Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson; Joe Biden Not Backing Down; Hope Hicks Interview Transcript Released; Iran Shoots Down U.S. Drone. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 20, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:06]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: "You'll find out."

President Trump is leaving the world guessing about his response to Iran after it shot down a U.S. drone. Is he looking to de-escalate tensions or is he fanning fears of war?

Secret briefing. Top congressional leaders summoned to the White House Situation Room for classified details on the drone attack, this as Iran and the Pentagon are making dueling claims about where the unmanned aircraft was shot down.

Testimony revealed. House Democrats just released the transcript of Hope Hicks' closed-door interview. We're going over the document learning more about her answers and when the longtime Trump confidant refused to talk.

And not backing down. Joe Biden is refusing to apologize for his remarks about working with segregationist senators, saying he doesn't have a racist bone in his body. As his 2020 primary rivals keep the pressure on, other Democrats are rushing to his defense tonight.

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 threat of a dangerous new confrontation.

Top congressional leaders were just briefed on the shoot-down of a U.S. drone by Iran, the urgency underscored as officials convened in the White House Situation Room.

After the meeting, the top Senate Democrat is now warning the president against bumbling into an unauthorized war. Mr. Trump leaving his options open, telling reporters -- and I'm quoting him now -- "You will find out how and when the administration responds."

Also breaking, the transcript of Hope Hicks' closed-door testimony is now public. It was just released just moments ago by the House Judiciary Committee. Stand by for new details on that.

This hour, I will speak with the former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. He also served as top Defense Department lawyer. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by. We're covering all the angles of this breaking story at the White House, the Pentagon, and inside Iran.

First, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown.

Pamela, we saw congressional leaders leave the White House just a short time ago. What's the latest on the U.S. response to Iran?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. They have what the emergency briefing on Iran here at the White House.

Senator Schumer spoke after and said he is concerned the administration may bumble into war. But the president remains noncommittal on how the U.S. will respond to the latest act by Iran, saying, we will have to see if military force will be used.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They made a very bad mistake. OK?

QUESTION: How will you respond?

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

BROWN: The president's advisers calling the shoot-down 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.

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

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

BROWN: 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: 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: 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. 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 is what Iran needs to get ready for, severe pain. If they're itching for a fight, they're going to get one.

BROWN: 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: 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.

[18:05:00]

Sources tell CNN the president privately down played the significance of those attacks because the tankers weren't American.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And deliberations continue tonight in the administration about Iran. Officials have said prior to the latest act that President Trump has been resisting military engagement.

But now the president is facing growing pressure from allies like Lindsey Graham, who said today the president risks looking like he is all talk if he doesn't take action -- Wolf.

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

I want to bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, and our senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen. He's joining us live from Tehran.

Fred, tonight, Iran is strongly defending itself, releasing both video of the missile attack and producing a map. What's the latest over there?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

Well, Iran is also contradicting President Trump and certainly not saying this was some sort of mistake by some sort of rogue commander on the ground.

The Iranians are saying they definitely meant to shoot down this drone, Wolf, because they say and they maintain that this drone came into their own airspace. That is the big dispute out there. Where exactly was this drone when it was shot down?

The Iranians released the video. And if you look at the video and you listen to the voices on that video, it certainly doesn't sound like those are people who believe that they have just made a mistake.

Now, Wolf, Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, is now also getting involved in this. He basically tweeted out what he says is sort of a play by play of that drone's almost entire flight. He said it took off shortly after midnight of tonight, was then -- he said that it was masking its identification, which I think could mean that he is saying it might have turned off the transponder or something.

He said it was then flying over the Persian Gulf, veered into Iranian airspace, and was then shot down. The interesting thing is he actually tweeted coordinates out of where he says the drone was hit.

We looked those coordinates up. That would be about nine miles off the Iranian coast, which, of course, would put it within Iranian territorial waters, Iranian territorial airspace as well.

So the Iranians are clearly saying this is something they meant to do and then they issued the very strong warning to the United States, saying this is what happens to the enemies of the Iranian nation.

And the head of the Revolutionary Guard, Wolf, which is the unit that shot this drone down, coming out as well, saying, Iran does not want a war with the United States, but also clearly saying that Iran is ready if a war does come.

