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Trump On Iran: "Very Big Mistake" Downing U.S. Drone; Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) Is Interviewed On U.S.-Iran Tensions; Trump: "You'll Soon Find Out" If U.S. Will Strike Iran, House Judiciary Releases Transcript Of Hope Hicks Interview; Trump, Lawmakers Briefed On UFO Sightings By Military Pilots. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired June 20, 2019 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Here on CNN. Our coverage on CNN continues in a moment. Thank you so much for watching.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news: very big mistake. President Trump says Iran made a very big mistake in shooting down a U.S. surveillance drone, saying Americans will soon find out if he'll launch a retaliatory strike.

Classified briefing: top congressional leaders get an emergency briefing on the escalating Iran tensions in the White House Situation Room. The Pentagon says the drone was over international waters when it was shot down.

Iran's case: Iran says the U.S. drone was shot down while violating its airspace and is putting up map boards and graphics to make its case. The Iranians are also issuing warnings.

But did they go too far this time?

And unapologetic: Democratic front-runner Joe Biden is digging in his heels after some 2020 rivals say he should apologize for some his remarks about working with segregationist senators but met with the Congressional Black Caucus say Biden does not need to say he's sorry.

Will this episode hurt his campaign?

I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


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

BLITZER: Breaking news: the White House calls in top congressional leaders for an urgent Situation Room briefing on Iran's shooting down of an unmanned U.S. surveillance aircraft, a meeting that just ended. President Trump says Americans will soon find out if he'll retaliate with a military strike against Iran. The Pentagon says the drone with the wingspan of an airliner was downed while in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz. A top commander flatly denies Iran's claim that it was over Iranian territory.

The president says Iran made a very big mistake although he suggested it was an authorized action by somebody he calls "loose and stupid." I'll speak with Senator Mazie Hirono of the Armed Services Committee. And our correspondents and analysts will have full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's begin with the breaking news, which we're covering as only CNN can. Barbara Starr is standing by at the Pentagon. Fred Pleitgen is in Tehran. But let's begin with our senior White House Correspondent, Pamela Brown.

Pamela, an urgent meeting there on Iran.

What's the latest?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That's right, Wolf. Congressional leaders just wrapped up the emergency meeting on Iran in the Situation Room and deliberations continued tonight at the White House as to how to respond to Iran.

The president says we will soon find out if that includes military force.


BROWN (voice-over): Tonight high-level emergency meetings at the White House, as national security officials and congressional leaders huddle in the Situation Room to discuss Iran's downing of a U.S. military drone.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They made a very bad mistake. OK?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How will you respond, Mr. President?

How will you respond?

TRUMP: You will find out. This country will not stand for it, that I can tell you.

BROWN (voice-over): The president's advisers calling the shootdown "an escalation," but just moments after appearing to put Iran on notice, the president floated a theory that Iran's, quote, "big mistake" was literally a big mistake.

I find it hard to believe it was intentional, if you want to know the truth. I think it could have been somebody who was loose and stupid.

I think they made a mistake. And I'm not just talking the country made a mistake; I think that somebody under the command of that country made a big mistake.

BROWN (voice-over): However, Iran responded with a different narrative, saying the drone violated its airspace, releasing this video as proof.

MAJ. GEN. HOSSEIN SALAMI, IRANIAN REVOLUTIONARY GUARD CORPS (through translator): Destroying the U.S. spy drone had a clear, quick, explicit and accurate message, which is that defenders of Iran's borders will give strong and firm responses.

BROWN (voice-over): The Pentagon maintains the drone was over international waters and released this video, showing a smoke trail in international airspace. President Trump in a delicate dance, saying all options are on the table but that the situation would be more severe if Americans had been harmed.

TRUMP: If we didn't have a man or woman in the drone, we had nobody in the drone, it would have made a big difference. Let me tell you, it would have made a big, big difference.

BROWN: Key Trump ally Senator Lindsey Graham says Trump's options are running out.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Here's what Iran needs to go ready for. Severe pain. If they're itching for a fight, they're going to get one.

BROWN (voice-over): But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had a warning for the president over credibility.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We started to lose credibility on the subject when we walked away from the nuclear -- the Iran nuclear agreement.

