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THE SITUATION ROOM

House Panel Votes To Hold A.G. Barr, Secretary Ross In Contempt; Trump Asserts Executive Privilege On Census Documents; Former White House Aide Hope Hicks To Testify Behind Closed Doors Before House Judiciary; Interview With Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) About Questions For Hope Hicks; Don Jr. Meets Again With Senate Intel Committee, Says There Was Nothing To Change About His Testimony; Trump Accuses Reporters Of Making Up Sources, Calls U.S. News Media Corrupt; Trump Muddies The Water On North Korea. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired June 12, 2019 - 17:00   ET

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


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WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news: in contempt. A House committee votes to hold the attorney general and the Commerce Secretary in contempt for ignoring subpoenas and withholding material linked to a new citizenship question in the 2020 census.

Asserting privilege: President Trump uses his power asserting executive privilege to keep those census documents out of congressional hands.

But what is the administration trying to hide?

Nothing to change: Donald Trump Jr. meets again with the Senate Intelligence Committee but says afterward that he's not concerned at all about perjury, insisting there was nothing to change in his testimony.

And not what I meant: asked about his earlier remarks on North Korea, which seemed to undermine U.S. intelligence, the president sows more confusion, saying, and I'm quoting now, "That's not what I meant, it's what I said."

So what does he mean?

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

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

BLITZER: Breaking news: the House Oversight Committee has just voted to hold the attorney general, William Barr and the Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, in contempt for not complying with subpoenas.

That follows President Trump's assertion of executive privilege, refusing to let Congress see the materials related to the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

The president digging in his heels, saying it's totally ridiculous to have a census without asking about citizenship. Also breaking, Donald Trump Jr. appears again before the Senate Intelligence Committee but says afterward there was nothing to change from his previous testimony, adding that he's not concerned at all about perjury.

We're also just now getting new confirmation from a congressional source that former White House aide Hope Hicks will testify behind closed doors next week before the House Judiciary Committee. I'll speak with Congressman Ted Lieu of the Judiciary Committee and our And our correspondents and analysts will have full coverage of the day's top stories.

First, let's go to our Senior Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill, where there are multiple breaking stories right now, including late word that Hope Hicks will testify next week before Congress.

Manu, update us on the very latest.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Hope Hicks is one of the president's closest confidantes for years. Someone who was a former White House communications director. Someone who multiple congressional committees have been eager to speak with in the aftermath of the Mueller report.

And now she has agreed to go behind closed doors and talk to the House Judiciary Committee next Wednesday in the aftermath of the committee issuing a subpoena, demanding documents and testimony as part of its investigation into potential obstruction of justice at the White House.

This is a rare deal that has been reached between either current or former White House aides, current or former administration officials and the Democratic-led panel. We have seen resistance from a number of officials, including White House officials, and efforts by the White House to prevent these people from coming before this committee.

But in this regard, at least, a deal has been cut for Hicks to come behind closed doors and answer questions. Now I am told that this means that the committee will have this interview and then the transcription of the interview will be released afterwards.

And the Democrats plan to ask questions about not just her time on the campaign trail but her time in the transition and her time in the White House.

Now the question will be, ultimately, can she answer questions or will she answer questions about her time in the White House and things that she had witnessed?

Democrats want to probe what she knows about the elements that were laid out in the Mueller report, those 10 instances of potential obstruction of justice.

Can she answer those questions?

Because the White House has already indicated that they're going to try to prevent her from providing any information about her time at the White House and also, last Congress, when she came before the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors, she would not discuss some of those matters that occurred at the White House. She said those topics were off-limits.

So Democrats still plan to ask her about that behind closed doors. Ultimately, we'll see how she responds. But Democrats at least have one person coming, a former White House official coming at least behind closed doors, to talk about the Russia part of the investigation, what happened to the Russia interference, what happened in the efforts by Russian operatives to reach out to Trump campaign officials.

Those will be topics that they will explore in that closed-door hearing. But we'll see ultimately how much she's able to say about what happened during her time in the White House.

