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Interview With Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL); Biden's Remarks About Segregationist Senators Loom Over South Carolina Showcase For 2020 Democrats; Texts Reveal Manafort Told Sean Hannity That He Would Never Give Up Donald Trump Or Jared Kushner; Trump: "I'm Not Looking for War, If There Is It Will Be Obliteration"; CNN Examines Aging U.S. Airports in Need of Upgrades. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 21, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Immigration officials are set to launch raids on undocumented families in 10 cities. Are they rushing ahead with the operation after the president announced plans to deport millions?

Impeachment politics. President Trump is speaking out tonight about the possible benefits for him if Congress moves forward with impeachment proceedings. Is it a sign that the Democrats' strategy isn't working?

And going south, that's what the Democratic presidential candidates are doing tonight, courting African-American voters in South Carolina. How will front-runner Joe Biden fare, as his comments about working with segregationists hang over the race?

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.

The commander in chief's response to Iran's downing of a U.S. drone may be shifting once again tonight, just hours after he abruptly called off retaliatory strikes.

A senior administration official says the president is now refocusing in once again on sanctions, instead of military action, even though there's no evidence that any new sanctions actually are in the works.

And it's all raising more questions about why Mr. Trump ordered the strikes in the first place, then suddenly pulled back.

In a new interview and also on Twitter, the president claims he didn't learn about the estimated casualties until the mission was about to be launched, deciding 150 deaths were not appropriate, not proportionate for an attack on an unmanned drone. This hour, I will talk to Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger. He's

a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

Our correspondents are covering the story at the White House, the Pentagon and in the Iranian capital.

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

Abby, the president says U.S. forces were -- quote -- "cocked and locked" to strike Iran, and then he had second thoughts.

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

After a full day of meetings with his national security team, President Trump seemed to revert back to his noninterventionist instincts, calling off this strike at the 11th hour. And now President Trump is saying that he thinks Iran is acting out because they want to sit down and talk.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump offering candid details into U.S. war strategy and his own personal thinking after he was minutes away from a military strike against Iran.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We had something ready to go, subject to my approval.

PHILLIP: President Trump pulling the plug, worried that the death toll in a counterstrike would be too high.

TRUMP: They shot down an unmanned drone, plane, whatever you want to call it. And here we are sitting with 150 dead people that would have taken place probably within a half-an-hour after I said go ahead. And I didn't like it. I didn't think it was -- I didn't think it was proportionate.

PHILLIP: After days of hinting that he was not inclined to use military force against Iran, Trump came to the brink, only to make a sudden U-turn.

TRUMP: And things would have happened to a point where you wouldn't turn back or couldn't turn back. So, they came and they said: "Sir, we're ready to go. We'd like a decision."

PHILLIP: Behind the scenes, CNN learning that top aides, including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and National Security Adviser John Bolton all argued military action was necessary.

Tonight, Iran not backing down, warning the Trump administration to back off, claiming its military chose not to target a second U.S. plane flying in the facility of the drone, this one with American personnel on board. And as tensions with Iran threatened to bubble over, some of the

president's critics say the administration is to blame for pulling out of the Iran deal in the first place.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): If we cause other nations to once again impose sanctions on Iran, then we shouldn't be all that surprised that Iran is going to leave the deal and go back to enriching, or that we're going to get these increased tensions and likelihood of conflict.

PHILLIP: Trump firing back, tweeting: "Obama made a desperate and terrible deal with Iran," adding that: "Obama gave them a free path to nuclear weapons, and soon. Instead of saying thank you, Iran yelled death to America. I terminated the deal, which was not even ratified by Congress, and imposed strong sanctions. They are a much weakened nation today than at the beginning of my presidency, when they were causing major problems throughout the Middle East. Now they are bust."

Trump's campaign promise to avoid foreign wars now becoming a reality in office.

JEH JOHNSON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: His instincts are no foreign engagements. It's much easier to start one of these fights than it is to end one.

PHILLIP: Sources tell CNN that some of Trump's allies on Capitol Hill advised him against being dragged into war. But other prominent Republicans are warning it's naive to think Iran will come back to the negotiating table.

