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Senior GOP Source: Trump's Foreign Dirt Comment "Really, Really Bad"; Pompeo Blames Iran For Attacks On Tankers; Interview With Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi Foreign Minister, On Tanker Skirmish; House Judiciary Committee Members Reviewing Mueller Documents; Interview With Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA); Trump Digs In On Willingness To Accept Campaign Help From Foreign Powers; Kim Jong-un Biographer: Dictator Knows What Buttons To Push. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired June 13, 2019 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter or Instagram @JakeTapper. You can tweet the show @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks for watching.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now -- breaking news: leaving the White House. Embattled press secretary Sarah Sanders will be leaving the White House. Announcing the move, President Trump says she should run for governor of Arkansas.

Taking dirt: President Trump is doubling down on his stunning comment that he'd accept dirt on opponents from foreign sources in the 2020 campaign without going to the FBI. One senior Republican says such a move would be impeachable.

Blaming Iran: the United States is blaming Iran for attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the assessment is based on intelligence without offering direct evidence. But U.S. sailors report seeing a mine attached to one of the tankers.

And birthday greeting: after a series of harsh comments, it turns out Kim Jong-un's new letter to President Trump is a birthday greeting; as a biographer says, the North Korean dictator knows just what buttons to push with the president.

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


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

BLITZER: Breaking news: White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, a dogged defender of President Trump, even after dropping regular press briefings, will be leaving the White House. President Trump announced the long-expected move, saying Sanders should run for governor of her native Arkansas. Meantime, the president is defending his extraordinary statement that

he'd accept foreign help in 2020 and wouldn't necessarily tell the FBI about offers of dirt. A senior GOP source calls the remark really, really bad and says it would be an impeachable act.

Also breaking tonight -- the United States is directly blaming Iran for attacks that set two oil tankers ablaze in the Gulf of Oman. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says that assessment is based on intelligence but offers no direct evidence. The incident comes amid spiraling tensions between the United States and Iran.

I'll speak with the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs Adel al-Jubeir and with Congressman Ro Khanna of the Oversight Committee. And our correspondents and analysts will have full coverage of the day's stories.

First to our White House Correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, one of the president's most loyal aides will now be leaving the White House.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And one of the longest-serving members of this administration, Wolf. Sarah Sanders is back here on day one but now the president is announcing she will be leaving at the end of the month.

He just brought her on stage in the East Room at the White House in an event where he was referring to her as a warrior and giving her one of the warmest send-offs since Hope Hicks left the White House last February.

The president once again floated the idea of Sarah Sanders running for the governor of Arkansas. But, Wolf, that's not something the president is just saying because we have sources who have confirmed that, in recent weeks, Sanders herself has floated the idea of running for office, running for governor of her home state of Arkansas.

Now of course, that's far away. That seat doesn't open up until 2022. But that's a real possibility. Sarah Sanders is leaving.

But the daily White House press briefing is something that's already been long gone because, today, the day the president announced Sarah Sanders is going to be leaving, also marks the 94th day since there has been a briefing held in the briefing room here at the White House.

Of course, Sarah Sanders, one of the president's closest confidantes will be leaving but the president still will have several problems to face back here in Washington.


COLLINS (voice-over): Tonight President Trump is defending some of his most stunning comments yet.

TRUMP: It's not an interference. They have information. I think I'd take it. COLLINS (voice-over): Now comparing taking dirt from Russia to political diplomacy, tweeting, "I meet and talk to foreign governments every day. I just met with the queen of England, the Prince of Wales, the prime minister of the United Kingdom. We talked about everything.

"Should I immediately call the FBI about these calls and meetings?

"How ridiculous." criticism after he dismissed the idea of alerting the FBI if a foreign

government offered dirt on an opponent.

TRUMP: I don't think in my whole life I've ever called the FBI.

COLLINS (voice-over): He claimed it's common practice for members of Congress. Trump is facing blistering

TRUMP: You go and talk honestly to Congressmen, they all do it. They always have.

COLLINS (voice-over): But lawmakers, some Republican, are pushing back on his claim that it's routine.

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): I ran for president twice. I ran for governor once. I ran for Senate twice. I've never had any attempt made by a foreign government to contact me or a member of my staff and, had that occurred, I would have contacted the FBI immediately.

COLLINS (voice-over): The president's allies are struggling to defend his remarks.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I think it's --


GRAHAM: -- a mistake. I think it's a mistake of law.

COLLINS (voice-over): While others are trying to turn the tables on House Speaker Pelosi and Democrats.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Her own party spending millions of dollars for a former foreign intelligence officer that we're now trying to interview, travel the world, trying to drum something up. And when they could not find it, they made it up.

COLLINS (voice-over): That research compiled by a former British spy warned of possible Russian infiltration to meddle in the election through the Trump campaign, something the U.S. government was actively looking into.

