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Intel Chiefs Reluctant To Brief Trump On Anti-Russian Efforts?; Interview With Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA); President Trump Falsely Denies Existence Of Internal Polls Showing Him Trailing Behind Biden And Other Democrats; On Eve Of Trump Campaign Kickoff In Orlando, Biden Tells Dems He Can Win Key Southern States Including Florida; Sources: Biden Campaign Keeping A Close Eye On Warren's Rise, Believe She's Eating Into Sanders' Left-Wing Support; U.S. Sending 1,000 Additional Troops To Middle East Amid Escalating Tensions With Iran After Tanker Attack; America Crumbles: The Infrastructure Crisis. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 17, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:02]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Taunting Trump? Joe Biden just predicted that Democrats can win back Florida hours before the president launches his reelection campaign in the Sunshine State.

I will talk 2020 politics with Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro.

Kept in the dark? Intel officials reportedly are reluctant to brief President Trump on details of anti-Russia operations. Key Democrats say they're disturbed that the commander in chief might compromise secret moves against the Putin regime.

And evidence against Iran. The U.S. just declassified images to help bolster its case that Iran was behind an attack on two oil tankers, this as a senior Iranian official tells CNN that the United States is heading toward a very serious confrontation with his country.

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 images just declassified by the Pentagon aimed at proving that Iran is to blame for a tanker attack in the Middle East. Stand by for details.

Also tonight, a bold prediction by Joe Biden, that he can defeat President Trump in crucial Southern states, including Florida, where Mr. Trump officially kicks off his 2020 campaign tomorrow, this as the president is trying to turn a blind eye toward internal polling that shows he's trailing Democrats in some pivotal battlegrounds.

Mr. Trump falsely denying the polls exist in a new tweet, even after three pollsters behind the dismal numbers were fired. This hour, I will talk with Democratic presidential candidate Julian

Castro and with House Armed Services Committee member John Garamendi. And our correspondents of analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our White House Correspondent, Abby Phillip.

Abby, the president appears to be feeling the heat from Democrats out there on the campaign trail and in the polls.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

These poll numbers seem to suggest that President Trump's reelection effort is going to be a little bit tougher than he anticipated, but this was supposed to be a week dominated by the news of his official relaunch of his campaign tomorrow in Orlando, but, instead, the president has been furious and fixated on these poll numbers, and more fixated, our sources tell us, on the fact that they were leaked to the media.

And it is with that in mind that his aides have launched a major shakeup of his reelection campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP (voice-over): President Trump on edge tonight on the eve of the official launch of his reelection campaign in Orlando tomorrow.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I don't believe those polls.

PHILLIP: Slamming his own campaign's polls that show him losing to former Vice President Joe Biden and other Democrats in key states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, and moving to purge the officials who made them.

TRUMP: Those polls don't exist. But I just had a meeting with somebody that is a pollster, and I'm winning everywhere. So, I don't know what you're talking about.

PHILLIP: Trump falsely tweeting that the polls which were conducted in March are fake and adding, "We are looking really good, but it is far too early to be focused on that."

Yet the campaign is moving quickly to quell Trump's fury, purging three pollsters who conducted the 17-state survey over the leaks. Those officials privately acknowledging that the firings were less about the accuracy of the polls, and more about satisfying Trump's demands.

The president also offering an expansive view of his presidential powers, telling ABC News that he believes the Constitution gave him the power to fire former special counsel Robert Mueller.

TRUMP: Article 2 would have allowed me to fire him. But I wasn't going to fire. You know why? Because I watched Richard Nixon go around firing everybody. And that didn't work out too well. GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: So your position is that you can

hire or fire anybody, stop or start any investigation?

TRUMP: That is the position of a lot of great lawyers.

PHILLIP: Trump repeatedly citing Article 2 of the Constitution, but dodging questions about whether he believes the president is above the law.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So a president can't obstruct justice?

TRUMP: A president can run the country. And that's what happened, George. I run the country, and I run it well.

