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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Sen. Angus King (R), Maine; Trump To ABC: Donald Trump Jr. Not At All Worried About Perjury After New Testimony Before Senate Intel; Rep. Adam Schiff (D) California Threatens To Subpoena FBI Director For Information On Russia Counterintelligence Probe; Trump: I Think I'd Take Information About 2020 Opponent From Foreign Powers Like Russia And China. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired June 12, 2019 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hope Hicks agrees to appear before the House Judiciary Committee, this as Donald Trump Jr. is talking to CNN about his new Senate testimony behind closed doors.
Contempt vote. A key House committee just agreed to hold two Trump Cabinet members accountable for defying subpoenas. The panel's Democratic chairman is demanding to know what the White House is hiding.
Blocking access. Ahead of the contempt vote, President Trump invokes executive privilege to keep subpoenaed information secret. Tonight, he's trying to distance himself from the controversy and dismiss it as ridiculous.
And being transparent. President Trump keeps insisting his administration is wide open. But, tonight, he admits he didn't mean to be quite so revealing when he dangled his new agreement with Mexico in a way that allowed the world to read it.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories, including the first material witness from the Mueller investigation to appear before the House Judiciary Committee.
The panel's chairman announcing that the president's former communications director and confidant Hope Hicks will be interviewed one week from today.
Also breaking, the House Oversight Committee just voted to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress for defying subpoenas. Hours earlier, President Trump invoked executive privilege to withhold census information demanded by the Democratic-led panel. And Donald Trump Jr. says he's not at all concerned about being accused of perjury after a second interview by the Senate Intelligence Committee. The president's son tells CNN there was nothing he needed to change from his prior testimony.
This hour, I will talk with a key member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Angus King. And our correspondents and analysts also are standing by.
First, let's go to our Congressional Correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty.
Sunlen, Hope Hicks his testimony before a House panel potentially could be very significant.
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's certainly right, Wolf. This will be a huge moment up here on Capitol Hill.
Hope Hicks is certainly a key figure in Donald Trump's inner circle, someone who had been by his side for so long as one of his closest aides, most recently as White House communications director.
Just in the last hour, the House Judiciary Committee announcing that she has agreed to sit down with the committee next Wednesday. Now, this testimony will be behind closed doors, but the committee plans to release a transcript of her testimony.
She will, of course, be facing questions about our time on the Trump campaign, her time in the transition, and certainly her time in the Trump White House. And that, of course, could be an open question. Last week, the White House directed Hope Hicks not to turn over documents that the committee wanted related to her time at the White House.
So it will be key and a huge question to see if the White House will exert executive privilege to prevent her from speaking about her time at the White House. But, of course, her time on the campaign, Wolf, will be fair game.
BLITZER: The House Oversight Committee, as you know, also just voted to hold the attorney general and the commerce secretary in contempt. Tell us about that.
SERFATY: That's right.
This is a significant move by the committee. And, notably, one House Republican, Justin Amash, voting with Democrats on the committee to hold the attorney general and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with their subpoenas.
Now, this is all related to the addition of a citizenship question related to the 2020 census. Democrats threw a fit about this. They want to know more. They want to know how and why it was added and subpoenaed for the documents related to that.
Now, this comes hours after President Trump asserted executive privilege this morning to block lawmakers' access to those documents. That, of course, set off Democrats on the committee, saying this is another example of blanket defiance.
Now, the Department of Justice here responding just in the last few minutes to this vote this evening. They're calling this political games being played by the committee. Wolf, this very likely sets up a long court battle ahead.
BLITZER: And, as you know, Sunlen, Donald Trump Jr. spoke to CNN as he wrapped up new testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier today. What did he say?
SERFATY: That's right.
The committee wanted him back and subpoenaed him to be back in front of their committee today to clear up what they believe were discrepancies related to his past testimony in 2017 and things that have been revealed in the Mueller report.
Now, this is basically over two key issues, the Trump Tower meeting in 2016 and the Trump Tower Moscow project. Now, today, according to a source close to Donald Trump Jr., he said that he doesn't recall telling anyone other than Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort about the Trump Tower meeting, that in defiance what Rick Gates the special prosecutor.
Also, Trump Jr. told the committee today he was only peripherally aware of the Trump Tower Moscow project, that also in defiance to what Michael Cohen told the special prosecutor, Robert Mueller.
Leaving his testimony today, Don Jr. said that he did feel that he had nothing to correct from his previous testimony. And he took a jab at Michael Cohen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Did you change anything from your past testimony?
DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: 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. We're able to put some final clarity on that. And I think the committee understands that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SERFATY: So, across the board today on Capitol Hill, Wolf, certainly a lot of back and forth, a significant escalation from the House side to the Senate side in this battle between Democrats and the Trump administration -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Lots going on, indeed. Sunlen Serfaty up on Capitol Hill, thank you.
Now to President Trump invoking executive privilege and creating new confusion during a news conference.
Let's go to our White House Correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.
Kaitlan, the president is using his executive power to try to block Democrats from getting information they're demanding. What's the latest on that front?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, before that vote happened, the White House said it was going to be unnecessary and premature if they went forward with it.
But when the president was later asked about this specific issue about the census, he did not show any signs of backing off. But, overall, what we're seeing is the White House escalate its fight with House Democrats.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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: 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 got the right to ask whether or not somebody is a citizen of the United States.
