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THE SITUATION ROOM

Trump Imposes New Sanctions Against Iran; Pelosi Tells Trump "You're Scaring The Children"; Almost 80 House Dems Support Impeachment inquiry; Rep. Anthony Brown (D-MD) Is Interviewed On U.S.- Iran Tensions; House Intel Member Jim Himes Comes Out In Favor Of Impeachment Inquiry; Magazine Columnist Accuses Trump Of Sexual Assault; North Korea: Trump Letter To Kim Jong-un Is Excellent. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired June 24, 2019 - 17:00   ET

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


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WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, talking tough: President Trump orders new sanctions against Iran after calling off the military strike in response to the shootdown of the U.S. drone but Iran warns it has the capability to down more drones.

Does it view the president's tough talk as empty threats?

Subpoenaing Mueller: as the House Intelligence chairman said a decision will be made this week on whether to subpoena the former special counsel, a key committee member breaks ranks, calling for an impeachment inquiry. And I'll speak with that congressman, Jim Hines.

Against my will: a well-known columnist said Donald Trump sexually assaulted her in a department store dressing room two decades ago and she offers graphic details of the alleged attack.

But why did she wait now to come forward?

And the dear letter: President Trump is touting his relationship with Kim Jong-un after sending what North Korea calls an excellent letter to the dictator.

Can the two leaders move beyond being pen pals?

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

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news. BLITZER: Breaking news. President Trump orders what he calls hard- hitting sanctions on Iran, linking the move to last week's downing of the U.S. surveillance drone. The order targeting Iran's top leaders as the president backed away at the last minute, 10 minutes from a military strike against Iran.

But Iran isn't backing down. The state news agency calling the sanctions a sign of America's desperation and the navy commander warning that more drones could be downed.

At home the president has also backed away from the brink postponing immigration raids planned for 10 U.S. cities, saying deportation would be delayed to give Congress time to find a solution on the border.

That move comes as House Speaker Pelosi said she warned the president that he was, quote, "scaring the children of America."

I'll speak with Congressman Anthony Brown 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 and our Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, President Trump has ordered new steps against Iran.

What is the latest?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That is right. President Trump is imposing new sanctions on Iran after the downing of an unmanned U.S. drone last week. The sanctions are the latest example of Mr. Trump engaging in brinksmanship with a foreign adversary, something he's tried time and again. It is a pattern that raises the question whether this is brinksmanship or just bluster.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump is ratcheting up the pressure on Iran. Announcing what he described as new hard-hitting sanctions on Tehran's top leaders. Adding the move was partly in retaliation for the downing of a U.S. drone last week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This, you could probably, Steve, add that into it but basically this is something that would happen anyway.

ACOSTA (voice-over): As he's done in the past with other adversaries, the president teased that more tough action could be on the way if Iran doesn't change its behavior.

TRUMP: I won't say what I will do but I don't think they should do it.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But it is kind of the brinksmanship the president has used before with mixed results. Consider what Mr. Trump discussed just moments after he unveiled the sanctions on Iran, that he's just received a birthday message from North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, the same man he once dubbed Little Rocket Man, the kind of bravado that doesn't always lead to big wins.

TRUMP: He sent me birthday wishes but it just is a very friendly letter both ways.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president just pulled back from his threats to round up undocumented migrants, tweeting he's delayed that process for two weeks to see if the Democrats and Republicans can get together and work out a solution to the problems at the southern border.

But Trump had also heard from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who warned his deportation rhetoric is frightening children across the country.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): When I spoke to the president, I said, look, I'm a mom, I have seven -- nine grandchildren and you're -- children are scared. You're scaring the children of America. Not just in those families but their neighbors and their communities.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president has also hinted he might take action against Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell but he denied reports that he considered demoting Powell over rising interest rates.

TRUMP: They're rising far too fast.

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST (voice-over): Did you threaten to demote him?

Do you think that has impact?

TRUMP: I didn't ever threaten to demote him.

TODD: There has been some talk that you might demote him to the number two spot.