STEPHANOPOULOS: When the president does it, it's not illegal?

TRUMP: I'm just saying a president under Article 2 is very strong. Read it.

PHILLIP: The interview also offering a window into the former TV executives's fixation on optics, Trump snapping at his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, who interrupted him in the middle of an answer in which he claimed he might one day release his tax returns.

TRUMP: Now, at some point, I might. But, at some point, I hope they get it, because it's a fantastic financial statement. And let's do that over. He's coughing in the middle of my answer.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, OK.

TRUMP: I don't like that, you know?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your chief of staff.

TRUMP: If you're going to a cough, please leave the room.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I will come over here.

TRUMP: You just don't -- you just can't...

(CROSSTALK)

[18:05:00]

TRUMP: OK, you want to do that a little differently then?

PHILLIP: And while Trump was quick to throw his senior official out of the room, the president found himself out of the loop on a major U.S. strategy to counter Russian cyber attacks.

According to "The New York Times," there was broad hesitation to brief Trump about a plan to place software code in Russian power grids that could be used for future cyber attacks or surveillance.

Two administration officials said they believed Mr. Trump had not been briefed in any detail, over concerns about how he might react and the possibility that he might share sensitive information with foreign officials, like he did in 2017, when he discussed a classified operation in Syria with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in the Oval Office.

Over the weekend, the president slammed "The New York Times," accusing the paper of a virtual act of treason and calling the report not true.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP: And, Wolf, President Trump seemed to suggest "The Times" was putting national security at risk by publishing these kinds of details in their story.

But the paper notes that they did reach out to the National Security Council, which declined to comment and also declined to raise any national security concerns about these details. It may be an indication that some of these details of the cyber -- the secret cyber-program were intended actually to get the Russians' attention -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting.

All right, Abby, thank you, Abby Phillip at the White House.

Let's go to Capitol Hill right now, where we have breaking news on this week's testimony by one of the president's closest former aides, Hope Hicks.

Our Senior Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju, is joining us.

Manu, what are you learning about Hope Hicks' appearance on Wednesday?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Democrats on the committee are prepared to ask a range of questions to the president's former communications director, one of his longest confidants, including questions about what she experienced in the White House, things that are laid out in the Mueller report, allegations of obstruction of justice, and what the special counsel laid out, those instances of the president allegedly trying to thwart the Mueller probe.

The question ultimately is, what will she be able to answer? I am told that an official from the White House Counsel's Office will be in the room with Hope Hicks, and any assertions of executive privilege will have to be made on a case-by-case basis.

Now, that doesn't prevent the Democrats from asking the questions. But she could still just decline to answer those questions, and instead only agree to answer questions about her time in the campaign.

Now, the question ultimately, Wolf, will that be enough to satisfy Democrats, who could still go to court to fight to get information if they believe those assertions of executive privilege are overly broad.

So while they view it as progress that she's agreed to come behind closed doors on Wednesday, that may not satisfy them if she does not fully answer their questions. And it could lead to a further fight, with all the stakes just being raised for this Wednesday, closed-door hearings with one of the president's longest confidants after they have had resistance from a number of officials who refuse to comply with their subpoenas, including the former White House counsel Don McGahn -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Manu, thanks for very much, Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill.

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman John Garamendi of California. He is a member of both the House Armed Services -- he's a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I should point out.

Congressman, let me start out with this new reporting you just heard from Manu.

What's your reaction about that?

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, it seems to me that the president really doesn't understand the Constitution, doesn't understand the responsibilities that Congress has.

He might want to take a look at Article 1 of the Constitution, which is the legislative powers of Congress. And among those powers is the right and the appropriate necessity of Congress to hold the administration accountable. Hence, we need to go forward.

With regard to executive privilege, it seems to me that that was waived, seriously waived, in the Mueller report, in which there are specific examples of discussions that have taken place with McCabe, as well as with Hope Hicks.