COLLINS: 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-MD): The president is asserting executive privilege over all of these documents. This begs the question, what is being hidden?
COLLINS: Congressman Elijah Cummings says asserting privilege is another effort by the Trump administration to stonewall Congress.
CUMMINGS: We must stand up for Congress' authority under the Constitution to conduct meaningful oversight.
COLLINS: The standoff coming during a flyover, as Trump welcomed the Polish president to the White House with the show by an F-35. TRUMP: And actually came to a pretty -- close to a halt over the
COLLINS: But it wasn't the roar of the fighter jet that caused the confusion and 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: 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: Trump remained vague on that front, but he did confirm he will sit down with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Japan later this month.
DONALD TRUMP SR.: I will be meeting with Putin at the G20.
COLLINS: He wouldn't say if it will 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: 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.
COLLINS: Today, Trump also denied reports that polling from his own campaign is flashing warning signs.
TRUMP: We are winning in every single state that we have polled.
COLLINS: Campaign officials say that's not true, and that a recent poll they conducted showed him lagging in states that will be critical to a 2020 victory.
TRUMP: They were fake polls that were released by somebody that is -- it's ridiculous. No.
COLLINS: While officials have downplayed the numbers, insisting it's too early to tell who's ahead, they did not deny them.
TRUMP: We do very little polling, because I'm not a huge believer in polling.
COLLINS: Now, Wolf, we reached out to the White House to see if they can give us any clarification on what the president meant and what his position is on using the CIA and its informants to spy on North Korea.
But they declined to comment on the record.
BLITZER: Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you.
Joining us now here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Senator Angus King. He's an independent who serves on both the Intelligence and Armed Services committees.
Senator, thanks so much for coming in.
SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: -ME): Sir.
BLITZER: I know there's restrictions on what you can say, what you can't say about Donald Trump Jr.'s testimony before your Intelligence Committee earlier today.
But are you satisfied with the testimony in general?
KING: Wolf, it's your job to ask that question and my job not to answer it.
I was there today, but I'm not going to comment on what went on in the meeting. Donald Trump Jr. decided to make those comments. But as a member of the committee, I'm not going to.
BLITZER: Well, are you restricted because it's classified information? Why aren't -- because eventually you're going to release the transcript, right?
KING: Eventually, but not now.
And our policy is, if it's committee-sensitive, we maintain that closed nature until it's appropriate to release the information.
BLITZER: Did you get -- and I know there are restrictions on what you can say, but did you get a clear answer on a specific question, whether Donald Trump Jr. told his father, Donald Trump, about that controversial Trump Tower meeting during the campaign?
KING: Wolf, you can keep asking, but I'm going to keep not answering. I'm not going to answer questions about what went on in that hearing.
BLITZER: All right, so let's move on.
KING: I would like to, as you know. I just can't.
BLITZER: I understand. I understand what you're saying. I know there are restrictions. And you're an honorable U.S. senator.
Some of your other colleagues maybe are answering some of those questions, but we will see how much detail is released. Are you going to be doing more of this? Your Republican chairman,
Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, are you planning on trying to get more witnesses to come before the committee to elaborate on the Mueller report?
KING: Richard Burr has handled this, I think, very professionally from the very beginning.
And he said at the very beginning he was going to follow the evidence where it leads. That's what he's done. There are still loose ends that the committee is going to be following up. There's information that we need to develop in order to finalize our report.
The important distinction between us and the Mueller report is, Mr. Mueller is a prosecutor. He was looking for federal crimes that could be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. We're looking for the facts and what happened, and particularly how to prevent it from happening again.
So, we're not -- the word collusion has been thrown around. Mr. Mueller never used the word collusion in his report. He talked about criminal conspiracy. And he didn't find that. Whether there were contacts between the Russians and the Trump campaign is still something that we're working on. It's the last phase of our report.
And I believe Richard Burr is going to be true to his word. He's going to follow the evidence.
BLITZER: So, you have confidence in the chairman, the Republican chairman --
KING: I do.
BLITZER: -- who works apparently closely with the vice chairman, Mark Warner of Virginia.
KING: That's right.
And I have great respect for Richard Burr, because, I don't know this, but I suspect he's been under some pressure along the way of this process.
BLITZER: When you say that, elaborate on what you mean. Pressure from the White House?
KING: Well, I think just from generally the people that want this to be over with and wind it up and those who say the case is closed.
Richard Burr has stood up to that and is acting honorably, as he should.
BLITZER: You believe he has sufficiently explained what was controversial, his role in the Mueller report, when he mentioned telling the White House about sensitive information that he, as a so- called member of the Gang of Eight, had received? KING: I think he was -- I have talked to him about that. And I think
he was communicating to the White House who the witnesses they wanted to call and what our committee was -- what witnesses we were after.
Incidentally, he may have mentioned that information. I don't think it was a serious breach on his part. And I have seen no evidence of his cooperating or, to use another word, colluding with the White House on this -- on this investigation.
BLITZER: The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff, he's threatening to subpoena now the FBI director, Christopher Wray, to get answers, specific answers, on whether the counterintelligence investigation that's going on by the House Intelligence Committee into President Trump is still active.
Do you know if it's still active in the Senate Intelligence Committee?
Our whole investigation is a counterintelligence investigation. It's still active. We're not finished. We have finished some portions, for example, the portion dealing with interference with state election systems, the section dealing with what the Obama administration did or didn't do.
