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Trump to Take Center Stage of July Fourth Celebration; House Dems Sue IRS, Treasury for Trump Tax Returns; Interview with Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) on Tax Code Legislation; DHS Watchdog Warns of Dangerous Overcrowding at Border Detention Facilities; Trump Approval Rating Holds Steady at 43 Percent. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired July 2, 2019 - 17:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Happening now, salute to him?

President Trump steals the spotlight for the nation's Fourth of July celebration deploying military tanks and aircraft and taking center stage for an unprecedented speech.

Is the president's salute to America a salute to himself?

Rock steady: our new CNN poll shows the president's approval rating is holding steady at a weak 43 percent as concern over the situation on the border grows with nearly three-quarters of Americans now saying it is a crisis.

Dangerous overcrowding: in a stunning report, punctuated by shocking photographs, the Homeland Security Department's internal watchdog is now warning of dangerous overcrowding in detention facilities on the southern border. As one official calls the situation "a ticking time bomb."

And tax suit: after months of stonewalling by the Trump administration, Democrats controlling the powerful House committee have now filed a federal lawsuit against the IRS and Treasury Department in a bid to obtain the president's tax returns.

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


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

BLITZER: Breaking news: the Homeland Security Department's own watchdog is now warning of dangerous overcrowding at border detention facilities in a new report, which includes shocking photos of the grim conditions under which migrants are held. A manager at one facility calls it "a ticking time bomb."

That comes as our latest CNN poll shows a big jump in the number of Americans who are deeply worried about the border situation; 74 percent now call it a crisis. At the same time, President Trump's approval rating is holding steady

at 43 percent. But the president, beset by investigations and a new congressional lawsuit aimed at getting his tax returns, is trying to piggy-back on the nation's July Fourth celebration by turning it into an extravaganza, deploying military tanks and aircraft while putting himself at center stage with an unprecedented speech on the National Mall.

I'll speak to Congressman Dan Kildee of the Ways and Means Committee and our correspondents and analysts will have full coverage of the day's top stories.

With July Fourth fast approaching, President Trump is making some drastic last-minute changes to the traditional celebration here in the nation's capital. Let's begin with our White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, the president, he'll be seizing the spotlight.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. The presidents in the past have not typically attended the nation's Fourth of July celebration. But President Trump seems intent on doing so and doing it his way, no matter what the financial, political or logistical costs are.


COLLINS (voice-over): President Trump's grand vision for a military parade is finally coming true -- at least partially.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It will be like no other. It will be special and I hope a lot of people come.

COLLINS (voice-over): On Thursday Trump will turn Washington annual Fourth of July celebration into a show of military might. CNN has learned new details about the last-minute event, which will feature tanks parked at the Lincoln Memorial, a flyover from the Navy's Blue Angels and Air Force One along with the unveiling of the new Marine One helicopter.

TRUMP: We're going to have planes going overhead and the best fighter jets in the world and other planes, too. And we're going to have some tanks stationed outside.

COLLINS (voice-over): Defense officials have long been hesitant about using the armed forces to advance a president's agenda and said there is no need for the U.S. to flout its military strength.

But sources say Trump has asked the chiefs of the armed forces to stand by his side.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is just not who we are as Americans.

COLLINS (voice-over): The president is setting himself up for a clash with his critics, who say he's turning the patriotic celebration into a partisan one.

Asked Monday if his speech will reach all Americans, he turned to Democrats.

TRUMP: I think I've reached most Americans. What the Democrats plan is, is going to destroy the country and it is going to be horrible health care.

COLLINS (voice-over): Today the White House went even further. Trump is expected to speak for 20 minutes Thursday and will touch on several topics, including his administration.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: (INAUDIBLE) how wonderful this country is, our troops and military, our great democracy and great call to patriotism. The success of this administration in opening up so many jobs for individuals, what we've done for veterans. There is no final form yet. But America will hear the whole speech.

COLLINS (voice-over): Local officials say they have logistical concerns about putting military equipment in crowded tourist hot spots. The D.C. City Council tweeting today, "Tanks but no tanks."

But Trump is charging ahead.

TRUMP: The roads have a tendency not to like to carry heavy tanks so we have to put them in certain areas.

COLLINS (voice-over): While the public will get to watch from afar, the areas closest to Trump will --


COLLINS (voice-over): -- be reserved for VIPs, who sources say will include his political allies.

