understand.

That's what this is really all about at the end of the day. Impeachment is a political process. And, to my mind, if you don't have the support of the American people, it's not going to go forwards. That requires educating the American people.

That's what Congress needs to do and focus on and figure out how to do that in an effective way.

BLITZER: That's why that testimony could be very significant if it happens.

BAKER: Exactly.

BLITZER: A day after Mueller did speak out and made his public statement, the attorney general, William Barr, gave an interview to CBS News. I'm sure you watched it. We all did.

He spoke about starting an investigation into the start of the Russia probe. He said he's looking, in his words, at a small group at the top of the FBI who ran the Russia probe out of headquarters, instead of as a normal investigation.

That small group at the top of the FBI presumably includes you. What was your reaction to that?

BAKER: Well, so I have been struggling with that interview.

I mean, look, first of all, yes, there was a small group of people at the FBI who were in charge of this. And it was the director and Andy McCabe who were in charge of the FBI, nobody else.

But that doesn't mean that these were the only people working on investigation. There were a large number of FBI people working on the various strands of this investigation.


So I don't think it's accurate to describe this as just a small group of people running the whole show. That's just not true.

BLITZER: You were aware that this investigation was under way?

BAKER: Yes, I was aware of it. I was advising the folks running it. I was advising Director Comey, Andy McCabe, yes, absolutely.

BLITZER: And, from your perspective, did it go by the book?

BAKER: Well, go buy the books. We ran the investigation in accordance with the law, the Constitution, the attorney general guidelines, absolutely.

But we were doing it, obviously, in a highly unusual situation. Just we -- cases like this are not normal. There's no chapter in the book that specifically addresses this type of investigation.

BLITZER: Because -- I ask the question because President Trump, as you know, has accused that small group -- and he uses the word treason.


BLITZER: When Barr was asked if he agrees with the president, he said he doesn't think that they're guilty of treason as a legal matter.

What's your reaction?


Well, I'm glad to hear the attorney general say that. That's important. I was highly troubled by the president of the United States saying that, because treason is a defined thing. It's specifically defined in the Constitution. It clearly did not apply in this situation.

And I think the president, as the chief legal officer of the United States, right, he can overrule the attorney general in any legal matter, and he has an obligation under the Constitution to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, including applying the definition of treason when it -- when it actually is supported by the facts, and not using such inflammatory language when it's not. BLITZER: Treason, potentially -- if you're convicted of treason, carries the death sentence.

BAKER: It carries -- yes. It's a very severe sentence, yes.

BLITZER: It's a tough word.


BLITZER: A British newspaper, "The Times," is reporting that the author of that so-called Russia dossier, Christopher Steele, is actually going to be speaking with Department of Justice officials, part of the attorney general's investigation into the origins of the Russia probe.

What is your understanding of that dossier's role in launching this investigation?

BAKER: Well, the investigation was not launched by the dossier. The investigator was launched by the fact that we were conducting -- we have been conducting investigations of Russia for a long, long time.

In the summer of 2016 then, we were looking at what the Russians were doing with respect to trying to interfere in our election. And then we got information from a friendly foreign government about what George Papadopoulos was doing in his interactions potentially, directly or indirectly, with the Russians.

That's what started the investigation. The dossier came later.

BLITZER: What do you think the Department of Justice officials want to learn from Christopher Steele?

BAKER: I mean, I guess they want to try to understand what it was. What was the providence of this report and how -- what were his sources of information? How did he analyze the information that he was getting from the sources? How credible did he find them to be? Were there any other factors that were at issue in terms of who was supporting him?

His credibility, I think to get a sense of that directly.

BLITZER: Well, you were the top lawyer, the top counsel with the FBI when you got ahold of that Russia dossier. How significant was it?

BAKER: Well, I don't want to over -- I don't want to say we overemphasized or overindexed on it. We took it seriously. It was a set of information coming from somebody that we thought was a credible source.