So some of the sections are done, but we're still looking at the counterintelligence questions and the relationship between the Trump...
BLITZER: Is the FBI director cooperating with your counterintelligence investigation?
KING: We have not had any lack of cooperation thus far from the FBI. They have, in fact, been very cooperative, as have the other intelligence agencies.
BLITZER: On a different subject, let me get -- it's a sensitive issue, because I know you're involved in the tariffs that are being imposed on China.
What's your reaction to the latest statements from the president that these tariffs, which are very significant right now, could explode and affect exports from your home state of Maine, for example?
KING: Well, they already are.
When you impose tariffs on someone else, you have to expect they're going to retaliate. And China have retaliated almost immediately. And one of the first things they retaliated against was lobsters. And lobsters to China was our largest export growth market.
And it went from a very significant number to almost zero, well over $100 million of a year worth of lobsters. And what bothers me about this, Wolf, is that when I saw the press
conference with the president, remember when he had the guys behind him in the cowboy hats, and he was talking about giving $16 billion to the farmers of the Midwest? My reaction was, what about lobsters?
I mean, we have exactly the same kind of retaliatory tariffs against us by China. And so far anyway, the administration hasn't reached out and said, yes, we want to help you.
And, by the way, it's not just lobsters. It's products all over America that are being subject to this. Plus, we're paying the tariffs. The idea that China's paying the tariffs just isn't true. This is a tax on the American consumers.
The president may be right. He may win this gamble by this high- stakes shock and awe tariff campaign against China. But, if he doesn't, and if it persists, it's going to significantly affect our economy, and it's going to hit people in the wallet.
BLITZER: Senator King, thanks so much for coming in.
KING: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: There's more breaking news just ahead.
What will House investigators learn from longtime Trump aide and confidant Hope Hicks? We will talk about her new agreement to testify.
And the Justice Department is pushing back tonight after a House committee voted to hold the attorney general in contempt, along with the commerce secretary.
BLITZER: More now on the breaking news.
The former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks now scheduled to testify behind closed doors before the House Judiciary Committee next week.
Let's dig deeper with our correspondents and our analysts.
And, Jeff Zeleny, what information is the House Judiciary Committee hoping to get from Hope Hicks?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the questions they want to ask her are from the time during the presidential campaign.
When you think back, Hope Hicks was one of the closest members of the president's inner circle. She was there when there were only a handful of staffers. So, during that time of the campaign, as well as during her time in the White House, those are the scope of questions. Of course, she sat just a few feet outside the Oval Office. She was
with the president for stretches of hours at a time. So this is part of the obstruction of justice inquiry, the first time that someone in the president's inner circle has been investigated and questioned by the committee.
But the key point is, she cannot assert executive privilege during her time in the campaign, only the White House time. So I'm told that they want to focus more on her time during the Trump campaign, before she joined the administration.
BLITZER: The president, presumably, at least would try to exert executive privilege if she wants to talk about what happened while she served in the White House.
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So, certainly, they're going to attempt to assert executive privilege.
We have seen them offer this really expansive definition. So, as Jeff said, executive privilege pretty plainly doesn't apply, for example, to periods of time before Donald Trump was president. There's also a question about whether it applies to the transition period.
But there are still these open areas in which we could see a White House that has really offered an extraordinarily broad view of executive privilege, almost comically broad, suggesting that it applies, for example, to individuals who were not government officials at the time of their -- of their communications with the president.
And so one of the questions here is, if Hope Hicks is in the room and there's a White House lawyer there, and that White House lawyer decides to make an assertion of executive privilege that is in keeping with this really, really broad sense, is Hicks going to defer to that attorney, or is she going to agree with members of the majority of the committee saying, we don't believe that's a valid assertion?
So it might end up being they still have to litigate, even if it's not a valid assertion of executive privilege.
BLITZER: Yes, and a lawyer from the White House Counsel's Office will be there with her.
At the same time, the House Oversight Committee, David, has decided -- they voted to hold the attorney general and the commerce secretary in contempt of Congress for failing to comply with subpoenas. How significant of a step is this?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN COMMENTATOR: I think it is significant.
It doesn't change the fundamental political calculus of the entire situation we're dealing with right now. But I think Democrats in the House probably felt that they had no choice. If you have a situation where Cabinet-level secretaries, the attorney general, the secretary of commerce, feel like they can just wave away subpoenas from Congress, that slowly unravels the way our separation of powers works. And in this case, as Susan said, you don't just have the executive
saying this question or this topic is off-limits because of executive privilege. They're saying, we just will stonewall. We don't want to talk to you.
BLITZER: What do you think, Sabrina?
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the White House has also exerted executive privilege over the citizenship question that they're adding to the census.
And Elijah Cummings, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said, that's an act of blanket defiance. And it goes back to the point Susan was making about this overly broad application of the notion of executive privilege, which does not apply to just any conversations involving the president and members of his administration.
One of the reasons the census question is particularly concerning to Democrats is because it has to do with the drawing of congressional maps. It also has to do with the allocation of government resources and services. And the U.S. Constitution specifically states that the census should cover everyone living in the country, the entire population, not just citizens of the United States.
BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. There's a lot more we need to discuss.
But let's take a quick break. We will be right back.
BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories this hour.
We're back with our correspondents and our analysts.
And, Jeff Zeleny, the president's son Donald Trump Jr., he was back testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee today behind closed doors.