TRUMP: I'd be able to do that if I wanted but I have suggested that.

TODD: Is that a threat?

That's just a --

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: No, I have the right to do that but I haven't said that.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Mr. Trump defended his attacks on former attorney general Jeff Sessions, saying he wishes he had never hired him in the first place.

TRUMP: I would say if I have one do-over it would be I would not have appointed Jeff Sessions to be attorney general.

ACOSTA (voice-over): For all of that bluster, the president --

[17:05:00] ACOSTA (voice-over): -- revealed one of his own vulnerabilities, that he is not prepared to lose in 2020.

TODD: Are you prepared to lose?

TRUMP: No. Probably not. Probably not. I mean I --

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: -- it would be much better if I said yes. It will be much easier to say, well, yes. No, I'm probably not too prepared to lose.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: The president is about to embark on another foreign trip where his pattern of brinksmanship will be put to the test. He'll head to Japan for a G20 summit to meet with U.S. allies that are wary of his handling of Iran, not to mention North Korea, a critical national security challenge, where his pattern of brinksmanship has not yet worked -- Wolf.

TRUMP: Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.

Let's go live to Tehran right now. Our Senior International Correspondent, Fred Pleitgen is on the scene.

What are the Iranians saying in response to president Trump?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. The Iranians are laughing off President Trump's threats and saying they're definitely not going to negotiate under these circumstances.

And they're saying, Wolf, that if it does come to a war between the U.S. and Iran, that Iran is definitely ready. A senior Iranian commander came out today and said the shooting down of a U.S. drone was a heavy blow to the U.S. and is something that could be repeated.

And then the country's foreign minister went a step further and said the fact the drone was shot down by a homemade Iranian rocket was a source of pride to the Iranian nations.

Now the Iranians are saying that they believe that war and sanctions to them is the -- are two sides of the same coin and they say they are definitely not going to go into negotiations with the U.S. as long as the sanctions regime is in place.

I want to read you a quote we got from a senior Iranian lawmaker.

He said, quote, "Mr. Trump, until the sanctions are suspended from Tehran, only the military forces will talk to you."

At the same time , President Trump also seemingly sending mixed messages to the region, Wolf. In a tweet today, he said that he wasn't sure why the U.S. is still providing security in the Persian Gulf area. Well, that was something that the Iranians apparently could agree with

because the foreign minister then came out and tweeted, "President Trump is 100 percent right, that the U.S. military has no business in the Persian Gulf," but then later on went on to say that he believes there are people around President Trump who are trying to drive him into war, saying, quote, "It is clear now that the B team," the people that Zarif is referring to, "is not concerned with U.S. interests. They despise diplomacy and thirst for war on the whole."

Wolf, the Iranians say they don't want war with the U.S. but they certainly are ready if it comes to that.

BLITZER: Fred Pleitgen in Tehran. Thank you.

Up on Capitol Hill, a decision could be imminent on whether to subpoena the former special counsel Robert Mueller to testify. Let's go to our Senior Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju with new reporting.

What are you learning?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Talks are continuing between the special counsel team, Robert Mueller, as well as the House Judiciary chairman Jerry Nadler, his staff. It is likely this could all come to a head within days after Nadler called for public testimony and Mueller's team has resisted that.

It is expected increasingly likely that a subpoena could be issued within days compelling the special counsel to appear before this committee in a public session.

Now this comes amid talk among multiple committees to bring in the special counsel, including the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Adam Schiff, who said yesterday that he wants Mueller in before his committee also by July. And he said a decision on the subpoena could occur this week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): We are running out of time. It is my hope that we'll reach a final conclusion. Either he's going to come in voluntarily or we'll have to subpoena him. I hope that we'll reach that decision this week because we want to have him come in during July.

And I think that is going to be the case, Jake, whether it is voluntarily or involuntary by subpoena.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Now Jerry Nadler wants this to happen at a public hearing way before the summer. So what that means is before the beginning of the August recess, which a number of Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee in particular have pushed for.

