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Michael Flynn Heading Back To Court; Interview With Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL); Trump Tries To Walk Back Comment On Accepting Foreign Dirt On A Political Opponent; Lineup For First Democratic Presidential Debates Announced. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 14, 2019 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: He's expected to face a judge next week. We're going to tell you what Michael Flynn's urgent court appearance is all about.

And global threat. The Pentagon chief warns that Iran is not just the problem of the United States, as the Trump administration blames Tehran for an attack on Gulf tankers. We're getting new information about the U.S. evidence against Iran.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the Trump administration now doubling down on its refusal to release the president's tax returns. The Justice Department just issued a lengthy legal opinion. It sides with the Treasury secretary's decision to defy a demand by the House Ways and Means Committee, the Department of Justice calling the request for Mr. Trump's taxes unprecedented and arguing it raises a -- quote -- "serious risk of abuse."

Also tonight, President Trump is attempting to clean up his comments about accepting foreign dirt on opponents, but he may only be muddying the waters with his explanation about what he would or wouldn't do and when he would call the FBI.

I will talk about those stories and more with Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our Congressional Correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty.

Sunlen, the Justice Department is now weighing in, in the battle over the president's tax returns. What are you learning?


The fight over the president's tax returns continues, and it's intensifying tonight on Capitol Hill, Wolf, the Department of Justice tonight releasing a very lengthy legal opinion put out by the Office of Legal Counsel.

And in this, they are outlining a legal argument for why Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is not under a legal obligation to turn over the president's tax returns. Now, of course, this all relates back to the long drawn-out battle that's been waged on Capitol Hill over the last weeks and months between House Democrats and the House Ways and Means Committee and the treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin.

The Democrats have requested six years of the president's personal and business tax returns. And Steve Mnuchin has refused to hand them over, in defiance of a congressional subpoena from that committee. Now, in this legal opinion just released in the last few hours, the OLC calls the House Democrats' moves unprecedented.

And they are saying that their use of the committee's authority raises a serious risk of abuse. That's a quote. They're worried that the returns potentially might be made public by the committee. And they argue that Congress cannot constitutionally force the executive branch to disclose information, confidential information, that they believe does not serve a legitimate legislative purpose, which, of course, is one of the key arguments from Democrats on that committee -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, Sunlen, how are the Democrats expected to react?

SERFATY: No indication at all that House Democrats will back down from this fight. They have clearly made clear that they intend to fight it every step of the way.

Now, we are still tonight waiting for formal reaction from the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Richard Neal. No reaction yet from him or anyone on the committee, but, most likely, this is all headed to court. This sets up a very likely long and protracted court battle ahead for one of the key quests of many House Democrats up here on the Hill -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Could eventually wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court. Who knows.

Sunlen Serfaty, thank you very much.

Now to President Trump on cleanup duty tonight over his remarks about accepting foreign dirt on political opponents.

Our Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us.

Jim, so what is the president now saying?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, President Trump has caused some collusion confusion, now saying he would inform the FBI if a foreign government tried to offer him dirt on a political opponent.

The president has been all over the place on this issue, though, appearing to say he was pro-collusion, after claiming for months that there was no collusion.


ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump is doing some collusion cleanup, insisting he would go to the FBI if a foreign power handed him damaging information about a political rival, though the president seemed to leave some wiggle room, conceding he might look at it first.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Of course, you give it to the FBI or report it to the attorney general or somebody like that. But, of course, you do that. You couldn't have that happen with our country. And everybody understands that. And I thought it was made clear.

In fact, I actually said at the beginning, I think I said I would do both. But how are you going to -- if you don't hear what it is, you are not going to know what it is.

ACOSTA: Still, it's an attempt at damage control, after sounding curious about collusion.

TRUMP: I think you might want to listen. I don't -- there's nothing wrong with listening. It's not an interference. They have information. I think I would take it.