He emerged to say that nothing -- he had nothing to change, there was nothing to change about his testimony when he first appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Why did this Republican-led committee want to hear from him again?
ZELENY: Wolf, it's all about reconciling just some differences and some potential disagreements that have emerged.
[18:30:00] But you will remember, Michael Cohen, the president's longtime lawyer, during his sentencing and other matters, he said that Donald Trump Jr. was mentioning that meeting back in June 2016 at Trump Tower to his father.
So he says he had not done that. So it seems that this is what's -- something that Senator Burr just wanted to, you know, essentially reconcile the differences. But the fact that he agreed to testify was the work of an agreement between his lawyers and others was pretty dramatic and controversial. At that time, the President was furious that his son was subpoenaed. But the fact that he came in and testified, it seems to at least set him on these sidelines of this. We don't know exactly what he said.
BLITZER: Because the suggestion, as Jeff says, Susan, was potentially investigating perjury on his part.
HENNESSEY: Right. So I think the question now is whether you believe Donald Trump Jr. or Michael Cohen particularly related to the question of what Don Junior knew about the status of the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations and whether or not Trump Jr. had informed his father in advance of that Trump Tower meeting with Russian officials.
Now, these are both individuals who have publicly lied about things. And so it's hard to assess who is going to have more credibility.
One thing that is significant is that the Muller report has come out at this opponent. So Donald Trump Jr. has now seen after a thorough investigation, Mueller essentially said there's a little bit of evidence on both sides of this question about whether or not he told his father in advance. We basically couldn't resolve it. And so whenever Trump Jr. is walking into that committee room, it is having already seen sort of the government's hands in terms of what they're going to be able to prove.
So I think this pretty much -- it ends the discussion for now. He is standing by his testimony. Then the question is is any new information were to emerge that would contradict at this point.
BLITZER: Because, David Swerdlick, as you know, Donald Trump Junior's lawyer said it's all over, they're done as far as they're concerned. But Senator Kamala Harris, a democratic presidential candidate, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, she simmers and says there's still a lot of unanswered questions. So where is this heading?
SWERDLICK: I would imagine that Senator Harris is referring to what was the underlying judgment on what Donald Trump Jr. did. As you said, the reconciling of the testimony, I think, is mostly going to be on the sidelines now because Donald Trump Jr. knows what's in the Mueller report and what he said last time and what he said today.
But there are questions that the democrats have as we get into the investigation about the June 26th meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, that the meeting took place is in dispute, that there are emails that is in dispute. The question is did the President know anything about this and why, I think, we're going to get to certainly if there's an impeachment inquiry at some point, why this wasn't found to be either a criminal conspiracy or a campaign finance violation.
BLITZER: And, Sabrina, on top of all this, the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, he is now threatening to subpoena the FBI Director, Christopher Wray, and come in and discuss ongoing counterintelligence operations that are going on related to the ongoing Russia probe. What are you hearing about that?
SIDDIQUI: Well, the House Intelligence Committee held a hearing today examining the Mueller report and contacts between the Trump campaign and Moscow. And Adam Schiff, the panelist chairman, suggested that the gang of eight, the top leaders in Congress, as well as the committee chairman and ranking members for the intelligence committees in both chambers, that they had not received a counterintelligence briefing from the FBI with respect to the Trump campaign since since James Comey was fired in May of 2017.
And so he was visibly frustrated that request for a briefing from the FBI have been meet with what he called a generic statement of process. And they have unanswered questions that pertain to Paul Manafort and the sharing of internal polling data with the Trump campaign to those negotiations around the potential Trump Tower in Moscow, the June 2016 meeting and what led up to it, what potentially came of it.
And Schiff made very clear that the FBI has an obligation to brief certainly the gang of eight, if not, his committee on an ongoing counterintelligence investigations. And he has certainly made clear that he is willing to compel them to do so if necessary.
BLITZER: Because the House -- the full House voted yesterday to give all these various committees full authority to go ahead and go to court if necessary to get this information.
HENNESSEY: Yes. So this is both going to empower these committees and also potentially lead to lengthy court fights, right? So we've seen that the White House and its allies and associates are essentially having a stonewall strategy. They aren't going to produce anything. And so this means that the House is going to have to meet hardball with hardball and say, no, we are going to take you all the way to court, we're going to litigate this, we're going to get a court order.
Now, one thing to keep in mind is, first of all, not all arguments are the same. There are a lot of moving pieces now. Congress does have the stronger arguments overall, but courts really, really don't like to get involved here. They view this as a conflict between the two other branches of government. And so a lot f times, what the courts will say is, this is political question. This is an area that we are not going to intrude into.
So even though the House does have, I think, the stronger constitutional and statutory argument, they are taking a little bit of a risk because if what ultimately the Supreme Court says is this a political question, what that means is, essentially, the White House wins by default.
BLITZER: You know, I'm wondering, Jeff Zeleny, you're just back in Washington for a few days in Iowa. And you've been out there covering the campaigns, the democratic campaigns. How is all of this stuff playing out there outside of Washington?
ZELENY: I mean, voters are not following the back and forth, the to and fro of all this. And then so one thing that's striking to me, the democratic presidential candidates, even though several of them have come forward, supporting an impeachment inquiry. They're not talking about it at the rallies or to their voters. It's clear the voters want to hear about substance and other issues.
