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House Dems Going to Court to Enforce Subpoenas; Biden: "Trump is an Existential Threat to America"; Interview with Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) on Nadler's Push in Committee. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired June 11, 2019 - 17:00   ET



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WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news: taking it to the courts. In a party line vote, the House approves a resolution letting the Judiciary Committee go to court to enforce subpoenas for a former White House counsel and the attorney general. Chairman Jerry Nadler says he wants to file lawsuits as soon as possible.

In his head: Joe Biden gets inside the president's head with a blistering attack, calling him an existential threat to the country. President Trump takes the bait, launching a furious series of insults.

Is he only reinforcing Biden's status as front-runner?

Not ruling it out: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may not favor impeachment but she says it's not off the table.

Can she withstand pressure from key Democrats to open an impeachment inquiry?

And spies like us: was Kim Jong-un's half-brother a CIA asset?

And was his public assassination retribution by North Korea for working with the Americans?

President Trump isn't confirming or denying that possibility.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news: House Democrats flex their muscles with a resolution authorizing the Judiciary Committee to go to court to force Trump administration officials to comply with subpoenas. And the Judiciary chairman indicates he wants to use that new power quickly. Also breaking, it's no-holds-barred as President Trump and Democratic

front-runner Joe Biden go head to head with dueling campaign events in the early caucus state of Iowa. Biden wasted no time slamming President Trump as an existential threat to America and its core values.

There's no doubt Biden has gotten under President Trump's skin; even before leaving the White House today, the president called the former vice president "a loser," who's the "weakest" mentality of the Democratic candidates. I'll speak with congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of the Judiciary Committee. And our correspondents and analysts will have full coverage of the day's top stories.

House Democrats have used their majority power in a resolution authorizing the Judiciary Committee to go to court to enforce subpoenas against the Trump administration. Let's begin with CNN congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty. She's up on Capitol Hill.

Sunlen, what's the latest?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, significant move by the House just moments ago, voting to essentially give Democrats, who are investigating President Trump, investigating the Trump campaign and the Trump administration, way more power to move quicker and easier through their investigations.

And in a very significant press conference going on at this hour, six chairs of the committees up here on Capitol Hill showing a show of force, coming out and praising this move, vowing to push forward with these new powers that have now been given to them, vowing to push forward with their subpoenas and their investigations.

Here's the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee speaking to the significance of this moment.


REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): We are facing a constitutional crisis. We have a president who believes he is above the law, which he is not, and refuses to be held accountable, which he will be.


SERFATY: Now what this exactly does is it empowers the committee chairs to bypass the House floor. They will not have to endure a full House floor vote to go to court to enforce their subpoenas.

And of course, there are many subpoenas outstanding up here on Capitol Hill. It would also immediately, importantly, authorize the House Judiciary Committee to go to court and enforce its subpoena for former White House counsel Don McGahn, also seek that grand jury testimony from the Mueller investigation.

It would also allow the committee to go to the court for the attorney general, Bill Barr, that he has still a subpoena against him. Now just moments ago, the chairman of the committee speaking to reporters up here on the Hill, he said he will very quickly move very quickly to likely go to court over Don McGahn.

And of course, that grand jury material in the Mueller report. He, of course, though, in recent days has indicated he will likely hold off, at least for now, going to court to compel the attorney general to comply with that subpoena.

He, of course, struck a deal in the last 24 hours, the Department of Justice, to get some materials, some underlying evidence from the Mueller investigation. And for the moment, he says, as long as the DOJ is cooperating with that, that he will not move forward and go to court to compel the testimony of the attorney general.

But, of course, some reporting coming from my colleague, Laura --


SERFATY: -- Jarrett tonight, Wolf, indicating that this could potentially get more complicated, that the deal might not be as buttoned up as originally thought.

The White House potentially will have access and an opportunity to weigh into what exactly material they will be looking at. So could complicate many things up here on Capitol Hill.

But in short, Wolf, this gives significant new powers to Democrats on Capitol Hill and very likely to ramp up a lot of the investigations going forward right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sunlen Serfaty up on Capitol Hill, thank you.

Also breaking, President Trump is now in Iowa after lashing out at Joe Biden on the White House lawn. The former vice president is also in Iowa. Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown.

Pamela, clearly the gloves are off.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Yes, that's absolutely right, Wolf. President Trump is claiming he is not worried about Joe Biden but his words seem to suggest otherwise, Wolf. Today, he took criticisms of Biden to a whole new level, throwing punch after punch, seemingly testing out what will stick.