Trump has wanted a military parade of his own since seeing U.S. and French troops march through the streets of Paris two years ago.

TRUMP: It was one of the greatest parades I've ever seen.

COLLINS (voice-over): Today presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway sparred with reporters about the details of the event.

CONWAY: Do you know the Fourth of July is a celebration of this country's independence?

Are you aware of that?

No, I'm not going to allow you to politicize it.


COLLINS: Now, Wolf, we also have some breaking news coming in and that's that the Trump administration has decided to drop its effort to add that citizenship question to the 2020 census. That is something that has been making its way through the courts. The president even said he was going to talk to lawyers about delaying

the census so they could add that question on there, something he's made clear he feels belongs on the census. But we have now learned they are going to print the 2020 census without that question about citizenship on there, which is a win for the president's critics, Wolf, who said he was simply trying to skew the census in the favor of Republicans.

BLITZER: A major setback for the president. And at the same time, Kaitlan, there is also some serious confusion earlier today. The vice president, Mike Pence, canceling an event in New Hampshire.

What was that all about?

COLLINS: Yes, Wolf, it was a strange morning where the president -- excuse me -- the vice president was scheduled to travel to New Hampshire for this event on opioids. But before he even had left Washington and before Air Force Two had even taken off, they abruptly canceled it because his spokesperson said, quote, "Something came up back at the White House."

Now, Wolf, throughout the day, officials have been pretty tight-lipped and they still haven't detailed what it is that came up at the White House that drew the vice president away from his event. A cancelation like that is pretty rare.

But they did say it was not something related to the health of the vice president or the president and it also wasn't related to national security. But, Wolf, whatever it was, it was a big enough event to make them cancel that event. They still have not filled reporters in on.

BLITZER: Let's see what happens on that front. Kaitlan, thank you.

And also breaking, an urgent call for action to relieve the truly overcrowded and unsanitary conditions at migrant detention centers. A new report by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general quotes a senior manager at one facility, calling the conditions "a ticking time bomb."

CNN's Nick Valencia is in Texas for us, where members of Congress visited several border centers this week.

Tell us more, Nick.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this new Office of the Inspector General Report is based on five visits to Border Patrol stations and what is very evident in the images is just how overcrowded the facilities are, especially in McGowan and Weslaco, where migrants have trouble lying down on the concrete. It is just that overcrowded.

Here is something else that stands out from the report. Half of the 8,000 detainees in custody in McGowan were held longer than the 72 hours which is required -- or the limit under law. And a third of the children suffered through the same thing. Now DHS has stressed that they are doing the best they can with the

resources they have but according to Democratic lawmakers like Katherine Clark, that is not enough.


REP. KATHERINE M. CLARK (D-MA): What is it going to take to comply with the law, have these children reunited with their sponsors, their family members, within the 20 days?

That is the law. That is the standard. And it is not being met.


VALENCIA: Mounting pressure on these Border Patrol stations and DHS to do something fast -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Through this report, Nick, and the headline on the front page management alert, Department of Homeland Security needs to address dangerous overcrowding and prolonged detention of children and adults in the Rio Grande Valley. It's a shocking report indeed. Nick Valencia on the scene for us, thank you.

Also tonight, Democrats are raising the stakes in their effort to get the president's tax returns. After months of stonewalling by the Trump administration, the powerful House Ways and Means committee has now filed a federal lawsuit against the IRS, the Treasury Department and their leaders.

Let's bring in CNN politics -- congressional reporter, Lauren Fox.

Lauren, on what grounds are the Democrats demanding that they get access to the president's returns?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this has been months in the making. Of course, Democrats long arguing that the fact that the president was the only modern president not to turn over his tax returns to the public made it essential that they get the president's tax returns.

They're arguing a few things; while Republicans and the Trump administration say this is a political move, they are arguing that they need the president's tax returns because they need to understand how the presidential audit program works.

That is a program that is not enshrined in law but basically says that the IRS takes a look at every incoming president's tax returns. They want to know how that program works. They also argue they need to see the president's taxes because they need to know if he personally benefited from the GOP tax law.

But again, just a reminder, this has been months in the making. Richard Neal told me back in November, he expected eventually this case would have to go to court and this has come --

[17:10:00] FOX: -- after he subpoenaed for the tax returns, after he sent multiple letters. Ultimately the Treasury Department denying his request so this is exactly where we are today, an escalation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lauren, even if the Democrats do win in court, how long will it take to actually get the president's tax returns?