BLITZER: Let's move on to this "New York Times" report, Congressman, that military and intelligence officials are now reluctant to fully brief President Trump on their actions against Russia, for fear he might put a stop to them or discuss it with the wrong people.

How dangerous is this current situation?

GARAMENDI: Well, it's extremely dangerous.

We already have had a good example, actually a couple of examples, where the president has publicly stated in the president's -- in the presence of Putin that he doesn't believe his own intelligence community.

And, therefore, that was the Helsinki situation. We also know, as you have already reported today, the incident in the Oval Office with Kislyak. So there's plenty of evidence that the intelligence community knows that the president doesn't trust them, doesn't believe them, and when he does get information, he's more than willing to leak that information.

That's all on the record. So, yes, I would suppose the intelligence community is reluctant to certainly give details, although perhaps generalities were given. [18:10:00]

BLITZER: Well, what precedent does it set, Congressman, if the commander in chief is actually kept in the dark on these very key national security issues?

GARAMENDI: Well, what it means is, we need a new commander in chief. We need one that's trustworthy. We need a commander in chief that's not going to sell the intelligence community down the river, that's not going to give away the critical information that's absolutely essential for America to make a decision, both the Congress, as well as for the president.

And, furthermore, if the president wants to talk about his powers under Article 2, he ought to realize that he cannot go to war with Iran without a declaration of war from Congress.

That is clearly both within Article 1, as well as within Article 2.

BLITZER: You're on the Armed Services Committee.

Is this new U.S. cyber-warfare targeting of Russia's power grid an effective strategy to send a message and safeguard the 2020 elections here in the United States?

GARAMENDI: Well, we certainly need to send a message.

Unfortunately, the president has not sent the message. And, therefore, we are relying upon secondary ways of doing that. Whether we targeted the power grid or not remains to be seen. The report seems to indicate that we did.

I undoubtedly and my colleagues will have a private, confidential briefing of that. But we absolutely have to send a message to Putin: You mess with us, we will mess with you.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says the president's comments on Russia and his willingness to accept so-called foreign dirt are raising pressure to go ahead and impeach.

Do you agree with her?

GARAMENDI: Well, certainly, the impeachment question continues to bubble to the top. And the fire beneath it is getting hotter and hotter, no doubt about it.

We may have to institute an impeachment inquiry, so that we can get the information. The president and his people are stonewalling Congress. And that has to end. And if the only way we can do it is with an impeachment inquiry, then that's what we will have to do.

BLITZER: On Iran, Congressman, we're just getting worried that the Trump administration is now preparing to announce the decision to send additional forces, military resources, to the Middle East to deal with this latest crisis with Iran. You're on the Armed Services Committee. Do you think this step is

appropriate, considering the recent tanker attacks in the Gulf over there?

GARAMENDI: Well, we ought to consider what we have there already.

We already have a major air -- naval engagement with the aircraft carrier and all the support. We have numerous fighter bombers and fighter jets and B-52s and additional troops, more than enough to deal with an incident that we have presently seen.

What concerns me is the words from Pompeo and others that the president wants to exert maximum pressure. If that maximum pressure leads to an incident, such as the Tonkin Gulf incident, I would be very, very concerned.

Now, we had a major debate last week in the Armed Services Committee as we prepared to send to the floor the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act. That debate included Democrats and Republicans being very, very clear that for the president to take offensive action against Iran would require a declaration of war or, as we now call it, an authorization to use military force.

I believe that we will see this week and next week on the floor of the House a very important and I think a successful debate to set up a very clear line of authority that the president cannot go to war with Iran without a declaration of war by the Congress of the United States.

Now, that doesn't preclude defensive action if we're attacked. Yes. If some ship is attacked, is that an attack on America? I don't think so.

BLITZER: Unless it's a U.S. ship. Then it would be an attack on America, obviously.

GARAMENDI: That is -- that's correct.

BLITZER: All right, Congressman Garamendi, thank you so much.