REP. LIZ CHENEY (D-WY): If Iran thinks that it can demonstrate to the world that somehow it's able to take advantage of the United States, that it's able to attack and destroy one of our drones, without any consequence, or with the only consequence being that we now ask to speak to them, I think that that's -- that's very dangerous.

[18:05:16]

PHILLIP: As the potential for conflict breaks out in the Middle East and other parts of the world, Trump's Defense Department still lacks permanent senior leadership.

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA): I think the problem is not to whether commend him or not, but to take a look at the chaos that exists within this administration. Take a look at the fact that the entire leadership of the Department of Defense is turning over.

PHILLIP: Sources say Trump is expected to permanently name Army Secretary Mark Esper as defense secretary just days after his initial choice, Patrick Shanahan, decided to withdraw.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP: And, tonight, we have another major update on an important issue, and that is immigration. Just days after President Trump announced in a tweet that his Department of Homeland Security would be targeting some of the millions of immigrants who are in this country illegally, we are now learning tonight that DHS is planning new raids all across the country beginning on Sunday, but it's not going to be millions of immigrants.

We're talking 2,000 families who have what they call final orders for removal. Now, these raids will be conducted in 10 cities across the country. And it will be a major escalation of deportation activities for this group of immigrants.

But in the past, administration officials have acknowledged that, because these raids are going to be targeting entire families, it could be highly controversial -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly will be.

Abby Phillip, thank you very much.

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

Barbara, what are we learning, first of all, about how President Trump wants to move forward now with Iran?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you mentioned a couple of minutes ago, and Abby did, it looks like the president wants to refocus on sanctions. He feels that is the tool, short of military force, that will pressure Iran.

But, so far, it certainly hasn't resulted in Iran coming to the negotiating table. The president talking about increasing sanctions. No evidence yet that that has actually happened.

So he has stepped back from military force, deciding last night not to move ahead, deciding that the estimates of Iranian casualties amongst the troops that might have been manning the three missile battery stations that were on the target list, about 150 troops, deciding that was not what he wanted, that he didn't feel comfortable with that.

The U.S. military, to be blunt, I think, is pretty much taking a deep breath right now that he has not gone to war against Iran, because it remains the bottom-line fact the U.S. military has consistently said, if there were strikes against Iran, they just cannot predict what Iran's reaction would be -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point.

Fred, you're there in Tehran. Now, the Iranians are saying they showed restraint amid the standoff. What are you hearing?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's exactly what they're saying, Wolf.

The Iranians earlier today, in the form of the Revolutionary Guard aerospace commander, came out and, while they were actually for the first time displaying what they say is the wreckage of the drone that they shot down, all of a sudden, said, look, we could have shot down another plane if we wanted to. This time, they said that it would have been a P-8 Poseidon, which is, of course, a submarine hunting plane that can also be used for surveillance.

The Iranians were saying that that plane was in the same vicinity as the drone while the Iranians were tracking both of them. Essentially, what the Iranians say that they're trying to do is send a clear message to the United States that the shooting down of the drone was by no means an accident or some trigger-happy commander.

What they're saying is that this was something of them monitoring their airspace. They know exactly who's flying there. And they knew exactly which vessel they were shooting at.

Now, as we have been saying, the Iranians for the first time displaying the wreckage of that drone. They say they shut it down when it was at 50,000 feet. And they say that the wreckage landed in their territorial waters -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Fred, thank you, Fred Pleitgen in Tehran, Barbara Starr over at the Pentagon.

Joining us now, Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger. He's a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): You bet.

BLITZER: We have got lots to discuss.

You have been critical of the president's decision to pull back. But the president says this planned strike would not have been a proportional response. So why do you believe his assessment is wrong?

KINZINGER: So, I -- that's a judgment call that the president has every right to make. I actually think the president has every right to not strike Iran.

Obviously, it's a decision where I think it's unfortunate. I think, at a bare minimum, you should lose whatever asset you shot down this $200 million drone. This isn't like what you fly in your backyard. This is the size of, I think, basically an airliner, $200 million, the value of about 10 F-16s in value.