Yesterday, it was striking, of course, the President and the former Vice President going back and forth. Some voters find it unseemly but a lot of democrats like the fact that Joe Biden is going hard after President Trump. But I was struck by, again, just average voters are not as interested in impeachment and they seem to be more on the side of Nancy Pelosi in terms of a slower approach, even some progressives we talked to. So certainly something to keep an eye on.
BLITZER: You sense the same thing?
SWERDLICK: Yes, I do sense that. I'm not out on the trail, like Jeff. But, I mean, you have this situation where Vice President Biden running in the I'm the best to beat Trump primary and therefore it's easier for him to talk about what Trump is doing wrong versus some of these other democrats who are going with these more policy-specific approaches are running in the who's the best democrat to represent democrats primary and that, I think, is part of the difference.
But also to your point, I think Americans sort of sense that we're going to get to this, but in the meantime, let's talk about what democrats are going to offer as a positive proposal for 2020.
HENNESSEY: There's also a little bit of a strategic question of which Trump scandals the democrats essentially want to focus on. Obviously, there are still remaining questions related to the Russia investigation, ongoing oversight.
But as Sabrina mentioned earlier, you know, the controversy related to the census is a really shocking potential political scandal. You know, there is new evidence that suggests that DOJ and Commerce Secretary may have inserted a question into the census. The constitutional mechanism, we use it to decide how many representatives we have in Congress. They might have inserted a question to essentially undercounter Latinos and make sure that additional republicans --
BLITZER: We've got some breaking news and I want to alert our viewers. There is an interview George Stephanopoulos of ABC News has done with the President of the United States on a very sensitive issue. They just released an excerpt from the interview. Let me play the clip and then we'll discuss. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS HOST: This time around, if foreigners, if Russia, if China, if someone else offers you information on an opponent, should they accept it or should they call the FBI? DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: I think maybe you do both. I think you might want to listen. There's nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country, Norway, we have information on your opponent, Oh, I think I'd want to hear it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You want that kind of interference in our elections?
TRUMP: It's not an interference. They have information. I think I'd take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I'd go maybe to the FBI, if I thought there was something wrong.
But when somebody comes up with oppo research, right, they come up with oppo research, oh, let's call the FBI. The FBI doesn't have enough agents to take care of it. But you go and talk honestly to congressmen, they all do it, they always have. And that's the way it is. It's called oppo research.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. That's a pretty explosive statement from the President of the United States. Kaitlan Collins is over at the White House. Kaitlan, I know all of us have just heard this that the President is not ruling out the possibility of accepting dirt, if you will, or opposition research from adversaries of the United States, like Russia and China.
COLLINS: Yes. He said he doesn't think he's ever called the FBI in his life, Wolf, during that interview with ABC News, when asked if he would take the information, if he was offered it again, not just by an opponent but also by any foreigners on a potential opponent. And the President said there's a chance you can do both.
Now, of course, this is going to raise all sorts of questions because, of course, that is what caused so much consternation over potential contacts between the Russians Trump campaign officials for the last several years, for, essentially, the President's entire time in the White House. That is really something that has loomed over.
And there are some in the White House who would certainly say, yes, that Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort shouldn't have taken that meeting at Trump Tower, but they did. They wouldn't do it again. But, clearly, the President seems to be standing by their decisions on what they did there, saying that if he had the chance to do it again, that he doesn't think he would call the FBI immediately.
And he's citing other lawmakers, Wolf, though he doesn't name who, that he says he believes has also acted in the same way.
BLITZER: Let's bring in our Justice Correspondent, Evan Perez. Evan, what's your reaction to what the President just said?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It's a stunning statement from the President of the United States, Wolf, for him to say that the way to react when an adversary, like Russia, like China, wants to interfere with the U.S. election by offering opposition research to try to help one campaign, to try to hurt another, to try to influence an election.
Again, an adversary, that's the question from George Stephanopoulos.
And the President says, no, it's not a big deal. I think that, look, the President is in a place where he has -- because of the last couple of years and the way he has defended himself, he is sort of pinning himself into a corner. He can't now admit that perhaps they should have done something differently. Cannot bring himself to admit that. So perhaps that's why he is reacting this way.
But, certainly, you heard from the FBI Director, his own FBI director, Chris Wray, who, when he was asked about this just a few weeks ago, he was asked whether or not if a campaign was approached by an adversary with opposition research in the same manner as the Trump campaign was, that, you know, he said that he would hope that they would call the FBI. That's a clear answer from the Director of the FBI. And I think everybody in the national security space, everybody in the intelligence agency would prefer that that would be a campaign would work.
And, by the way, the Mueller investigation, the report says that the Trump campaign, not only essentially encouraged this, but that they were expecting this kind of help from the Russian government. That's the reason why we had this investigation and I think that's why there's still a lot of concern about what will happen in 2020, Wolf.
BLITZER: Let me go back to Kaitlan over at the White House. Kaitlan, you have another point you want to make?
COLLINS: Well, Wolf, we're looking at this and thinking about the President's reaction, where he's just asked pretty clearly. Is this something essentially that you would do again or that you would advocate someone on your behalf doing again, as we saw in the last campaign?
And a lot of what this could likely have to do with, Wolf, is this is a president who doesn't like to admit mistakes or missteps. Even if it's someone acting on his behalf, someone like Donald Trump Jr. or his son-in-law, Jared Kushiner, or even his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, the President does not like to admit mistakes.