If I thought there was something wrong, I would go maybe to the FBI, if I thought there was something wrong.


ACOSTA: One Trump campaign aide sees the president's comment as a directive.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, NATIONAL PRESS SECRETARY, TRUMP 2020: The president's directive, as he said, a case-by-case basis. He said he would likely do both, listen to what they have to say, but also report it to the FBI.

ACOSTA: As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared to dismiss Mr. Trump's remarks.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): They just can't let it go. I said weeks ago case closed. We got the Mueller report, the only objective evaluation that will be conducted.

ACOSTA: But some Republicans are taking issue with the idea of accepting foreign dirt.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): Nobody should ever, ever take any foreign intelligence or any information from any foreign government. If that's not the law, and I think it is, if that's not the law, we need to make that expressly clear.

ACOSTA: The president also got testy with the notion that he evaded questions on obstruction during the Russia investigation.

TRUMP: I answered a lot of questions. They gave me questions. I answered them in writing. GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Not on obstruction.

TRUMP: Look, George, you're being a little wise guy, OK, which is typical for you. Just so you understand, very simple. It's very simple. There was no crime. There was no collusion.

ACOSTA: And Mr. Trump rejected former White House counsel Don McGahn's claimed that he was asked to fire special counsel Robert Mueller.

TRUMP: I don't care what he says. It doesn't matter. That was to show everyone what a good counsel he was.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Why would he lie under oath? Why would he lie under oath to Robert Mueller?

TRUMP: Because he wanted to make himself look like a good lawyer.

ACOSTA: The president is standing by White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, after a government watchdog recommended that she be removed from her position for accusations of violating the Hatch Act by engaging in political activity in her official capacity.

TRUMP: It looks to me like they're trying to take away her right of free speech. And that's just not fair.

ACOSTA: But that's not exactly true, as the law does limit political advocacy for federal employees.

The president also talked up Vice President Mike Pence, but not enough to guarantee he'd support him in 2024.

TRUMP: I love Mike. We're running again. But you're talking about a long time. So you can't put me in that position. But I certainly would give it very strong consideration.


ACOSTA: And just in the last hour or so, Wolf, the president showing his gratitude to the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, in a tweet after the Senate majority leader made those comments on FOX essentially telling folks that they should move on after the president made those comments about being willing to accept dirt from a foreign government about a political opponent.

The president saying in this tweet: "Thank you, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for understanding the Democrats' game of not playing it straight on the ridiculous witch-hunt hoax in the Senate."

But, Wolf, this pretty much makes it clear at the end of this week, after the president made some very controversial comments, essentially welcoming assistance from a foreign government in the upcoming 2020 election, Republican leaders appear to be standing behind the president and not really calling into question what he had to say -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim, thank you, Jim Acosta at the White House.

Joining us now, Congressman Mike Quigley. He's a Democrat. He serves on the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, I want to get your reaction to the news that the Justice Department is now backing up Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin in his refusal to hand over the president's tax returns.

What's your reaction?

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D-IL): Another real serious blow to the independence of the Justice Department.

Wolf, I think it was a year ago, on your show, I said what the Russians did was extraordinary, attacking our democratic process. But in the final analysis, I think we're going to look back and say that the president's reaction was worse, will have a long -- longer-term, greater impact on our country.

Will this precedent remain where the Justice Department becomes just another private attorney for the White House that says that the Mueller report -- lied about the Mueller report, acted like a press secretary for the president of the United States, and now today puts out an opinion that is just extraordinary, defending the White House and their ability to do what's exactly opposite of the law?

BLITZER: The chairman of the House Ways and Committee, Congressman Neal, he's been pretty cautious in dealing with all of this so far. How do you think he should respond?

QUIGLEY: Oh, I think he's going to push forward. And I think that makes sense.

He has been part of the investigative track. What I talked about just a few weeks ago is the fact that the investigative track needs an impeachment inquiry. And here's why.