And, finally, Wolf, one of the things that the Iranians are also saying is that they say they have recovered some of the debris of that drone. They say that that was in their own territorial waters, so we are looking to see whether or not the Iranians are going to display that over the next couple of days -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point, Fred. Stand by.

Barbara over at the Pentagon, as you heard, the president suggested this may actually have been a mistake by some rogue general in Iran. Does that theory hold up, based on how Iran is publicly responding?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are now, as Fred just said, seeing the highest levels of the Iranian government weigh in on this very publicly.

But the real question is if this was Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, if it was one of their missiles that brought the plane down. The president knows, the U.S. knows that this is the most militant wing of the Iranian security and military services and that sometimes in the past, more often than not, they do go their own way. But is there proof of that? That is really the key question right

now. And does it matter? Because the U.S. position has been if it's one of these Iranian proxy forces, that the U.S. would still hold the Iranian government responsible for any provocation against the United States or allies in the region, that they would not draw a distinction.

It may be that the president's trying to construct a little space for himself to look at this further, to make a decision about what he wants to do next. We know that top U.S. military commanders are very wary. They are not happy about the attack.

They think there might be a response at some point. But they are very concerned about how Iran might react and not stepping into suddenly a much wider war -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, Fred Pleitgen in Iran, we will get back to both of you.

Right now, I want to bring in Homeland Secretary Jeh Johnson. He also previously served as the top counsel over at the Department of Defense.

Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us.

You have got a lot of experience in this area. Is it even plausible to you that Iran would mistakenly shoot down this American aircraft?

JEH JOHNSON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Well, first, Wolf, I have a pretty good sense for what's going on behind the scenes right now in the Situation Room, at the Pentagon, having been involved in discussions like this.

And I think it is a very important question to ask whether or not this was something that was part of a broader concerted action by the Iranian government to raise the level of aggression in the Gulf or whether this was a commander somewhere in the military chain of command who perhaps took action on his own, perhaps above his pay grade, that he wasn't quite authorized to do.

[18:10:03]

If that were the case, I would not be surprised that the government, itself, embraces the action and asserts as if it was a broader step, because they really have no choice.

But it is entirely possible this was conducted by a commander on his own who took action because he felt like he had to. And the president, himself, is even floating that idea, which suggests to me that there may be something to it.

BLITZER: The only reason I'm a little skeptical about it, Mr. Secretary, is because, earlier in the week, there was another surface- to-air missile that was launched at a U.S. unmanned aircraft, another drone that was in the area searching what was going on with those oil tankers. That missile failed to hit the U.S. aircraft.

JOHNSON: Correct.

BLITZER: So this would have been the second time they did this, which raises if the -- if they -- if the first one was just some rogue general, why would they do it again?

JOHNSON: Well, that's right, Wolf.

But you and I don't know the full picture. If we had access to the full intelligence picture, I think we'd have a better sense for exactly what is going on. And it is important to know exactly what is going on. What are the Iranian intentions?

Wolf, it is much easier to start an armed engagement than it is to back down from one. And so the president, his national security team, need to be asking themselves, exactly what is going on? What's the motive? Is this part of a broader plan?

And they need to be thinking, if they decide to engage the Iranian military in some way to try to degrade this capability, what's the next step after that? They got to think two or three steps ahead. They have got to know what their overall objective is.

I'm quite sure that the Navy, from my own prior experience, is clamoring for some form of action. The military in general is probably anxious for some form of action, because a foreign adversary has taken down one of our assets.

And when you're in the military, it doesn't matter a lot whether it's manned or unmanned. The fact that an aggressor took action against one of our assets in international waters will be quite significant to our military. And so...

BLITZER: Was that an act -- if in fact it was deliberate, designed to shoot down a U.S. aircraft over international waters, was that an act of war?

JOHNSON: It is a hostile act that, under the right circumstances, warrants a response in kind, some sort of act of force in kind.

And that brings to mind another question, which is exactly what is the legal authority for taking action against the Iranian military, the Iranian government in these circumstances? Is congressional authorization required? Or does the president have inherent constitutional authority?

BLITZER: Well, you were the counsel at the Department of Defense. What's your answer?