And you should at least lose that, at a bare minimum, and maybe any radar stations feeding into it. I think that's a proportional response.

[18:10:05]

I respect the president's decision. What I think has been the problem today is not so much that he didn't decide to strike. It's the way in which this all played out, the fact that it was reported and he admitted that there was about 10 minutes between when the strike was going to happen and then found out the number of casualties.

There's questions there. So I don't think anybody should have a doubt that, if Iran does something again, there will be enough pressure on the president to have a pretty robust retaliation, much bigger than I think was even planned this time.

But this -- how this whole thing played out, I think, could invite potential attacks from other areas.

BLITZER: Well, you know the military. You're an Air Force Reserve officer.

Do you believe it's credible that, earlier in the day, when the members of the Joint Chiefs and others laid out the military operation, they didn't explain to the president the potential for casualties?

KINZINGER: No, that's certainly hard for me to believe.

I also think, though, he may not have fully comprehended that at that moment. I have never had to make a decision like a president of the United States, like this decision, that would actually take away a significant number of life and be a big decision.

And I don't know what goes through a president's head when they're making that. It's obviously got to be something that really weighs on their shoulders. And this issue really pressured the president and got him to a point where he reversed the decision.

Again, I don't begrudge him for it. I think it was an incorrect decision, but I don't begrudge him for that. We will see what happens now with sanctions and economic pressure.

The problem is, is how publicly this played out. And it seemed very whipsaw to a lot of people.

BLITZER: If 150 Iranians -- and let's say they were members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, as opposed to civilians -- let's say 150 Iranian troops died in a U.S. strike carried out by the U.S. military.

Wouldn't that have raised the very serious risk of then further Iranian escalation against the United States, potentially leading to a full-scale war?

KINZINGER: It's certainly possible.

But here's where it's important to have a big, robust military option backing a small strike. So the president, evidently, it sounds like, had gotten a message to the -- to the Iranian government as this strike was under way.

I think a good message would have been, this is going to be very limited and measured, if this happened. And then any response beyond this will actually result in a not measured, not proportional, but a devastating response. And, at that point, Iran has a decision to make. Right now, I think

what they're doing is pushing this up to the line where they think they can just come shy of a response and not cross over to that.

People that are arguing that Iran wants us to attack, honestly, they don't know what they're talking about, to be quite frank. Iran doesn't want us to attack. But they do want to appear as if they're an equal to the president to panic everybody in the United States and in Europe to pressure us back into this deal.

BLITZER: The president, as you know, he's campaigned -- he campaigned on keeping the United States out of new wars. He was really going after earlier administrations for the Iraq War, Afghanistan war.

He promised he would never do anything that he calls so stupid and so awful, costing trillions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives.

In this particular case, was he simply keeping his promise to avoid a new war?

KINZINGER: I don't know.

Again, I don't begrudge the president's final decision. But he also did protect -- pledge to protect the United States of America. Now, we can argue about, what does that include? But that has to be a forward-leaning defensive posture of American troops, American assets and American allies.

And he's got some people in his ear. I don't know if he's listening to them or not, but some in kind of the more libertarian side of our party, that think that any military action is automatically an invasion of 300,000 troops in Iraq. It's a false choice. It is a straw man.

There are all kinds of different escalating things you can do to keep it both small -- I mean, your prior guest last hour, you were talking about, I think it was Operation Desert Fox that President Clinton did.

There were escalating strikes, which ultimately brought Hussein back to the table. So those kinds of things were options. It's not an endless 300,000-person invasion. Nobody's advocated for that.

BLITZER: That's an important point.

Let me get your thoughts on a different sensitive issue right now, the news that federal immigration officials are planning to arrest and deport some 2,000 migrant families in 10 cities starting this weekend. What do you make of these planned raids?

KINZINGER: I don't know a lot of detail about them.

But, look, if you have an order to leave the country, you're here illegally, this is what happens. You can't overstay. If the court gives you an order that says you are basically now not allowed to be in the United States of America, you have to expect that, at some point, you are going to be removed from the United States of America. It's a sensitive topic. I'm actually very much a supporter of

comprehensive immigration reform, so solving both the border and all the other immigration issues we have.