So expect that decision about a subpoena could occur as soon as this week because next week Congress is again on a recess for the Fourth of July. So this could happen in a matter of days.

The question ultimately is will the special counsel team then comply with the subpoena and will we see Robert Mueller appear?

Will he fight it and will the White House in any way try to seek to limit his testimony?

BLITZER: And they are in recess several weeks starting in August.

Manu, despite Nancy Pelosi's resistance, a senior Democratic congressman, Jim Himes of the Intelligence Committee, is the latest to say he now supports a formal impeachment inquiry against President Trump. Tell us about that.

RAJU: A growing number of Democrats are starting to voice their support for a formal impeachment inquiry, one that would be launched by the House Judiciary Committee --

[17:10:00]

RAJU: -- to look into these allegations of misconduct and determine whether or not there need to be a vote on articles of impeachment. Jim Himes is number 79 in the House Democratic Caucus to support an impeachment inquiry. You add one Republican who supports that, Justin Amash of Michigan, and now we have 80.

But those are still in the minority of the House Democratic Caucus. At the moment Nancy Pelosi is unmoved and she doesn't believe this is the way to go. She believes the investigative route is the way to go and believes a fight in the courts to get information will ultimately be successful.

And she worries an impeachment inquiry could lead to a vote on articles of impeachment that would only be rejected by the Republican- led Senate and she doesn't want to give what she believes is a political upper hand to President Trump.

Ultimately will she be moved if more and more members like Jim Himes come out in support of an impeachment inquiry?

That is a question can only be determined in the weeks ahead.

BLITZER: And later in THE SITUATION ROOM I'll speak live with Congressman Himes and get his explanation why he's now made this dramatic move. Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thanks very much.

And joining us now Congressman Anthony Brown of Maryland. He's a key member of the Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, thank you so much for joining us.

REP. ANTHONY G. BROWN (D-MD): Great to be with you.

BLITZER: I want to get your thoughts on the latest developments involving Iran in just a moment but let me get your thoughts on impeachment. You told reporters recently you would vote for impeachment if it eventually came to a formal vote on the floor of the House of Representatives.

But you stopped short of calling for that formal inquiry that Congressman Jim Himes is now supporting.

Why are you reluctant to take that first step?

BROWN: You know, Wolf, right now you've got the Judiciary Committee and Government Oversight Committee and the Intelligence Committee and a number of other committees that are deep in documents and testimony.

Obviously we're trying to get more documents and testimony from the administration. And others who are currently and formerly in the Trump orbit. They're going through a lot of information. And I'm looking to their recommendation.

They are the most informed members of Congress in terms of how close we are to perfecting a case of obstruction of justice. As we and the public read about Mueller's report, what little we have available, certainly it looks -- it appears if there are obstruction of justice charges that could be made.

That's what the Judiciary Committee is looking at and I will support their report, whether it is articles of impeachment or calling for an impeachment proceeding. They're doing a lot of heavy lifting for us.

BLITZER: Turning to Iran, you're on the Armed Services Committee.

Do you think the new sanctions announced today by President Trump will be effective?

BROWN: Not really, Wolf. And the reason I say that is because the sanctions that are already in place are probably squeezing 70 percent to 80 percent of their economy. I think this is more symbolic.

I think the president needs to engage our allies. There has got to be a diplomatic solution to this sort of standoff with Iran. We've escalated our military presence and we've labeled the Revolutionary Guard a terrorist group.

And -- but what we need to do, coercion is one thing but you have to have diplomacy. So we have got to look at some of our allies to step in and be that third party intermediary if we're not directly engaged with Iran, because diplomacy is what we need now, coupled with a commitment by the administration to consult with Congress and to seek whatever authorization that they need before they introduce forces in and against Iran.

BLITZER: Do you believe President Trump when he said he doesn't want a war with Iran?

BROWN: I believe that. But I don't think that his actions are consistent with that. What we saw last week was very chaotic. We were on the brink of attack into Iraq, it could have led to 150 deaths, Iranians, I'm not saying that we were not -- we didn't have a right to retaliate. We do. But I'm afraid that the president will stumble into war, the

escalation of forces on the ground, a haphazard way to make a decision, whether to strike or not and the big concern is that we don't know what Iran's response will be.