JOHNSON: Well, I have heard arguments earlier in the week that the 2001 authorization for the use of military force right after 9/11 might justify this.

I don't believe that. That authorization was to go against al Qaeda and the Taliban and associated forces. I think it would be a stretch to argue that here.

I don't believe congressional authorization is actually needed. I think the president has inherent constitutional authority to deploy the military when there are national interests at stake. There are legal opinions from the Department of Justice that say as much.

And so the president here, where action was taken against one of our military assets, probably has the authority to respond in some measured way, consistent with the laws of armed conflict.

BLITZER: My own sense is -- and I wonder if you agree -- the president, who has been basically an isolationist over all these years -- he wants U.S. troops out of there.

Years ago, he used to tell me he wanted troops out of NATO, out of Japan, out of Germany, Korea, elsewhere. He's looking for a way out of this mess. What is your sense?

JOHNSON: Well, the fact that he is floating the idea this was a lower-level commander loose and out of control suggests that he might be thinking in those terms.

And he's got a very difficult decision to make. You know, his instincts are no foreign engagements. Yet someone took an action against our forces there. And the president has an obligation to protect forces deployed in the Gulf, in the strait, and to keep the international waters open for international commerce.

So he's wrestling with a tough decision. And, again, it is much easier to start one of these fights than it is to end one and to back down from one. So I hope he is getting good advice. I hope he's getting all the right advice right now at this moment.

BLITZER: We all do, indeed.

Jeh Johnson, thanks so much for joining us.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: All right, there is breaking news on the congressional testimony by the former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks. A transcript of what she said yesterday behind closed doors was just released.

I want to go to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.

You and our team, you have been going through the transcript. Eight hours, she was there. What are you learning so far?

[18:15:03]

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, she was pressed extensively behind closed doors about the hush money payments that occurred in the 2016 campaign that were aimed at apparently covering up those alleged extramarital affairs involving then candidate Trump, presumably to help his election chances at the time. Now, she denied having any knowledge about this involvement. She said

that both -- to both Stormy Daniels, the former -- the adult film actress, as well as the former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal, she said she was not involved with that and had no knowledge when that actually occurred.

She had -- she issued a statement right before the elections to "The Wall Street Journal" saying that these allegations were untrue, and she was asked about why she made that statement. And she said that she was directed to make a public statement denying that a relationship existed between Mr. Trump and a woman named Karen McDougal.

And then she was asked by Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat on the committee, did you ask the president whether that was true? Hicks responds, "Not to my recollection."

Now, she was also asked, Wolf, about a number of topics during -- that occurred during the White House. Overall, she was not allowed to answer those questions because the White House attorneys and the Trump administration and the Justice Department lawyers made clear that she was covered, in their view, by -- quote -- "absolute immunity" and she did not have to answer questions about her time in the White House.

Now, one episode did come up, which was the recusal of the then Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who oversaw the Mueller probe. The president wanted Sessions to unrecuse himself, to go back and oversee the Mueller probe. And according to the Mueller report, he had conversations with the former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to essentially direct Jeff Sessions to move and oversee the probe again.

Hope Hicks, according to the Mueller report, was aware of this. Now, she was asked, Hope Hicks, yesterday behind closed doors about that episode. She called it -- quote -- "odd," that whole episode.

Now, when Democrats tried to drill down further, saying, well, why was this odd, that is when the White House attorneys came in and they objected. And they said that they would not respond to those questions.

Now, one other thing was that in the Mueller report it alleged that Donald Trump Jr. had told a larger group of individuals about the lead about dirt on the Clinton Foundation in the days before that now infamous June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with the Russians.

Now, that contradicts what Donald Trump Jr. had said in sworn testimony, that he only told a couple of people this, according to the Mueller report, which relies on separate testimony from Rick Gates, he had told a larger group of people, and that included Hope Hicks.

Well, Hope Hicks in the interview actually says, "I don't remember the meeting taking place," essentially saying she doesn't remember that larger meeting and being told by Donald Trump Jr., the president's eldest son, that there was dirt on the Clinton Foundation.