Richie's argument is a good one. The chairman's argument makes sense. If we're going to do our business, the law says you shall turn this over. And in preparation for a law, he needs this information.

I think questioning whether or not the president of the United States was compromised, or whether he's violated the Emoluments Clause through an impeachment inquiry, gives us a much stronger legal argument in court to get the information we need to find out what took place, and -- or whether or not the president of the United States, to remind ourselves of President Nixon, whether or not the president is a crook.

BLITZER: Let's turn to some other important news.

The president now trying to walk back his comments on accepting foreign information, but he still says he would want to hear about the information first before potentially contacting the FBI. [18:10:08]

What message does that send to Russia, other hostile foreign powers who are seeking to undermine potentially the next U.S. election?

QUIGLEY: Yes, we will look at your information, but it better be -- it better be better than it was last time, I guess, because, clearly, at the Trump Tower meeting, they were excited to get the dirt on Hillary Clinton.

And they were initially upset with how good it was. So what's -- how do I equate this to a character test? The president of the United States finds a wallet on the street, and he's going to turn it in, but, what, he's going to find out how much money is in there first? He's going to find out how valuable this information -- it is of value.

It's also someone offering them dirt, a foreign power. Just this week, I questioned the Republican witness in an intelligence hearing. And I asked him, would you have called the FBI? And he said, absolutely. And, of course, he was right. I think most people would.

BLITZER: Basically, the president is arguing that this kind of information is the same kind of opposition research any campaign would seek to develop. What do you say to that?

QUIGLEY: I think most of -- candidates seek opposition research. And that's appropriate. You're going to know what kind of votes the person took. Is there something the public has a right to know about someone seeking high public office?

That is entirely different than a foreign adversary, perhaps our greatest adversary, offering assistance and what that involves. It builds into the case of whether or not the president was compromised. And, clearly, he'd be owing.

There's a reason, going back to our founding fathers, George Washington was worried about foreign impacts on elections. And to this day, it's still of great concern to the American public.

BLITZER: As you know, House Democrats, they're planning to pass a package of bills on election security. It's an effort to do just that.

Failed in the Senate yesterday. So what's the goal here? You pass legislation in the House, but it doesn't even usually come up for a vote in the Senate.

QUIGLEY: We take every track we can.

Two years ago, I passed an appropriations measure that funded election security grants for new equipment, for training, for software to prevent the actual hacking into our equipment. Just this last week, that committee I had approved $600 million more. That's a good start.

But we have 40 states whose equipment is so old, it can't even handle modern anti-hacking software. Thirteen states don't even have a paper trail to know if they have been hacked. We have a lot of work to do.

How do we compare this to what we did in the past? After Bush-Gore, and the hanging chad issue, where the integrity of the American election process was drawn into question, the federal government spent $3.5 billion buying new equipment, because the integrity of the democratic process was so important.

Here we are fighting to get to a third of that point. And that election, as you know, is coming quick.

BLITZER: On the issue of obstruction, Congressman, President Trump essentially told ABC News that his former White House Counsel Don McGahn lied to the special counsel. What do you make of that?

QUIGLEY: The president stands alone. He's loyal to anybody, until they start telling the truth.

The president gets in the room with the truth, and a fight breaks out. That's exactly why Mr. McGahn has to be able to come testify in front of Congress under oath and tell us exactly what took place.

It's why those who are part of this investigation, part of the counterintelligence investigation, we need to bring all of these people forward, and, frankly, including the FBI director. What happened to that counterintelligence investigation? Where's the information that was devised?

There were FBI officials involved in the special -- in the special counsel's investigation? What did they glean? Where is that information? It should be brought before Congress for the exact same reason.

BLITZER: Congressman Quigley, thanks so much for joining us.

QUIGLEY: Thank you. Take care.

BLITZER: All right, just ahead, we're going to have more on Michael Flynn expected back in court after his last appearance did not go well for him.