The dossier's claims did not all prove to be true. Democrats say it's clear Trump hasn't learned his lesson from 2016 and an investigation that has loomed over his presidency.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: Everybody in the country should be totally appalled by what the president said last night. COLLINS (voice-over): But for now, House Speaker Pelosi is holding the line on impeachment.

PELOSI: What we want to do is have a methodical approach to the path that we are on.

COLLINS (voice-over): And tonight a government watchdog is recommending that the president fire Kellyanne Conway after she repeatedly violated the Hatch Act, which bars federal employees from making political statements.

The Office of the Special Counsel, which is unrelated to Robert Mueller, says Conway has repeatedly violated the law and her actions erode the principal foundation of our Democratic system.

The White House is firing back, claiming the office's unprecedented actions are deeply flawed and violate her constitutional rights to free speech and due process.


COLLINS: Now, Wolf, of course, we should note, when it comes to the Hatch Act, the person in charge of enforcing that discipline is the president himself. And we've been told today by aides they think it's highly unlikely the president would do anything in response to Kellyanne Conway being found in violating again.

But we should also note that in May, Kellyanne Conway did a TV appearance. She was walking back into the West Wing and she was asked about the fact she'd been found guilty of violating the law, violating the Hatch Act.

Wolf, she said, quote, "Let me know when the jail sentence starts."

BLITZER: Kaitlan Collins at the White House for us, thanks very much.

Also breaking, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is blaming Iran directly for today's explosions on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Let's go to Pentagon Correspondent, Barbara Starr.

What do we know about the explosions?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, within hours of this attack, oil prices skyrocketed. All of this tension in the Persian Gulf region could cost all of us more at the gas tank.


STARR (voice-over): Two commercial tankers in flames, their crews forced to abandon ship after being hit in the busy waterways of the Gulf of Oman near the Strait of Hormuz. Tonight, the secretary of state pointing directly at Iran.

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: It is the assessment of the United States government that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks that occurred in the Gulf of Oman today. This assessment is based on intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation.

STARR (voice-over): Going a step further to accuse government leaders but offering no public evidence.

POMPEO: No proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication.

STARR (voice-over): The U.S. further challenging Iran at the U.N.

JONATHAN COHEN, U.S. DEPUTY AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: It's unacceptable for any party to attack commercial shipping. And today's attacks on ships in the Gulf of Oman raise very serious concerns.

STARR (voice-over): At 6:12 and 7:00 am local time, the U.S. Navy picked up two early distress calls and immediately sent the nearby destroyer U.S.S. Bainbridge to the scene. It took on 21 merchant mariners from one stricken ship.

The crew from the second damaged tanker picked up by a commercial ship and then transferred to Iran where they remain. Additional U.S. Navy ships are on the way to conduct security patrols in the busy shipping lanes.

Iran's motivation?

The U.S. believes Tehran is responding to pressure from oil sanctions.

RAY MABUS, FORMER NAVY SECRETARY: It at least appears to me that it's trying to send a message that, if you apply maximum pressure, in the words of the Trump administration, to Iran, that they're going to strike back in some way.

STARR (voice-over): U.S. sailors reported seeing an unexploded mine on the side of one of the tankers, the same type of mine suspected of being used in the May attack on four oil tankers anchored off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.

But this time, an attack in those shipping lanes, both hit at or below the water line in close proximity to the engine room while the vessels were underway. The attacks came as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (sic) was wrapping up a visit to Iran, looking for ways to defuse tensions.



STARR: The Iranians tonight admitting nothing. The foreign minister, in fact, calling the attacks suspicious -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks very much.

Joining us now, Saudi Arabia's minister of state foreign affairs, Adel al-Jubeir.

Minister, thanks so much for coming in. ADEL AL-JUBEIR, FORMER SAUDI FOREIGN MINISTER: Pleasure to be here.

BLITZER: You heard the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He says Iran is directly responsible for these attacks and earlier attacks as well.

Do you agree?

AL-JUBEIR: We have no reason to disagree with the secretary of state. We agree with him. Iran has a history of doing this. We've seen them attack four tankers recently. We've seen them launch missiles at Saudi Arabia through the Houthis, attacking pumping stations and oil pipelines in Saudi Arabia and we've seen them provide the Houthis with ballistic missiles, more than 225, of which they launched against Saudi citizens.

BLITZER: What evidence do you have or what can you share with our viewers?

AL-JUBEIR: With regard to --

BLITZER: With the allegation that Iran is directly responsible for these attacks?

AL-JUBEIR: I believe that the investigations will continue and the evidence will be made available to the world. The U.S. has gone to the Security Council to make its case. And I think, once this is concluded, it will become very obvious.