But I think it's -- to -- this idea that you can be ordered to leave the United States of America, and it'll never be enforced, I think that's really a new phenomenon that people are arguing for. I don't think it's unreasonable at all.

[18:15:05]

Again, the detail -- the devil is going to be in the details of this, which I don't know, but just in hearing that, if you get an order to leave, you have to expect to leave.

BLITZER: Comprehensive immigration reform, if it could be passed in the House and the Senate and signed into law by the president, that you would support it. A lot of people would welcome that as well.

Congressman Kinzinger, thanks so much for joining us.

KINZINGER: You bet, Wolf. Thanks.

BLITZER: All right, just ahead: President Trump talks impeachment and what it could mean for him politically.

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:20:05]

BLITZER: We're following all the breaking news on President Trump's last-minute decision to call off retaliatory strikes on Iran.

Also breaking, President Trump is talking now about impeachment in a brand-new interview and how it could help him.

Let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.

Manu, what are we hearing, first of all, from the president tonight?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He believes tonight, saying, Wolf, that impeachment, if the Democrats were to go down this route, it would help his reelection chances.

And you have heard similar comments being made from a number of Democrats, who are resisting the notion of opening up an impeachment inquiry, including the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, who has said that she believes that the president's goading them into impeachment, that going that route would be fruitless because the Republican-controlled Senate would not vote to convict this president by a two-thirds majority, that she does not believe that will happen.

So, why go down this route? Instead, investigate. Go down the route they're going down right now. And the president makes it clear in this interview tonight, Wolf, that he believes that, if the Democrats do this, he could win reelection.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK TODD, "MEET THE PRESS": Let me ask you this. Why do you think Nancy Pelosi has held off her impeachment caucus?

TRUMP: Because I think she feels that I will win much easier. I mean, I have been told that by many people.

TODD: Do you think impeachment is good politics for you?

TRUMP: I think I win the election easier. But I'm not sure that I like having it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Now, as more and more Democrats continue to call for an impeachment inquiry, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, who does privately support an impeachment inquiry, is still moving forward with a strategy set forward by Nancy Pelosi, planning to move forward with a lawsuit in the coming days to try to force the former White House counsel, Don McGahn, to testify and provide records to his committee after he defied a subpoena, under the orders of the White House.

And, Wolf, Jerry Nadler told me earlier today that the testimony from this week from Hope Hicks, the former White House communications director, who did not answer questions about her time in the White House, because the White House attorney objected 155 times through the course of that eight-hour interview, he said that their objections -- quote -- "help us" make their case in court, because he believes it shows that they were able to dramatize to the judge how, in his view, absurd their efforts to block testimony to Capitol Hill is going.

But, still, as you're hearing, not all Democrats agree with that approach. And they're saying it's time to open up an impeachment inquiry, even if the president believes it will help his chances -- Wolf.

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

Joining us now, the former top lawyer over at the FBI during the Russia investigation, Jim Baker. He's now a brand-new CNN legal analyst. He worked on many national security issues during his career in government.

We're going to talk about the Democrats' investigations in just a moment, Jim.

And welcome to CNN. Glad to have you as a member of our team.

But let's talk about Iran for a moment.

What are the legal issues the Trump administration will have to weigh as the president considers using force against Iran? JIM BAKER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, thanks, Wolf. And thanks for

welcoming me.

There are a range of legal issues that are intertwined with the facts here and that are also then mixed in with some difficult policy decisions.

But the essential issue under the law is whether the president's actions -- or whether military action by the president would be lawful under domestic law, and then also under international law.

And that depends upon what the facts are on, on the ground, where this drone was when it was shot down. Was it in Iranian airspace, or was it an international waters? That's relevant to the international law determination.

And then, exactly what authority is the president relying on under domestic law to engage in this type of activity? Is he relying only on his power under Article 2? Or is he somehow trying to link Iran to al Qaeda, and, therefore, link -- be relying on the authorization for the use of military force from 2001?

We just don't know enough about the facts yet to be able to assess what the legal basis would be for a strike.

BLITZER: Good point.

Let's move on.