BROWN (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump slamming his top political rival before sharing the Iowa spotlight with him.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I would rather run against I think Biden than anybody. I think he's the weakest mentally. And I like running against people that are weak mentally.

BROWN (voice-over): The president taking direct aim at front-runner Joe Biden's mental and physical health, as both men are making several stops across the key early voting state today. TRUMP: When a man has to mention my name 76 times in his speech, that means he's in trouble. Now I have to tell you, he's a different guy. He looks different than he used to. He acts different than he used to. He's even slower than he used to be.

BROWN (voice-over): Trump easily won Iowa in 2016, beating Hillary Clinton by 10 points, a big change after president Barack Obama won the state twice.

TRUMP: Joe never got more than 1 percent, except Obama took him off the trash heap. And now it looks like he's failing.

BROWN (voice-over): But sources say Trump believes Biden poses a more serious threat to his blue collar appeal than helped him win in 2016. And he regularly phones aides and allies in the early morning hours, asking them about Biden.

Trump even lashing out after an internal poll showed him lagging behind Biden in states such as Michigan and even told some he doubted the numbers.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think the polling got it completely wrong in 2016. I don't think it's right now. I'm not going to get into a lot of details but we feel incredibly good about what the president has been able to accomplish.

BROWN (voice-over): And while some aides have advised the president to refrain from attacking Biden by name...

TRUMP: Look but I don't bring him up.

BROWN (voice-over): -- in reality, Trump rarely holds back and focuses much more on Biden than any other Democratic candidate.

TRUMP: Sleepy Joe.

yes, Joe Biden is a low-IQ individual. He probably is.

Biden deserted you.

But I heard, his whole campaign is to hit Trump.

BROWN (voice-over): Trump also recently sided with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un over his criticism of Biden. And today Trump showered praise on the murderous dictator...

TRUMP: I think North Korea has tremendous potential. And the one that feels that more than anybody is Kim Jong-un. He gets it.

BROWN (voice-over): -- telling reporters he has received another letter from the North Korean leader.

TRUMP: I just received a beautiful letter from Kim Jong-un. I can't show you the letter, obviously but it was a very personal, very warm, very nice letter. I appreciate it.

BROWN (voice-over): And again, the president pushed back on Democratic criticism of his deal with Mexico.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): If they were agreed to, they were agreed to long before the president made the announcement, A, but they were designed to take your attention away from the Mueller report. Look at the timing.

BROWN (voice-over): Today waving a folded piece of paper around...

TRUMP: That's the agreement that everybody says I don't have.

BROWN (voice-over): -- claiming it was the signed agreement with Mexico but refusing to show its contents. Instead, defending his decision to threaten tariffs.

TRUMP: This will go into effect -- and it's my option, not Mexico's -- but it will into effect when Mexico tells me it's OK to release it.


BROWN: And a source tells me today that the president's son, Don Jr., will be back in front of the Senate Intel Committee for a limited interview. He could be pressed on how findings in the Mueller report don't line up with his previous testimony.

But, Wolf, this comes at a time when President Trump is clearly trying to make the case that the Russia investigation is over and it's time to move on -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Pamela, thank you. Pamela Brown at the White House.

CNN political reporter Arlette Saenz is in Iowa for us, as is the former vice president, Joe Biden. He's holding a series of campaign events. He's in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, as we speak right now.

Arlette, Biden took direct aim at President Trump, calling him a threat to the president. What's the latest?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Joe Biden wasted no time when he got here to Iowa, criticizing President Trump at his very first stop over in Ottumwa. Biden often goes after President Trump on the campaign trail. It's just not every day that you have both Biden --


SAENZ: -- and the president in the exact same state. And take a listen to some of that criticism that he lobbed President Trump's way while he was in Ottumwa earlier today.


JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT AND PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that the president is literally an existential threat to America.

He found time to go after Bette Midler, for God's sake, in the middle of the D-Day ceremonies, for real, not a joke.

And instead of repairing the relationships with our allies, he's continued to damage them.

Four years of Donald Trump will be viewed as an aberration in American history. Eight years -- eight years -- will fundamentally change who we are as a nation and how we're viewed around the world.

He says, let's make America great again. Let's make America America again.