And our experts standing by to break down this new Justice Department opinion on the president's tax returns, supporting the Trump administration's defiance of Congress.



BLITZER: We're following breaking news on a major witness in the Mueller investigation heading back to court.

Let's bring in our Senior Justice Correspondent, Evan Perez.

Why is Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser to the president, now being called back to court? EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the reason is that he's hired a new legal team. He's got some new lawyers in Virginia that are handling parts of the case that are still ongoing in the Eastern District of Virginia. One of his partners is about to go on trial there, Wolf, and Michael Flynn is going to be a star witness.

And, of course, there is one new high-profile lawyer that he's brought in as well. So I think the judge wants to meet these people and see whether or not there's something new that comes with the new team, whether there's a new legal strategy.

BLITZER: He's awaiting sentencing right now.

This will be the first time he's back in court since December, when he appeared before the federal Judge Emmet Sullivan's courthouse. It was a very contentious moment, that hearing.


PEREZ: Right. Yes, it was.

And a lot of it had to do with a filing that was made by his previous legal team, which, by the way, they fessed up to it. They said that we screwed up, Judge.

And so one of the things we're expecting to see is whether or not Mike Flynn and his new legal team say that one of the reasons why that went sideways was because of the legal team.

In other words, if you remember, the judge was trying to interpret whether Michael Flynn was trying to take back his guilty plea, whether he was blaming the FBI for framing him. All kinds of things came up in that hearing.

So now we're going to see whether this new legal team has a different strategy to go forward with.

BLITZER: He was one of the first witnesses to cooperate with the federal authorities, the Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

PEREZ: Right.

BLITZER: As far as we know, is he still cooperating?

PEREZ: Yes. And that's a very important thing for us to note, because there's been a lot of theories, conspiracy theories, about whether or not Mike Flynn might take back his guilty plea.

No indication of that, Wolf. As matter of fact, just this week, at another hearing, again, having to do with his for partner Bijan Kian, the Justice Department lawyers noted that he is certainly expected to testify in that trial, that they -- that he is still providing valuable testimony, valuable help, cooperation to that investigation.

And, again, he's been one of the most important witnesses in this entire investigation. So we -- no indication that that -- that anything is about to change as far as Michael Flynn's guilty plea.

BLITZER: Evan Perez, thanks for that update. Appreciate it very much.

The breaking news continues next. We're going to have more on the battle over President Trump's tax returns and the new Justice Department opinion backing the Trump administration.

Plus, how the president is trying to quell the uproar he sparked with his comments about accepting dirt on his opponents from foreign adversaries.



BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, the Justice Department is just out with a new legal opinion backing Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin's refusal to turn over President Trump's tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee.

The strongly worded opinion calls the Democrats' demand -- and I'm quoting now -- "unprecedented" and says it raises a risk, a serious risk of abuse.

Let's get some more from our experts and our analysts.

And, Gloria, the Ways and Means Committee Chairman, Richard Neal, what's he going to do now?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he's going to go to court. I think he has no choice. He's made it clear to CNN that he doesn't intend to hold the treasury secretary in contempt.

But I think now he's going to go to court. And I believe the Democrats believe that they have a very good case here, that the Justice Department has really overreached here, that they don't need to show, in fact, a legislative purpose to get these tax returns.

And so I think they want to move right along and take it to court as quickly as they can.

BLITZER: Susan Hennessey, you're a legal expert. You have gone through the 33-page legal opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel over at the Justice Department. What do you think?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, so DOJ essentially concedes that the statute doesn't require that Congress state any purpose and that the IRS does have to turn this -- turn these documents over.

What they say is that Congress doesn't have the constitutional authority to pass a law requiring the executive branch to produce documents where there is no valid legislative purpose. Now, the problem here is that Congressman Neal has actually articulated a very clear legislative purpose. He says he wants the tax returns because he wants to see if President

Trump is being appropriated audited, and also to decide whether or not there's a need for new legislation to be passed for future presidential audits.