And yet we wanted to make sure that we vetted those allegations before just launching off and taking action on the basis of that. So we expended significant resources in trying to understand exactly where this information was coming from, how reliable the sub-sources were, and what to make of all this.

BLITZER: And Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence operative.


BLITZER: He did apparently have some good credentials.

But knowing what now, Jim, as opposed to what you knew then, was that Russia dossier credible?

BAKER: I don't think I can comment on that, because I don't have the latest information with respect to what the FBI has been able to ascertain in terms of the veracity of all those allegations in the dossier.

I don't know the most recent information. So I can't answer that question. It is something that we were trying to do at the time, because we wanted to make sure that we weren't just swallowing this thing hook line and sinker.

BLITZER: Has the -- either the attorney general or other officials at the Justice Department asked you to come in and testify?

BAKER: I have been cooperating with the Department of Justice. I have spoken with various reviews that they have been conducting. I stand ready to do that again.

I have offered my assistance with respect to the current review that they're doing, that Mr. Durham is doing. And I stand ready to try to help the attorney general understand what it is that we were up to.

BLITZER: John Durham, he's the U.S. attorney in Connecticut.

BAKER: In Connecticut, yes.

BLITZER: He's launched this new investigation.

But the inspector general, Michael Horowitz, has his own investigation. That's supposedly wrapping up. Have you spoken to him as well?

BAKER: Yes, I have been cooperating with that investigation. I have had a longstanding relationship with the inspector general's office, because I firmly believe in the appropriateness and the need for effective oversight of the FBI.

BLITZER: And it's important that all this information eventually be made public, so we can learn -- if there were mistakes, we can learn from those mistakes.

BAKER: If there mistakes -- if mistakes were made, then people need to be held accountable, fine.


And if we need to learn lessons from them and make changes with respect to internal procedures or something like that, absolutely. That would be a good thing. We need to make sure that the American people have confidence that he FBI and other elements of the government do what they're supposed to do within the bounds of law.

BLITZER: Jim Baker is the former General Counsel at the FBI. Thanks for your service. Thanks very much for coming in.

BAKER: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we're going to have more on the breaking news from my interview with the House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Jerry Nadler, and the potential roadmap for an impeachment.



BLITZER: We are following multiple breaking stories tonight, including new remarks about impeachment by a key House Democrat. Let's dig deeper with our correspondents and analysts.

And, Sabrina Siddiqui, let me play for you what the House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Jerry Nadler, told me on the issue of impeachment.


REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): We are investigating all the things we would investigate, frankly, in an impeachment inquiry. We are starting with the Mueller report, which shows -- I think it shows ample evidence of multiple crimes of obstruction of justice and abuse of power, and we will have the testimony about that. It may very well come to a formal impeachment inquiry. We will see.


BLITZER: It's interesting. You know, he says that there's ample evidence of multiple crimes. How significant is it that the chairman of this committee who could launch this kind of procedure is saying that?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's certainly significant, I think, with each passing day, the language that House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Jerry Nadler, uses is more and more forceful. And you can see the growing frustration among democrats with the White House's repeated efforts to stonewall its subpoena requests for both witnesses and documents. And, look, Jerry Nadler, at the end of the day, with the exception of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is the most influential figure in any impeachment process.

It is interesting that he tried to make this distinction and say, look, what we're doing now is, in many ways, an impeachment inquiry without the formal name. But remember, if democrats do formally launch an impeachment inquiry, that does give them some more power to obtain some of those documents that -- testimony from some of those witnesses that they haven't been able to access.

So I do think that it's just a matter of time when you see more and more democrats, if the White House also continues to block their request, who will break and come out in favor of impeachment. That's certainly been the trend.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, the whole atmosphere of conflict and tension inside the house democratic caucus was embodied in that one interview you just did. I mean, you can see it and you can feel it, you can almost taste it watching the House Judiciary Chairman try to go on party lines and try to respect the wishes of Nancy Pelosi.