BLITZER: How is Saudi Arabia going to respond to these attacks?

AL-JUBEIR: We are in consultations with our allies and friends, including the United States, on what steps one ought to take. It is important that the world send a strong message to Iran that its aggressive behavior and its attacks against merchant vessels and its providing ballistic missiles to terrorist groups like the Houthis and Hezbollah are not acceptable.

BLITZER: Well, you heard the very strong statement from the secretary of state.

What else do you want to see the United States do, the Trump administration and the U.S. military?

AL-JUBEIR: We are in consultations with our allies in the U.S. and other countries and we want to make sure that whatever steps are taken are effective and we want to make sure that Iran understands that its behavior cannot be tolerated.

Nobody wants war but it's up to the Iranians. They are the ones who are escalating and they're the ones who are providing missiles. In fact, recently, an airport in Saudi Arabia was attacked; 26 people were injured, including a lady from India. This is not acceptable behavior. And this behavior has got to stop.

BLITZER: Do you foresee the potential of U.S.-led military action involving Iran? AL-JUBEIR: I believe everybody is trying to avoid war, except perhaps Iran. We're trying to use diplomacy and economic sanctions to get Iran to do the right thing and to make it clear to Iran that its behavior is not acceptable.

BLITZER: If the U.S. were to engage in military action, would Saudi Arabia cooperate, get involved as well?

AL-JUBEIR: We and the United States are allies. We have always stood shoulder to shoulder with each other. But I don't believe the U.S. is planning military action. I believe the U.S. wants to make sure there is deterrent action in the Gulf to prevent Iran from aggression.

BLITZER: So, Minister, what's the strategy for lowering tensions right now?

Because they're clearly escalating. This is an extremely serious, dangerous situation.

AL-JUBEIR: It's very dangerous. This escalation is --

BLITZER: How do you lower that temperature?

AL-JUBEIR: We've made it very clear to the Iranians by sending them messages. The U.S. has sent them messages through third countries. The message has been that nobody wants war. The Iranians should not stumble into war. The message has been clear we'll defend our interest, we will not allow Iran to commit aggression against us. But we want to avoid war at all costs because everybody loses in a war.

BLITZER: Would additional, U.S.-led international sanctions, Saudi sanctions against Iran be effective?

We believe any sanction that any sanction that can be brought to bear on Iran can only be useful in persuading the Iranians that the path that they've adopted is a path that has a dead end.

BLITZER: There's a sensitive issue right now, the potential for a nuclear escalation in the region, the fear that the U.S. and others have that Iran could potentially go ahead and try to develop some sort of nuclear bomb.

The crown prince has previously said Saudi Arabia doesn't want to pursue a nuclear weapons program. You've told me in the past that no options are being ruled out on the part of Saudi Arabia.

Where does that stand?

Where is Saudi Arabia's position now on potentially going ahead with its own nuclear weapons program?

AL-JUBEIR: We have made it very clear that Iran with a nuclear weapon is not acceptable. It's a danger to the region and a danger to the world and that Saudi Arabia will do what it can to protect its interests. As I have said before, two things we don't compromise on, our faith and our security. We'll do whatever it takes to protect our country and to protect our people.

BLITZER: Is Saudi Arabia leaving open the possibility of developing a nuclear weapon?

AL-JUBEIR: We have said time and again that we will do whatever it takes to protect our country.

BLITZER: So you're saying yes, the answer is yes?

AL-JUBEIR: If Iranians acquire nuclear capability, it should not be unthinkable that other countries will seek to acquire that capability, including Saudi Arabia.

BLITZER: So far all the sanctions don't seem to have calmed down Iran right now. They are taking, if you believe the secretary of state, they are taking very extreme measures.

AL-JUBEIR: I believe they are doing this in reaction to it. The sanctions have been very harmful to the Iranians. Their currency has dropped like a rock. Inflation is skyrocketing. There's growing discontent among the people in Iran with the policies they're pursuing and the Iranian regime is feeling the pressure.

This could be an attempt by them to channel that pressure from inwards to outwards. But that's not going to succeed.


BLITZER: Did the U.S. do the right thing, the Trump administration, in abandoning the nuclear treaty, the nuclear agreement with Iran, back in 2015 under the Obama administration?

That was an agreement worked out with other members of the U.N. Security Council and others.

Did the U.S. under the Trump administration do the right thing in walking away from that agreement?

AL-JUBEIR: Absolutely and we were the first country to support the U.S. withdrawing from that agreement. It turned out the agreement was lacking. There was a sunset provision that allowed Iran to enrich as much as it wants after a certain number of years. I believe it was 12 years.

The inspection mechanism could have been tighter. The agreement did not deal with Iran's support for terrorism or its export of ballistic missiles to terrorist groups. And our point was, unless you have an effective agreement that deals with the challenge of Iran as a whole, then no agreement is better.