Just ahead, breaking news: The front-runner, Joe Biden, shows up at a forum with his Democratic rivals, saying, if he's nominated, he will campaign and win against President Trump in the South.

Also, a source says there are no limitations on what Democrats will be able to ask the former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks when she goes behind closed doors with a House panel on Wednesday.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:19:16]

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news on a pivotal witness who is about to testify before a House committee.

CNN has learned that there are no limitations on what Democrats will be able to ask Hope Hicks on Wednesday. And that gives them the green light to press her about allegations of obstruction laid out in the Mueller report.

Let's bring in our analysts.

And, Jeffrey, the Democrats can ask whatever they want. She will be there with a White House lawyer, a representative of the White House Counsel's Office, who presumably could stop her from answering questions they deem to be part of executive privilege.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: That's right.

And I expect it will be a question-by-question slog. And I imagine there will be substantial objections to any questions that bear on the activities or actions or statements of President Trump.

[18:20:02]

But, look, the Democrats have to do something. They have to try something, at least get some witness in front of them, and start the process of doing a real investigation. Whether they can actually get questions answered, or whether they will have to go to court, even for the witnesses who show up, that's one of the things that they will learn tomorrow.

BLITZER: All right, let's move on to that coughing incident, David Swerdlick.

I want to play a clip from the George Stephanopoulos ABC News interview with the president when he was answering a question. All of a sudden, the White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, started coughing.

That irritated the president. I'm going to play that clip. But then I'm going to play something the president told me about coughing some 20 years ago. He was a private citizen then.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Now, at some point, I might. But, at some point, I hope they get it, because it's a fantastic financial statement. And let's do that over. He's coughing in the middle of my answer.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, OK.

TRUMP: I don't like that, you know?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your chief of staff.

TRUMP: If you're going to a cough, please leave the room.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I will come over here.

TRUMP: You just don't -- you just can't...

(CROSSTALK) TRUMP: I certainly haven't changed. I mean, look, the concept of -- the other day, a man comes up. He's walking out and he sneezes. He grabs his nose. He sneezes.

And he says, "Mr. Trump, how are you?"

Now I'm supposed to shake his hand and be happy with him? The guy's got a terrible cold. He sneezes.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: If you're a politician on a rope line, you have got no choice.

TRUMP: I guess if you're a politician. So, maybe, therefore. Who knows? Look, I do the shaking hands. I think it's a terrible custom. I think it's a very, very terrible customer.

A lot of people are agreeing with me. I have more letters on that one subject than anything, where they're saying you're right about shaking hands. Who needs to do it? But I do it. I do it sometimes begrudgingly.

I mean, I have had many cases you're eating dinner, and you see some nice gentleman come out of the bathroom, and he comes over to you and he grabs: "Oh, Mr. Trump, I want to..."

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: Now, the good news is, you don't eat that roll. You just keep it away.

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: But the fact is, it's almost barbaric in a certain way, and especially nowadays. I don't think it's good, but I do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: How revealing you think all that is?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN COMMENTATOR: I think it's revealing on a couple of levels, Wolf.

First -- but that was a great interview that you did with then private citizen Donald Trump.

Look, I think that for him to say it's barbaric is like, look, President Trump, all you had to do to avoid having to shake hands and be around people all the time was not run for president. This comes with the territory.

But in terms of that specific interview with George Stephanopoulos, he's in there. It's hitting on two things that really he can't stand. One, it's interrupting his TV presentation. He's all about image. And, number two, as a germaphobe, you can imagine he's in there. He doesn't -- he doesn't want to be distracted by something. That's really just -- as in that interview you just played, just really gets under his skin.

BLITZER: You know, Jackie...

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: I couldn't even concentrate on the interview because I thought your glasses were so outstanding in that interview, Wolf, the round ones.

BLITZER: Those are my old glasses, my old glasses.

TOOBIN: You look like John Lennon in some of the late Beatles era. I love that.

BLITZER: All right, thank you.