Now, what DOJ is essentially saying is, we don't believe you. We know that Congress offered this reason, but it's pretextual. A similar -- the Trump administration itself has been accused of this particular -- well, sort of offering pretextual reasons.

The reason why this is really a legal nonstarter here is because the court has held again and again that where Congress articulates a legislative purpose, the court is not allowed to look beyond that legislative purpose. So I don't think anybody at OLC actually believes that this is going to be a winning legal argument.

BLITZER: OLC is the Office of Legal Counsel.

Sabrina Siddiqui, the other big news we're following is the president's efforts to sort of clean up the damage from his original foreign dirt comments he made in that ABC News interview.

Listen to what he told FOX News earlier this morning.


TRUMP: I don't think anybody would present me with anything bad, because they know how much I love this country. Nobody is going to present me with anything bad.

Number two, if I was -- and of course you have to look at it, because if you don't look at it, you're not going to know if it's bad. How are you going to know if it's bad? But of course you would give it to the FBI or report it to the attorney general or somebody like that.


BLITZER: What do you think?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that the president, faced with widespread backlash, is trying to do some degree of damage control.

But he's still trying to have it both ways by saying, well, you have to first look at it to see if it's bad, when the widespread consensus is that, no, you don't need to look at it. When you're offered help from a foreign government, you pick up the phone, and you call the FBI.

And he spent a lot of yesterday defending himself and trying to suggest that he was taken out of context, saying he has conversations with foreign leaders all the time. Is he supposed to call up the FBI about his conversations with the queen of England or Prime Minister Theresa May?

That's not the same thing as when the Russians come along and say, we're trying to help your campaign.

And so I think, if you look at the totality of how the president has addressed this issue, it goes back to this idea that he doesn't actually see anything necessarily wrong with accepting dirt from a foreign government. [18:30:09]

And that has serious implications for the 2020 election, especially since the silence from republicans has been really deafening. In fact, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell defended the President, which is a remarkable shift in tone, because this was the one area where republicans did say, no, Mr. President, you're wrong. And now, they seem to be going to bat for him.

BLITZER: Jackie Alemany, you heard Congressman Mike Quigley of the Intelligence Committee saying, it's sort of like finding someone's wallet. You check to see if there's cash. And if there's cash, you keep it. If there's no cash, you return it.

JACKIE ALEMANY, AUTHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST'S "POWER UP": Yes. I mean, the Chairman of the FEC tweeted out a very explicit message yesterday that this is a matter of black letter law. It's pretty straightforward. Anyone in the U.S. is not allowed to accept anything of value from a foreign national government.

I mean, I think it should be pretty unfathomable to the American public and to voters that our politics are so polarized right now that the Republican Party is not willing, aside from some rhetorical lashings of the President, to pass a law that says you must -- campaigns must report if a foreign entity provides a campaign with dirt.

You know, Marsha Blackburn walked this all yesterday and the President, on Twitter, just commended her for doing so. This is a matter of our election integrity and Americans, republicans and democrats, should be in favor of protecting our elections.

HENNESSEY: I think it's worth noting how easy it would be for the President to get this right. Just say no. I wouldn't accept it. If you're listening out there, don't bring it to me because I'm not going to accept it. And I would encourage anyone else to not accept it as well. This is not difficult. This is not some hard policy question. This is the world's easiest thing.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Gloria.

BORGER: And this is after he's just been saying for two years, no collusion, no collusion, no collusion. Now, he made it very clear to George Stephanopoulos, well, if you wanted to collude, I'd have to look at it. And it's absurd on its face. And no wonder he felt the need to walk it back. But even in walking it back, it seemed to me that he didn't quite understand what was wrong with it in the first place.