So he's saying there instead of agreeing with something what the FBI Director, Christopher Wray, said, which is that, yes, Donald Trump Jr. should have called the FBI, the President is standing by their actions.
BLITZER: Very interesting. Susan Hennessey, you are our National Security and Legal Analyst. You used to be an attorney over at the National Security Agency. When you heard what the President just told George Stephanopoulos, what did you think?
HENNESSEY: Well, I think that Donald Trump should have read the Mueller report. Because Robert Mueller is quite clear that he actually does believe that under the law, accepting opposition research from a foreign entity, the way that occurred at that Trump Tower meeting, was a violation of campaign finance law. It did constitute a thing of value.
The reason why they didn't pursue charges was because they didn't believe that they could prove the knowledge component, the way campaign finance law works. You have to know it's a crime at the time in order to be guilty of a criminal violation.
Now, basically, the Trump campaign got the benefit of Mueller being able to say, well, we can't really prove that they knew it was a crime at that time. Moving forward for the 2020 election, I don't know anybody who could make the claim that everybody is not fully aware of this, but accepting this kind of information, you know, isn't a criminal violation.
This was also an open invitation for foreign countries to now interfere in the U.S. election. This is at a moment in which we are -- our intelligence apparatus says the lights are blinking red for the 2020 election. And this is basically the President of the United States saying, come on in, we're happy to accept this.
SIDDIQUI: And we spend a lot of time talking about the obstruction line over inquiry (ph) Mueller's report, but this a s he goes back to the heart of what this investigation was all about, which is that a foreign government, an adversary of the United States interfered in the 2016 election in what the Special Counsel said was sweeping and systematic fashion.
And we know from the Mueller report that the Trump campaign was receptive to that help and they understood that they would benefit electorally from the campaign led by Moscow to help and lift up Donald Trump and his campaign.
And at the same time, the President is confirming what many have suspected, and what he has alluded to over the last two years, which is that he doesn't think there was anything wrong with what the Russians did in 2016. And this comes at a time when his own intelligence chiefs are warning that the Russians are prepared to do it again in 2020 and that the Trump administration has not sufficient action to deter that kind of interference --
BLITZER: Just to be precise, you know, Jeff Zeleny, the President said, if somebody called him, let's say a country like Norway, and said, we have some information on your opponent, he said, oh, I think I'd like to hear it. But he also said something very similar when George Stephanopoulos specifically said, what if China or Russia had that kind of information.
ZELENY: Look, and this is something that -- I'm not surprised that the President said this at all. This is very much keeping in line with what he's been saying. He's been trying to normalize this from the very beginning that this is just a piece of oppo research. It is not a piece of oppo research. Opposition research is usually someone's background, a voting record, a financial dealing from an opponent, not a foreign government.
So this is ignoring the first part, chapter 1, of the Mueller report, which is very serious, that there was an interference in the U.S. election.
[18:45:07] But the fact of the matter is that Jared Kushner has recently said he did not have any regrets.
So, this is a president who, you know, is looking forward here. We'll have to see the rest of the interview. But it's clear, he said I would call the FBI. Then he said, no, I'd never call the FBI in my life. So I think it's hard to imagine Donald Trump would call the FBI on this information he's tried to normalize.
BLITZER: Yes. He said, I don't think in my whole life I've ever called the FBI in my life. You don't call the FBI. You throw somebody out of the office.
You do whatever you do. Oh, give me a break. Life doesn't work like that.
That's the president in this ABC News interview.
SWERDLICK: Right. And, Wolf, I agree with everything that everyone else has already said. Let me just drill on two things.
One, the Norway important that you just made. Very easy for the president to say, oh, if I get information from Norway, convenient example, it's a friendly western small power that's in NATO, not Russia, our geopolitical adversary.
The second point I want to make is, the second part that he said about I would take it, maybe you can do both. I would also potentially call the FBI. That undercuts half the Republican argument in this whole thing. They've gone after the Obama administration and the Clinton campaign for giving the Steele dossier to the FBI.
Now, the president I saying, yes, maybe I'd call the FBI, but that's what you're supposed to do.
HENNESSEY: It's also worth nothing that the president and many of his family members are now sitting government officials. And so, if a foreign country reaches out to them to give them dirt on a political opponent, it's not optional for them whether or not they want to contact the FBI. They have an informative obligation to report that.
I think it's worth, you know, keeping in mind that in this country, we have certain commitments before parties, free political things that we care about like free and fair elections in which Americans choose who is going to be the next president, who is going to be their elected political leaders. And it's stunning each and every time we see the president of the United States does not share those common American values that are not about Democrats and not about Republicans but about the core values this country was founded on.
BLITZER: Let me go back to Kaitlan over at the White House. I understand the president also spoke, Kaitlan, what, about the FBI director?
COLLINS: Yes, Wolf, he actually flat out said very bluntly that Chris Wray was wrong when he testified on Capitol Hill not that long ago. And you'll remember Senator Lindsey Graham, an ally of the president, asked Christopher Wray if he thought that someone who had been offered information from a foreign government should call the FBI. Chris Wray said, yes, I think that would be wise.
And so, during this interview with ABC News, the president was asked about that statement that Chris Wray made. He said, and I'm quoting him now, the FBI director is wrong because frankly it doesn't happen like that in life. He said, now, maybe we'll start happening, maybe today you'd think differently.