So we're still going through all of the headlines of this report, Wolf, but it is very clear that -- from this transcript that Hope Hicks did not answer a lot of the questions that Democrats were pursuing about her time in the White House.

Over 155 times, according to the Democrats' count, they objected to her answering. The Democrats say they plan to pursue that in court, Wolf.

BLITZER: We will see where they go next. Manu Raju, I know you and your team are going through the document. We will get back to you. Thank you very much.

We are going to have a lot more on all the breaking news, including escalating tensions with Iran -- right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:23:03]

BLITZER: Welcome back.

We are going to have a lot more on the escalating tensions between the United States and Iran. And they clearly are escalating right now. We will have much more on that. That's coming up.

But there is other breaking news, including on the just-released transcript of Hope Hicks' congressional testimony.

I want to bring in our analysts.

And, Jeffrey Toobin, we have this transcript now from her closed-door congressional testimony yesterday, the former White House communications director, the longtime confidant, Hope Hicks.

She told lawmakers she found President Trump's order to Corey Lewandowski to have the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, unrecuse himself to be, in her words, "odd."

What's your analysis?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think Ms. Hicks has a gift for understatement. It certainly was odd.

The question, the larger question is whether it's an act of obstruction of justice. But I think even Hope Hicks, who is obviously a great Trump loyalist, acknowledging that trying to get the attorney general back into the Mueller investigation was inappropriate.

And even she acknowledges -- I mean, odd is her word, but I think the fact that she acknowledges it was odd just underlines how bizarre and perhaps criminal the president's behavior was in this circumstance.

BLITZER: It's interesting, Shawn Turner, that Hicks told the lawmakers that the Trump campaign had no inside knowledge about WikiLeaks. She claims that officials were mostly speculating.

What do you make of that claim? SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, I think she chose

her words very carefully when she said there was no inside knowledge.

Look, I think that, as we look over this transcript, one of the things that is very clear is that Hope Hicks was very uncomfortable with some of the things that were happening in the White House. And, certainly, people I have talked to have said that that was part of the reason why she left.

The fact that she seems to be acknowledging that there was some knowledge of interactions with WikiLeaks, but suggesting that there was no inside knowledge, suggests that she may know more about some of the various individuals who we now know did engage with members of WikiLeaks.

[18:25:07]

And she just -- the fact that she is a Trump loyalist means that she is not going to talk openly about that. But, clearly, there are things here that she either can't say or has vowed to not say. But she clearly knows more than she was willing to tell members of Congress.

BLITZER: Kaitlan -- Kaitlan Collins is with us. She covers the White House.

Hope Hicks also told lawmakers, Kaitlan, she would still join the Trump team even knowing all the controversy she would be dragged into. What do you make of that?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, knowing how closely intertwined she was with the Trump family, that's not surprising, because, really, she got her start here.

She was working for the Trump family. Then she met President Trump himself. And then she went to work for him when he became the candidate, of course, and, as we have noted, was someone who was his -- not only his top aide, but also his closest confidant.

And that is one really interesting part of this testimony, is where she talks about the state of their relationship now. She says the last time she saw the president was back in April, that they had dinner. They talked about the campaign there, but she says they did not discuss her upcoming testimony.

But, Wolf, she says that she's only spoken to the president between five and 10 times since she left the White House last March. That's 15 months ago. And that's about, if you talk to people close to the White House, how many times the president used to call her a day.

So it is pretty interesting to see, just following up on our reporting from yesterday, that they hardly speak anymore, seeing her say that, yes, they have only spoken five to 10 times since she left the administration.

BLITZER: It's very interesting, indeed. April Ryan, the president has clearly tried to keep Hope Hicks in his

orbit, even though she left, she is out in Los Angeles now, working for FOX. What does that tell you?

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It tells you a lot.

I think about what he did with Manafort and some of the others that had to give testimony. He dangled carrots and nuggets to keep them loyal, so that, if they did right by him, if you will, he would make sure they were taken care of.

He is wanting Hope Hicks to do that, standing by, I guess, her man, the president, to make sure that he -- she doesn't say anything against him.

And, as you know, that the president and his administration, high- ranking officials, had been trying to find out what the testimony had been and -- by many of these people who were going on the Hill or talking to lawyers about what was actually happening with this president and those around him during the time of his campaign and early in his presidency.