SIDDIQUI: And it bears repeating that the Mueller report made clear that the Trump campaign expected that it was going to benefit electorally from Russian interference in the election and they were receptive to that help. And so when Don Jr. walked into that June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, he was hoping to walk out with incriminating information about Hillary Clinton.

So the President often claims no collusion. Well, there certainly was a willingness to conclude. They just didn't get what they wanted.

BLITZER: You know, Gloria, the House Democrats, they want to make a point of passing new legislation on election security, beefing it up, but they sense it will die, simply won't even come up for a vote in the Senate. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, will block it. What's the process here? What's going on?

BORGER: Well, what they're trying to do, I think, is just put everything into one big package and say to the American public, look, we are trying to secure our elections and the republicans are blocking us. I mean, Mitch McConnell makes the argument that this is a state and local issue. And what they are saying, this is not a state and local issue. This is a federal issue because it affects our democracy and they are using this as one way to highlight what was in volume one of the Mueller report.

And they want to show the American people that there has been a human speed bump to getting this done in the United States Senate, and that's Mitch McConnell. They know he's not generally regarded as a popular fellow. So they want to try and make him unpopular and put a face on it. And that's what you'll see them do.

BLITZER: Do you think they're going to succeed in that, the democrats? Are they going to get something going?

ALEMANY: Well, unfortunately, it's not really their call right now. You know, there is obviously a reticent by the Republican Party to federalize these election laws, as Gloria just pointed out. And we know that through the President's lens, he view, if Mitch McConnell did something, like bring one of these laws to the floor, the President would view it as a slight, as sort of legitimizing the entire Mueller report.

And right now, Mitch McConnell is up for a pretty tight re-election. He's one of the most unpopular senators and he needs Trump on his side. So I doubt he is going to bring something to the floor.

BLITZER: Earlier this morning, Susan, the President was back re- litigating the Mueller report. He's now publicly denying one of the most explosive incidents explained in detail in the Mueller report of possible obstruction of justice. Watch this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was never going to fire Mueller. I never suggested firing Mueller.


TRUMP: I don't care what he says. It doesn't matter. That was to show everyone what a good counsel he was.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Why would Don McGahn lie? Why would he lie under oath?

TRUMP: Because he wanted to make himself look like a good lawyer or, or he believed it because I would constantly tell anybody that would listen, including you, including the media that Robert Mueller was conflicted. Robert Mueller had a total conflict of interest.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And has to go?


TRUMP: I didn't say that.


BLITZER: He's accusing his former White House Counsel of lying under oath before the Mueller committee.

HENNESSEY: Right. He's accusing his former White House Counsel of committing a crime. Now, what's more plausible that Don McGahn under oath in a meeting with federal investigators in order to make himself look like a better lawyer fabricated a story about the President of the United States directing him to fire Robert Mueller, this entire story, right, fabricating it whole cloth (ph) under oath or that the President of the United States is lying right now.

You know, I do really think it's worth noting, and we brought it up on the show before, that at the very moment that Donald Trump is actually accusing Don McGahn of committing a crime of perjury, he is actively working to prevent Don McGahn from testifying in front of Congress, telling his side of the story and effectively clearing his name.

One big question is Don McGahn has sort of deferred to the White House arguments right now, how long is he going to go along with this?

BORGER: Right. Look, if you're Don McGahn --

BLITZER: Because in the Mueller report, it specifically says that McGahn -- this is from the Mueller report. McGahn recalled the President telling him Mueller has to go and, quote, call me back when you do it.

Everybody stand by. There's more news we're following, including breaking news.

A U.S. official says a U.S. drone was fired on after spotting Iranian boats closing in before the attacks on tankers in the Gulf of Oman. The Pentagon says, and I'm quoting now, we have an international situation.


[18:40:00] BLITZER: Tonight, we know the lineups for the first democratic presidential debates and which of the 20 candidates that qualified will face each other.