TOOBIN: I'm sorry.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Thank you.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: You know, Jackie, let's move beyond the glasses.

(LAUGHTER)

JACKIE ALEMANY, REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I concur.

BLITZER: You have done some -- your own reporting on this going back to, what, a former Trump campaign staffer?

ALEMANY: Yes. Well, it's funny. I think the president has sort of this set of unwritten rules, ranging from never cough to John Bolton's mustache, right, these things, these little pet peeves that really irk the president.

But a former campaign staffers told me last night that during his on- boarding process, he was told to never cough or sneeze while in the presence of Trump. He thinks it's a sign of weakness and a lack of control. Nobody ever recovers.

And it seems like just another rule to this list. And, as you pointed out, the president is a showman at heart. He spent many years as the star of "The Apprentice," and is quite a perfectionist when it comes to what he wants to look like through the media.

I have heard from people who have done interviews with Trump that he's complained about lighting, he's complained about makeup, he's complained about angles. And then, on top of that, being a germaphobe, coughing is obviously a nonstarter for Trump. BLITZER: And Mick Mulvaney, still technically the acting White House

chief of staff, how embarrassing and awkward is this on his part to be humiliated by the president?

REBECCA BUCK, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: There's no question it's awkward.

But humiliation is kind of a part of the job when you sign up to work in this White House. There's no question that Donald Trump can be intensely mercurial, that he can lash out at his staffers.

So, I think Mick Mulvaney knew what he was signing up for. But the question is, how does this impact his standing within the White House, if at all? He's been one of Trump's favorites. He's an intense loyalist. And Trump has liked him as a result.

And his good golf game doesn't hurt either. But something like this could impact his standing potentially.

BLITZER: Jeffrey, you wanted to make one more point?

TOOBIN: I am pro-coughing. I don't know. I think human beings cough sometimes. They also sneeze.

[18:25:00]

The idea that you can be thrown out of the office and dismissed and angered -- and the subject your boss' anger because you cough is just wackadoodle stuff, as far as I'm concerned.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by.

There's a lot more we're covering. And we will do that right after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back with our analysts.

[18:30:00] As President Trump is trying new ignore internal campaign polls that show him trailing Democrats and some pivotal states, he's misleading Americans along the way denying the polling even exists. And Jeffrey Toobin given, he may be denying it, but the campaign actually fired a few pollsters as a result of the leaks of these polls. These are three-month old polls. Is this a case of shooting the messenger?

TOOBIN: Well, it sure seems that way and the only thing that matters is whether the polls are accurate and if he can't acknowledge that he's got an electoral problem, that's his problem. It's not his opponents problem. So if I were the Democrats, I'd be delighted to see him pretending that his political standing is better than it is.

But the job of pollsters is not to curry favor, it's to provide accurate information. We'll see whether he gets that. He even fired Kelly Conway's company as one of the companies that was pulling for him.

BLITZER: One of the internal campaign pollsters. Back in 2016, David, you'll remember he often would dismiss all of these polls out there saying they're not true and he actually went on to win the electoral college. He lost the popular vote by about 3 million votes. Are you surprised he's so upset about these numbers this time?

SWERDLICK: I'm not surprised. Look, in 2016, no one expected him to win. I don't even think he expected himself to win, so it was sort of easy to dismiss the polls knowing that at the end of the day or thinking at the end of the day that it was all going to be academic anyway. What we're seeing now, Wolf, I think is a situation where for two and a half years, this has all been hypothetical. President Trump at a fairly steady approval rating against an undifferentiated field.

Now, their polling is coming out showing him contrast with specific Democrats and apparently in his own internal polling, not doing that well, I do think it brings it home a little more to him that the reality of the election is here.

BLITZER: Do you think there's part of a strategy here?

SWERDLICK: I don't know. I would say at least that President Trump does not want to have leaks coming out of his campaign even if his pollsters thought maybe they were doing the right thing by putting this information out there. He likes to control his own message at the end of the day. And we're in a situation right now where he wants to project strength, especially against Vice President Biden, that didn't happen.