So keeping in his orbit, I would say he wants to keep her close.

BLITZER: All right, everybody, stand by.

There is a lot more news we're following, including the escalating tensions between the United States and Iran.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:30:00]

BLITZER: We're back with our analysts. We're covering the breaking news on the downing of an unmanned U.S. aircraft by Iran.

Shawn Turner, the President says, we'll soon find out -- his words, we'll soon find out if the U.S. plans to strike Iran. Does the Trump administration appear to have a unified strategy right now for addressing this escalated tension with Iran?

TURNER: Well, Wolf, I think that while there have been some encouraging developments today with regards to interagency coordination, at this point, I still don't think there is a comprehensive, unified strategy that members of Congress, DOD and the administration all agree on.

And to be clear, the United States absolutely must respond to what Iran has done in this case. But that response must be measured. And it must be mindful of potential secondary effects.

So I think that before there can be any response, there's three things that the United States has to think of, three things the administration needs to focus on. The first is, as you mentioned, there has to be a comprehensive strategy that looks at both what to do and the effects afterwards are.

The second thing is that we must look at the authorization. If the response is to be of a military nature, to be absolutely clear, the 2001 authorization for the use of military force does not cover any sort of military action in Iran.

And then lastly, Wolf, I think we've got to look at our partners and allies. We're going to engage in some sort of military action. The United States can't go it alone. This has to -- this will require a coalition. The United States absolutely must make sure we have that coalition before we take any action.

BLITZER: You know, Kaitlan, you were there in the White House over there with -- when the President was being pressed on what his response would be. I know you pressed him specifically. I want to play his response. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: I find it hard to believe it was intentional, if you want to know the truth. I think that 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That sounded to me, Kaitlan, like he was trying to find a way out of this crisis right now. It sort of underscored his traditional isolationist roots.

COLLINS: Yes, Wolf. He seemed to be minimizing it when we're not seeing that from other officials. And, of course, we know privately the President has said he wants to avoid any kind of conflict being dragged into the Middle East again.

And so the President there, he had been saying, you'll see what our response is going to be. Though he was vague, he didn't telegraph what they were going to do. But when I asked the President does he still maintain this opinion that we've heard him say, even, again, in recent days that Iran is a different country now that he's in office, that's when the President got into saying he believes that, essentially, it could have been someone acting without the orders of Iranian leadership when they shot down this U.S. Military drone.

[18:35:01]

Now, that is not what we are hearing from the Iranians who are saying, yes, this was intentional and we were trying to send a message because they're claiming that it was in Iranian air space even though the U.S. side is saying, no, it was over international waters.

So you did see the President leave room there to say -- not only was he saying it was a mistake and somebody crossed the line, he was saying it was a mistake, as in he believes it was literally a mistake and accidental. BLITZER: Very interesting indeed. April, following that briefing at the White House, the situation room briefing with the top congressional leadership and it was all obviously behind closed doors, very classified, the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, Tweeted this. And let me read it.

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.

The Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer -- the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, I should say, says the administration is considering measured responses, Mitch McConnell saying that. What are these responses tell you about the seriousness right now of this situation?

RYAN: Well, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer over in the Senate want diplomacy. You know, even Chuck Schumer said something about, you know, you can bumble yourself into war. But when you talk about measured responses from the Senate minority leader -- I mean, majority leader, Mitch McConnell, what he's saying is something proportional to what happened with this drone. And this is all based off of Centcom certainty from Bahrain and Qatar about this happening over international waters.

Now, what's proportional, what's the definition of proportional from those National Security sources that I've talked with, they say it could be, you know, a boat that is shot down or something that could happen in the near future or, you know, if something -- there was some kind of engagement. This is all, once again, stemming upon the certainty of what happened from Centcom, what they say happened with this drone. But this measured response does not necessarily mean that there is an escalation to war.

But you have to remember, any move, especially as there has been tensions for over four decades, could possibly do something, cause the other side to do something. So this is a tense moment.

BLITZER: It certainly is. Everybody stand by because there is more breaking news we're following as well.