But you could see how hard it is for him as every day passes to hold off on the notion of saying, okay, I am going to go for an impeachment inquiry. And you could almost see the wheels turning on that dynamic that has been going on, not just behind the scenes in caucus meetings but it's obviously been spilling out even more so since Robert Mueller spoke last week.

And the fact of the matter is -- and he even said -- or maybe he didn't say, when you asked him, would you ever split from Nancy Pelosi, he didn't say yes, which I thought was very --

BLITZER: Let me play that clip, Jeffrey, then we'll discuss. Listen to this.


BLITZER: Is there any chance, Mr. Chairman, you would open up an impeachment inquiry without Speaker Pelosi's support?

NADLER: I think that if -- when that decision has to be made, it will be made not by any one individual. It will be made by the -- probably the caucus as a whole. Certainly, Nancy will have the largest single voice in it, the various committee chairmen and rank and file members.


BLITZER: All right. Earlier, I asked him if he and Nancy Pelosi were on the same page. There was a long pause, you know, and he really didn't answer that. That's why I followed up.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: These are artful non- answers. I think what Jerry Nadler should be doing is instead of talking about an investigation, doing an investigation. You know, they haven't held many hearings.

Now, they are going to hold a hearing on Monday where John Dean is going testify. But, I mean, you know, the democrats are sort of spinning their wheels talking about whether they're going to do an inquiry and what kind of investigation they're going to do. They ought to start just getting some witnesses in and talk and, you know, getting evidence rather than just talking about these issues.

SIDDIQUI: In their defense though, they have tried and everybody has been saying no.

TOOBIN: Well, they have tried but then call -- then to hold a hearing about the fact that no one is cooperating.

SIDDIQUI: Fair point.

TOOBIN: I mean, the -- I don't think they are doing themselves any favors by having these internal public discussions.

BLITZER: Let me hear what Phil Mudd thinks. Go ahead, Phil.

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERRORISM ANALYST: I completely agree with Jeffrey. Look, this -- if --- like Nancy Pelosi or not, she runs a tight ship. There's only one question here and it's not about impeachment yet. It's about whether the American people see somebody on video who reflects in living color what the Mueller report says. Until you get that, I think the American people are going to say, hey, you're spinning wheels. I don't understand why you're going down this path that divides America.

Again, like Nancy Pelosi or not, I think she's got this brilliantly. If we don't have witnesses on camera that give us ammo to tell people who were on the fence, we've got to go down this path. The democrats are in trouble.

BLITZER: That's an important point. Let's take a quick break. A lot more on all the breaking news right after this.



BLITZER: Our experts and our specialists, they are here, they are standing by. But right now, I want to update you on the latest developments in politics.

Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden is on the defense right now as his 2020 rivals pounce on the former Vice President over his continued support for the Hyde Amendment, which limits federal funding for abortions under almost all circumstances.

[18:45:06] Our Political Reporter, Arlette Saenz is joining us right now.

Arlette, why is Biden campaign suddenly having to clarify his position on this very sensitive issue, and has Biden himself said anything about it yet?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Joe Biden didn't respond today in Boston when a reporter asked him a question about this. But earlier today, you saw the Biden campaign confirm the former vice president does support the Hyde Amendment which prohibits the use of federal funds for abortions expect in a case of rape, incest and saving the life of the mother.

But this all started last month when an ACLU volunteer asked Biden a question about this at an event in South Carolina. Take a listen to what happened there.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will you commit to abolishing the Hyde Amendment which hurts poor women and women of color?

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes. Yes, and by the way, ACLU member -- I got a perfect voting record my entire career.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I heard you did, but I'm glad you just said you would commit to abolishing the Hyde Amendment.

BIDEN: No, no, right now, it has to be -- it can't stay.


SAENZ: Now, the Biden campaign says the former vice president misheard what she was asking, thought she was referring to the Mexico City policy, which prohibits the use of federal funds for non- government organizations abroad that perform or promote abortions. But today, again, the Biden campaign clarifying that he does still support that Hyde amendment though he would be open to appealing it down the line potentially, Wolf.