SAENZ: Now these criticisms show more insight into Biden's campaign strategy as he tries to already frame this as a general election matchup against President Trump. And earlier today, Quinnipiac released a new poll that showed Biden leading Trump 53 percent to 40 percent nationwide. Expect Biden to continue these criticisms throughout his stops here in Iowa -- Wolf.

BLITZER: At his next speech later this evening, Arlette, the former vice president is expected to launch even more attacks on the president, right?

SAENZ: That's right. Biden will be here in Davenport and he's really going to home in on attacking President Trump when it comes to trade and those tariffs that he's implemented. I want to read you a quote from that upcoming speech.

Biden will say that, "Trump thinks his tariffs are being paid by China. Any beginning econ student at Iowa or Iowa State could tell you that the American people are paying his tariffs."

He goes on to add, "The cashiers at Target see what's going on. They know more about economics than Trump."

Now Biden is also attacking President Trump for that piece of paper he was showing earlier today that he claimed had a deal with Mexico. Biden today at his event just a short while ago in Mt. Pleasant, saying that Iowans, who are affected by those tariffs, want to see what that plan is -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Arlette, thank you very much. Arlette Saenz in Iowa for us.

Joining us now, Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Washington state. A member of the Judiciary Committee.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): Great to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: So as you heard, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler says he wants to file lawsuits as soon as possible to enforce subpoenas.

Are you confident you're going to succeed? JAYAPAL: Well, I'm confident that what we had today was a vote on the House floor that allows us to pursue all options that are on the table as far as enforcing our subpoenas.

And so far, we have seen the Trump administration block us on numerous counts, you know, block the testimony of Don McGahn. We have asked Hope Hicks to come and testify. We have asked Annie Donaldson to come and testify. We need to make sure that these folks come and testify.

Because we are taking, ramping up our actions, you see now the White House is distinction to give a little bit in terms of this capitulation around the Mueller report and the unredacted information and the underlying information. It's not all on the table but at least some pieces of it are.

And so this was a very important vote for us to take, because it really allows the chairmen and chairwomen of the committees of jurisdiction to move quickly, to not have to wait in order to enforce their subpoenas in court.

BLITZER: On that point, let's go to the negotiations between the Judiciary Committee and the Justice Department over granting access to more information from the Mueller report. Chairman Nadler's agreement with the Justice Department might be complicated by involvement, we're told, from the White House.

Is the deal in jeopardy?

JAYAPAL: Well, I can't tell you that; what I know is, earlier, we did have an agreement but it wasn't for everything we wanted. So we were going to start with at least reviewing the underlying information. The Judiciary Committee was granted the authority to do that.

However, there are other pieces here. And, as you say, the White House can, at any moment, on any deal -- I mean, listen, we had a deal for don McGahn to come and testify, until the White House stepped in and Donald Trump said, you can't testify.

And that may happen again here. And I think that we are going to see whether this president is going to continue to obstruct justice or not. Now we have the authority granted by Congress through this vote today to start to hold this administration accountable through lawsuits and in the courts.

BLITZER: Should the White House have any hand in this process?

JAYAPAL: Say the question again?

BLITZER: Should the White House have any hand in this process, in deciding what the Justice Department can share with the Judiciary Committee, for example?

JAYAPAL: No, and, you know, I'll tell you something. Yesterday, we had a panel of prosecutors front of us, including, as you know, John Dean, who was -- not only was he the former White House counsel, he was actually -- [17:15:00]

JAYAPAL: -- the Republican chief counsel for the Judiciary Committee. And all of them said that we have to remember, the attorney general is the attorney for the people of the United States. It is not -- he is not the attorney for the president. The president should stay out of the way here.

He has been continuously obstructing justice. He should learn and stay out of the way. But, listen, if he doesn't, we have a big fight coming. We already have a big fight in front of us. I cannot believe that one branch of government is completely disregarding another.

We have a president who's trying to act like a king and Congress has to hold him accountable.

BLITZER: You're one of at least 13 Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee, Congresswoman, who want to actually begin formal impeachment proceedings. That's more than half of the membership from your party on that committee.

Do you feel like you're being ignored by leadership?

JAYAPAL: No, I mean, I think this is complicated. First of all, we should be clear that what we, many of us -- I think it's over 60 now in the House -- have called for is to begin an impeachment inquiry. What that does is it allows the Judiciary Committee to use all of our Article I powers to investigate the abuses, the constitutional abuses of this president and this administration.