The long-time Trump associate, Roger Stone, accused of violating the gag order in his court case. We have new information on what potentially it could mean for Roger Stone.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:00]

BLITZER: We're getting late breaking news on Roger Stone as the longtime Trump associate faces trial. In a new court filing, federal prosecutors alleged Stone has violated his gag order in his criminal case with recent social media posts.

Let's go back to our Chief Legal Analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. Jeffrey, could this mean Roger Stone potentially is headed to jail as he awaits trial?

TOOBIN: It sure could. I mean, the gag order, as it were, on Roger Stone is pretty clear and it says he cannot comment publicly about the case. And he, you know, made a comment on social media inviting the press, specifically The New York Times and The Washington Post, to cover recent developments in his case.

Now, he didn't do it in an inflammatory way. He didn't, I think, try to poison the jury pool. But, you know, he's got one strike against him already from the judge. The judge warned him. And, you know, she is the same judge who locked up Paul Manafort for violating his bail conditions. So I would not want to be Roger Stone going before Judge Jackson again.

BLITZER: Amy Berman Jackson is a pretty tough judge. Why do prosecutors think Stone's social media posts are so damaging and violate that order from the judge?

TOOBIN: Well, because he's not supposed to comment about the case. I mean, it's a fairly straightforward order. It says don't talk about this case. This social media post was about the case. And I think he is going to have a rather tortured difficulty trying to explain how this was, in fact, in compliance with the case.

I think he will point out that this is not trying to inflame anybody. It is a fairly rational, you know, appeal for news coverage from a main stream publication, but it is about the case and that appears to be a violation of the court order.

BLITZER: We'll see what the judge decides. All right, Jeffrey, thank you very much. Jeffrey Toobin helping us appreciate this development.

There is more breaking news next, new details emerging of a phone call between Joe Biden and Cory Booker, who is demanding that Biden apologize for his remark about working with segregationist senators.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:48:15] BLITZER: We have breaking news in the presidential race as Joe Biden remains unapologetic about touting his work with segregationists in the U.S. Senate. He spoke on the phone with one of his chief critics, Senator Cory Booker, who is also running for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Let's go to our political reporter, Arlette Saenz.

Arlette, what are you learning first of all about the phone call between Biden and Booker?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Wolf, we've learned that Joe Biden called Cory Booker yesterday. And our sources are telling us that conversation was respectful but there were no apologies delivered on either side.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SAENZ (voice-over): As he faces criticism for his comments on working with segregationist senators decades ago, Joe Biden publicly remains defiant and unapologetic.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The point I'm making is, you don't have to agree. You don't have to like the people in terms of their views. But you just simply make the case and you beat them.

SAENZ: Biden's team today doubling down.

SYMONE SANDERS, SENIOR ADVISER, BIDEN CAMPAIGN: The vice president did not embrace segregationists. He does not praise and wasn't praising segregationists.

SAENZ: Biden's initial comments which included him saying segregationist Senator James Eastland, quote, never called me boy, he always called me son set off a fire storm among his 2020 Democratic opponents, prompting Cory Booker to push for an apology.

But the former vice president dismissed that demand.

REPORTER: Are you going to apologize like Cory Booker called for?

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Apologize for what?

REPORTER: Cory Booker has called for it.

BIDEN: Cory should apologize. He knows better. There is not a racist bone in my body. I've been involved in civil rights my whole career. Period. Period. Period.

SAENZ: Booker told CNN hours later he is not apologizing.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What matters to me is that a guy running to be the head of our party, which is a significantly diverse and wondrous party, doesn't understand or can't even acknowledge that he made a mistake, whether the intention was there or not.

[18:50:13] SAENZ: Sources telling CNN Biden called Booker last night. Booker's campaign press secretary saying, quote: Cory shared directly what he said publicly, including helping Vice President Biden understand why the word request boy" is painful to so many. Cory believes that Vice President Biden should take responsibility for what he said and apologize to those who were hurt.

Several members of the Congressional Black Caucus including its chair say Biden doesn't need to say he is sorry.

REP. KAREN BASS (D-CA): I certainly wish he wouldn't have used that example. I think there are other examples where he has worked in a bipartisan fashion. But I would like to see us move from there. I don't know what good an apology would serve.