BROWN (voice-over): All of this as the Pentagon plans to deploy 1,000 more American troops to the region to counter Iran's hostile acts, including last week's bombings of two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Sources tell CNN that the president privately downplayed the --


BROWN (voice-over): significance of those attacks because the tankers weren't American.


BROWN: An administration official says the president has so far resisted military engagement with Iran and that there is a Bolton versus Trump debate on how to proceed with Iran.

But the question tonight, Wolf, will this latest act by Iran change the president's mind on how to proceed?

BLITZER: Pamela Brown at the White House, thanks very much.

Just a moment or so ago, the Democratic leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, he had emerged from that briefing in the Situation Room over at the White House. He went back to Capitol Hill and he said this.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Now I told the president that these conflicts have a way of escalating. The president may not intend to go to war here. But we're worried that he and the administration may bumble into a war.

We told the room that the Democratic position is that congressional approval must be required before funding any conflict in Iran. One of best ways to avoid bumbling into war, a war that nobody wants, is to have a robust, open debate and for Congress to have a real say. We learned that lesson in the runner-up to Iraq.

We have an amendment supported by every Democrat, to the NDAA and the Senate. It's led by Senator Udall. It would require congressional approval of any funding for a conflict in Iran. It's supported by all of us. We are asking Leader McConnell to do the right thing and give us a vote next week on the NDAA on that amendment. Thank you.


BLITZER: Strong statement from Senator Schumer. I want to bring in our Pentagon Correspondent, Barbara Starr, and also joining us live from Tehran, our Senior International Correspondent, Fred Pleitgen.

Fred, you're there, you're in Iran. Iran is strongly defending its activities, releasing both the video of the missile attack, producing a map.

What is the very latest we are hearing from the Iranian side?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The Iranians are certainly not saying that this was a big mistake on their part, certainly not saying this was some sort of rogue commander who might have overridden some sort of other orders that he might have had.

And if you look at the video that the Iranians put out of this incident, them shooting missiles at this drone and you listen to some of the voices that are on that video, it certainly doesn't sound like people who feel that they have just made a big mistake.

The big dispute in all of this right now is where was this drone shot down?

The Iranians strongly making the case that they believe it was inside Iranian airspace. The country's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, even coming out and tweeting his own map with the location of where the Iranians say they shot down this drone.

We searched for that location; he gave the coordinates. It would put the shootdown site about 9 miles off the coast of Iran, which, of course, would be within Iranian territorial waters.

Now whether or not that's true is up in the air. The Pentagon is saying something very different but the Iranians are clearly saying this was not a mistake. They are saying this is a clear message to the United States that the Iranians are very serious in this time of these heightened tensions.

This drone, Wolf, by the way, was shot down by Iran's Revolutionary Guard corps, which we know is their most elite military unit. And the commander of the Revolutionary Guard corps came out later today after the drone was shot down and said Iran does not want a war with the United States but he also unequivocally said that Iran is prepared for war with the United States.

And just one last thing, the Iranians also saying that they have recovered parts of that drone, so we're expecting to see those here in Tehran, possibly on Iranian TV, within the next couple hours, possibly within the next couple days.

BLITZER: Stand by, I want to go to Barbara over at the Pentagon.

The president suggested, Barbara, that this may actually have been a mistake on the part of the Iranians, maybe some rogue commander did this on his own.

Does that theory hold up based on how Iran is responding across the board?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think U.S. military commanders at the Pentagon are quite used to seeing Iranian rhetoric. They are very adamant here that the drone was flying in international airspace.

It is an intelligence asset, it's a drone that can stay up for many, many hours and survey territory. They want very much want to see what Iran is up to right now because of these other recent provocations we've been talking about.

So they are adamant. And they are hopeful of putting out the coordinates of where the U.S. says the drone is. I suspect we can conclude that the two sites will never publicly agree on that. There will be doubters on both sides.

But you know, right now, the Pentagon very adamant.

Could it have been a mistake?

The president may be putting -- trying to create a little decision space for himself and for the United States. We know that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard corps in the U.S. view does not always adhere to the central government's strategies and policies.


STARR: They have often been known in the past to go their own way. So by bringing this up, the president gives the Iranian government a little room to maneuver perhaps. But make no mistake, there is a real feeling that Iran is continuing the provocations, that this is about the sanctions. They're continuing the provocations to try and pressure the U.S. to ease up on those sanctions -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The way the Iranians are reacting, they clearly don't think it was necessarily a mistake. They're boasting about their activities. Both countries, Barbara, have produced very basic maps to show -- to try to make their case where the strike actually happened.