FOX: Well, that is a good question. And something that a lot of liberals on the House Ways and Means Committee have been very worried about. Essentially they've argued that Richard Neal seemed to go a little slower than they wanted him to.

They're concerned that this could stretch well beyond the 2020 election. Of course, there is no way to know precisely how long it will take. These court actions can take months or even years. Sometimes they move along a little more quickly.

So that has been a key concern for liberals on the committee who argued, Richard Neal should have filed this lawsuit months ago, that waiting until the early months of July is just too late.

BLITZER: Lauren Fox up on Capitol Hill, thank you.

Joining us now, a member of the Ways and Means Committee, Democratic congressman Dan Kildee of Michigan.

Congressman, thank you so much for joining us.

As you know, the lawsuit accuses the Treasury Secretary, the IRS commissioner of what they call an extraordinary attack on the authority of Congress. Explain your committee's argument in this suit.

REP. DAN KILDEE (D-MI): Well, the argument is actually pretty simple. Section 6103 of the tax code said that the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee can ask for a tax return and it shall be delivered to the chairman.

It doesn't say unless it is the president; it doesn't say unless the president is uncomfortable with delivering that particular tax return.

The law is very clear. It is intended for a specific purpose: to allow the Congress to play its necessary, constitutionally-mandated role to provide oversight and to legislate based on the best information we can get.

So not only have they not complied with section 6103 but they willfully denied a legally issued subpoena that they should have answered. They are trying to create new law and say that the administration does not have to answer to anybody. And obviously we think that is wrong and we're not going to let it go.

BLITZER: Chairman Neal, your chairman of the committee, he filed this lawsuit now almost exactly three months after making the initial request. You've previously, Congressman, expressed concerns over the pace of this request. Realistically, what are the chances that the courts resolve this

before the 2020 election?

KILDEE: Well, that is entirely up to the courts now. I think the chairman has been very deliberate about this because he wants to get it right. He's been working directly with House counsel on this. This is unprecedented, largely because the president's actions are unprecedented.

As Lauren said, nearly 50 years of precedent, where presidents and candidates for president have released their returns, have been broken by President Trump and, in his case, if anyone should be more transparent or the American people should know more about his private interests, it is this president, who continues to maintain control over his -- what he considers the vast business interests.

So, look, we're not going to let this go. I think the chairman is handling it in the way that he should. We are now in court. And it is going to be up to the court to determine how quickly they move. I hope they move with some haste because this is a serious question.

BLITZER: Even if you do get access to the president's tax returns, there is no guarantee your committee will be able to share those tax returns publicly.

Isn't that right?

KILDEE: That is right. There is no guarantee that we would be able to or that we would have a purpose to do so. If, in fact, there is information that is clearly of a public interest, then the committee would take action to share some or a portion of the returns.

The most important thing for us is to get access to this information because we have some doubts as to whether or not the IRS, which is directed by the Treasury Department, is properly enforcing the tax laws on the president of the United States.

Or even if he is, as he says he is, under audit, we're trying to determine whether or not we need to codify what has been a long- standing practice within the IRS to audit presidential returns.

The only way we can really make that decision is to have that information in front of us. If that leads to a public interest, that the committee is persuaded can only be served by having some of that information released, then we'll make that judgment at that time.

BLITZER: We're also following the latest reporting on the awful conditions for so many migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. You saw those pictures of very dangerous overcrowding; your colleagues have visited these facilities. They describe horrific conditions in recent days.

What do you want Congress to do to address this awful situation?

KILDEE: Well, first of all, it is a daily human tragedy that is partly the creation of the president's own policies. One thing Congress --


KILDEE: -- should do is press and insist that the president reinstate the aid to the Northern Triangle, to try to prevent the conditions that are driving people to leave, to leave their homes, to flee violence.

The president made a terrible decision to walk away from that terrible tragedy. And so that tragedy is now coming to our border.

But I think Congress needs to go farther. I supported the most recent border supplemental, reluctantly, only because I know we have to get something done. I would have preferred the House version to have been implemented; that requires pretty significant transparency in terms of how this administration is using those dollars and much more accountability.

So I think Congress needs to continue to press for those provisions as we go forward as well.

BLITZER: The Northern Triangle -- El Salvador and Honduras and Guatemala. This comes in the wake of a very disturbing report by ProPublica, Congressman. They discovered a private Facebook group, where Border Patrol agents made extremely disturbing, very racist, sexist posts, mocking immigrants, mocking members of Congress.