BLITZER: Manu, what are you learning about the House Oversight Committee vote on contempt?

RAJU: Yes, just moments ago, the House Oversight Committee voted --

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RAJU: -- 24-15 to hold attorney general Bill Barr as well as the Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, in contempt over failing to comply with a subpoena related to the commerce -- the Oversight Committee's investigation about the 2020 census and the citizenship question that was added to the census.

The committee has been demanding a range of documents; the administration has provided some information but not to the satisfaction of the Democrats, who questioned the motivation behind putting that citizenship question on the census.

They believe it was all part of an effort to essentially suppress how minorities and immigrants are counted. That could affect how House seats are drawn. Republicans and the administration deny that and say this is all part of an effort to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

But nevertheless, not getting compliance and for the Democratic satisfaction has led to this dramatic move to hold these two cabinet officials in contempt. The vote was 24-15. Only one Republican broke ranks. That Republican, Justin Amash, the same Republican who has suggested that the president has engaged in impeachable offenses and should be impeached.

The only Republican in Congress to do so, siding with Democrats on this committee. But next step, Wolf, here, is likely a court fight after the administration, the White House today invoked executive privilege and said those documents are off-limits, because they are confidential in the way that these communications occurred but, ultimately, it could be up to the courts to sort that out, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very busy day up on Capitol Hill, where you are, Manu. You have some new details about what the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., testified to behind closed doors on the Senate side.

RAJU: Yes, that's right. He was asked about a discrepancy in his testimony from the time that he came to Capitol Hill back in 2017 and what we have learned from the Mueller report. And the Mueller report revealed that he -- it was suggested that, according to testimony, from the former Trump fixer, Michael Cohen, that perhaps that Donald Trump Jr. had more extensive knowledge about that Trump Tower Moscow project than he initially let on.

Cohen also told the Mueller team that Donald Trump Jr. may have informed his father about that meeting. And the Mueller report suggests that Donald Trump Jr. may have told more individuals than he initially said about the run-up to that 2016 meeting that he had with Russians about getting dirt on the Clinton campaign.

But Donald Trump Jr. pushed back and he said, leaving the committee hearing, that he did not change his testimony, saying that Michael Cohen essentially misled Congress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you change anything from your past testimony?

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DONALD TRUMP JR., PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SON: In reality, there was nothing to change. If there needed to be clarification because Michael Cohen, who, let's not forget, is serving time right now for lying to these very investigative bodies, I'm happy to do that, I don't think I changed anything of what I said, because there was nothing to change.

I'm glad that this is finally over and we're able to put some final clarity on that. And I think the committee understands that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: But Wolf, Richard Burr, the chairman of the committee, who issued a subpoena for Trump Jr.'s testimony, who Trump Jr. fought that subpoena, declined to comment about the testimony when he left earlier today.

BLITZER: Very busy day, indeed, up on Capitol Hill. Manu, thank you.

President Trump, meanwhile, is digging in on the issue that led to that contempt vote in the House. Let's go to our White House Correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, the president clearly is not budging.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, that's a vote that the White House said was unnecessary and premature. But today, when the president was asked about adding that question to the census, he showed no signs of backing off as he ramped up his fight with House Democrats.

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TRUMP: It's ridiculous.

COLLINS (voice-over): Tonight, the president is amping up his showdown with Congress, this time asserting executive privilege to keep census documents away from House Democrats.

TRUMP: I think it's totally ridiculous that we would have a census without asking.

COLLINS (voice-over): Trump standing by adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census, a move that has his administration in hot water and one that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has gone all the way to the Supreme Court to defend.

TRUMP: You have the right to ask whether or not somebody is a citizen of the United States.

COLLINS (voice-over): Critics say it was done with politics in mind and could suppress the number of undocumented immigrants who answer the survey, leading to a change in federal resources and congressional representation.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND.: The president is asserting executive privilege over all of these documents. This begs the question, what is being hidden?