They may in turn respond, which could then lead to a further exchange of responses, military in every domain, air, land, sea and, as we know, recently, even cyber. So my concern is, let's take a deep breath, Mr. President, engage with allies and stay engaged with Congress and find a diplomatic solution to what the challenges are here with Iran.

BLITZER: In a tweet earlier today, the president suggested that the United States doesn't even need some sort of military presence in the shipping lanes of the Persian Gulf. He noted that China gets 91 percent of its oil from there, from the Strait of Hormuz and Japan 62 percent and the U.S. very little.

Should the U.S. withdraw its forces from that part of the world?

BROWN: Absolutely not. The United States has an interest in the shipping lanes and through the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman. And while our interest today, let's measure by how much oil we receive from the region, maybe less than it was 10 or --

[17:15:00]

BROWN: -- 20 years ago, we have an interest in freedom of navigation and the use of international airspace and we need to enforce that around the world. So we should not withdraw our forces.

But our forces ought to be there in a -- not in a provocative way but to ensure we are securing international law.

BLITZER: Amidst all the tough talk, the president does say and said it repeatedly in recent days, he's willing to open up talks, direct talks between himself and the leaders in Iran without pre-conditions.

Do you support that?

BROWN: I absolutely do. I think that the president should sit down with Iran. The problem is they're not going to sit down with him. They feel as if they've sat down with not only the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China and came up with the -- what we call the Iran nuclear deal.

So, yes, I think the president should sit down with the Iranians but I also think that he's got to be -- he has to think through, how are you going to get the Iranians to the table.

BLITZER: Congressman Anthony Brown, thank you for joining us.

BROWN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, vice president Pence can't seem to make up his mind on whether the climate crisis is a threat to the United States. And a well-known columnist said Donald Trump sexually assaulted her in

a department store dressing room some two decades ago.

Why did she wait to come forward?

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BLITZER: Tonight Iran is ridiculing Trump's newly imposed economic sanctions on the supreme leader and other top officials. The Iranian state news agency called the president's latest move a sign of, quote, "America's desperation."

Let's bring in correspondents and analysts.

Dana Bash, the president said these new sanctions that he announced today are a strong and proportionate response to Iran's increasingly provocative actions.

Are they?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR U.S. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is certainly strong, stronger than no sanctions but nowhere near as strong as, I would think, it is fair to say, as military action.

The other big challenge that the president and this administration and America has right now is the very deep differences that continue between the U.S. and the other signatories of the Iran nuclear deal over how to deal with Iran because they're all still upset because they thought it was going pretty well.

To have sanctions work on a country like Iran, you need allies to be in it with you. And it doesn't look like the U.S. is going to have that right now when it comes to these sanctions. It is already -- I mean, the Iranian economy is already not doing all that great. So probably won't help. But it will be much more effective if allies help.

BLITZER: Clearly the Iranian economy is already in deep, deep trouble.

And David Swerdlick, imposing additional sanctions at least for now seems to be the president's preferred avenue for dealing with this potential Iranian threat, even as many of the national security advisers want military action.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. So let's be clear. It is a good thing we're not in a shooting war with Iran right now but the president is in a tight space because he declined to strike militarily last week. As Congressman Brown just told you, I think the sanctions that were

imposed today were mostly symbolic. There are sanctions on Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, and some military commanders.

But Iran, as you said, Dana, Iran's economy is already hurting from a bunch of sanctions, including on oil. And that really is going to be the difference-maker, not what we saw this afternoon.

BLITZER: After calling off the strike at the last minute against Iran in response to the downing of the drone, then calling off these announced, widely announced immigration raids over the weekend, the president's critics are now saying this is a guy who delivers a bunch of empty threats.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well, they are not wrong. I would side with David on the -- you know, sometimes this outcome, an empty threat of not getting into a military action may be the best result. But I would say this is "Art of the Deal" 101 stuff. If you read that book, Donald Trump repeatedly said then and said throughout his life, up until now, look, my approach to negotiations is I ask for the moon and when they don't give it to me, I take some of it. I declare victory and I move on.