Does the U.S. need to produce more evidence in public?

I assume in the situation with the White House, they provided a lot more classified information.

STARR: I think it is very fair to say there's extensive classified information on this, that area of the Persian Gulf is full of U.S. and allied intelligence sensors around the clock. So how much they want to declassify remains to be seen.

I think we will see in the coming hours and days some additional information from the U.S. And they have done it with these other provocations, with the tanker attacks, for example, and talking in details about the kind of troops that they are sending to the region, because they know there are doubters out there.

And they know they have to get support from both allied governments in the Europe and other allied governments in the region if they want to conduct any kind of military action. This could not be a go-it-alone proposal for very long. They will need support from U.S. military and security partners -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, Fred Pleitgen in Tehran, guys, thank you. We're going to check back with you, obviously, throughout the night.

Joining us now Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, a member of the Armed Services Committee and Judiciary Committee.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

I want your reaction. The president says the indict may have been a mistake on the part of the Iranians, some lone general, for example, ordering it without authority.

Do you think it's plausible that the Iranians would accidentally shoot down this American drone?

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO, (D-HI): Well, they're certainly say that it was intentional. What is real is that the tensions are heightened and, in a situation like that, there's all kinds of room for miscalculation.

So if the president doesn't want to go to war against Iran, which he said, it's time for him to tell the American people and Congress how he intends to resolve this crisis, pending crisis diplomatically.

So Wolf, this is an opportune time for us as we debate the National Defense Authorization Act in the Senate next week, that we do debate and pass the amendment to the act that prohibits the president from using unauthorized operations against Iran without congressional approval.

Now Mitch McConnell has not agreed to putting this amendment on the floor of the Senate. I think that this is our responsibility as Congress to declare war, if that be the case. The fact that Mitch McConnell has not agreed is very troubling.

BLITZER: I know that the leadership in the Senate and the House, they were over in the White House Situation Room getting briefed. You're a member of the Armed Services Committee.

Have you received a briefing on what happened?

HIRONO: I attended a briefings regarding the situation. I can't talk about it but, nonetheless, I think it is very important as the heightened escalation of tensions and fraught with peril, possibilities for miscalculations by either country, that the president come forward and explain to all of us how he intends to resolve this situation.

BLITZER: The Iranians insist they had every right to shoot down the drone and they say the drone was flying over Iranian water.

Have you seen any evidence that the drone violated Iranian airspace?

HIRONO: I have not personally, of course. But then you have our two countries saying different things. And this is what I mean about miscalculations can occur when you have a heightened tension situation as this. This is why it is very important for Congress to clearly tell this administration that he is not authorized to use force against Iran without congressional approval.

This is the very kind of situation that Congress needs to get involved in because it is our constitutional authority and responsibility to declare war.

BLITZER: Well, if, in fact, you see evidence, conclusive evidence, on the part of the U.S. military, the intelligence community and it's convincing to you that the Iranians deliberately launched a surface- to-air missile to shoot down this U.S. aircraft, would you regard that as an act of war on the part of the Iranians and --


BLITZER: -- that the U.S. should respond militarily?

HIRONO: Well, that's just it, Wolf. If the U.S. is going to respond militarily, then we need to discuss what the consequences may be, what kind of resources will be deployed. We're already sending 1,000 more troops there.

There's a lot of debate that needs to occur. But this will not be another Iraq situation. This administration will need to provide facts. This is not a situation where the president says mission accomplished in a matter of days or hours. BLITZER: Your colleague, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, he says he believes the Iranians are now testing President Trump.

Do you agree?

HIRONO: I think that when the president summarily pulled out of the JCPOA and then pretty much stopped Iran from selling its oil, I think we should certainly have predicted that Iran would respond in some way. And so they have.

So unless we're going to continue to have an escalation of these extensions, then the president who says he doesn't want to go to war, better take control of the situation, tell us what he has in mind to resolve it diplomatically.

Meanwhile, you have John Bolton running around and you have the president saying he's the check to Bolton, who has already written that we should go after Iran. This is not a good situation. Somebody needs to be running this show and clearly we need to get our allies involved.