COLLINS (voice-over): Congressman Elijah Cummings says asserting privilege is another effort by the Trump administration to stonewall Congress.

CUMMINGS: We must protect the integrity of the census and we must stand up for Congress' authority under the Constitution to conduct meaningful oversight.

COLLINS (voice-over): The standoff coming during a flyover, as Trump welcomed the Polish president to the White House with a show by --

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COLLINS (voice-over): -- an F-35.

TRUMP: It actually came to a pretty -- close to a halt over the White House.

COLLINS (voice-over): But it wasn't the roar of the fighter jet that caused the confusion in the Rose Garden when the president was asked to clarify a comment he made Tuesday about using CIA informants.

TRUMP: It's not what I meant, it's what I said. And that's, I think, it's different than maybe your interpretation.

COLLINS (voice-over): But critics say there wasn't much to interpret when the president delivered this message to Kim Jong-un about using the CIA to spy on the North Korean dictator.

TRUMP: I would tell him, that would not happen under my -- under my auspices.

COLLINS (voice-over): Trump remained vague on that front but he did confirm he'll sit down with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Japan later this month.

TRUMP: I'll be meeting with Putin at the G20.

COLLINS (voice-over): He wouldn't say if it'll be another one-on-one meeting.

TRUMP: It's probably easier if we have people in the room because you people don't trust anything.

COLLINS (voice-over): And the president sounded shocked that reporters got a glimpse of a letter he said was an agreement he reached with Mexico after a "Washington Post" reporter snapped a photo.

TRUMP: And it was closed and you were able to read it through the sunlight?

That was not anticipated.

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COLLINS: Now, Wolf, today the president also denied that some internal campaigning -- or internal polling done by his campaign showed that he was lagging behind some Democrats in states that would be critical to a 2020 victory for him.

He said those numbers were fake and were made up by members of the media but we should note that our own reporting has actually revealed that campaign officials did not deny that those polls showed that. Instead, they just insisted it was too early to tell who was truly ahead in the general election. But they did not deny that those numbers were real.

BLITZER: Interesting, Kaitlin, thank you.

Kaitlan Collins at the White House.

Joining us now, Democratic congressman Ted Lieu of California. He's a member of both the Judiciary and the Foreign Affairs Committees.

Congressman, thank you so much more joining us. And I want to quickly start with the breaking news. Hope Hicks, the former White House communications director, will testify before your committee behind closed doors next week.

What do you want to ask her?

REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Wolf, for your question. This is a significant first step for the American people in the House Judiciary Committee to learn more about the obstruction of justice that Donald Trump committed.

And I think it's a consequence of the House floor vote yesterday, where we authorized enforcing or contempt citations of subpoenas. We're not messing around. I think that's why Hope Hicks is going to come in next week. And we're going to ask her about the obstruction of justice, the 10 or so incidents in the Mueller report.

BLITZER: Do you know, Congressman, what topics, if any, will be off- limits for your questioning?

LIEU: There should be no topics that are off-limits. The White House has gone to d unprecedented efforts to obstruct information to come to Congress and the American people. And it's not just about the Mueller report, it's about every area.

So for example, the Trump administration is suing right now to eliminate health care coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. We want to find out about that but we can't.

And now you saw they also are not giving us information about the census. It is everywhere they're obstructing information from coming to the American people.

BLITZER: Well, the president, as you heard, he's exerted executive privilege and preventing the Commerce Secretary and the attorney general from talking about the census question on citizenship.

Do you think he might do the same with Hope Hicks now?

LIEU: I don't think he will, because he really has no basis for doing so. And regarding the census question, the issue is, did Wilbur Ross lie

to the American people and lie to Congress?

A federal district court judge found that he did. And we want to have the document to see if he, in fact, did that. And if he did, then we should win on this census issue, because, under the Constitution, it's not counting citizens, it's counting people. And that's what the Constitution requires. BLITZER: How soon will we see the transcript of Hope Hicks' testimony before your committee?