That is very, very important because our hands get tied in strange ways if we don't declare a formal impeachment inquiry. We still believe -- and those of us on the Judiciary Committee are steeped in this. We're going through it every day, day after day, some of the details.

Our caucus is starting to understand what is at stake here. And, frankly, by allowing the Judiciary Committee to start an impeachment inquiry, it also allows for the focus to be very clear that it is within the Judiciary Committee and we will get the facts and we will follow the facts. And let's see what happens.

It does not necessarily mean there's an impeachment vote but it does mean that we do the inquiry. And I do believe that is warranted.

BLITZER: As you know, Speaker Pelosi says that impeachment certainly isn't off the table but does say she's satisfied with the current strategy of maintaining multiple ongoing investigations into the president.

Why should Democrats abandon that current strategy that's laid out by the Speaker?

JAYAPAL: Well, I don't think it's about abandoning. I want to be very clear that Democrats are completely united around the need to hold the president accountable. However, we do have a real crisis on the table. We need to have a

couple of strategies here to ensure that we are getting the information that we really should get. Robert Mueller threw us a pass down the football field when he did that report and put in there 10 potential counts of obstruction of justice and Russian interference in our elections that we need to be taking action on.

He was intercepted by William Barr, who tried to make it seem like the American people were reading a different report than the one that Robert Mueller wrote.

So our inquiry has to deal not only with the obstruction of justice issues that Robert Mueller raised in the report but also with the ongoing obstruction of justice and we really do need to have every tool in our toolbox. And we're going to have to start using some of them.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, thank you so much for joining us.

JAYAPAL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, Joe Biden gets inside the president's head with a blistering attack, calling him an existential threat to the country. President Trump takes the bait, launching a furious series of insults.

And House Democrats flex their muscles with a resolution letting the Judiciary Committee go to court to enforce subpoenas against the Trump administration.





BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories, including the House of Representatives in a straight party line vote just now, approving a resolution to take the attorney general William Barr and the former White House counsel Don McGahn to court in the fight to enforce committee subpoenas for investigations.

Let's bring in our experts.

Susan Hennessey, how much legal significance does this vote hold?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: So the basic legal significance is now the House Judiciary Committee can go to court to actually attempt to enforce the subpoenas for people against Barr and don McGahn to actually compel that testimony.

You know, this is the next step in that meticulous strategy we've heard Democrats talk about, building their case, taking things one step at a time. You know, that they are actually going to force this question in court.

Now Democrats haven't wanted to talk about red lines. They've used the term constitutional crisis. The real constitutional crisis would come if the president of the United States was inclined to defy a court order.

And so I do think that this is the House Democrats' way of saying they are going to push this into the courts. They are going to call his bluff on this. Ultimately, they do think that they are going to prevail. And that they do appear to believe that the White House is still going to back down if they are actually served with a court directive to produce the document --


BLITZER: Susan, at the same time, the Judiciary Committee is negotiating with the Justice Department to obtain more documents from the Mueller report, some of the underlying evidence. But now we've learned that the White House is also going to have a say in this.

Is that going to slow things down?

Is that appropriate?


HENNESSEY: I don't know if it's a question of whether it's appropriate or not. Certainly, past administrations have weighed in. The White House has weighed in on these types of decisions.

But I think it's an indication, though, that the president will attempt to use all of his lawful authority, you know, to prevent the information related to the Mueller report from coming out.

And the fact that the White House is essentially inclined to micro- manage this process, I do think is an indication that, you know, what's happening here is not an assessment of whether or not executive privilege actually applies as a constitutional or legal matter; it's that the White House is going to look at information, decide whether or not it is politically damaging to them or not and, if it is politically damaging, assert executive privilege.

Now that's not what executive privilege is supposed to be about but we've seen that this president really does view things like the law and the Constitution as weapons to be wielded against his opponents or to be sidestepped when it's inconvenient to him.

BLITZER: Phil Mudd, how do you see it?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I see it similarly. There are two questions here. Whether you see something in the documents that's appropriate or inappropriate to release to the committees; for example, is there grand jury information that needs to be discussed?

Fair conversation between the Department of Justice and the Congress. Second question, when you get the White House involved. I used to see

this at the CIA when we were talking about how to brief the Congress on sensitive stuff before the Iraq War.

That question is, does the White House see something that's sensitive politically that they don't want to go to the Congress?