Congressman Joe Kennedy, one of your colleagues, said, when they visited detention facilities yesterday -- and I'm quote quoting him now -- "CBP was very resistant to congressional oversight. They tried to restrict what we saw, take our phones, block photos and video.

"Atmosphere was contentious and uncooperative."

Is this a broader problem of the culture within the Customs and Border Protection agency?

KILDEE: I think it is an indication that they have a very serious problem of the culture within CPB. This is dangerous.

How are we supposed to expect these people to post these awful images and these awful comments on one day and then the next day take care of vulnerable children?

But look, no one can excuse the leadership at the very top. If those individuals are using that sort of language, racist, sexist, misogynistic images, one has to wonder whether it is the president of the United States and his own behavior, his own words, that has encouraged and fomented that kind of ugliness.

I think we have to point at the top. For those people to be able to get away with those things, I think they can point to the president of the United States and say, look, he seems to do the same thing, sometimes in softer terms certainly.

But I think the president has created an environment in this country that allows this sort of behavior to go unchecked. It is ugly and needs to stop.

BLITZER: Congressman Dan Kildee, thanks so much for joining us.

KILDEE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We also have some breaking news coming in. Breaking news involving the sports world. The U.S. National Team just made a finals of the Women's World Cup tournament defeating England 2-1. They'll face the winner of the upcoming semifinal match between the Netherlands and Sweden. That match now set for Sunday.

Congratulations to the U.S. Women's soccer team.

Up next, our new CNN poll shows growing concern over the situation on the southern border. We'll break down the numbers for you.

Also, teammates are mourning the sudden death of a Los Angeles Angels pitcher and now they're speaking out about their loss.





BLITZER: We're following breaking news as the Homeland Security's internal watchdog issues a grim report on the southern border, as an exclusive new CNN poll shows divisions over what is happening along the border. Let's bring in our political director David Chalian.

David, a majority of Americans now believe there is a serious crisis underway along the border but they're split on just what that crisis is.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: They are, Wolf. But you are right, three-quarters of Americans in this poll see a crisis at the border. Take a look at this number: 74 percent of Americans in this poll say, yes, the situation at the border is a crisis.

We don't see them agreeing on anything by that margin. In January, that number was only 45 percent. So it has jumped. And take a look across all of the parties. Democrat, Republican, independent, every category, every party has moved up.

But look at the numbers at the bottom. Democrats: back in January, 23 percent of Democrats saw a crisis at the border and that is now 70 percent, 72 percent of independents, 82 percent of Republicans. This is agreement across the board.

But Wolf, you're right to note, this is now where the disagreement comes into place.

What do you see as the crisis? Thirty-four percent say the crisis is at the border because of the number of migrants coming across; 32 percent say the crisis is because of the way the migrants are being treated and 23 percent, as we said before, don't see a crisis.

You know there is a lot of partisanship behind that split. Republicans overwhelmingly see the crisis as in the number of migrants coming over; Democrats overwhelmingly see the crisis about how those migrants are being treated.

BLITZER: But despite the disagreement over the nature of the crisis, the president's approval number remains very steady.

CHALIAN: Yes. This is not impacting his overall approval rating and one of the great truisms of the Trump era --


CHALIAN: -- is how rock steady he is. He's at 43 percent approval in this poll, 52 percent disapprove -- that is upside down. No president wants to be there, certainly not heading into a re-election campaign. But this is where he's been for the last many months.

Take a look at the last six months of this year and you see Donald Trump's approval rating in January was at 37 percent and that was largely due to the shutdown, which he didn't get good reviews for. Since then he's just been in this low 40 to mid-40 range and for the last three months he's been 43 percent each month.

BLITZER: On another matter, a significant setback -- and I want your thoughts -- to the president and to the Republicans because now the census will go forward without any question about citizenship.

CHALIAN: Yes, this is a big blow to the president. As you know, he and his administration was very much looking forward to this census and inserting a question about citizenship status.

A lot of experts and a lot of Democrats said this has the chance to really suppress the count in some way if you put a citizenship question in there. It could scare some people off who are undocumented and not participating.

Wolf, this is a blow to the president. There is not a citizenship question in the census now. Democrats are going to be thrilled to see a more robust and complete count because they think that will help them in the drawing of congressional districts going forward.