CNN's Ryan Nobles is here with details. Ryan, there will be two debates over two consecutive nights later this month.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf, 20 candidates qualified for the debates today. They were randomly split up into two groups of ten, one of those featuring four of the five candidates consistently polling at the top.


NOBLES: For months, the nearly two dozen democratic presidential contenders have spent their time drawing distinctions from a far.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT): When it comes to healthcare, there is no middle ground.

NOBLES: Tonight, they are learning who they will be face-to-face with for the first debates. The first night will feature ten candidates, including Elizabeth Warren, Beto O'Rourke, Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar. Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris are among those going on the second night.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): I've got a lot of plans, so let me just mention a few.

NOBLES: Elizabeth Warren calling the debate an opportunity to discuss my plans. And the Massachusetts Senator's I have a plan for that strategy appears to be paying off, as national and early state polls show her jockeying with Sanders for second place behind Biden.

Today, Warren unveiled another proposal, this one aimed at empowering minority entrepreneurship. She told voters in New Hampshire that her recent success is about making direct connections with voters.

WARREN: We're going to get some more people, one at a time, two at a time, five at a time. That's why I'm working on a grass roots movement here.

NOBLES: But for now, Biden remains the leader of the pack and is keeping focus on President Trump, releasing a video calling out the President over foreign interference in U.S. elections.

JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: Donald Trump doesn't think it matters if candidates for presidency accept damaging information on their opponents from foreign governments. I believe he's dead wrong.

NOBLES: And the President appears to be keeping his eye on Biden.

TRUMP: Everybody knows Joe doesn't have it.

NOBLES: And the e rest of the democratic field, including Warren. TRUMP: I would love to run against her, frankly. I see that Bernie Sanders is not doing well at all. I would have frankly to have run against. I think it's probably those three. I don't see the other ones. I really don't see it.

They talk about Kamala. I don't see Kamala. I don't see -- I think it's probably between the three of them. Mayor Pete I don't see at all. I think that's a joke.


NOBLES: Now, of course, it's time for these campaigns to prepare and it won't be easy to find ways to stand out from the crowded field. Wolf, as one campaign aide told me, it is hard to get into too much substance when you only have a few minutes to speak.

BLITZER: That's a good point indeed. Thanks very much, Ryan Nobles, working that story for us.

There's more breaking news. New details right now of Iran firing a missile at a U.S. drone before the attack on two tankers. Plus, the video the U.S. says proves Iran's guilt.



[18:48:44] BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following New information about the attack on those two tankers in the Gulf of Oman which the United States blames on Iran.

Our Pentagon Correspondent, Barbara Starr is working the story for us.

Barbara, you're learning new details from your sources.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, Iran still says it didn't do anything. The U.S. has new information and is increasingly adamant that indeed Iran did.


STARR (voice-over): In the hours just before the attack on two oil tankers, the U.S. drone flying overhead saw Iranian boats closing in on the tankers and then Iran launched a surface to air missile at the American drone but missed, a U.S. official tells CNN. The source did not say they captured the Iranian boats conducting the actual attack.

Now at the Pentagon, tough words for Iran.

PATRICK SHANAHAN, ACTING DEFENSE SECRETARY: We're making sure that General McKenzie and the Central Command has the resources and the support that they need to conduct their missions.

STARR: But Iran doesn't seem to be backing off. More provocation. Iranian small boats are preventing tug boats from towing away one of the damaged tankers, a U.S. official says. President Trump, this time, believing the intelligence he is shown.

[18:50:00] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Iran did do it and you know they did it because you saw the boat.

STARR: U.S. officials pointing to these images as the proof. An Iranian boat coming along side one of the two commercial tankers that had just been attacked in the Sea of Oman. Iranians trying to remove an unexploded mine so no evidence is left behind, according to U.S. officials.

Now, President Trump is sounding a warning.

TRUMP: We don't take it lightly, that I can tell you.

STARR: Right now, U.S. policy is to maintain diplomatic and economic pressure on Tehran through sanctions.