If I were the Department of Justice, I would say, look, let us handle this. The president said Barr gets the lead on handling negotiations. I think the White House shouldn't be involved in this.

BLITZER: Sabrina Siddiqui, what do you make of this strategy that the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, has?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think there is still the prospect, of course, of this agreement between Nadler's committee and the Justice Department falling apart. And so this leaves a tool at their disposal, if, for example, Democrats believe the subset of documents they are granted access to is insufficient or if they believe the White House is controlling this process to take Barr to court.

But this is also about much more than just attorney general William Barr. There's also, of course, former White House counsel Don McGahn, who has defied his subpoena, as well as Hope Hicks, the former White House communications director, Annie Donaldson, McGahn's chief of staff, both of them being instructed not to turn over documents pertaining to their time at the White House.

So I think they really want to send, Democrats really want to send a warning sign to both current and former Trump administration officials that you either comply with our subpoenas or we're taking you to court.

BLITZER: I want Bianna Golodryga to weigh in as well.

Bianna, how do you see it?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it really takes us from a political battle to, as Susan mentioned, a potential legal one. And we'll see what the administration and what the president is willing to do, if, in fact, they decide to defy a court order.

Now on the other hand, it buys Nancy Pelosi time because, remember, what we're not talking about right now is impeachment. And you were seeing growing concern within the party that the president is still talking about impeachment, that others within the Democratic Party are talking about impeachment in her caucus.

And yet she's saying no. She's saying, let's rely on the courts. The courts have backed us in the past. And this looks like a victory for Nancy Pelosi, though it could just be kicking the can down the road for future issues and future debates amongst the party as a whole.

I will say that this has been something that Democrats are questioning why they didn't do earlier because it's been three months since we've seen the Barr -- the Mueller report. And in that three-month timespan, you have seen attention really turn to other issues. And clearly, the president wanting to deflect other issues, as well.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. There's a lot more we need to discuss on all the breaking news right after this.


BLITZER: We're back with our analysts and our experts.

And, Sabrina, I want you to listen to the President going after Biden today. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'd rather run against, I think, Biden than anybody. I think he's the weakest mentally, and I like running against people that are weak mentally.

I have to tell you, he's a different guy. He looks different than he used to. He acts different than he used to. He's even slower than he used to be.

Joe never got more than one percent, except Obama took him off the trash heap. And now it looks like he's failing. Joe Biden thought that China was not a competitor of ours. Joe Biden is a dummy.


BLITZER: Sabrina, it didn't take very long for Biden to strike back. Listen to this.


JOE BIDEN, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that the President is literally an existential threat to America. He found time to go after Bette Midler, for God's sakes, in the middle of the D-Day ceremonies. For real, not a joke. And instead of repairing the relationships with our allies, he's continued to damage them.

Four years of Donald Trump will be viewed as an aberration in American history. Eight years, eight years will fundamentally change who we are as a nation and how we're viewed around the world.

He says, let's make America great again. Let's make America America again.


BLITZER: What's your analysis?

SIDDIQUI: Well, I think that any day that Donald Trump is talking about Joe Biden is a good day for Joe Biden because it certainly gives a preview of what could be a hypothetical general election contest. Now, we know that, since launching his campaign, Biden has very much been squarely focused on the general. [17:34:54] And what's interesting about that strategy is, unlike

Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren and some of the other Democratic contenders, Joe Biden is not trying to start a movement. You've seen some of the other Democrats in the race trying to galvanize what is an increasingly progressive base around issues such as health care, income inequality, climate change.

Now, it's not that Biden is not talking about those issues at all, but he very much wants to make this moment a referendum on the Trump presidency. And the question is whether or not that's going to be a winning and sustainable argument when he first has to survive what is an increasingly crowded and diverse Democratic primary.

BLITZER: Bianna, I want you to look at this poll. This is a Quinnipiac University poll just released today. If the presidential election were being held today, who would you vote for?

Look at this, 53 percent of the American public, according to Quinnipiac, says Joe Biden; 40 percent, Donald Trump. I'm sure the President and his team, they're looking at these numbers as well.

, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, from reports that we've read overnight, the President is looking at these numbers and trying to dismiss them as fake news, yet we know that they're eating away at him as well.

And I agree with Sabrina, you couldn't ask for anything better for Joe Biden than for the President to assume that he is going to be the one he runs against and that being the man that he constantly talks about.