BLITZER: As you know, Saudi Arabia has worked very closely with the Trump administration to try to improve relations, have good ties. But as you also know, and I know you watch Washington very closely, Democrats and Republicans in Congress and the House and the Senate, right now they are taking a much tougher line towards Saudi Arabia, especially when it comes to U.S. arms sales, in part, because of the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

What are you going to do about that?

AL-JUBEIR: We are trying to persuade our friends in the Congress that we're doing everything we can to hold those responsible for the murder of Khashoggi accountable. We are trying to persuade our friends in the Congress that we are doing everything we can to bring peace to Yemen, that the Houthis were the ones who started this war.

We didn't enter it until nine months after that already started. We're trying to prevent a strategically important country like Yemen from falling into the hands of a militia controlled by Iran and Hezbollah.

This is what we're doing and I believe that denying Saudi Arabia the arms or trying to deny Saudi Arabia the arms, the only beneficiary is going to be Iran and Hezbollah and the Houthis.

BLITZER: But even the State Department says you, the Saudi government, not doing enough to go ahead and respond to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

The assistant secretary of state, R. Clark Cooper, said, "His murder was prosecuted in a fashion that needs to be addressed and needs to be made accountable and those involved need to be brought to justice."

So what is going on right now?

Because the suspicion is that the crown prince himself ordered the murder of this journalist.

AL-JUBEIR: Yes, that's ridiculous. What we have is a rogue operation. We have people that are detained. We have our prosecutor brought charges against them. The trials began the beginning of this year. There are representatives from the permanent five countries at those trials and there are representatives from Turkey at those trials. There are representatives from Saudi NGOs at those trials. The trials continue and justice will take its course. And we will do whatever it takes to hold people accountable and punish them.

BLITZER: Do you know where Jamal Khashoggi's body is?

AL-JUBEIR: We don't know where it is. We understand from the investigations that they -- that there was a local collaborator who disposed of the body. We asked Turkey to work with us on this issue and we haven't heard from them yet.

BLITZER: Is your investigation complete?

AL-JUBEIR: No investigation is complete. There's a number of evidence that we have asked Turkey to provide to us that we're waiting for. And, as I said, this is an ongoing process and we will get to the bottom of it and we will hold those responsible accountable. And we will make sure that the procedures are put in place to ensure that something like this does not happen again.

BLITZER: Because clearly it was a premeditated murder. The killers showed up at the Saudi consulate in Turkey with a bone saw.

AL-JUBEIR: I don't know if that description is accurate or not from the investigations that we have and from the confessions of the people who were there. But they did go; there was an altercation. He was killed and then he was -- and then the body was disposed of.

BLITZER: Who authorized those Saudi officials to go to the consulate in Turkey and kill Khashoggi?

AL-JUBEIR: There was no authorization to kill Khashoggi --

BLITZER: So why did they do that?

What was the motive?

AL-JUBEIR: That's what we're trying to get to the bottom of. We believe that it was an operation that went wrong and they ended up murdering Khashoggi and disposing of the body.

BLITZER: Because as you know, there's enormous outrage in Washington; Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate, they want to basically stop U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia. This most recent sale had to go around Congress. The president had to declare a national emergency, a national security emergency to get that sale through.

AL-JUBEIR: Because it's in America's national interest to provide weapons to Saudi Arabia. If the U.S. didn't do it, you'd have to send more troops to the region to protect your interests there. We're allies fighting a common enemy. This equipment is needed.

And so the administration took the decision that, given the danger that we face right now from Iran, the clear and present danger, which caused the president to move an aircraft carrier into the Gulf and move American troops into the Gulf, is such that it required the U.S. to provide these weapons to Saudi Arabia and that those weapons should not be delayed because of political infighting within Washington.

BLITZER: What do you say to Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives?

Today she slammed the Trump administration's posture towards Saudi Arabia. She said, quote, "It's all about the money. Follow the money."


BLITZER: What's your response to Speaker Pelosi?

AL-JUBEIR: I think this is tribal politics in the United States. I believe that every thoughtful and rational individual, including the Speaker, understands that the relationship is critically important to both countries and to the world and to stability in the region.

I think everybody understands that, working closely together, our two countries can achieve great things as they have in the past and I hope that people will not politicize these issues and look at them from a rational perspective and from a national security perspective.

BLITZER: And getting back to these latest attacks on the oil tankers, what do you believe is Iran's motive in doing this; if, in fact, Iran was responsible or the Revolutionary Guard in Iran was responsible.

What was their intention?

Why would they do this, knowing that there would be a very angry response from the U.S. and others?

AL-JUBEIR: Iran's behavior has not always been rational.