BLITZER: All this comes, Jackie, as he's getting ready to launch his 2020 presidential campaign tomorrow night in Orlando, Florida. What do you expect?

ALEMANY: I think that much like what we - well, first of all, I don't think Trump ever really stopped campaigning. His presidency has been an endless campaign. But I think what we're going to see is really a ramping up and I think something like this episode of The Week polls really sort of has succeeded in lighting a fire of him to get serious about polling again.

I did speak with some sources close to the campaign who said that these polls were probably selectively leaked in order to get the president to be more disciplined to focus on his weaknesses and some of the damage that he's done with his rhetoric to female voters or African American voters. And so I think that the President always is, I think, needs something to be angry about, need to foil, this might just be that going into his Orlando rally kickoff tomorrow.

BLITZER: We know the President is threatened, feels threatened, at least, by Biden in several of the key battleground states, the blue collar states, let's say Pennsylvania, Wisconsin or Michigan. But is he beginning to feel threatened by some of the other Democratic presidential candidates as well?

BUCK: Well, it wasn't the last time, Wolf, that he mentioned Elizabeth Warren. He called her by the derogatory nickname that he's given her in this interview with George Stephanopoulos. And so that says to me that he sees her on the rise in the polls and it's just, as an insurance policy, going after her as well.

And I think a part of this is also by going after other Democrats, he also makes Joe Biden look like a weak front runner, suggests that maybe he's not sure that he'll be up against Joe Biden in the general election and so kind of hedging his bets a little bit. And I think it's a multi-pronged strategy in that respect, but --

BLITZER: Let me get Jeffrey to weigh in. How do you see this unfolding in the short-term because we see Elizabeth Warren's numbers going up and maybe at the expense of Bernie Sanders' number, she seems to be taking some of his support.

TOOBIN: Well, certainly, finally there is a big event coming that will certainly shake up the race one way or another, which is the two debates which are coming up next week. You're going to have 20 Democrats, with all of political world focused on them. After these debates we'll see the poll numbers that come out of who won the debates, and whose support changed.

At that point, I think, you'll see the President respond and the race will look different. I don't know how it'll look different but finally as opposed to just sort of fundraising numbers and day-to-day news coverage, we have a major event in the campaign that will change things one way or another.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody stick around. There's more news. Much more on the late breaking reporting we're getting on Joe Biden's campaign and the one rival who's making him seem to be a little bit more nervous tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:01] BLITZER: We're getting some new information this hour about the Joe Biden campaign. I want to bring in our Senior Washington Correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. Jeff, what are you learning?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORREPONDENT: Wolf, we saw something interesting today that we haven't seen yet. It was Joe Biden joining the rest of his Democratic presidential candidates, his rivals, in fact, at an event here in Washington. They were speaking one after the other. And one thing that the Biden campaign I'm told is doing is watching the rise of Senator Elizabeth Warren. Of course, everyone inside the field is.

There was some concern is she eating into Joe Biden support, but actually the Biden campaign advisor, several advisors told me that they actually believe that she is sort of encroaching on Bernie Sanders and, of course, taking that support from the left side of the field, if you will.

So the Biden campaign is actually sitting back and enjoying the rise of Elizabeth Warren to a point, of course. One thing they are getting a little bit more concerned about his the rise of Pete Buttigieg. He is making that generational argument, that same appeal. So that is something that Joe Biden is keeping an eye on.

But Wolf, this is all going to come to a head next week at the first time debate, of course, and before that, this weekend in South Carolina. All of the candidates will be in Columbia, South Carolina at the Democratic Convention. I was in South Carolina over the weekend talking to a lot of voters and Joe Biden is the front runner at least nominally in South Carolina, but people want to hear from the other candidates.

So Joe Biden, watching the rise of Elizabeth Warren not concerned yet about her necessarily. But, boy, they know this is not a stable front runner position.