You know, I have to say, Wolf, when the situation first arose about Iran attacking these other ships our allies in Europe as well as in Japan wanted to know more information. See, they couldn't just say, we'll take your word for it, United States. This is not a good situation when our country positions and articulation of events is basically questioned because of our credibility issues.

BLITZER: Do you believe that Iran, in the aftermath of the U.S. walking away from the Iran nuclear deal with the heightened sanctions that have been imposed over the past year, do you think Iran is trying to provoke some sort of military conflict?

HIRONO: I certainly hope not. I hope at some point there will be a scenario or environment where the two countries can come together to resolve the situation diplomatically.

But in the interval, though, in the workup to that kind of resolution, there's a lot of room for miscalculation. And we certainly do not want to blunder into yet another long-term war in the Middle East, where there will be all kinds of unintended consequences, not to mention loss of lives.

BLITZER: There already are some 70,000 U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf, another 2,500 in just the last few days were announced. Plus there are thousands of U.S. military, civilian contractors in the area, forget about the diplomats.

There's a lot of Americans who potentially could be endangered.

So what does the president need to do, Senator, from your perspective in order to de-escalate these really serious tensions with Iran right now?

HIRONO: I think one hint might be for the president to say or to characterize the drone strike as a mistake. As your previous commentator was saying, this may be kin on his part to want to give the Iranians a bit of wiggle room to try and figure out a way for the two countries to come together.

But we're also not going it alone. Clearly if there's another war in the Middle East, that would be disastrous. Because war should not be the first result. We should be looking to diplomatic resolution. I'm looking to the president at this point to come forward to tell us how are you going to resolve the situation?

How are you going to ease the tensions?

And the fact that we need to take some responsibility for the heightened tensions. Because we're the ones who unilaterally walked away from a nuclear deal with Iran, in which they were in compliance.

BLITZER: We'll see if the president addresses the American people in some sort of Oval Office address, for example, if it comes down to that. Senator Hirono, thank you so much for joining us.

HIRONO: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, congressional leaders leave an urgent White House briefing as President Trump said Iran made a very big mistake in shooting down a U.S. surveillance drone.





BLITZER: The breaking news, key lawmakers were just briefed over at the White House Situation Room on the downing of a U.S. drone by an Iranian missile, President Trump calling it a very big mistake on the part of Iran.

When asked if U.S. would strike Iran, he said, and I'm quoting the president right now, "You'll soon find out."

Let's dig deeper with our experts and our analysts.

John Kirby, the president says we'll soon find out if the U.S. plans to strike militarily against Iran.

Is that language going to be perceived by Iran as --


BLITZER: -- further escalation?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: It's certainly not going to bring down the tensions, Wolf, that's for sure. I'm sure they paid close attention and they know the U.S. military has a lot of assets in the region, a lot of capabilities, should they want to do something kinetic.

What I would hope that the administration is looking for is some sort of menu of responses that don't escalate the tension and don't result in some sort of military action that could lead to a broader conflict.

This is the time to look for off-ramps and a way to diplomatically bring the tensions down.

BLITZER: Gloria, the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, was in the Situation Room just a little while ago. She just released a statement following that classified briefing that she and other congressional leaders received -- here it is.

"In light of the targeting of an unmanned U.S. drone by Iran, it is essential that we remain fully engaged with our allies, recognize that we are not dealing with a responsible adversary and do everything in our power to de-escalate."

She went on to say, "This is a dangerous, high-tension situation that requires a strong, smart and strategic, not reckless approach."

Similar statement to what we heard from Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. And I think in an odd way, Wolf, they might be on the same page as the president on this because the president is looking for a way out of this, it seems to me, looking for some kind of wiggle room when he said maybe someone in Iran made a mistake when they shot this down, trying to find a way between looking tough and keeping his campaign promise that he doesn't want to get entangled in another foreign war.

So I think they may be looking for the same thing that Donald Trump is looking for, although the Democrats would, of course, blame him for getting into this situation in the first place by withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal.

BLITZER: Very important.

Phil Mudd, as Gloria just pointed out, the president says he believed maybe some rogue general in Iran made a mistake when they shot down this unmanned American aircraft. Listen to the precise words of the president.