BLITZER: And the Democrats could thank the Supreme Court for their decision the other day, to say that the citizenship question, at least for the time being, was inappropriate. David Chalian, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, more on President Trump's plans to showcase his record on the U.S. military at a Fourth of July celebration that traditionally is nonpolitical.


[17:31:21] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

BLITZER: All right, there's breaking news. There is a verdict now in the trial of the Navy SEAL accused of murder in the stabbing of an ISIS detainee.

I want to go to CNN's Nick Watt. He's in San Diego outside of the courthouse.

So, tell our viewers what the jury decided.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, after about six hours of deliberation the jury found Chief Eddie Gallagher not guilty on six counts, guilty only on one of the charges that he faced and that was posing with the corpse of the young ISIS detainee who was dead, who Gallagher had been accused of murdering. He was cleared of that charge.

Now as the deliberation went on, it was beginning to look worse for Eddie Gallagher. We could see that they were beginning to get tense on that side of the courtroom. But this morning the jury asked to hear the testimony of the first witness once again and that was all about that scene in which Eddie Gallagher was alleged to have stabbed that ISIS detainee. But not guilty of all of those six serious charges. Only guilty of posing with the corpse and that -- that comes with a maximum sentence of four months behind bars. And Eddie Gallagher has already served more than that during pre-trial confinement.

The official sentencing is going to begin in about a half hour from now and both sides will argue over it. But it looks like Eddie Gallagher will face no more jail time. And also, very importantly, that charge of posing with the body, the jury is not allowed to implement a dishonorable discharge on that and that would have been the big problem for Eddie Gallagher because he could have lost all of his pension and his benefits. That is not open to them. So, all he can be sentenced with is up to four months in jail.

And as I say, Wolf, he has already served this. Listen, this case has captivated like few other court marshals have partly because it gave us a little insight into the usually secretive world of the SEALs and also there was a bombshell dropped from the witness stand by one of Gallagher's fellow SEALs who had been called by the prosecution, and he said, yes, I saw Eddie Gallagher stab this young ISIS detainee, but I actually killed him.

Corey Scott, he said I actually killed him. I put my finger over his trach tube and asphyxiated him because he was going to die anyway and I was scared that he was going to be tortured. Now the problem for the prosecution in this case was there was no forensic evidence, frankly. This was a crime scene, an inaccessible crime scene far away in Iraq, there was no body, there was no autopsy. Even one of the forensic pathologists called by the prosecution said, I can't even determine a cause of death. So, what this case rested on was those photos that Eddie Gallagher

took with the corpse and also the testimony of the SEALs, but that was contradictory. Some SEALs said, yes, Eddie Gallagher did all this stuff, he stabbed the detainee, he fired his sniper rifle at innocent civilians. Other SEALs stood up and said he didn't. So, it came down really to who the jury believed. And the jury believed Eddie Gallagher who by the way did not testify himself, but they believe those SEALs who said we didn't see anything.

But also, as I say, Wolf, it would have been very hard to convict beyond a reasonable doubt when there was zero forensic evidence -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of national attention on this Court Marshal, on this trial. Thanks very much, Nick Watt, for that report.

We're going to stay on top of that but there is other news we're following including a new CNN poll that shows President Trump's approval rating at 43 percent with 52 percent disapproving the job he's doing at president.

[17:35:07] This comes only days before the president intends to tout his record during a Fourth of July speech here in Washington on the National Mall. A celebration that traditionally has been nonpartisan.

Let's bring in our political experts and analysts and we'll discuss. And Chris Cillizza, the counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway, reveals the president does plan to talk about the successes of his administration during the Salute to America Fourth of July celebration.

Is that an appropriate moment at this kind of event?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well, let me just frame it for people who don't live in Washington or haven't visited Washington on July Fourth, there is already a July Fourth celebration with fireworks and -- this is in addition to what was already had been planned and which I've attended and many people have attended in the past.

I think it is a very fine line between patriotism, which is how Kellyanne Conway is casting this, don't you love America's military, and nationalism, which is sort of this is our way or the highway and we -- if you don't love this, me, our military, rooting for us, that's bad. I don't think -- it depends on what Donald Trump says in truth, I think at least in part.