Joe Biden is re-basing this on his view that President Obama, on a larger scale, is an anomaly. And that isn't a fight, necessarily, even with the Republican Party. This is a fight against this movement, the Trump movement, and thus, he is not willing, at this point, to get down into internal arguments with the other 19 candidates or 20 candidates running for the Democratic nomination.

That having been said, at some point, down the road -- we are still very early on -- he is going to have to address them. We're going to see that throughout in the debates, and we're going to see that going forward. It can't be just a Trump/Biden issue and conversation at this point, but the longer that the President focuses on Biden, I think, is a plus for the former Vice President.

BLITZER: Susan, what do you think?

HENNESSEY: Look, that I think Biden is right to sort of clarify this as being fundamentally a question for the American people about whether or not they believe that Trump's use of power and abuse of power is acceptable or not.

Right? All presidents have sort of tested the boundaries at the edges here and there. Trump has done it on nearly every single front. And so while we've seen that Congress hasn't been able to meaningfully hold him accountable, the genius of our system is that the American people get the final say. And so I do think that Biden is smart to clarify the stakes here and

say, hey, if you re-elect him, if you ratify this. And this isn't just about policy preferences or taxes or judges. This is about the fundamental system, separation of powers, respect for the constitution, and an embrace of values that Americans have stood for, for centuries.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. There's a lot more we're covering, including investigators finding clues about what led up to that deadly helicopter crash on top of a New York City skyscraper. We'll be right back.


[17:42:24] BLITZER: We're learning new details about what led up to that helicopter crash on the roof of a New York City skyscraper. The pilot was killed in the crash, and investigators plan to begin moving the wreckage off the top of the building.

Let's go to CNN's Brynn Gingras. She's in New York for us. Brynn, what are investigators learning about the pilot's final minutes?

GINGRAS: Yes, Wolf, those federal investigators right now on the top of the roof, 54th floor -- a 54-story building, going through that debris field. And we're told that there is no black box, per se, for this helicopter. However, they're hoping to glean some sort of information from the flight instruments.

We are learning more, though, about the timeline about those moments before this crash happened. We learned from investigators that that pilot, Tim McCormack, took off from a Westchester airport, bringing that helicopter to here in the east side of New York City. And he waited on the ground, actually dropped off a passenger and waited on the ground for nearly two hours, before he took off again.

And then we're learning from sources that he started his path around the east side to the lower part of Manhattan, up at the west side. And during that time, he had two communications with people here on the ground. One was to tell him -- them that he didn't think he can make the trip. He needed to come back.

And that second communication, I'm told from a law enforcement source, was the last one he had with anyone on the ground, telling them that he didn't know where he was. He was disoriented. He lost visibility.

Now, officials, at this point, are really just trying to learn more about the pilot, having conversations with people, including that passenger who was last with him. We've learned from the FAA that that pilot did not have an instrument rating to fly in bad weather, so that's an -- a very important factor and sort of answers the question about why he took off.

But however, there are still a lot of questions. A little bit more quickly, though, Wolf about this pilot. His family released a statement to our affiliate, WABC, saying that he was a caring and compassionate man who put others first over himself. And we know he was a volunteer firefighter. He had his license

experience for nearly 20 years. Certainly, a tragedy that took place here in midtown Manhattan, Wolf.

BLITZER: And as you say, lots of unanswered questions. Brynn Gingras in New York, thank you.

Coming up, was the assassinated older brother of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un a source for the CIA? Reporters ask President Trump. You're going to hear his answer. That's next.


BLITZER: President Trump says he's received a, quote, beautiful letter from Kim Jong-un insisting the North Korean leader has kept his word on last year's agreement to refrain from nuclear and long-range missile testing. The President today would not confirm or deny reports that Kim's murdered half-brother was a CIA asset.

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

[17:49:52] BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have new information tonight from CNN's own sources about Kim's half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, and a meeting that he had with a man who may have been an American intelligence officer just before the brother was murdered. This comes as two new reports say that Kim Jong-nam was, indeed, an informant for the CIA.


TODD (voice-over): He was the half-brother of North Korea's dictator and the victim of a brazen, dramatic assassination in broad daylight in a crowded airport in Malaysia. And tonight, it turns out Kim Jong- nam may also have been something else -- a secret American informant for the CIA.