TRUMP: I find it hard to believe it was intentional, if you want to know the truth. I think it could have been somebody who was loose and stupid that did it. We'll be able to report back and you'll understand exactly what happened. But it was a very foolish move. That I can tell you.


BLITZER: What's your reaction to that, Phil? PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: The chance of that is about zero. Look, I respect what the president is trying to do. I think Gloria is dead on; it's a rare moment when the Democrats and the Republicans might be on the same page. Let's look how to deescalate.

As soon as the president says we know the Iranian leadership, whether it's part of the military leadership or the political leadership did this, it puts him on the hook to react. For him to say I'm not sure that they knew what they were doing at that time, it gives him a chance to climb down and say I'm not going to pin responsibility on the central government.

I think intelligence-wise, the prospect that the Revolutionary Guard, whoever popped off this drone, did this accidentally, that it was a rogue operation, is about zero. I don't think that happened.

BLITZER: Certainly the Iranians are not reacting as if it was some sort of mistake. They're boasting about it, they're claiming -- taking credit for it.

You know, Gloria, I want to quickly get back to you, the fact that the president brought in the congressional leadership of the House and Senate into the Situation Room at the White House, the most classified room at the White House, what does that say to you about what's going on right now, that they had this high-level top secret briefing?

BORGER: Well, I think the White House clearly wants a united front on this. They don't want to be operating on this alone. They need the support of congressional leaders. They understand that. And to hear the president right now, you don't have a Secretary of Defense, you have another acting Secretary of Defense. You have turmoil over there in your Defense Department.

And I think what you would like is to have some kind of a bipartisan agreement that you don't want to rush to judgment on anything. And the way to deal with that is to bring people in on the intelligence and how to read the intelligence. And have them all on the same page. I think it works for him and, quite frankly, it may work for the Democrats as well.

BLITZER: Lots of legal questions are being asked right now. Laura Coates, stand by, everybody, stand by. We've got to take a quick break. We'll resume this analysis right after this.


BLITZER: We're following breaking news, and we're back with our experts and our analysts.

And, Laura Coates, you're our legal analyst. Could the U.S. go to war right now with Iran -- there's a lot of fear that could happen -- without brand-new specific congressional approval? Does the 2001 authorization for the use of military force still apply here?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: What an interesting question. It's kind of a novel one. Remember, that actual law came into effect about three weeks after 9/11 that gave the President of the United States the authority to begin military action for anybody or any country that he felt was involved in or facilitated or harbored those involved in the 9/11 attacks.

Now, over the years, Wolf, that has been stretched a great deal to figure out who may have been involved, who are harboring. It's been used in Somalia for -- in Yemen, with Syria. It's been used for a whole host of other instances.

And so, right now, we are left without specific criteria that Congress did not write into that particular law to show what the President would need to prove in order to use that particular law.

[17:34:58] Now, there's also the legal attitude of, well, the President has a great of executive authority. And while Congress does have the ability to actually declare war in that fashion, the President does have a lot of executive authority when you're talking about an anticipatory self- defense act in war.

You know who somebody were a key about expanding that authority in the Bush era? Well, the Attorney General now, and then, William Barr, who actually told Bush he could start the war without having to talk to Congress for the Persian Gulf war.

BLITZER: Very interesting indeed. You know, John Kirby, I ask you this question not because you're a retired rear admiral. You're a former Pentagon spokesman. But there's a lot of concern out there, a lot of questions being asked, about what John Bolton, what Mike Pompeo, what the President himself are saying and doing.

A lot of critics are wondering if they're telling the truth. But when you hear the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the U.S. military's Central Command, the top military brass, all saying Iran did this, they did this deliberately, the U.S. aircraft was over international waters, what does that all say to you?

KIRBY: Well, right now, it says that they are rightly looking at what the menu of options are to respond to this. And I suspect those should and there should be some sort of response that they have to come up with, and it should be done and arrived at through the interagency coordination process.

And I'm actually glad to see that that process seems to be happening today because we haven't seen it all that recently. But that doesn't mean we have a policy or a strategy for how to handle Iran in the long term.

Pompeo and Bolton are much more hardline. Both of them have talked about regime change. President Trump mostly keeps limiting his remarks about Iran to getting back to the table and getting a new nuclear deal. So clearly there's -- they're not on the same page.