This is not different than that. I think you always have to remember, he does not view the presidency as fundamentally different than being a reality TV star or being a business man, a dealmaker. I think he's taking the same approach.

Now the question to your point, Wolf, at some point do foreign adversaries or even the political opponents get wise to this and say, you're just threatening that you're going to do all this stuff and you never actually do it.

The scary thing to think about there is what if he calls that bluff just to call that bluff?

BLITZER: Now Jeffrey Toobin, the latest series of unfulfilled threats on the part of the president, how does that affect his credibility around the world?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think Donald Trump is pretty well a known quantity at this point. I think people around the world know he's a blowhard and full of bluster. But that is no reason to get into a war.

Presidents historically have had their masculinity challenge and they start wars to prove that they are tough and that is a terrible idea. And if Donald Trump --

[17:25:00]

TOOBIN: -- is criticized or losing some credibility, that is a heck of a lot better than getting involved in military action, where people die, where Iranians die, where potentially American soldiers die. That is a better outcome notwithstanding the possible hit to his credibility. BLITZER: Yes, he's been very consistent over the years. He wants U.S. troops out of that part of the world. He's made that abundantly clear. We have more to discuss. Much more right after this.

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BLITZER: [17:30:07] BLITZER: We're back with our political and legal experts.

Dana, all of a sudden, the top Democrat of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Jim Himes, is now calling for a formal impeachment procedure to begin in the House Judiciary Committee. I'm going to speak with the Congressman in the next hour, but how significant is this?

BASH: It is significant for several reasons. One is he is, you know, not one of the, you know, super liberals in the House of Representatives. I wouldn't necessarily call him conservative, but he's certainly not, you know, on the left of the spectrum in the Democratic caucus.

And more importantly, he has seen a lot. I mean, he's on the Intelligence Committee. He knows what's there. And his statement -- I know you're going to talk to him in a bit -- is about the substance of it.

But it's also very much about the fact that the President is thumbing his nose at the United States Congress and is not allowing for oversight, saying that we have not slouched closer to autocracy and it's because of the strength of the Democratic safeguards like putting impeachment -- the ability for Congress to start impeachment proceedings in place.

And so it is significant. Whether or not this decision is going to be the one that breaks the back of the Democratic leadership, that changes their mind, I won't go that far. But it is noteworthy.

BLITZER: The number of Democrats wanting to begin a formal procedure, like, this is clearly increasing. Is that going to move the needle?

SWERDLICK: I think slowly but surely. To your point, when you have congressmen like Congressman Cohen or Congressman Al Green from Texas that are calling for impeachment, it's not the same as when you have someone like Himes who is seen as more of a middle of a roader. We're not at a tipping point yet, Wolf. But, eventually, you get enough Democrats, and we are going to get there.

BLITZER: You know, Jeffrey --

TOOBIN: Who says --

BLITZER: -- all of the -- TOOBIN: Who -- well, who says we're going to get there? I mean, you know, Nancy Pelosi is concerned about these moderate members whose -- the polls haven't really changed on impeachment. And in the districts where the Democrats made so many gains -- in Pennsylvania, in California -- I've seen no sign that there is this groundswell of support for impeachment, so -- and I don't see the numbers growing rapidly.

So, you know, every time we talk about 70 members in favor, that means 140 are against impeachment.

SWERDLICK: There's --

TOOBIN: And that number is still a lot bigger.

SWERDLICK: There's not a lock that impeachment will take place because the Speaker is firm. She has made this point in a variety of ways.

That interview she did with our colleague, Fareed Zakaria, a week or two ago, she is trying to say, look, this is a balancing test between the constitutional authority to impeachment and the responsibility of Congress to sort of hold the fraying republic together. So I take your point, Jeffrey, but there will come a point when her caucus will put that pressure on.

BASH: And if I could just add to that.