But, clearly, Wolf, you're seeing a pretty stark break between the president and his FBI director, something we've seen recently actually again after Chris Wray declined to characterize what the surveillance of the Trump campaign is spying, something the attorney general did. Chris Wray said he wouldn't see it like that. The president said that remark was ridiculous. And now you're seeing the president go after the FBI director again, saying that he's wrong when he says people should call the FBI if a foreign government offers them information.
BLITZER: Let me play that little clip from the interview. This is the president on the FBI director. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is somebody that said, we have information on your opponent. Oh, let me call the FBI. Give me a break. Life doesn't work like that.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: The FBI director says that's what should happen.
TRUMP: The FBI director is wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Kaitlan, there you have it, a very blunt statement by the president about the FBI Director Christopher Wray and he was appointed by the president.
COLLINS: Yes, that's the president's handpicked FBI director, someone he picked after James Comey was fired.
And, of course, we've seen the president have an issue with officials like the FBI director, like the former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, quite a change now that Bill Barr is running the Justice Department, and he and the president seem to be in common step with each other on whether or not the Trump campaign was spied on.
But Chris Wray is someone we've seen actually defend the FBI and say they're not this corrupt institution. That they're not biased, this perception that you often see from not only the president but also his allies, because of what happened during his campaign and now you're seeing a very stark break between the president and the FBI director, and it makes you wonder where the relationship is going to go to from there and how Chris Wray is going to respond to the president telling him he's wrong.
He's wrong that they should call the FBI, if they've been offered information from a foreign government. And, of course, it does make you wonder how Republican lawmakers like Senator Lindsey Graham, the one in that exchange with Chris Wray and how they're going to react to the president so publicly disagreeing with his own FBI director.
BLITZER: Yes, and, Evan Perez, the president didn't only said Christopher Wray was wrong, you heard him raised his voice and say very firmly, he's wrong.
PEREZ: Yes, exactly, Wolf. Look. I mean, Lindsey graham, senator gram, is among the people who was among the people who said that the people who participated in that meeting, Don Jr., you know, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, that they should have called the FBI.
[18:50:07] So it's not just Chris Wray that's made this comment, but a lot of people who are security interests of this country at heart that believe that what you should have done is picked up the phone and called the FBI. And that did not happen.
And so that's one of the things I think coming away from the Mueller investigation, coming away from the report, look, what the president is saying -- his words matter, right? This is the president of the United States.
How are the FBI counterintelligence agents right now working on trying to figure out what to do about the 2020 elections and how to protect this country in the 2020 elections -- how are the intelligence agencies that are, again, preparing to protect this country against foreign interference in the 2020 elections -- how are they supposed to react when the president of the United States uses these words to say that this is actually OK, that we are totally OK to do this, allowing foreign adversaries to interfere in our elections and that it is OK?
I think that's a really stark thing for the president to say. Perhaps we are going to see more of this interview in which perhaps he clarifies some of this. I don't know. But certainly from the words we have heard from the ABC interview has been broadcast, it does seem like the president is saying that this is all legal, this is all fine. And again the fact that the president is saying this is going to matter.
BLITZER: And, Sabrina, what's very significant is this isn't simply a presidential candidate saying this. This is the sitting president of the United States who has been in office two and a half years.
SIDDIQUI: He has been in office for two and a half years and he has repeatedly fallen into this pattern where he is willing to contradict his own intelligence leaders, especially on the issue of Russian interference. You now hear him saying the FBI director is wrong to say you shouldn't call up the FBI, his bureau if you receive an offer for help from a foreign government.
And since it's coming on the same day that Donald Trump junior returned to Capitol Hill to testify privately before the Senate Intelligence Committee, it goes back to the question that he aced with respect to that infamous Trump tower meeting in June of 2016, why didn't you pick up the phone and call the FBI?
And throughout this entire ordeal, the White House chalked this up to simply incompetence or pleading ignorance. He didn't know any better. This absolutely lays bare they knew better. They wanted to receive the help from the Russian government.
And the reason it's troubling is because it does have serious implications for 2020 as the president mounts his own campaign for re- election.
BLITZER: Jeff Zeleny, the reaction is going to be intense.
ZELENY: It is indeed. I was thinking back to something the president said earlier in the Rose Garden. He was asked about this. A, we should point out this is ongoing. He is he is meeting with Vladimir Putin at the G-20 in Japan, so, this is not --
BLITZER: End of this month.
ZELENY: End of this month.
But he also said this: but at some point, the Mueller report spoke, they were very disappointed. It said no collusion. And in fact, it said we actually rebuffed your friends from Russia. We actually pushed them back. We rebuffed them.
So, at this point, he is saying something that was not in the Mueller report at all. But that the -- did the issue here the president is saying you know that he would -- he would accept information just two weeks before going for a meeting.
This is a flashing vacancy sign if you will. We are open for business. The re-election committee he is having the first rally next week here.
So, I think the forward looking aspect of this is something quite severe. Imagine what the folks at the FBI are thinking right now as Evan was saying trying to protect the sanctity of this election going forward.
BLITZER: David Swerdlick, the president was asked today at the news conference whether he would go into the meeting with Vladimir Putin in Osaka, Japan, at the end of the month, only with translators or with aides who would take notes, he didn't really answer.
SWERDLICK: Right, and he wants to keep options open. He know that now we are post-Mueller report and post Attorney General Barr whitewash, he can say a lot of these things, and he is gambling that there is not going to be a ton of consequences for that.