BLITZER: Democratic rivals, they have been quick to pounce and to react to this news. Tell us about that.

SAENZ: That's right, Wolf. There was a really pile-on for Joe Biden on Twitter. Almost all of the Democratic candidates reacting, saying that they want to see the Hyde Amendment repealed, including New York Mayor Bill de Blasio who directly called out Joe Biden, saying when it comes to supporting American women on issues like repealing the Hyde Amendment, Joe Biden is Dr. Jekyll.

Now, there's a little mistake in there that Dr. Jekyll was the god one. But de Blasio clarifying that he needs to brush up on his late 19th century literature.

But I also want you to take a listen to what Elizabeth Warren had to say about the Hyde Amendment today.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't support the Hyde amendment and will lead to fight to have it overturned.

REPORTER: But the nominee be someone who does.

WARREN: This isn't about the politics. This is about what's right. The Hyde Amendment should not be American law.


SAENZ: So, this issue is really one of the first major fault lines between Biden and the rest of the Democratic field. We'll see if going forward as they head into that first debate in late June whether other Democrats are going continue to try to capitalize off this -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Arlette Saenz on the scene for us -- Arlette, thanks very much. Jeffrey Toobin, what do you think of these developments?

TOOBIN: This is why it's good to have primaries. I mean, this is a substantive issue. It's a very important issue. Democrats have moved left on this issue. There's no -- Bill Clinton was a supporter of the Hyde Amendment, but the Democratic Party is not there anymore.

And, you know, the Hyde Amendment, all medical coverage is allowed under Medicaid except abortion, and that is something that most Democrats now object to. And we'll see how important it is to voters.

BASH: And this is something he had been -- that sound bite, take that aside if he misheard her, you know, whatever. But this is something that Joe Biden had been very consistent on for his decades --

BLITZER: His support for the Hyde Amendment.

BASH: -- in the Senate, his support for the Hyde Amendment because for most of that time, he had a lot of Democratic companies, to Jeffrey's point, because it had not been and has not been a litmus test for being for abortion rights. The idea of taxpayer dollars for abortions had been in a different category politically and policy- wise.

And Joe Biden is doing something that we maybe aren't so used to, which is he's sticking to that, and he believes that because of his faith, because -- for a lot of other reasons, he's sticking to this. It is not beneficial for him in the short-term politically. In the long-term if he does get the nomination, it's great for him politically as he tries to pull conservative Democrats, even Republicans who are disillusioned with Trump into the fold.

BLITZER: Sabrina?

SIDDIQUI: I do think this brings up an interesting debate before the Democratic Party, that they had engaged in during the 2018 midterms, and some of these special elections where Democrats are running in more conservative districts, which is, is there still room for a pro- life Democrat in the current Democratic Party? And I think one of the distinctions that some of the candidates have made is, you know, I am pro-life in my personal life, but as a policymaker, I would sign pro- choice legislation.

Now, with Joe Biden for the most part, he has a pretty favorable record on abortion rights, but this is very specifically a policy issue. It's not a place where he can say, you know, it's just a personal opinion because it speaks directly to a matter of federal policy. If you see how quickly Democratic candidates were to react, the other 2020 contenders, that's not something we have seen so far. They have been only subtle in some of their attacks, if you want to call criticisms to one another.

[18:50:14] But they were very quick to pounce, which I think is a preview of what you'll see in the debate stage.

BLITZER: Yes, it's one thing for the campaign to explain what he meant, Phil, but it's another thing for the candidate himself to go out there and explain his position.

MUDD: Sure. But I don't think this is about -- I don't think this is about Joe Biden. I think this is about 20-plus Democratic candidates who are trying to figure out something that can give them an edge.

Look, we're quoting Bill de Blasio, he has as much chance of being president as I do. Every one of these guys is looking at a front runner trying to say, in my lifetime, there is somebody who caught fire.

Jimmy Carter was a governor from Plains, Georgia, who grew peanuts.