LIEU: We would try to release a transcript very soon. And I think it's important, again, that we see Hope Hicks coming in, because the House of Representatives has not authorized our committees to start enforcing contempt citations and subpoenas and we are not messing around.

We expect witnesses to show up and we expect documents to come to us because these are lawful congressional subpoenas.

BLITZER: Where do things stand right now in getting testimony from Annie Donaldson, who served as chief of staff to the former White House Counsel, Don McGahn?

You also want her to come before the committee.

LIEU: We do and we expect Don McGahn -- in fact, we expect all the witnesses we've asked to come before the committee. And there is really no legal basis to say they can't even come before the committee. The White House is just making stuff up.

They're saying they have this blanket immunity that no court case has ever talked about or ever found. In fact, the White House has not even asserted executive privilege when it comes to Don McGahn and he is a private citizen right now. We expect that he will come.

BLITZER: As you know, the House Oversight Committee just voted to hold the attorney general Bill Barr and the Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt over that citizenship question on the 2020 census.

Do you want to move --

[17:15:00]

BLITZER: -- forward with a full House vote?

LIEU: So what was good about the House vote that we took yesterday is it authorized all committees to have their subpoenas and contempt citations automatically enforced without future House votes.

So in fact, that one House vote has authorized their Oversight Committee to go forward and litigate this in court, so that's what we did yesterday.

BLITZER: The full House was planning to hold the attorney general Bill Barr in contempt over the Mueller report until your committee reached a deal with the Justice Department. But the White House will now, we're told, have a role in what documents you will eventually get to see.

Was it a mistake to agree to that deal?

LIEU: No, it was not. And let me be very specific about the deal. We agreed to not refer attorney general Barr for criminal contempt. But the Judiciary Committee did hold it in civil contempt. And that is what the House voted to enforce yesterday.

So we are still going forward with the civil contempt action. And if we do not see their underlying evidence that we were promised, we will litigate that in court.

BLITZER: Congressman Ted Lieu, thanks so much for joining us.

LIEU: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, former White House communications director Hope Hicks, she will testify behind closed doors next week before the House Judiciary Committee, the first material witness from the Mueller investigation to do so.

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[17:20:00]

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BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories. The House Oversight Committee has just voted to hold the attorney general William Barr and the Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt for refusing to comply with subpoenas.

Also, the former White House aide Hope Hicks has agreed to testify before the House Judiciary Committee next week. Let's get right to our legal and political experts for some analysis.

Gloria, what do you make of the Judiciary Committee wanting to speak to Hope Hicks and her agreement to come before the committee behind closed doors next week?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: With a representative from the White House counsel's office at her side, so that, even if behind closed doors she wants to claim privilege, the White House counsel can say, we need -- you can't talk about that, you can't talk about that.

So we'll see how much she'll be able to testify. I do think it's a bit of a breakthrough for the committee. But it is going to be limited testimony. Don't kid yourself. I think what they want to know from Hope Hicks -- and we all know this having covered this story for the last couple of years -- is that she was at the president's side almost constantly.

She was on Air Force One when the president directed the rewriting of that statement about just what occurred in Don Jr.'s office when he met with the Russians in Trump Tower. So she can elaborate about that.

And I think she can also talk an awful lot about the president's state of mind during a lot of events that occurred at the White House because she knows him very well and she was there. BLITZER: But Laura, would the president be within his rights to exert executive privilege over what she can answer and what she can't answer?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Only if it relates to matters about his presidency and things which he expects to have privacy. Just because an attorney says it's a statement, doesn't mean it's an attorney-client privilege. You and me talking right now doesn't become privileged all of a sudden.

The president of the United States making the statement has to actually do with the actual office itself. We want the president to have forthright, frank discussions. But if it's a matter about involving his son and perhaps even lying through the media, to the special counsel, that's a very different scenario.

And by the way, you can't just make a preemptory strike about all statements in case you might want to assert privilege. It has to tie to a specific statement and you have to give a reason for it.