Why would they blow up the American embassy in Beirut using Hezbollah?

Why would they attack the U.S. embassy and hold diplomats hostage for 444 days?

Why would they attack Qoba Towers (ph) and kill American business men?

Why would they engage in assassination campaigns against diplomats and against Iranian citizens in Europe?

Why would they do all these things?

Why would they provide ballistic missiles to terrorist groups?

I believe that the Iranians have to make a decision. They're either in revolution (ph), in which case you cannot reason with them and they're trying to expand and restore the long gone Persian empire.

Or if they want to be a nation state, they should act like such and comport themselves and abide by international laws and norms and principles. That's how the world will begin to deal with them in a reasonable and rational manner.

BLITZER: No end yet to the war in Yemen.

The slaughter is going to continue?

AL-JUBEIR: We hope -- we said from day one that the solution is a political solution. We said that the Houthis have to withdraw and reverse the coup that they staged illegally in Yemen and we said that we'll not allow a militia allied with Iran and Hezbollah to take over a strategically important country.

We've done everything we can to move the political process forward. Every time there was an agreement, Wolf, the Houthis walked out. The most recent agreement in Stockholm, if it hadn't been for the personal intervention of His Royal Highness, the Crown Prince, it wouldn't have happened.

It happened; the Houthis dragged their feet on implementing it and they have only partially implemented it. So we're working with our friends and allies and working with the U.N. and the U.N. representative to push the political process forward. But the problem is not on our side. It's on the Houthi side. BLITZER: Adel al-Jubeir, minister of state for foreign affairs in Saudi Arabia, Minister, thanks for coming in.

AL-JUBEIR: Always a pleasure.

BLITZER: It's a very tense time indeed.

Up next, Democrats call top White House official Kellyanne Conway to testify after a federal watchdog says she should leave the White House for violating the Hatch Act. But Democrats are divided on how to confront White House stonewalling. Stay with us.





BLITZER: Breaking news: the House Oversight Committee wants top White House official Kellyanne Conway to testify after a federal watchdog agency says she should leave the White House for repeatedly violating the Hatch Act, barring political activity by federal employees.

And the Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Trump Campaign Deputy Rick Gates.

But Democrats are increasingly divided on how to confront White House stonewalling. Let's go to our Senior Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju.

Manu, what are you learning?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Only on just a couple of occasions have there been deals cut between the administration and House Democrats, one over the Mueller probe records, which I'm told House Judiciary Committee members are reviewing at the Justice Department this afternoon.

But, Wolf, Democrats are saying that the White House is engaged in unprecedented stonewalling as the White House is saying the House Democrats are overreaching.



RAJU (voice-over): Subpoenas defied. Records requests ignored. Witness interviews rejected. Tonight, Democrats say stonewalling from the White House has reached a new level.

CUMMINGS: That's unheard of. It's unprecedented.

RAJU (voice-over): But they're divided over how to respond. And some are growing frustrated that their leaders have not been tough enough with their new House majority.

REP. LLOYD DOGGETT (D), TEXAS: Well, I think we need to be a bit more aggressive. Timidity will not be a policy that works with Donald Trump. One alternative that stands out there is an impeachment inquiry and I would hope more members would get behind that.

RAJU (voice-over): Behind the scenes, Democratic leaders are seeking to tamp down calls for impeachment, just this week holding a private meeting with the House general counsel to lay out their litigation strategy and passing a resolution expediting lawsuits to enforce their subpoenas.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi insists her strategy is working.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: What we're doing is winning in court.

RAJU (voice-over): The Democrats indeed have won two early court cases to obtain Trump financial information after their subpoenas were not complied with. House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff agrees with Pelosi. But he is now calling for an even tougher approach to levy heavy fines on those who defy their subpoenas.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: I think a daily accumulating fine will get people's attention. If they lose, they're going to owe the Congress of the United States a lot of money. That may convince them to cooperate.

[17:30:00] RAJU (voice-over): There have been more than 200 Democratic requests for information with at least 28 subpoenas, including for Trump's tax returns, for records about his immigration policies and about why the citizenship question was added to the 2020 census.

Democrats have taken some steps to retaliate such as moving to hold two cabinet officials in contempt over the census probe.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE COMMITTEE ON OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNMENT REFORM: They give you information that has been redacted, then they send you blank pages.

RAJU (voice-over): White House officials say they have taken steps to provide the House with information like the 17,000 pages provided so far on the census, but have resisted when those demands seek private and privileged communication.

As was the case when they instructed former White House Counsel Don McGahn to not cooperate with the House Judiciary probe into potential obstruction of justice. House Republicans say the White House approach is justified.

REP. MATT GAETZ (R), FLORIDA: I think the President has reacted as any reasonable person would, given the unprecedented harassment that he's had to endure.