You look at Bill Clinton. He's a governor from Hope, Arkansas, I bring hope.

Barack Obama was barely a senator, he could speak really well and he looked awesome in a suit which still ticks me off because I can't match him, and he caught fire.

There's a bunch of candidates trying to look for an issue that will catch fire. And they were looking at this saying, hey, why don't I tweet on this today to see if it will help me. I don't think this will hurt him.


TOOBIN: In fairness -- but, you know, first of all, in fairness, Phil Mudd is extremely handsome.


BASH: Looks great in a suit.

TOOBIN: This is not just an attempt to differentiate from Joe Biden. People really care about the Hyde Amendment. It's a very important issue to many people, including Democratic Party voters. And they are speaking out because any really disagree with Biden on this.

BLITZER: There are poor women out there who need that kind of financial support.

All right, guys. Everybody, stick around.

There is more information that's coming into THE SITUATION ROOM, including some new information about a dangerous encounter between U.S. and Russian planes over the Mediterranean.

Plus, how a helicopter rescue went terribly wrong.


[18:56:37] BLITZER: New details tonight about a dangerous encounter between a U.S. Navy plane and a Russian fighter jet over the Mediterranean Sea.

Our Pentagon Correspondent, Barbara Starr is working the story for us. Barbara, the U.S. says this Russian aircraft put the American pilots

and crew at risk.


This happened over the eastern Mediterranean. A U.S. Navy maritime patrol aircraft, a crew of nine, conducting its mission in international air space encounters Russian Sukhoi 35. That is one of the Russians' most advanced, newer fighter jets.

It comes up alongside the plane, and in a three-hour encounter intercepts -- tries to intercept the U.S. aircraft three times. Two of the encounters relatively safe but one deemed by the United States Navy to be unsafe because the Sukhoi 35 passed right in front of the nose of the U.S. aircraft at about 150 miles an hour causing turbulence.

A lot of concern that this type of activity is so dangerous to U.S. air crews. A slight miscalculation on either side and you could have disasters. The Russian said they were obeying the rules and they didn't do anything wrong -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What's so worrisome, Barbara, is this, what, the latest incident amid escalating tension between the U.S. and Russia.

STARR: It is, Wolf. Just last month, the U.S. Air Force jets intercepted Russian long range bombers off the coast of Alaska. They summarily escorted them out of that area. There was no incident.

But it's another sign really amongst all the things in U.S.-Russian relations like election meddling and all the turmoil, another sign that the Russians simply are not going away and giving up. There are actually photographs the Navy has of the latest encounter over the Mediterranean.

The U.S. decided not to publish them, we are told out of concern it's D-Day, they didn't want to cause military stress to the Russians. The Russians don't really feel the same way it appears about the U.S. Navy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Barbara, thank you. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

Also tonight, the Phoenix Arizona Fire Department is trying to explain why a helicopter rescue didn't go as planned. The 74-year-old woman who fell on a hiking trail was being lifted to the chopper when the basket she was strapped into began spinning out of control propelled by the rotors' downdraft.

Officials blame a broken line designed to prevent the basket from spinning, which eventually stopped when the crew lowered the basket and flew forward. The captain who's part of the rescue says the woman in the basket was understandably very dizzy but unharmed from the incident and is now in stable condition after being treated for injuries following her fall. Of all the remarkable events surrounding the 75th anniversary of D-

Day, this one stands out. Look at this, today, former U.S. Army paratrooper Tom Rice recreated the jump he made into France behind enemy lines of 1944. Get this, Tom Rice is 97 years old.

He jumped in tandem with a Florida skydiver who made their custom rig, including the giant American flag that Rice deployed. Rice says he didn't know anything about parachuting when he signed up for 101st Airborne Division, Screaming Eagles. But he was a risk taker enticed by the $50 extra paratroopers got each month. Rice said his anniversary jump felt great and that he would do it again.

God bless this young, young man. A wonderful man.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.