As you just heard from Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill, Democrats, they're now struggling to unite around impeachment, a possible impeachment procedure. And they have had trouble compelling cooperation, in the meantime, from witnesses, as they push forward with these probes into the president.

Are Democrats right now dealing from a position of weakness?

BAKER: Well, look, at the end of the day, impeachment is a political decision. It's charged -- Congress is charged with making that decision to impeach the president and then send it over to the Senate for a trial.

And what has happened so far, I think, is that the Democrats have simply failed to get the public's -- to get the public to support what would be a political decision. And so that's where we are right now.

I mean, I think they need to use the power that they have, under Article 1, to tell a story, to explain to the American people what happened, and to turn the Mueller report into a narrative that they can understand, I think, through testimony in open session.

[18:25:05]

I'm quite concerned about these hearings that are -- the interviews, rather, that are going on behind closed doors, because the American people are just not getting a real sense of what's happening here. I do think that the president and his team are making a judgment that

they can fight with Congress, basically, and slow down this process of getting the facts out to the American people through a variety of claims that they're making with respect to executive privilege and these immunity assertions that they're -- that they're using.

BLITZER: Yes, the stonewalling is certainly slowing down the process big time.

BAKER: Definitely.

BLITZER: Jim Baker, thanks so much for joining us.

Once again, welcome to CNN. Good to have you aboard.

BAKER: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up: just revealed text messages between Paul Manafort and Sean Hannity, the former Trump campaign chairman saying he would never -- quote -- "give up the president" for a plea deal with Mueller.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:30:00]

BLITZER: The breaking news tonight. After President Trump blinked and cancelled an imminent Iran, we're told his focus now is shifting away from military action back toward imposing sanctions. There's certainly a lot of uncertainty surrounding his response to the downing of a U.S. drone.

Let's bring in our team of experts. And, John Kirby, you're retired admiral. You know, a lot about this. Listen to how the President in this NBC News interview explained his decision-making process.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: They came and they said, sir, we're ready to go. We'd like a decision. I said I want to know something before you go. How many people will be killed? In this case, Iranians. I said how many people are going to be killed? Sir, I'd like to get back to you on that. Great people, these generals. They said -- came back and said, sir, approximately 150.

And I thought about it for a second and I said, you know what, they shot down an unmanned drone, plane, whatever you want to call it, and here we are sitting with 150 dead people that would have taken place probably within a half an hour after I said, go ahead. And I didn't like it. I didn't think it was proportionate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Give us your analysis. Do you think it's logical that earlier in the day when the President authorized this mission, he wasn't told by representatives of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nature of the operation and how many people would be killed?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: No, that's not logical. That's not credible. I can guarantee you that as they worked up options, each of those options was accompanied by risks and risk mitigation, including the casualty rate and what they could expect. And that's how the plan these missions in terms of determining what packages of -- ammunitions you're going to put on it, as well as the time of day you're going to hit it, all to try to minimize -- usually try to minimize casualties.

Look, maybe he didn't pay attention. Maybe he didn't ask the right questions. I mean, I'm glad that he considered it, if he did consider that in his decision to pull back the strike, but I can guarantee you that the Pentagon was briefing casualties as a possibility from the very beginning.

BLITZER: Let me ask Abby because she covers the White House for us. What does this say about the President's decision-making process?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Admiral Kirby is right, that our sources are telling us that the President was briefed on this earlier in the day but he may not have internalized it until the very last moment, at least for him, where he really understood what 150 casualties would mean in this context.

But what it tells you is that this is still a president who doesn't want go forward with military action. He's not comfortable with it. He thinks this is bad for him politically. And also from a practical perspective, I think, that in this case, he would much rather have Iran at the negotiating table than use force in this context.

But it also highlights the degree to which this is a president who is following his gut. At the last minute, he might decide to call off an attack that they have been planning for all day. That is, I think, highly unusual. But he certainly has the power to do it. As Commander-in-Chief, he has the final say, and that's why in that last meeting when they said, Mr. President, are we ready to go, it was his decision to say no and that's exactly what he did.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Susan. You're a legal expert. Because the President said when he heard 150 people would be killed, he said, I didn't think it was proportionate. But earlier in the day, when it was authorized, the U.S. military, the brass came to him with this proposal and they had to go through a legal process to make sure it was authorized and legal.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: So, certainly, the Department of Defense wouldn't have provided the President with an option that they didn't believe was lawful. The U.S. military is governed by the laws of our own conflict, international law. That requires among other things that any kind of military action is proportionate, that is against a valid target, you know.