BLITZER: Yes.

BASH: Jeffrey, I know because you're a math whiz you understand that the hundred or so people who have not said, you know, I want to start impeachment, it's not because they're necessarily opposed to impeachment. It's because they're just not there yet. Some of them are diametrically opposed to it, but some are not. They're just not there. So it's not as cut and dry.

BLITZER: Because, clearly, Chris Cillizza, the Speaker doesn't want to be the former Speaker.

CILLIZZA: That's --

BLITZER: She wants to be in the majority in the House of Representatives. And she and her supporters are deeply concerned that if the impeachment process begins and fails, doesn't go anywhere, it could backfire politically, and the Democrats could lose control of the House.

CILLIZZA: No question. And I would say, politically speaking -- that's not the only way that this should be judged, but, politically speaking, impeachment is a political loser at the moment for Republican --

SWERDLICK: Yes.

CILLIZZA: -- for Democrats, excuse me, if you look at polling. Majority of the country does not want it. And I would -- I would tell you if, to Jeffrey's point, let's say you did a poll of only the, let's say, 60 districts that both parties -- 60 House districts that both parties will contest in 2020.

My guess is the impeachment number -- the desire for impeachment is actually lower in those districts, just not because people don't necessarily think Donald Trump should be impeached, because they care about the state of the economy, immigration, health care --

BASH: It's a distraction.

CILLIZZA: -- pick whatever you like. They just don't care that much about it. On their priority list, it's not high. Until you see that overall number change, you know, the Democrats who are in the Philly suburbs, the California -- suburban California districts that Democrats won, in Illinois and those suburban districts, until you see some of those people move en mass, then I think you're still just talking about, yes, 79 is not an insignificant number but neither, I think, does it keep Nancy Pelosi up at night yet.

BLITZER: You know, Jeffrey, it's been, what, about three months since the Mueller report was completed, and now, there is -- you know, Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, says if he doesn't agree to voluntarily come before the committee this week, they're going to probably formally subpoena him.

TOOBIN: Well, I mean, what are they waiting for? You know, the -- Robert Mueller, obviously, doesn't want to testify. And that's true of many people who want to -- who are called before Congress, but it's their job.

[17:35:06] He's now a private citizen. People are obliged to testify before Congress if -- and if they don't want to, they get a subpoena. And that's what's been going on here.

And why it's taken so long, especially when these committees have been thwarted, perhaps illegitimately, by the White House in collecting any facts of their own -- Robert Mueller is like the only witness they can actually get who has some substantive knowledge of what went on here, and I don't see why they've waited this long.

BLITZER: Yes. And a final question to you on this block, Jeffrey, on the Supreme Court -- you're an authority on the Supreme Court -- a decision involving FUCT. That's the approved name of a clothing line, according to a ruling handed down by the court today. What are the implications of this decision as far as the First Amendment is concerned?

TOOBIN: Well, you know, it's a fascinating area of the law because the patent and the copyright office has historically said, well, we're not giving patents to or copyrights to vulgar or inappropriate terms, and the standards have been pretty loose. And the court finally said, we're not going to let the copyright office make those sort of judgments.

The big winner today was Dan Snyder, the owner of the Washington Redskins because the decision today suggests that the effort to remove the Washington Redskins' name as an insult to Native Americans, that's unlikely to succeed now in light of today's FUCT precedent.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to leave it on that. He's really an expert on the Supreme Court.

CILLIZZA: Oh, eff that.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: All right, guys, stick around. There's more news we're following. A magazine columnist who accuses Donald Trump of sexual assault tells more of her story.

Plus, what's in President Trump's new letter to the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un?

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[17:41:32] BLITZER: Tonight, we have new details from a prominent magazine columnist who accuses Donald Trump of sexual assault. Despite the denial by the President, she stands by her accusation.

Let's bring in our Political Correspondent, Sara Murray. She's been doing the reporting on this.