BLITZER: As you know, Dana, the House Oversight Committee has now voted to hold the attorney general of the United States and the Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt for not complying with subpoenas.

How significant is this?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR U.S. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a big deal. Look, in any other universe, the Congress holding the attorney general in contempt would be -- and was, actually, because it did; a version of this happened back when Republicans were in charge of the House and Eric Holder was fighting -- they were fighting back and forth about Fast and Furious.

But in this particular case, what I think is so interesting is that we have been focused so much on investigations of the Trump conduct, whether it's before he was president or as he was president.

This is about something that is really substantive about the Trump policy and how they are -- how they've decided to try to count people. And the fact that the administration put into the questionnaire for the census a question about citizenship.

And that is something that is so controversial. And the reason they're found in contempt is because Congress just wants to know the underlying reasoning, officially the underlying reason officially for doing this. So the fact that this move was on a really fundamental policy question is fascinating to me.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: But whether it is policy or it is conduct, the relationship --

[17:25:00]

CHALIAN: -- between the House Democrats and this administration, which I don't think could get worse. I mean, I think -- but this, I think, actually escalates the tensions that are existing between these two branches of our government.

BLITZER: When you say, you don't think it could get worse, why do you say that?

Because all indications are, it potentially could get a whole lot worse.

CHALIAN: That's a good point. It could get a whole lot worse. But it has been so bad in these last several weeks of just complete stonewall and this constant contempt vote or go to court. The relationship between these two branches is terrible right now and I just think this escalates those tensions.

BORGER: What they're effectively charging is that the Republicans did this and said they wanted to ask a citizenship question is because they wanted to gerrymander districts, change the way districts are drawn, have districts that are less Hispanic, less minority and because fewer people who are not legal would answer a census.

Why would they?

They would be afraid. And they say this is supposed to be a count, this is a population count, it is not about anything else.

COATES: By the way, I'm an alum of the voting rights section, the civil rights in the DOJ. In over 50 years, there was never a need to have an order to enforce the Voting Rights Act. To have that question on the census, it is only intended, if you think about it in the full context of an administration that says, we would like to crack down on undocumented persons in the United States, well, how about giving them a block-by-block analysis of may be undocumented in the actual area?

It's not in the Voting Rights Act; Elijah Cummings asked the question about what the true motivation was basically for that reason because, in over 50 years, no one's needed it for that reason.

So why now?

Why you?

Why this?

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

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[17:31:38] BLITZER: We're back with our correspondents and our analysts.

And, Dana, Donald Trump, Jr., he appeared behind closed doors today before the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee. He said he had nothing to change from his earlier testimony before the panel. What are you learning about his appearance?

BASH: Well, right, the big question and the reason why the Senate Republican -- we should underscore, the Republican Chairman of the Intelligence Committee wanted the President's son to come back is because of discrepancies between what he said initially to Congress and what Michael Cohen said in the Mueller report, which is a lot of differences.

But one of the key questions has been whether or not when the June 2016 meeting happened in Trump Tower and Don Junior arranged for this Russian lawyer to come in on the promise that he was going to get dirt about Hillary Clinton -- it didn't turn out that way -- whether he told his father. Michael Cohen has suggested that he did.

And today, Donald Trump, Jr. came in. He testified behind closed doors and then said publicly afterward he didn't have any testimony to change because he told the truth and that, basically, Michael Cohen's a liar.

BLITZER: Because they were checking, Laura Coates, to see if there was, potentially, some perjury there.

COATES: And they should, given the track record, of course, we have. And mind you, you have a battle of credibility, in a way. Yes, there has been some misstatements by Donald Trump, Jr. Michael Cohen is actually serving time right now for discrepancies, to be generous, we'll call them as well.

And so you have that battle going on. But the idea here of trying to make this report actually substantiated in ways that it hasn't been sort of before, to try to correct the record, to try to get opportunities to say, clarify if you need to, he's a little bit -- there's a little bit of hubris that's going on right now with Don Junior talking about it. They didn't correct anything at all given his track record.