But there are lots of parts of the story that just don't add up. You know, John mentioned earlier this idea that the President wouldn't have been told of the civilian casualties. You know, these are not plans that the Pentagon has drawn up in the last 24 or 48 hours. These have been plans for every possible contingency, every type of engagement with Iran have been on the books for months, if not, years.

And so the idea that the President wouldn't have known those casualty numbers, but I think it's either that the President is not telling us the full story here or maybe more alarmingly that his advisers are not giving him the full context of information that he needs in order to make responsible decisions as Commander-in-Chief.

[18:35:00]

I do think that this all underscores the importance of having a permanent Secretary of Defense. This week, we're facing issues of war and peace. The risk of escalation is incredibly high. The risk of miscalculation is incredibly high. We haven't had a permanent Secretary of Defense in nearly six months.

BLITZER: It is true though the President campaigned on no more foreign wars. He hated the war in Iraq. He hated the war in Afghanistan. He promised the American people he was never going to get involved in anything like this.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And particularly as we're getting close to his re-election campaign, he has been very focused on keeping his campaign promises. I mean, his -- one of his mottos is promises made, promises kept.

That said, it hasn't stopped him from blustering about war, not only in Iran but in Syria, in Venezuela, in several countries. So this creates uncertainty not only around the world but even here at home. You had members of Congress who went to briefings yesterday who came out thinking that this mission was a go and then were shocked when the President pulled back.

So while he is keeping his promise, he is creating a lot of concern out there.

BLITZER: Yes. I spoke with one member of Congress who was in the White House situation room with the President and they were briefed. This individual told me personally, I emerged convinced the military strike was going forward. There was no doubt. And he was pretty shocked when he discovered the President changed his mind.

Everybody stick around. There's more news we're following.

As the 2020 democrats gather in South Carolina, will Joe Biden and Cory Booker clash over Biden's comments about his ability to work with segregationists.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:00]

BLITZER: Tonight, the democratic presidential race is heading south. The candidates are gathering at an event hosted by the highest ranking African-American member of the House of Representatives, Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina. And it comes on the heels of the controversy over former Vice President Joe Biden's remarks about working with segregationist senators many decades ago.

Our Senior Washington Correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, is joining us now from Columbia, South Carolina. Jeff, Biden and Cory Booker, they clashed over Biden's remarks. Do you expect them to cross paths in South Carolina this weekend?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, good evening. They will indeed. They are expected to potentially cross paths at least three times coming up in the next hour or so at a dinner this evening and then later at Congressman Jim Clyburn's world famous fish fry and then, again, tomorrow at the state democratic convention here.

So one thing is clear. We do know that the two men spoke via phone a couple evenings ago to talk about this back and forth. We're told that did not end in an apology but it was respectful. So we will see if Senator Booker decides to continue this argument here as he introduces himself to delegates.

We caught up with Congressman Clyburn, of course, he's the highest ranking African-American member of Congress to ask him about why he is defending Joe Biden.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JIM CLYBURN (D-SC): I think it's a little bit ludicrous to blame someone for working with people who you don't agree with.

ZELENY: Cory Booker said he shouldn't celebrate racists. Do you think he was celebrating a racist?

CLYBURN: No, come on. When you celebrate your ability to work with a racist, you're celebrating a racist? That's like saying -- I enjoy being able to work with republicans. I'm not a republican. I don't celebrate anybody who is, but I work with them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: So Joe Biden, just a short time ago, finished a meeting with African-American leaders here, Wolf. One thing that's clear, the establishment, at least, is rallying behind him. The question, of course, is what rank and file voters do when they are going to see some 22 candidates here this weekend. So you can hear the music in Columbia already getting fired up, Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm sure they are. Jeff Zeleny in Columbia South Carolina, thank you.