SHANAHAN: The focus for myself and Ambassador Bolton and Secretary Pompeo is to build international consensus to this international problem.

STARR: Behind the scenes, all options are being reviewed.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: These unprovoked attacks present a clear threat to international peace and security, a blatant assault on the freedom of navigation and an unacceptable campaign of escalating tension by Iran.


STARR: To add to the confusion, the Japanese shipping company that owns one of the tankers says it does not believe that its ship was even hit by a mine -- Wolf.

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

There's much more news just ahead.


[18:55:51] BLITZER: Tonight, CNN following up on a major investigation into anti-Semitism in Europe.

Our Chief International Correspondent, Clarissa Ward traveled back to Germany where anti-Jewish violence has been on the rise.

Clarissa is joining us now live from London.

Clarissa, is it any safer for Jewish people in Germany than it was when you were there last year?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, unfortunately not, Wolf. When we visited about seven months ago, we attended a rally where a man gave a Nazi salute right in front of our cameras. And Germany has been working hard to tackle this problem, and is even appointed an anti-Semitism czar.

But he recently caused controversy when he suggested it's not safe for Jewish people in Germany to wear a yarmulke in certain areas. Take a look.


WARD (voice-over): On the streets of Berlin, Germans gathered to support the country's Jewish community. Most of marchers are not Jewish but some wear the kippah a sign of protest against the country's growing anti-Semitism problem.

In 2018, the number of anti-Semitic attacks in Germany increased by 20 percent. Last month, the country's anti-Semitism czar Felix Klein made headlines when he said it's not safe for Jewish people to wear the kippah in certain areas.

FELIX KLEIN, ANTI-SEMITISM COMMISSIONER GERMANY: I wanted to have it sort of as a wakeup call that we should act as a society before it's too late.

WARD (on camera): Was it a shock to you to see a 20 percent increase in anti-Semitic attacks last year?

KLEIN: What shocked me more was that there wasn't a public debate about it immediately. There wasn't the outcry, how can it be?

WARD (voice-over): Last year, CNN launched a major investigation into anti-Semitism in Europe. We found that 50 percent of Germans agreed that Jews are at risk of racist violence.

And then this restaurant owner Yorai Feinberg told us he gets harassed all the time.

YORAI FEINBERG, JEWISH RESTAURANT OWNER: From murder to I will break your knees, I will break your arms, I'll break your teeth. They are very creative in everything, you know, all the options that they want to break.

WARD: Seven months later, he says the German government needs to do more.

FEINBERG: I feel that the process that the German -- the Germans did since the Second World War, they made progress they fight against what was here before. And now, all the good work is going backwards.

WARD: These bollards are built to protect the synagogue from a potential terrorist attack. This is the reality of life for the Jewish community mere in Germany, every single synagogue, every Jewish school has to be protected by police 24 hours a day.

(voice-over): Anti-Semitism here has many sources -- the far right, the far left, and elements of the Muslim community.

Klein says it must be tackled from an early age. KLEIN: Jew is once again a insult in German schools. It's absolutely

unacceptable. Once again, the teachers and also parents, families have to be confronted with it and it has to be made clear that we do not accept any form of anti-Semitism.

WARD: No small task. But Germany hopes that by having the conversation now, it can prevent a crisis in the future.


WARD: Now despite the best efforts of the German government, we spoke to a number of Jewish families, Wolf, who said they are very concerned this problem is not going away -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Clarissa Ward, thanks so much for following up. Thanks for your report. We're grateful to you.

And to our viewers we have an announcement. We have a series of special reports coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM next week. We're going to explore how America's roads bridges, airports and schools are crumbling and what can be done about the infrastructure crisis that's clearly hurting this country, all next week, during the 6:00 p.m. Eastern Hour, "America Crumbles", our special series, you'll see those reports.

To our viewers thanks for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.