What's the very latest?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, E. Jean Carroll said she was hesitant to come forward earlier. She saw this army of women come out and make allegations against Donald Trump during the campaign. It didn't seem to make a difference. And, you know, she blamed herself for her encounter with Donald Trump some two decades ago, but now, she's sharing her story with CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Described what happened --

MURRAY (voice-over): Tonight, author and columnist E. Jean Carroll is standing firmly by her shocking new claim that Donald Trump sexually assaulted her in a department store dressing room two decades ago.

E. JEAN CARROLL, AUTHOR, "WHAT DO WE NEED MEN FOR? A MODEST PROPOSAL": The minute he closed that door, I was banged up against the wall.

CAMEROTA: He slammed you against the wall.

CARROLL: Yes, I hit my head really hard. Boom.

MURRAY (voice-over): Carroll is publicly detailing the alleged attack for the first time in her new book, "What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal."

The now-75-year-old "Elle" magazine columnist says she had a chance encounter with Trump at Bergdorf Goodman in the 1990s. But she says what began as a lighthearted exchange turned violent when they ended up in a dressing room.

CARROLL: He pulled down my tights, and it was a fight. It was a -- I want women to know that I did not stand there. I did not freeze. No, I fought. And it was over very quickly. It was against my will, 100 percent, and I ran away.

MURRAY (voice-over): Carroll goes into more graphic detail in her book, writing, he opens the overcoat, unzips his pants, and, forcing his fingers around my private area, then thrust his penis halfway -- or completely, I'm not certain -- inside me.

But Carroll still struggles to call it rape.

CARROLL: I don't want to be seen as a victim because I over -- quickly over -- went past it. It was a very, very brief episode of my life, very brief. I am not faced with sexual violence every single day like many women around the world, and so, yes, I'm very careful with that word.

MURRAY (voice-over): On Saturday, President Trump vehemently denied the allegations.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have no idea who she is. What she did is -- it's terrible, what's going on. So it's a total false accusation, and I don't know anything about her.

MURRAY (voice-over): Yet a photo shows them chatting at a party in the 1980s.

TRUMP: There is some picture where we're shaking hands, it looks like, at some kind of event. I have my coat on.

MURRAY (voice-over): And while Trump dismissed Carroll's account as a publicity stunt, today, she suggested it wasn't an attempt to sell books.

CARROLL: I never mentioned Donald Trump in the description of the book. On Amazon, you don't see it.

MURRAY (voice-over): During the presidential campaign, an "Access Hollywood" tape from 2005 surfaced, showing Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women.

TRUMP: I just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can anything. Grab them by the pussy.

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: You can do anything.

MURRAY (voice-over): Since then, at least a dozen women have accused Trump of sexual harassment, assault, or lewd behavior all from before Trump was president. He has denied all of their claims.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, Carroll said when this allegedly took place some 20 years ago, she shared the incident with two of her friends.

Wolf, I spoke to both of those friends over the weekend, and they confirmed that, you know, at the time -- this was some two decades ago -- Carroll did share this account of what happened between her and Donald Trump. And they said she seemed like she's in shock when she was telling them that story, again, back in the 1990s.

BLITZER: And her two friends don't want to go public, it looks like it.

[17:45:00] MURRAY: They do not, no.

BLITZER: All right. Sara Murray, with that, thank you very much.

Coming up, North Korea is praising a letter President Trump just sent to Kim Jong-un. Why did the President write to the brutal dictator?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Trump is touting his relationship with Kim Jong-un after exchanging letters with the North Korean leader. Brian Todd has been looking into this for us.

[17:50:01] Brian, are they more than simply pen pals?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They could be more than pen pals, Wolf. And, tonight, much of the world is counting on them to be more than that.

President Trump and Kim Jong-un are now talking about the latest round of letters they've just exchanged. This comes at a critical moment because pressure is building on both men to kick-start the stalled negotiations over Kim's nuclear weapons.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, the bromance is back on between President Trump and his pen pal, Kim Jong-un. The North Korean dictator was photographed reading a new letter from President Trump over the weekend, a letter Kim's news agency says was of, quote, excellent content, noting that Kim appreciates the political judging faculty and extraordinary courage of President Trump.