BLITZER: The former vice president was projecting a lot of confidence at a forum here in Washington earlier today, watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, FORMER UNITED STATES VICE PRESIDENT, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I plan on, if I'm your nominee, winning Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, believe it or not. And I believe we can win Texas and Florida, if you look at the polling data now. It doesn't mean - so it's a marathon. It's a long way off.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you think?

ZELENY: Well, that's Joe Biden trying to project himself as the front runner. He's trying to do one thing above all, to try and get Democrats to focus on the long game, the general election game with the President. So, of course, he's saying that he can win in those states. Pretty hard to believe that a Democrat can went to Georgia probably, I mean it's certainly possible but if that were to happen, it would be a blowout for whoever the Democratic nominee is.

But no doubt Joe Biden trying to keep Democrats focused, but many Democrats progressive in particular want him to talk about issues and other things instead. So he knows it's a long way before the general election should he get to that point.

BLITZER: The President is officially going to launch his 2020 presidential campaign tomorrow night in Orlando, Florida. Do we anticipate he's really going to use that opportunity to go after Biden?

ZELENY: Well, he certainly has been and Joe Biden has been living in his head, if you will. But he's picking Florida for a reason. The President is 29 electoral votes in Florida, going there for a reason. Without Florida, there's virtually no way that he can be reelected. So tomorrow night we will see if he goes after Joe Biden as he has before.

I expect he will use it as an opportunity to perhaps go after several of the candidates. He's watching, I'm told, the President is watching Elizabeth Warren's rise as well, so look for him to go after her tomorrow night as well.

BLITZER: We'll look at all of that. All right. Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much. We had hoped to bring you an interview with Democratic presidential candidate, Julian Castro, this hour but there were some technical issues with the studio. We hope to reschedule that interview very soon. Just ahead, breaking news, the Pentagon releases dramatic new images to boost its case that Iran is behind recent attacks on oil tankers as the U.S. announces additional forces and resources will be deployed to the Middle East.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:48:08] BLITZER: Breaking news tonight on escalating U.S. tensions with Iran. The Pentagon just announcing that 1,000 additional U.S. troops are now being sent to the Middle East.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, tell us more about this deployment?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, these troops will be there to conduct intelligence operations, force protections for other troops there. All of this coming as extraordinary new images of that tanker attack have been released.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): Newly declassified images of what the Pentagon says was an Iranian attack on two oil tankers last week. One extraordinary clear image taken by a U.S. navy helicopter overhead shows an Iranian revolutionary guard boat moments after those on board removed an unexploded mine from one tanker according to the Pentagon.

More images of the left over mine, and a hole in the hull from additional blasts. The Pentagon acknowledged two things. They are not sure all the damage was caused by mines and the case against the Iranian still will have it doubters.

Iran's ambassador warns his country and the U.S. are headed for a possible showdown.

HAMID BAEIDINEJAD, IRANIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UK: Unfortunately, we are heading towards a confrontation, which is very serious for everybody.

STARR: In an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, the ambassador also claiming Iran isn't responsible for the attack that left two oil tankers damaged last week.

BAEIDINEJAD: I don't know about the strategy of the U.S. on this, but I'm sure this is a scenario that some people are very forcefully working on it. That they will drag the United States into a confrontation.

STARR: President Trump's national security team now discussing sending more military force to the region. MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The United States is

considering a full range of options. We briefed a president a couple of times. We'll continue to keep him updated.

[18:50:02] We are confident that we can take a set of actions that can restore deterrence, which is our mission set.

STARR: A decision could be made soon that will send additional U.S. warships, fighter jets and Patriot missile defenses.

PATRICK SHANAHAN, ACTING DEFENSE SECRETARY: We obviously need to make contingency plans should the situation deteriorate.

STARR: Iran's response to the escalating tension, it will bus through a limit in the nuclear deal on how much low grade uranium it can have for non-weapons purposes.

BEHROUZ KAMALVANDI, IRAN'S ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY SPOKESMAN: It is a matter of only hours, not even days.