What worries me is that they're -- not only are they not on the same page, there's no cohesive policy. There's no long-term thinking and no thinking about the day after. Whatever we do to respond, what happens the day after that? And I'm not getting a sense that they really have thought this thing through carefully enough.

BLITZER: You need an end game strategy, and, clearly, that's not available right now. Gloria, the provocation from Iran certainly comes as the Acting Defense Secretary, Patrick Shanahan, is leaving his post tomorrow. How concerning is it to see a significant turnover like this over at the Pentagon during this really critical moment?

BORGER: Look, I think it complicates matters tremendously. For example, if you're the Secretary of Defense right now, you would be reaching out to our allies in -- who've got your job around the world, and talking to them about their intelligence, what they consider would be a measured response, if any, et cetera, et cetera.

And as Nancy Pelosi said, you know, you've to get your allies onboard. I don't know who's doing that right now. Maybe John Kirby knows who's doing that right now. Maybe it's the Secretary of State who's doing that right now.

But the Pentagon moves on. The Pentagon operates, as Barbara Starr always says, no matter who is in charge. These are -- these are professionals. But this is also a political moment around the world. And so the question is, who is the person at the Pentagon dealing with our allies about proportional response here?

BLITZER: Yes, it's really a critical moment right now, the tensions with Iran escalating dramatically.

Everybody, stand by. There's more news we're following including Joe Biden. He's pushing back against criticism and demands he apologize -- that he apologize publicly for what he said about two segregationist senators. Tonight, some lawmakers are defending him.


BLITZER: I want to quickly go to Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill. Manu, I understand the transcript of Hope Hicks' testimony yesterday behind closed doors before the House Judiciary Committee has now been released?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it has, and we are just going through it, reading through the -- some of the headlines and things that stick out to us. What is notable initially is the amount of objections from the White House to prevent Hope Hicks from answering questions about her time in the White House. They cited what they call absolute immunity, saying that all those topics were off-limits including ones in the Mueller report.

According to the Democrats that -- whose -- fronts on the House Judiciary Committee, which released this transcript, 155 times, there were objections by White House lawyers to prevent her from answering questions. But she did answer some questions about her time in the campaign season and also, at one point, did make one reference to something that later became a dispute between the committee and the White House lawyers.

She was asked about an episode that was detailed in the Mueller report in which the President tried to get Jeff Sessions, then then-Attorney General, to unrecuse himself, to go back and oversee the Russia investigation after he had stepped aside from overseeing it.

According to the Mueller report, that he discussed having Corey Lewandowski essentially deliver this message -- the former Trump campaign manager essentially deliver this message to Jeff Sessions. According to the Mueller report, Corey Lewandowski had discussed this with Hope Hicks.

Now, when this was asked about to Hope Hicks in this closed-door session, she referred to it as, quote, odd. She said it was odd about the whole -- the way this episode played out.

The White House -- the Democrats said, well, what do you mean by odd? That's what Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the committee, tried to get her to clarify. At that point, the White House lawyers stepped in. They objected to the further line of questioning.

There were other questions as well initially, almost right off the bat, Wolf, the White House lawyers made it very clear that they did not want her to answer these questions, made it very clear that she should not.

At one point, she was asked by a Congressman, Steve Cohen of Tennessee, about whether or not she was aware of any discussions about Russia's sanctions and Trump administration officials during the campaign season.

[17:45:04] Initially, she said no, and then she backtracked a little bit. And then she said, well, that there was a phone call, obviously, between General Michael Flynn -- Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador at the time, Sergey Kislyak. But she said she may have been referring to news reports about those, unclear about whether or not this was discussed during the campaign season.

But, Wolf, but this is a lengthy transcript, nearly eight hours of testimony behind closed doors. We're going through it line by line. But, initially, it's pretty clear the White House made it -- did not want her to answer these questions about her time in the White House. The Democrats objected, and thus, that fight could, ultimately, end up in court -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to get back to you. I know you're going through the transcript together with our team.

The Judiciary Committee says that Hope Hicks was accompanied by two private attorneys, three lawyers from the White House, one lawyer from the Department of Justice, who clearly didn't want her to answer questions about her time in the White House.

All right, Manu, we'll get back to you.