RAJU (voice-over): Plus, there have been some breakthroughs, including when the Justice Department agreed to provide more information about the Mueller probe to two different House committees.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: The Department of Justice blinked at the 11th hour in the face of a criminal contempt resolution.

RAJU (voice-over): But they cut the deal after House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler narrowed his initial request. Some Democrats say that is not enough.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D), NEW YORK: It seems as though we're kind of sitting on our hands. So if now isn't the time, then I think a lot of folks would like to know when is the time.


RAJU: Now, in the aftermath of the President saying that he'd be open to accepting foreign dirt, calls for impeachment have grown. As well as calls for legislation to outlaw or prohibit the practice of accepting information from foreigners, foreign governments, and to go to the FBI immediately if that were to happen.

In the Senate today, Mark Warner, the Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee tried to quickly pass a bill to require disclosure to the FBI if such foreign assistance were offered, but Republicans objected. Marsha Blackburn from Tennessee said that it was, quote, overbroad and a, quote, blatant political exercise -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Manu, thank you. Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill.

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna of California. He's a member of both the Oversight and Armed Services Committees.

Congressman, thanks for coming in.

REP. RO KHANNA (D), CALIFORNIA: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: So Democrats are deeply divided whether to go forward with formal impeachment proceedings. How do you think lawmakers should move forward?

KHANNA: With aggressive committee inquiry. And it's working. We got Bill Barr to concede and finally give us the underlying evidence which we're going to need to pursue a case.

And it's important to realize it's not just the Judiciary Committee. It's the Oversight Committee. It's the Financial Services Committee. We're investigating all of the scandals, and that is increasing pressure.

BLITZER: But as you know, those who want formal proceedings to begin, they say you're wasting opportunities right now to conduct an even more rigorous investigation. If you start the impeachment investigation, you have bigger opportunities.

KHANNA: I don't think that's true. Their case is that we would have more success in court, but we're already having success in court. Every time we've gone to court, we've won.

And secondly, you would only have one committee then doing the investigation, the Judiciary Committee. You would lose the ability to go after financial crimes. You'd lose the ability to go after the census fraud. I think having six committees focused on the breadth of the misconduct is more effective.

BLITZER: The argument also has been made if you have one investigation, one impeachment inquiry by the Judiciary Committee, you can focus the public's -- the public can focus on it more directly as opposed to having six separate investigations.

KHANNA: Well, Wolf, when we had the investigation on Michael Cohen testifying on the Oversight Committee, the public was focused. Everyone in the country was watching.

So I think if we get Bob Mueller there testifying, if we get Don McGahn testifying, if we continue to have dramatic television hearings on all the committees, the public will focus. But it's important to be methodical and build a case and get the American public along.

BLITZER: Your Oversight Committee now wants Kellyanne Conway, the counselor to the President, to come testify. She was cited today by the office of the Special Counsel, which is not connected to Robert Mueller's Special Counsel, to -- of violating what's called the Hatch Act.

KHANNA: Well, Wolf, when I was at the Department of Commerce, the first day, they tell you, you can't engage in any political activity while serving in the federal government. And if you, do you will be immediately dismissed. Now, what I don't understand is, why are the rules any different for Kellyanne Conway than the thousands of other people who serve in the federal government?

BLITZER: So what do you want to ask her? What do you want to do?

KHANNA: I want to ask her, why did she violate the Hatch Act? Was she warned about this? Why does she think she shouldn't be dismissed? And why does she think she should have an exception that doesn't apply to every other person in the federal government?

BLITZER: The President in this interview with ABC News yesterday -- you saw it -- says he's open to accepting foreign dirt on his political opponents going into the 2020 campaign. He may or may not report it to the FBI.

[17:34:57] KHANNA: Every time you think the President can't say something more outrageous, he surprises you. I mean, I can't imagine a single person running for president in the past who has said, I welcome foreign governments helping our campaign.

And his allegation that members of Congress do this all the time is absurd. I don't know a single member of Congress, Republican or Democrat, who has taken information from a foreign power. And we should ask every member of Congress on the record if they have. BLITZER: I know you've got to run but very quickly, you want to react

to what we heard from the Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Adel al-Jubeir, on the Khashoggi matter? Also on the latest escalated tensions with Iran.

KHANNA: Well, I really appreciate your holding him accountable because Khashoggi was murdered for one reason. He was speaking out about the human rights violations in Yemen.

And our own CIA, Wolf, concluded that there was a very, very high probability that MBS ordered that killing. MBS told his brother who was the Saudi Ambassador to call Khashoggi and tell Khashoggi to show up at the Istanbul Embassy. And this is documented by the CIA, which he blatantly ignored during your questioning.