STARR: Iran hopes the threat will break Europe's will to go along with tough U.S. economic sanctions imposed after President Trump broke from the nuclear deal.

ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY & DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: It's a far cry from the 90 percent enrichment rate that you would need for a bomb. But it is a very strong signal from Tehran that the deal could be put under some pressure.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Just ahead, a man opens fire outside a federal courthouse in Dallas and is shot dead by officers.

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[18:55:40] BLITZER: We're learning more tonight about a shooting at a federal courthouse in Dallas. A gunman opening fire before he was shot and killed by officers. Authorities say the shooter was discharged from the Army back in 2017.

We are told the FBI is looking into his military and social media history as authorities try to determine a motive.

Also tonight, authorities say they have the gunman's weapon and have deployed agents across the state to conduct interviews with his family members and others. We'll stay on top of the story.

Also tonight, we begin a week-long special report on America's crumbling roads, bridges, airports and schools. We have heard a lot of talk from both parties about the crisis and what it is costing the nation. But hopes for a big legislative fix keep hitting road blocks.

CNN's Tom Foreman is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Tom, this is a huge problem that affects most Americans every single day.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and it's a problem that everyone in this town agrees needs to be fixed. But they do not agree on how to get the job done.

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FOREMAN (voice-over): Airports overloaded and outdated, roadways overburdened and buckling.

(EXPLETIVE DELETED)

FOREMAN: Power grids, parks, schools, broadband service, public transit and water systems. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers which grades all those categories, the aging infrastructure has been crumbling for years, slowing travel, stifling business, endangering Americans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fifteen thousand dam structures in the United States are considered high hazard. We still have 55,000 structurally deficient bridges in the United States.

FOREMAN (on camera): And this is costing America real money in terms of jobs and lost productivity and lost private time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The average commuter loses 42 hours a year sitting in traffic. That's like losing a week's vacation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president of the United States!

FOREMAN (voice-over): President Trump has promised huge improvements from the start.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: New roads, bridges, tunnels, airports and railways.

Safe, fast, reliable and modern infrastructure. This is not an option. This is a necessity.

FOREMAN: And Democrats say they want it, too.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): It's clear that both the White House and all of us want to get something done on infrastructure in a big and bold way.

FOREMAN: The result, however, has been a big, bold bipartisan failure.

TRUMP: This is what it takes to get something approved.

FOREMAN: Part of the problem is each time Trump has announced an infrastructure initiative, it has been derailed by an unrelated controversy. But there is more. RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You have a governing

party and the opposition party. And the goal of the opposition party is not to reach deals with the majority party. It's to discredit their ideas, beat them and become the majority party themselves.

FOREMAN: Democrats balk at the idea of a blank check without assurances their constituents will get a share of the jobs and that improvements will respect and protect the environment. Republicans recoil from the idea of regulations holding too much sway, and would like to privatize many of these public projects and both sides are nervous about the price.

(on camera): Just to catch up to all these deficiencies, the American Society of Civil Engineers say it will take $2 trillion over 10 years and then $200 billion annually to keep up.

(voice-over): There has been talk of a higher federal gas tax, prioritized spending of tax money already in the bank and more fees for everyone everywhere.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We stand at a pivotal place in terms of building infrastructure for the future.

FOREMAN: Yes, there has been talk, but not much else.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: Make no mistake about it, this is a monumental task, but it can't even get underway unless both parties agree to build the one thing that they need first and that they won't even touch, compromise.

BLITZER: The $2 trillion, where is it coming from?

FOREMAN: It's coming from us. It's coming from us right now, according to the Engineers Society. They're saying, look, we are already paying that in all of our lost time and our lost productivity, that this is a tax that is hitting us every day in this country, and it only gets worse if we do not fix these problems.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Tom Foreman, good report. Thank you very much.

Our special series on the infrastructure crisis will continue all this week right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show @CNNsitroom.

Thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

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