SAENZ: And Biden even getting some help from a Republican senator. SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I don't want Joe Biden to be president

for a lot of reasons. He is my friend. What he did back then and what he will do in the future is try to find common ground with people he disagree was. If that can't be done, America's best days are behind us.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAENZ: Now, Biden and Booker will both be in South Carolina tomorrow for a weekend of events. We'll see if they cross paths -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Arlette Saenz reporting for us. Arlette, thanks very much.

Much more news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:55:59] BLITZER: All this week here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we've been examining America's crumbling roads, bridges and schools. Tonight, we focus in on an essential part of the nation's infrastructure that in some places doesn't exist. That would be the Internet.

Our national correspondent Miguel Marquez has been looking into this for us.

So, Miguel, many rural areas, for example, they desperately need Internet access.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is desperation out there and a lot of frustration. As we saw this week and for years now, that the U.S. and world are in the midst of this technological and cultural transformation that's driven by technology. The bottom line is, either you are onboard or you're left out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Bob and Amanda Pritchard are raising three kids in a home they built. He is an assistant principal. She is starting her own business.

One thing is missing.

(on camera): How unnecessary is the Internet no matter where you are.

BOB PRITCHARD, ASSISTANT HIGH SCHOOL PRINCIPAL, CLEVELAND, TENNESSEE: It's essential. I mean, it's an essential piece of education. It's an essential piece of business.

You can go ahead and top it off.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The Pritchards are just beyond the Internet's reach. Amanda is trying to start her own fresh cut flower business.

(on camera): What could do you with more Internet? AMANDA PRITCHARD, WHISPER SPRINGS FARM: I could definitely reach more

people, and educational purposes, learning to start a business, run a business.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The Pritchards live in Cleveland, Tennessee, near Chattanooga, which has some of the fastest Internet in the country.

RVRB Media used to be in Cleveland. Its owner Clark Campbell needed broadband. He had no choice but to move the company to Chattanooga.

CLARK CAMPBELL, CEO, RVRB: As much as I love Chattanooga, Cleveland is losing jobs because of new companies like mine moving to Chattanooga for better infrastructure and mainly Internet.

MARQUEZ: Supplying Internet and now broad band nationwide, long a goal of the federal government.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You are going to have great, great broad band.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: Today, high-speed broadband is not a luxury, it's a necessity.

MARQUEZ: Since 2011, the FCC has spent billions building out broadband to rural areas. Still, some 24 million Americans don't have basic access to Internet.

(on camera): Where does Internet service come on the list?

MAYOR KEVIN BROOKS, CLEVELAND, TENNESSEE: Ironically, you would think public safety, education, I hear about broadband as much as I do as any other topic.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Cleveland's old wool mill is being refurbed into the grit and grace vintage and artisan market. Internet essential.

BROOKS: If we don't cross this digital divide, Cleveland, Tennessee, will plateau and cease to grow.

MARQUEZ: Charter and AT&T, CNN's parent company, both say faster, cheaper Internet is rolling out in Cleveland and their service areas nationwide. When? Harder to say.

But with satellite and 5G wireless around the corner, maybe high-speed access will soon look differently. Maybe.

SANDY WALLACE, CLEVELAND, TENNESSEE, RESIDENT: It's the best signal in this house.

MARQUEZ: Sandy Wallace relies on a mobile hot spot, the wired Internet ends about 300 yards from her home.

(on camera): This is a utility.

WALLACE: Absolutely it's a utility. Absolutely, you've got to have it to function now.

MARQUEZ: Joining the digital economy for many not close enough, or soon enough.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ: Now, a couple of things to keep in mind. The government defines high-speed right now as 25 megabytes per second. People who need Internet for business need it faster than that. So, how soon could broadband be nationwide, probably not very soon. Even the 5G networks, they'll be rolled out in cities first and it will be rural areas, lower density population areas that get it later.

And that satellite technology still has to prove that it can be reliable enough and be at a price that mom and pop shops can afford -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good report. Miguel, thank you very much for that.

And to our viewers, be sure to join us once again tomorrow right here in THE SITUATION ROOM for the final installment of our special series, "America Crumbles: The Infrastructure Crisis".

To our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

[19:00:00]