I am very, very concerned, both about the human rights situation in Yemen where the Saudis continue to have a blockade, where we passed for the first time a war powers resolution to get us out, and also the escalating tension in Iran.

Just a quick point on that, we were up all night last night at the House Armed Services Committee debating the issue in Iran. And one thing was clear, even the Ranking Member Thornberry acknowledged, this president has no constitutional authority to go into Iran. He has to come to Congress first.

BLITZER: Congressman Ro Khanna, thanks so much for coming in.

KHANNA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, there's more news we're following, what Republicans are saying behind the scenes when asked about President Trump's willingness to take dirt on his opponents from other nations. We'll be right back.


[17:41:21] BLITZER: President Trump is now digging in despite bipartisan criticism of his saying he would take dirt from other governments on his 2020 opponents and wouldn't necessarily go to the FBI to report it. Let's bring in our experts and our analysts.

And, Joey Jackson, I guess there's a sensitive issue. The Mueller report, the failure to find criminal conspiracy, encouraged potentially this kind of behavior?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, Wolf, I really think it does. I think that behavior is all about consequences. And when there are no consequences, the behavior continues.

Let's look first at poll numbers. When your poll numbers don't move because you have a base of people behind you no matter what you do, no matter what you say, you're emboldened to act in the manner in which you've acted.

When you have a Mueller report that comes out which does not address, really, the issue. It did certainly addressed the issue of obstruction but made no recommendation on that. When there's a clear road map for Congress but you have an A.G. who you appoint who says no obstruction, there are consequences, then you continue.

When you're in office and know you need 67 senators to convict you, to get rid of you. Yes, you could be impeached by the House because there's a majority but, you know, let them impeach me, I'm going to remain here, there are no consequences.

And so to the core point, unless there are consequences for activity, of course, it emboldens the behavior. I could say what I want, I could do what I want. You can't touch me because I have the votes, you don't.

BLITZER: You know, Chris Cillizza, the fact is a bunch of Republicans today came out criticizing the President.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Yes, criticizing him is easy. Doing anything -- and I'm not just suggesting impeachment, but doing anything about his behavior is hard. Or at least has proven hard for them.

Look, there's a lot of "I wouldn't have done it that way," "I wish he wouldn't talk that way." But I mean, at some point, there's either action or there's not. It's easy for them to express sorrow and regret about how he approaches things. Just go back to the release of the "Access Hollywood" tape way back in October 2016. There was a lot of that then.

The reality of the situation from a political perspective -- and you saw this with Justin Amash's poll numbers against an announced opponent, a Republican primary opponent -- crossing Donald Trump is asking for your political career to end. You can like it or you can lump it, but that's just the reality and all of these members are aware of it.

BLITZER: How dangerous is it, Samantha, to invite foreign help, potentially, in U.S. elections?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, President Trump wasn't just inviting foreign help, which would arguably be illegal, he was directly inviting foreign governments to attack his perceived political opponents.

We know that Russia interfered in our elections by attacking Hillary Clinton through information warfare and cyber warfare, so he's encouraging that. And he's also sending a message to other candidates that they, too, could follow his bad example and accept this kind of information from foreign government governments. So on multiple levels, what he did was so dangerous.

BLITZER: Yes, go ahead, Phil.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: You do recognize -- let's be clear here. This isn't -- this is not oppo, this is not information. This is what we call espionage. That is a foreign government -- and this goes back to World War II, before and after. A foreign government acquires information on a political leader sometimes to gain influence. We call that spying. If --

VINOGRAD: Which is what happened in 2016, let's be clear.

MUDD: That's correct. So all this stuff about oppo, et cetera --

CILLIZZA: Yes, that's not -- that's not --

MUDD: -- we're encouraging a federal government to violate federal acts related to espionage. And I love the irony of the President telling us -- telling the CIA, don't spy on Kim Jong-un, that's offensive, but Russians, you can spy on the American elections.

BLITZER: Oppo being opposition research.

CILLIZZA: Yes, I mean, opposition research is a thing campaigns do against one another. You look through public records. You look through voting records. You don't -- I don't know if Donald Trump knows this, doesn't know it, is willfully blinding himself. You don't go talk to other countries about what they might do.

[17:45:06] That is not something he said today, well, 90 percent of the members of Congress do this. They do. Ninety percent of the members of Congress do have opposition research operations. It doesn't deal with talking to foreign countries about that information.

One other thing I was thinking when Sam was talking. Think about the fact that Donald Trump -- on the day the Democratic National Convention opened in 2016, Donald Trump said -- I'm paraphrasing -- Russia, I sure would like to get those deleted emails from Hillary Clinton. And we know that that's when those entreaties began.

VINOGRAD: Right. Well, Russia was listening when he said that.