And we have more breaking news coming into The Situation Room involving Paul Manafort and whether he would ever reveal incriminating information about President Trump. Our Senior Justice Correspondent, Evan Perez, is joining us. What are you learning about former Trump campaign chairman? EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, these were text messages between Paul Manafort and Sean Hannity, the Fox News Host. And it appears back in April, the judge had a hearing to look at whether or not Paul Manafort and his lawyers had violated a gag order that she had imposed on them during their case.

Here is a couple of the messages that were exchanged between Manafort and Sean Hannity. Manafort writers, nothing -- I'm sorry. He says they would want me to give up on Donald Trump or family, especially J.K., which is a reference to Jared Kushner. I would never do that.

And he says, understand -- Hannity says, understand, there's nothing to give up on D.T. What did J.K. do? Again, this is having to do with Jared Kushner, and Manafort responds, nothing, just like I did, nothing. They will want me to make up stuff on both.

Again, this is Paul Manafort telling Sean Hannity, again, who is a very friendly voice, obviously, on Fox News towards Paul Manafort and the President saying that he had no intention to turn against the President, to provide any information to the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, either on the President or Jared Kushner or on Donald Trump's family members.

And, Wolf, in the end, the judge decided not to do anything about these interactions that were going on between Manafort and Sean Hannity. A lot has to do with Hannity asking for an interview with Paul Manafort. He never actually gets that interview that he had been requesting.

BLITZER: Manafort is now serving a seven-and-a-half-year prison sentence. When did you say these messages were messages exchanged?

PEREZ: These were exchanged over the period of 2017 through earlier this year, Wolf. This is, again, during the time when Manafort was fighting these charges. And so the judge released -- and, again, there were a bunch of these text messages, a lot of them having to do with Paul Manafort saying that he had no intention of cooperating against the President, and Hannity, of course, providing support to Paul Manafort and his family.

BLITZER: Very interesting. All right, Evan, thank you very much.

There's more news we're following, more news involving the President pulling the plug on Iran strikes at the last minute. Have other U.S. military commanders-in-chief done anything similar?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:44:43] BLITZER: Tonight, President Trump appears to be backing even further away from military action against Iran, hours after he called off retaliatory strikes at the very last minute.

Listen to what he just told NBC news.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not looking for war. And if there is, it will be obliteration like you've never seen before.

[18:50:01] But I'm not looking to do that. But you can't have a nuclear weapon. If you want to talk? Good. Otherwise, you're going to have bad economy for the next three years.

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS: No preconditions?

TRUMP: Not as far as I'm concerned. No preconditions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: No preconditions, ready to talk to President Rouhani, maybe even the ayatollah.

We're joined by CNN presidential historian, Douglas Brinkley.

Doug, I want to talk about the new CNN film, "Apollo 11".

But, first, let me get your take on the president's response to Iran. Can you recall a time when a president has so publicly revealed plans of mission he chose not to carry out at the last minute?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: You know, Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War, but we were in war. Suddenly, a green light, a big bombing mission on North Vietnam, and then last minute, virtually on the pilots on the tarmac would call those off. It happens when a president is not sure of what move he should make.

Donald Trump, as we just heard, has a lot of bluster in his foreign policy. He said obliteration type of language with North Korea and Venezuela and others. The question is will the world believe Donald Trump?

But I think we are lucky he didn't move in a rash fashion because 150 deaths that they're predicting could have been a lot more. Nobody is ready for a new war in the Middle East.

BLITZER: That's an important point.

The new CNN film "Apollo 11" debuts this Sunday. You've written a new book detailing John F. Kennedy's 1961 challenge to land a man on the moon before that decade was over. But it was Richard Nixon who was in office when the law firm took place in 1969.

I want to you and the viewers to watch President Nixon's historic phone call to our men on the moon. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Neil and Buzz, the president of the United States is in his office now and would like to say a few words to you, over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That would be an honor. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Go ahead, Mr. President, this is

Houston, out.

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT: Hello, Neil and Buzz. I'm talking to you by telephone from the Oval Room at the White House.

And this certainly has to be the most historic telephone call ever made from the White House. I just can't tell you how proud we all are of what you have done.