BLITZER: Because Donald Trump, Jr.'s attorney, Gloria, said he believes it's over with, he's done. But Senator Kamala Harris, who's a member of the Intelligence Committee and was there, she says there are still, in her words, a lot of unanswered questions. What are you hearing?

BORGER: Well, the Committee Chairman aren't saying that and Kamala Harris is running for president. And I'm not -- I'm not going to disqualify anything that she's said as a result of that, but I think, until we hear from the Chairman, we really don't know.

It was very clear from Don Junior when he came out that he felt that he had rebutted everything that Michael Cohen said plus. And, you know, Michael Cohen had also said that he kept him really well informed about Trump Tower Moscow and the project and how it was --

BASH: Right, that's important too.

BORGER: -- and how it was progressing. And Don Junior kind of swatted that way saying, well, you know, I rarely listen to the guy because he came through with so little for us. And so he sort of swatted that one away saying, I wouldn't have paid any attention to Michael Cohen. CHALIAN: And I think Don Junior used the word "final" twice when

speaking to reporters --

BORGER: Yes, yes.

BASH: Yes.

CHALIAN: -- to make clear that he was done with this as of today.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Clearly, that's what he wants. Let's get to politics, David. You're our political director. This new Monmouth University poll in Nevada, take a look at these numbers. We'll put them up on the screen.

Biden in Nevada right now, 36 percent, but Elizabeth Warren comes in second at 19 percent. Bernie Sanders comes in third at 13 percent.

CHALIAN: Yes, this is now the third poll we've seen. We've seen a national poll. We saw the Iowa poll that we put out over the weekend. And now this Monmouth University poll in Nevada that shows Warren is really, if not surpassing Bernie Sanders, joining Bernie Sanders in that second place slot.

[17:35:00] And that is significant, Wolf, because, as you know, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren appealed to a lot of the same voters. I think in the Iowa poll, she is -- I think, among Bernie Sanders' supporters, she's the second choice for them. For 32 percent of Sanders' supporters.

So she -- they are battling for a lot of similar voters on the left progressive wing of this party. And there is now going to be a real battle between these two that is shaping up of who is going to emerge there as a potential alternative to Joe Biden.

I think -- keep watching Elizabeth Warren. And I think it's part of why you heard Bernie Sanders make a defense for his philosophy today because he understands he has some heat coming for him that he did not experience the last time around.

BASH: No question.

BLITZER: What do you think, Dana?

BASH: Yes, no, I completely agree. I interviewed Senator Sanders over the weekend -- and just one example because there's been such a substantive campaign on all sides but particularly when it comes to Elizabeth Warren, she put out a college plan.

He was kind of the godfather of the idea, initially, of helping people pay for college. Hers, you know, goes a little bit further. And he is struggling to figure out how to deal with not just paying for college but paying off debt.

BORGER: Well, and let me say, these are candidates who are actually talking about ideas. They're not calling each other dummy, and they're not just taking on Trump, although they are. But this is a battle of ideas for the same constituency, and that will play out as the -- as we see the debates coming up at the end of this month.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. There's a lot more we need to report on including intelligence experts now sounding the alarm after President Trump made some rather confusing claims about the half- brother of the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un.

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[17:41:13] BLITZER: Tonight, President Trump is launching a fresh attack on the free press, baselessly accusing reporters of making up sources and calling much of the news media in the United States corrupt. It's but the latest example of the President's distaste for journalists who publish facts he doesn't want to hear.

Our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta has a brand-new book out on the subject that's entitled "The Enemy of the People: A Dangerous Time to Tell the Truth in America." Congratulations, Jim, on this excellent new book.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Tell us, first of all, why you decided to write this. Because you're very blunt in a lot of the details.

ACOSTA: I am, Wolf, and basically because we saw this happening during the campaign. He referred to us as the disgusting news media, the dishonest news media, and so on. He rolled this act right into the Oval Office, called us fake news, and then escalated that to the enemy of the people.