There's other news we're following, including President Trump and key U.S. lawmakers. They have now been formally briefed by the U.S. military on what's being described as a growing number -- get this -- of UFO sightings. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:50:46] BLITZER: It certainly sounds like something out of a movie, the President of the United States and top U.S. lawmakers briefed on a series of so-called UFO sightings by military pilots. But it's real life and there's growing concern tonight about what could be a potential threat to American airmen and women.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us with details. Brian, I understand there's actually a video of some of these so-called close encounters?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are some pretty dramatic video, Wolf, from the cockpits of military planes. And tonight, we've spoken to pilots who have spotted those UFOs. There have been enough of these sightings in recent years with specific descriptions from sharp- eyed pilots that the U.S. military is now streamlining its process for reporting those incidents.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my gosh, dude. Wow! Look at that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is that, man?

TODD (voice-over): A veteran fighter pilot, surprised by an object outside his cockpit window.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a whole fleet of them. Look at the S.A.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're all going against the wind. The wind is 120 knots to the west.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at that thing, dude.

TODD (voice-over): This video is from a U.S. military training mission off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida in 2015. The object is a UFO.

And American military pilots have seen so many of them in recent years that the Navy, tonight, tells CNN it's briefed members of Congress this week on what it calls threats to the safety and security of our aviators. The Navy won't comment on what it told members of Congress.

Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chair Mark Warner is one member who got a classified briefing.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), VICE CHAIRMAN, SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE: One of the key takeaways I have is that the -- you know, the military and others are taking this issue seriously which I think in previous generations may not have been the case.

TODD (voice-over): And it's even gotten to the level of the President. DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I did have one very

brief meeting on it, but people are saying they're seeing UFOs. Do I believe it? Not particularly.

TODD (voice-over): But former Navy pilots tell CNN they still can't explain the objects they spotted. We spoke to Ryan Graves who flew Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets. He was on that same mission off Jacksonville which spotted this object.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, at first --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at that thing! It's rotating.

TODD (voice-over): Graves told us this object was similar to what he saw on training missions off the southern coast of Virginia throughout 2014 and 2015.

LT. RYAN GRAVES, FORMER FIGHTER PILOT, UNITED STATES NAVY: But what was one of the most amazing things to us, or at least to me, was that these objects would be out there all day. And the speeds that they're exhibiting as well as the flight characteristics, there is no platform or, really, energy source that I'm aware of that can allow something to stay in the air as long as these objects were.

TODD (voice-over): Graves told us he and his fellow pilots first thought these objects were drones. Then a near disaster.

GRAVES: Someone accidentally had one of the objects fly in between his aircraft at very close range and gained visual, realized it was very unlikely that it was a U.S. drone program.

TODD (voice-over): Another former Navy fighter pilot, David Fravor, told us he saw a UFO during a training mission off San Diego in 2004 on a clear day. What surprised him? The object had no visible propulsion and was much more agile than a plane or a helicopter.

COMDR. DAVID FRAVOR (RET.), FORMER COMMANDING OFFICER, U.S. NAVY'S STRIKE FIGHTER SQUADRON 41: This was extremely abrupt like a ping- pong ball bouncing off the wall. It would hit and go the other way and change directions at will.

TODD (voice-over): Skeptics say these objects could simply be military hardware being tested on classified missions, unbeknownst to the pilots who spotted them.

BILL NYE, HOST, "BILL NYE, THE SCIENCE GUY": It's probably one part of the military not telling the other part -- other part of the military what they're up to. For good reason.

TODD (voice-over): Still, Graves is happy that the Navy has a newly upgraded process for pilots to report these sightings.

GRAVES: If these things are up in our air space, the smallest amount of damage they could do is potentially take out a couple of lives and an aircraft. And I think that alone is worth the investigation.


TODD: Now, we asked U.S. Navy officials about those comments from Bill Nye, the science guy, that these could simply be cases where one branch of the military does not tell another what it's doing. A Navy official did not respond directly to that but did tell us they are working with the U.S. Air Force and other branches to better understand what pilots are seeing.

Another Navy official told us the Navy does not believe aliens have been flying around in US air space, but he said they do have to investigate all of these reports of unidentified aircraft -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They certainly do. All right, Brian Todd, good report. Thank you very much.

[17:55:03] Coming up, the breaking news. President Trump says Iran made a very big mistake in shooting down a U.S. surveillance drone.