For every American, this has to be the proudest day of our lives, and for people all over the world, because of what you have done, the heavens have become a part of man's world. And as you talk to us from the sea of tranquility, it inspires us to redouble our efforts to bring peace and tranquility to earth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Doug, what strikes you most about that moment in history?

BRINKLEY: Well, when you play Richard Nixon, he was cautious about "Apollo 11" because Neil Armstrong told me in an oral history interview I did that he had a 50/50 chance the mission being successful. And Nixon had William Sapphire, a speechwriter, write a disaster letter, telling the American we are sorry what happened to our astronauts.

But once they landed on the moon, Nixon got into professional mode and ended up to wrap himself around in the "Apollo 11" mantle. He behaved very admirably.

When they -- our astronauts returned, Armstrong, Buzz, Michael Collins, at control in Houston, they flashed behind them John F. Kennedy's pledge of May 25th of 1961 and underneath it wolf it said task accomplished, July 1969.

In NASA culture, they were fulfilling JFK's mission. Nixon just happened to be president.

BLITZER: It was an amazing few years from 1961 to 1969.

Doug Brinkley, thank you very much for joining us.

And to our viewers, be sure to tune in the award-winning film "Apollo 11", airs Sunday night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Much more news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:56:29] BLITZER: Tonight, many air travelers will experience serious problems on the ground before their flights take off. America's airports are aging and many are in very serious need of upgrades and repairs. It's the focus of the final installment of our series on the infrastructure crisis here in America.

As CNN's Nick Watt tells us, when it comes to the quality of airports, the United States lags far behind some other parts of the world.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More than 1 billion passengers will travel through U.S. airport this is year, a number that's doubled since 2000.

KEVIN BURKE, AIRPORTS COUNCIL INTERNATIONAL - NORTH AMERICA: They were designed for about half of that. Bottom line is we have old airports in this country.

WATT: And on the Skytrax World's Top 100 Airports List, you will not find a U.S. entry until number 32. Don't forget this is the birthplace of aviation.

TRUMP: Then I get back on my plane. I land at LaGuardia with potholes all over it, right? We're becoming third world.

WATT: New York's LaGuardia now undergoing a face lift is not alone. Hundreds of U.S. airports need updated. Baggage and security systems, upgraded runways and taxiways, improved mass transit and crucially more space to accommodate those rapidly rising passenger numbers and new bigger planes.

DEBORAH FLINT, LOS ANGELES WORLD AIRPORTS: LAX and other airports across the country have infrastructure that has been needed for the last 10, 20 years. And we're now in a position where we have to do them because our airports are failing.

WATT: Airport operators say they need to spend an a staggering $25.6 billion every year for the next five years. This year, the federal government is kicking in $3.18 billion, only about 12 percent.

(on camera): Are those federal funds enough?

FLINT: Absolutely not.

WATT: This year's federal grants are going to 381 airports, $11.5 million to Birmingham, Alabama, for a new fire station. $10.3 million to Des Moines to reconstruct a runway. $6.7 million to Klamath Falls, Oregon, for a new wind cone and other updates.

Airlines contribute, airport haves to borrow heavily and there is something called the passenger facility charge added to every ticket, capped by Congress at $4.50 back in 2001. Airport operators want to raise it by $4.

BURKE: For less than a cup of Starbucks coffee, we could modernize American airports.

WATT: But airlines oppose the hike, saying it's just a tax and will stifle demand.

BURKE: And considering the important airports are to the economy of the United States, I think it's absolutely critical for Congress to be able to make that decision and help us out. WATT: LAX last updated for the '84 Olympics, right now in a middle of

$14 billion improvement, a new people mover to east congestion in and out. Terminal updates, more gates.

FLINT: I am borrowing for this sorely needed, credible development program out until 2047.

WATT: And even after those improvements, LAX still won't have enough gates. And global passenger numbers are set to double again by 2035. Then what?

Nick Watt, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Very serious situation. Nick Watt, thank you very much.

And that's it for me. Thanks for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can always follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. You can always tweet the show @CNNsitroom.

Have a great, great weekend.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

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