And, Wolf, what I found out on the campaign trail covering this president over at the White House is that not all of his supporters -- many of his supporters are wonderful people, but some of his supporters are absorbing that hostility and then directing it at us in ways that, I think, are making some of us feel endangered.

And the question becomes whether or not a reporter in this country is hurt or, God forbid, killed as a result of this escalating rhetoric. And at that point, Wolf, we cross over into a new category of a country. We join other countries around the world where the press is not safe to do their jobs, and I just don't think we should be going down that path.

It's a question for the country to answer at this point, do we want to go down this path? Because I think it's a path that leads to some bad things.

BLITZER: And you write openly in this book about the threats that you face. Tell us a little bit about that.

ACOSTA: That's right. I mean, you know, this -- we all remember the pipe bomb incident at our headquarters in New York just before the midterms last year. And, you know, at the time, we didn't realize this, but after this

person was apprehended in that white van covered in media -- anti- media signage, there were death threats directed at me on Twitter from this individual. Things that said, Acosta, you are the enemy of America, you are next. And there was a grisly image of a decapitated animal's head posted in one of those images, and it was -- it was pretty scary stuff.

And, Wolf, you know, it's almost on a weekly basis where I get this flow of threats into my social media accounts. And I'm not the only one, Wolf. There are other reporters and anchors who cover this president, this administration, who are going through the same thing. And I think the folks at home deserve to know that this is happening to reporters who just come in on a daily basis and want to deliver information to the American people.

BLITZER: In the book, you have a revealing interview with Kellyanne Conway, one of the senior advisers to the President, and she admits to you a misstep. Tell us about that.

ACOSTA: That's right. And I wanted to ask her about this, and I was surprised that she sat down for an hour-long interview with me. And I wanted to ask her about alternative facts because it's something that has become sort of a mantra for this administration.

And, you know, what she basically said to me was that she didn't mean to say alternative facts. She meant to say alternative information and additional facts, and it got all jumbled together. Now, people may say, oh, that's Kellyanne Conway, I'm going to take that with a grain of salt, but, Wolf, she went on in this interview to say other things.

She went on to say that she didn't agree with the family separation policy. She said that was a violation of her Catholic beliefs, went on to say she doesn't agree with the President saying that the press is the enemy of the people. So this was a fairly candid interview from somebody who is normally a fierce defender of the President.

BLITZER: You cover the White House. It's been, what, 93 days since there's been a formal White House press briefing by the Press Secretary?

ACOSTA: That's right. And, you know, this is a taxpayer-funded spokesperson for the United States government who is just not doing her job.

What we have these days, Wolf, is we have Sarah Sanders will go out to Fox News, do an exclusive interview, or perhaps maybe with another outlet occasionally, and then come back and take a few questions from reporters standing in the driveway. The White House briefing room I now refer to as the cafeteria because it's where a lot of the people in our business just eat their lunch on a daily basis.

[17:45:01] But unfortunately, Wolf, what I think a lot of folks at the White House who work for this president have forgotten is they don't work for the Trump Organization. They work for the American people. They don't work for just one president, they work for the presidency of the United States. And I think several officials over at that White House have lost sight of that.

BLITZER: The President today, once again, accused journalists, serious journalists of making up sources, not really having any sources. How do you deal with that?

ACOSTA: You know, Wolf, the President knows that that's false. And we talk to officials all the time on background. We talk to Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Sanders and Sean Spicer on background. They go on background from time to time to talk to reporters.

BLITZER: And tell our viewers what "background" means.

ACOSTA: On background means they'll give us information. They'll even give us quotes, but they say you can't use my name because I -- you know I can't talk about this on the record.

And as a matter of fact, I talked to one national security official for this administration, Wolf, who've said, on background, to me that I can't tell you why the President of the United States is so cozy with Vladimir Putin. When I asked this official this, he said it like, I just -- I don't know why. I can't tell you why that's the case.