If I can just go back to that comment again, he didn't just say he wouldn't call the FBI. He put some mustard on that statement. He knows that his base is saying, yes, that's not how it plays out in real life. But the reality, going back to Sabrina's point is that he has been the sitting president two and a half years. Maybe if you are a dodgy real estate developer, you wouldn't call the FBI, but the president of the United States should call the FBI.
HENNESSEY: Look, there is also a question now he is president of the United States, we saw what he did as a candidate, what he willing to do with the authorities of his office, the gray area of conducting foreign policy on behalf of the United States? We already saw Rudy Giuliani a few weeks ago with the sort of bizarre outreach to Ukraine, attempting maybe to get that government to investigate the family members of his political opponents.
I think this is a really definitive moment for Congress, especially for congressional Republican, when you have a president basically saying, I dare you to tell me not to do this.
[18:55:03] You saw everything that I did in the Mueller report. It was laid bare and you didn't do anything to hold me accountable, at least among congressional Republicans. Now I'm saying not only did you do not before, I'm open to doing it again.
And I do think this is a moment if we don't hear the congressional Republicans saying, hold on, wait a minute, that's the line, this is not OK. We're going to be in a really troubling situation.
SIDDIQUI: And the fact that this is coming ahead of the president's reported plans to meet with Vladimir Putin I think will prompt even more alarm. You know, there have been occasions where the two leaders have sat down without the presence of any note takers without official record kept, without a translator on the part of the U.S. government.
And in the many conversations that Trump has had with Vladimir Putin, it's been a inconsistent theme that he has not pushed back on the issue of Russian interference. And to Susan's point there has been a bipartisan push in Congress to try and invest in election security and to tray and take more significant steps to deter interference from any foreign government frankly in our elections. And so far, the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been reluctant to embrace comments. We'll see if these comments cause any change.
ZELENY: Imagine what effect this is going to have on the ongoing debate if there should be an impeachment inquiry. This goes directly to the intent of the president, his mindset. So, I think this is going to make it much harder for Speaker Pelosi to sort of keep thing at bay here. We have not heard reaction from the 2020 candidates. But look for that, because this shows what the president.
BLITZER: The reaction is going to be intense.
Arlette Saenz is joining us right now, our political reporter in Iowa.
I take it, Arlette, that we are beginning to get some reaction to the president's statement in this interview.
ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, we haven't heard just yet, Wolf, from those2020 Democratic candidates. But this is something that you have heard candidates talk about out on the campaign trail.
In fact, Joe Biden has warned about foreign election interference and how it's a threat not just to American democracy but also to national security. He was in Munich back in February as part of a panel, a commission on election integrity, urging candidates over in Europe to ensure that foreign -- there's no foreign interference in their elections or potentially here in the U.S.
But this is something that's going -- especially going to be discussed a lot on the campaign trail going forward after the president's comments today in that interview.
BLITZER: I know you are working sources. You're covering the Biden campaign. Arlette, we're going to get back to you.
You know, Jeff Zeleny, let me play that short little clip once again, the president was asked about the need to inform the FBI. And what he said specifically about the current FBI Director Christopher Wray. Let me play that little clip one more time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: This is somebody that said we have information on your opponent. Oh, let me call the FBI. Give me a break. Life doesn't work that way.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The FBI director says that's what should happen.
TRUMP: The FBI director is wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: It's not the first time the president publicly said one of his top national security or law enforcement officials is wrong. The president said something similar about Dan Coates, the director of national of intelligence, after the president's summit with Putin in Helsinki.
ZELENY: He did. And I think the tone there of what the president was saying made clear how he thinks about this. He fired the last FBI director he thought was wrong.
The reaction from Christopher Wray is going to be fascinating if he says anything. My guess is he will not. But the president made clear that he is going to do whatever means is necessary to essentially win re-election.
So, this is much more so than I'm thinking back to the summer of 2016 when he said if Russia can find the emails look for them. He is sitting in the Oval Office in the White House to make the point. And as Susan was saying, he is now the entire apparatus of the U.S. government at his fingertips basically as he's going forward in this reelection.
BLITZER: You think this increases the drum beat for formal impeachment process?
ZELENY: I think it certainly is going to make it much more difficult for Democrats to sort of slow walk this. This is going directly to the president's current thinking, current frame of mind here. It's pretty shocking in that regard.
BLITZER: What's going to be the reaction in the intelligence community, the law enforcement community?
HENNESSEY: I think it's stunning to hear things like that. Certainly they are going to be put on high alert. This is an open invitation, right?
He is saying, I'm president of the United States, I might be president of the United States for another four years. Here's a great way to curry favor with me. Unlike the Obama administration which said we are turning around and impose sanctions on you, attempting to actually deter this conduct, he is essentially saying this is an open invitation.
One thing will be critical is whether or not Democratic candidates are going to pledge they will not use this form of opposition research or contact with foreign officials moving forward.
BLITZER: And, David, the president was very blunt in saying Christopher Wray was wrong.
SWERDLICK: He was blunt and, remember, this is someone he appointed at the Justice Department, the FBI director. But the Justice Department that he works for, it's his administration and he's saying his own people are wrong.
BLITZER: Yes, it's a very, very significant development. We are going to stay on top of this. Obviously, we're going to have much more on all these breaking developments.
To our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
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