BRUCE KLINGNER, FORMER DEPUTY DIVISION CHIEF FOR KOREA, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: The CIA would want to talk to anyone who had any kind of knowledge about Kim Jong-un personally or the regime in general. And certainly, Kim Jong-nam would have had that kind of information.

TODD (voice-over): The stunning allegation is detailed in a new book by "Washington Post" reporter, Anna Fifield, and a report in the "Wall Street Journal" that suggests that the carefully choreographed murder of Kim Jong-nam may have been retribution for working with America's spy agency.

It was an especially brutal death. Two women smeared V.X. nerve agent, one of the world's deadliest chemical weapons, in the face of Kim Jong-un's half-brother killing him within minutes. He was seen dying on a gurney.

During the trial of the two women, a top Malaysian police investigator said Kim Jong-nam had met with a mysterious American man on a Malaysian island a few days before the murder. A defense attorney tells CNN he believes the man was an intelligence officer.

Police did not identify the man or say he was a spy. A Malaysian investigator told the court Kim Jong-nam was carrying at least $100,000 in his backpack at the time of his murder.

ERIC O'NEILL, NATIONAL SECURITY STRATEGIST, CARBON BLACK: These are $100 bills that are in -- you know, in denominational bricks, which suggests that it could've come from an intelligence agency paying him for information.

TODD (voice-over): What kind of information would the CIA have been after? Kim Jong-nam had been exiled from North Korea for decades, living mostly in the Chinese enclave of Macau. Analysts say he never even met his younger half-brother. Still, former spies say his intelligence could have been valuable for the CIA.

ROBERT BAER, FORMER CASE OFFICER, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: You've got names working in the -- in the palace, advisers, who's an expert on the United States, and this was passed from one generation to the next. And just the atmosphere inside the leadership. I mean, how paranoid, how scared are these people, and how do they look at the world.

TODD (voice-over): The "Wall Street Journal" sources say Kim Jong-nam was likely in contact with other nation's security services as well, particularly China's. Could Kim Jong-un have known about his brother's reported contacts with them and the CIA, motivating his killing?

KLINGNER: He may well have. Certainly, North Korean agents may have been keeping tabs on Kim Jong-nam when he was living in Macau and in Beijing, so they may have seen contacts between him and Americans.

TODD (voice-over): Today, President Trump was asked about Kim Jong- nam possibly talking to the CIA. Something the President didn't deny but also seemed to suggest was not appropriate.

TRUMP: And I would tell him that would not happen under my -- under my auspices, that's for sure. I would -- I wouldn't let that happen under my auspices.

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, former CIA officers are surprised the President would suggest anything other than using sources to gather information.

BAER: Come on. I mean, that's what intelligence services do. I do hope the CIA, if it gets another defector like Kim Jong-nam, will talk to him. That's the way that -- that's the way you keep the country safe.


TODD: The CIA is not commenting on the reporting by Anna Fifield and the "Wall Street Journal" on Kim Jong-nam's intelligence connections. Chinese officials have not responded to our requests for comment on the reporting that Kim Jong-nam was likely in contact with Chinese security services. When we called North Korea's mission at the U.N. for comment on all of this, they hung up on us, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, before he was killed in 2017, had there been any other attempts, as far as we know, by the North Korean regime to assassinate Kim's half-brother?

BLITZER: Yes, Wolf. Analysts say there had been a few attempts by the Kim regime to kill Kim Jong-nam. After his death, South Korean intelligence told South Korean lawmakers that Kim Jong-nam had once written a letter to his younger brother, pleading with Kim Jong-un to spare his life. Kim Jong-nam is said to have written to his younger brother, quote, our only escape is suicide.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Brian, thank you.

Coming up, breaking news. House Democrats flex their muscles with a resolution letting the Judiciary Committee go to court to enforce subpoenas against the Trump administration.

And Joe Biden gets inside the President's head with a blistering attack, calling him an existential threat to the country. President Trump takes the bait, launching a furious series of insults.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Directly to court. The House just voted to green light court action to enforce subpoenas as Democrats battle Trump administration stonewalling and vow to hold the President accountable. Tonight, the House Judiciary Chairman is promising to file lawsuits as soon as possible.

Existential threat. That's what Joe Biden is calling President Trump as both of them are testing the 2020 waters in Iowa and trading attacks. Is Mr. Trump the one who is feeling the threat tonight?

[18:00:03] Testifying again. Donald Trump, Jr. is heading back to Capitol Hill for a new closed-door interview on the Russia probe.