CILLIZZA: Right. I mean --

VINOGRAD: And Russia is listening tonight. Along with other intelligence services that are going to try to interfere again, illegally, via espionage, in our election. So Russia was listening then, they're -- and they're listening today. President Trump did not learn from what happened. He's seeking to repeat it.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. There's more news we're following. We're getting some new details right now about what was in the letter the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, sent to President Trump.


[17:50:38] BLITZER: We're learning more about what President Trump called that beautiful letter from Kim Jong-un even as we learn more about the North Korean dictator's upbringing.

Brian Todd is joining us right now. Brian, first, the letter. What does that tell us? BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it tells us that Kim Jong-un

knows how to play the President and that he's likely angling for another summit. Manipulation is, after all, in the dictator's DNA.


TODD (voice-over): New indications tonight that North Korea's violent young dictator is carefully calculating his approach to President Trump. A new letter from Kim Jong-un to the President, administration sources tell CNN, was a birthday greeting for Donald Trump, whose birthday is tomorrow, wishing him good health.

But the letter contained no substance, no details on how to move the stalled nuclear talks forward. Still, administration officials tell CNN, they view it as a, quote, reset, setting the tone for a possible third summit. And the President is predictably pleased.

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

TODD (voice-over): An indication which a biographer of Kim Jong-un says shows that Kim knows what buttons to push with Donald Trump. And instinct developed through years of tutelage in the most cutthroat of dynasties.

ANNA FIFIELD, AUTHOR, "THE GREAT SUCCESSOR: THE DIVINELY PERFECT DESTINY OF BRILLIANT COMRADE KIM JONG-UN": He was chosen by his father at the age of 8 years old. At his eighth birthday party, he was presented with this little general's uniform, an olive green uniform epaulets and brass buttons. And he was called the Little General, Comrade General. And real generals came into his birthday party and saluted him and bowed to him.

TODD (voice-over): How did Kim's father, Kim Jong-il, have that gut instinct about his younger son? "Washington Post" reporter Anna Fifield, author of the new book, "The Great Successor," says the older Kim might have gotten that intuition a couple of years earlier.

Fifield writes that when he was only six, Kim Jong-un and his older brother, Kim Jong-chol, little princes they were called, were introduced by their father to their new sushi chef, Kenji Fujimoto. She writes the older brother was polite, deferential to the chef, but not Kim Jong-un.

FIFIELD: He stared down this 40-year-old man and, you know, almost dared him to say hello. He refused to shake his hands.

TODD (voice-over): Fifield, whose book is based on interviews with relatives and former aides to the Kim family, writes that Kim Jong-un wanted for nothing as a child, huge playrooms filled with toys, a modified car he could drive at age 7, a Colt .45 pistol he wore when he was 11. Bears and monkeys were kept in cages on family compounds. But with all these, she says, there was also loneliness. FIFIELD: They did bring other children into the compounds to play

basketball with him, as what Fujimoto said, but these are kind of like friends for hire. He didn't have genuine relationships with people.

TODD (voice-over): Boarding school in Switzerland followed where Kim is said to have trash talked on the basketball court.

JOAO MICAELO, FORMER CLASSMATE OF KIM JONG-UN (via telephone): He didn't like to lose. Basketball, it was everything.

TODD (voice-over): Later, Kim Jong-un solidified his grip on power by using powerful people who could help him like his uncle, Jang Song- thaek, then purging or executing them. Analysts believe Kim has executed well over a hundred senior generals and officials since coming to power 7-1/2 years ago.

TODD (on camera): Is he a psychopath?

FIFIELD: He is not a psychopath. He is brutal and, you know, he is a tyrant, but he is not psychopathic. He is not irrational. Like, he has approached this task in a very cold, kind of clinical, ruthless way.


TODD: I asked Anna Fifield what, if anything, could bring Kim Jong-un down. She says he's been so ruthless and calculating that she doesn't think he'll be vulnerable to a coup. His biggest -- his biggest risk, she believes, is a heart attack brought on by his poor diet, chain- smoking, and drinking -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very interesting indeed. Brian Todd reporting. Thank you.

Coming up, a House committee wants to hear directly from top White House official Kellyanne Conway after a federal watchdog says she should be removed from her post for repeatedly violating the Hatch Act.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Heading for the exits. President Trump announces Press Secretary Sarah Sanders is leaving the White House within weeks. Why is she going while Kellyanne Conway is staying despite a federal watchdog's call for her to be fired?

A clear threat. That's what the Secretary of State is saying about Iran tonight as he holds the regime responsible for tanker attacks in the Middle East. What's driving the Trump administration to publicly cast blame?

[17:59:54] Doubling down on dirt. President Trump is brushing off outrage over his new remark that he's open to accepting foreign information about his political opponents. We're getting new reaction to Mr. Trump brazenly dismissing the lessons of the Russia investigation.