This official went on to say that around the time that Vladimir Putin was running for re-election in March of 2018, the President sent -- wanted to send off a news clipping saying, good luck Vladimir Putin in your upcoming election. So sometimes these officials have to go on background to give us information, and that information is vital to the American people.

BLITZER: It's a tough assignment, but it's a very important assignment that you have. The name of the book -- the title of the book, "The Enemy of the People: A Dangerous Time to Tell the Truth in America." You got a lot of fascinating details, good work.

ACOSTA: Thank you very much, Wolf, appreciate it.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta reporting.

ACOSTA: Always good to be with you.

BLITZER: Thank you very much. Jim Acosta's our chief White House correspondent.

Just ahead, new reports claim the half-brother of the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un was a CIA asset before he was assassinated. Did President Trump undermine American intelligence agencies with his confusing response once again today?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:51:27] BLITZER: More breaking news now. Criticized for undermining U.S. intelligence with confusing comments about North Korea, President Trump just muddied the waters even more today. It all has to do with reports that the assassinated half-brother of the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un was a CIA asset.

Brian Todd is here for us. Brian, what else are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're getting some serious warnings tonight from veteran spies and other intelligence experts who say the President, when he said he would not allow the CIA to cultivate someone like Kim Jong-un's half-brother as an informant, well, that he's harmed the agency's ability to recruit high-placed sources. This as President Trump seemed to try fairly unsuccessfully to backtrack from those comments.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump suggesting he was misunderstood when he said he wouldn't allow his intelligence agencies to use Kim Jong-un's half-brother as an informant.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, it's not what I meant. It's what I said and that's -- I think it's different than, maybe, your interpretation.

TODD (voice-over): But some analysts say the President's comments Tuesday about the reported recruitment of Kim Jong-nam were problematic.

TRUMP: 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): The CIA is not commenting on the President's remarks. But tonight, former spies tell CNN the President may not have realized that harm that comment might have done to America's intelligence gathering.

AKI PERITZ, FORMER COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: I think we might see individuals, especially family members of senior leaders across the world -- if you are related to Vladimir Putin or if you're related to the Ayatollah in Iran, and you engage in negotiations with the United States, there's always a possibility that the President might dime you out to that leader for some sort of short-term gain. And that must be terrifying.

TODD (voice-over): Intelligence veterans say by ruling out recruiting someone like Kim Jong-nam, Trump might also be weakening his own hand in the next round of nuclear talks with Kim Jong-un where he'll need the best intelligence. And they say getting any high-level intelligence on North Korea from a source like Kim Jong-nam, related by blood to the supreme leader, is a once-in-a-lifetime chance.

PERITZ: North Korea is an incredibly hard target. When you collect on North Korea itself, you have signals intelligence, a little bit of human intelligence, and a few other places to look at things. And so the fact that you're going to say that one person cannot be collected on is undermining the United States government's ability to collect information. TODD (voice-over): A former adviser to Presidents Trump and George W.

Bush defends Trump's comments, saying the President has to send whatever positive signals he can to the North Korean dictator at a time when nuclear talks could either move forward or break down completely.

CHRISTIAN WHITON, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS, DEPARTMENT OF STATE: Remember, with North Korea, you're dealing with sort of the least worst options. You're not dealing with good options. So, you know, making a gesture like this, which is cost- free, essentially, I think makes a lot of sense if you're trying to get back to the negotiating table.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, while the CIA is not commenting on any of this, former intelligence officers tell us the spy agency could very well, at this moment, be doing some damage control after the President's statements.

They say the CIA could be scrambling right now to reach out to its important informants to give them more incentives, to make sure they're safe. And the agency might even be trying to exfiltrate some top sources from some dangerous areas of the world if those sources are getting nervous over the President's comments, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting, thank you.

Coming up, the breaking news. Former White House communications director Hope Hicks will testify behind closed doors before the House Judiciary Committee.

[17:55:04] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:59:57] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Getting hope. One of President Trump's closest former aides and long-time confidante, Hope Hicks, agrees to appear before the House Judiciary Committee.