Today, the President appears to confirm that letter as well as one he says he received from Kim just a few days earlier.

TRUMP: He actually sent me birthday wishes, but it was just a very friendly letter both ways. We have a very -- very good relationship.

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, experts say the apparent thaw in the relationship is critical because the two men hadn't exchanged letters or any other known communications since their summit collapsed in February.

ABRAHAM DENMARK, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR EAST ASIA: It would create the right atmosphere for another summit. Having another meeting between Kim Jong-un and President Trump will require a lot of diplomacy, not just exchanging letters between the diplomats on the two sides but both sides want to be able to move past the failure of Hanoi.

TODD (voice-over): At that summit in late February, the President walked out after Kim tried to get Trump to drop all sanctions against North Korea in exchange for Kim dismantling only part of his nuclear weapons program.

We asked veteran diplomats how much pressure both leaders are under, not only to arrange a third summit and get nuclear talks going again but to not have another failure like Hanoi.

JOSEPH YUN, FORMER SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR NORTH KOREA POLICY: Tremendous pressure. I mean, in Hanoi, as you know, Kim Jong-un went back very, very angry. He changed his team. And so it was an abject failure for Kim Jong-un. And by the way, you know, North Korean leaders don't do failures.

TODD (voice-over): But the pressure is even more intense because of how much each leader has staked on his personal relationship with the other. There have been at least nine personal letters between Trump and Kim Jong-un since early last year. It's unclear exactly what was said in the letters, but they spurred momentum for historic diplomatic breakthroughs, two summits, and a personal dynamic that Trump has often bragged about.

TRUMP: And then we fell in love, OK?

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: No, really. He wrote me beautiful letters, and they're great letters. We fell in love.

TODD (voice-over): But tonight, analysts worry that disarming Kim's nuclear arsenal is now too dependent on the personal dynamics between Trump and Kim, and the pressures on both leaders to strike a deal are growing. President Trump will be eager to tout progress on a nuclear deal during his re-election campaign, and Kim, analysts say, is facing his own internal pressures.

DENMARK: Kim Jong-un is in leadership in part because of the acquiescence and support of North Korean political elites and military elites. And as the North Korean economy continues to struggle, it seems that he's under some pressure to deliver results.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Analysts do praise President Trump for getting the two sides this far with his one-on-one diplomacy with Kim Jong-un, but they're worried about what could happen if that one-on-one dynamic simply doesn't work.

If it breaks down, they say, then, the personal diplomacy could lead to personal animosity between the two. That could lead to the fire and fury rhetoric of two years ago and possibly put the two sides again on the brink of military hostility -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, are you getting any other indications that momentum is actually building for a third summit between the President and the North Korean leader?

TODD: We are getting those indications tonight, Wolf. The office of South Korea's president has announced that President Trump is going to go to Seoul right after he goes to the G-20 summit in Japan.

The President is going to arrive in Seoul this Saturday, and he's going to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Sunday. That could be a critical meeting to either get some real momentum going for a third Kim/Trump summit, or it could be indication to actually announce that there's going to be a summit.

BLITZER: Very interesting indeed, and enormous at -- amount at stake right now. Brian Todd, good report. Thank you.

Coming up, breaking news. House Democrats could make a decision this week on whether to subpoena the former Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, as a key Intel Committee member is now the latest to call for an impeachment inquiry. I'll speak with that congressman, Jim Himes.

[17:54:36] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Empty threats? President Trump slaps Iran with sanctions just days after he pulled back from a retaliatory military attack. How risky are his U-turns from brinksmanship to retreat?

Making Mueller testify. We're told top Democrats could issue a subpoena for the former Special Counsel within days. I'll talk with a key member of the House Intelligence Committee who just came out in support of an impeachment inquiry. It's his first T.V. interview since his announcement.

[17:59:59] Paradise or poisonous? After the mysterious deaths of 10 Americans in the Dominican Republic, two people who suddenly fell ill on the island share their disturbing story with CNN.