If he gives an overtly political speech or even a kind of political speech then I do think it's going to be tough and our colleague Josh Campbell, by the way, flagged me, you know, Department of Defense Ethics Procedure, military folks are not allowed to engage in any sort of activity that is partisan in any way, shape or form and the presence of them having them there may get into tough waters. They're not going to be prosecuted for it but it's tough when the commander- in-chief is doing it. BLITZER: But this is not an Independence Day celebration and not a

campaign rally. That's the concern a lot of people are expressing right now.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, Wolf, this president has been campaigning ever since. Well, he's not stopped actually. You know, but ever since he's come into the Oval Office he's continued to campaign and especially right now as his poll numbers are down and I'm looking at more of the fact that you have more people disapproving of him than approving, he is definitely going to do this at the Lincoln Memorial.

He's the party of Lincoln. And with the backdrop of Lincoln and having the military artillery out around Washington, D.C. And it's very interesting, I talked to Julian Castro, the Democratic candidate, one of the Democratic candidates for president, and he said he doesn't like it. He said that money that they're using to put all this artillery out on the streets of Washington, D.C., could be used to help homeless veterans and homeless veterans and veterans are some of the things the president is going to talk about, but the money could be used in other ways.

BLITZER: You know, Bianna, the -- this wouldn't necessarily be the first time the president has politicized an event that was supposed to be apolitical, right?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No. It's not. I mean, you think about right after his election, when he was speaking at the CIA and the Memorial Wall and brought up his election and the crowd sizes, we've seen what he's done at military establishments around the world where he's gone to either Korea or Germany and even Japan on military bases, and he's talked about his own election and what he's done for the country. We saw how even acting Secretary of Defense Shanahan reprimanded some soldiers who were wearing MAGA hats going back to what Chris was saying that this is not typically the protocol that they are not supposed to be political, those who serve in the military.

So, this is something -- I mean, look, he did it in front of the Boy Scouts as well so it's something he's done repetitively over the past two years.

CILLIZZA: History suggests -- just very quickly, history suggests whatever his plan is, if there is one, there is a speech written on the teleprompter, he gets up in front of a big crowd and what is the first thing -- look at this crowd. The biggest crowd ever. Look at all the media. This is like the Academy Awards.

RYAN: That's right.

CILLIZZA: So even if the plan, and I know that's what's coming out of the White House as well, it's going to be a political speech, when have you ask yourself if you've ever seen Donald Trump give a speech that didn't have -- if not politics in it, the celebration of self.

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: It's interesting, Ryan Lizza, that the Republican National Committee has now received some VIP tickets to attend this event, the president's re-election campaign has received special tickets. The Democratic National Committee we're told, they say they've received no tickets.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I doubt they're going to receive any tickets. I mean, it's just the creeping politicization of everything in American life, right, I mean, Christmas has been politicized, why not the Fourth of July. And look, as Chris was pointing out, Trump doesn't have that mode where he understands the presidency as previous presidents had as the only office in the country that represents everyone, right. It's not like a House member, not like a Senate. It represents the entire country.

He doesn't see the office that way, he never has. So classic Trump where this will be a lot about him and he will push the envelope on sort of the nationalist view that he has. And it will have a political element, too.

[17:40:02] Part of what he likes to do in these scenarios is make the Democrats defensive. Make the Democrats say oh, why are you having tanks, why is -- you know, make them seem -- you know, watch what happens, the debate will eventually get to the place where Democrats will be accused of not being patriotic because they're --


RYAN: But we've never had tanks on the Fourth of July.

LIZZA: Classic Trump.

RYAN: We've never had tanks.

CILLIZZA: Kellyanne Conway effectively this morning said that, which is, you know, she was asked, is this political and the response was, the Fourth of July celebrates independence. Do you like independence? I mean, that's not the --

LIZZA: But you know --

CILLIZZA: That is not --

GOLODRYGA: But the Fourth of July -- the Fourth of July has never traditionally focused on the military.

RYAN: That's right.

GOLODRYGA: And that's why this seems so awkward because it's not something we as a nation are used to doing on the Fourth of July. Clearly, we celebrate our independence but military parade is not what we do in this country. For lack of a better word, it's very Soviet. And clearly what the president saw in France last year has stuck with him.

RYAN: Exactly GOLODRYGA: And this is something that they do in France on Bastille

Day. It's typically not something we do on the Fourth of July regardless of who is in office.

RYAN: And the piece that we are for getting, exactly what she just said, this was what something that the president saw. It was about bolstering himself up, looking like a dictator from another nation or a time that's forgot. But here's another issue. On Fourth of July we have seen this in Washington, the presidents -- prior presidents have had military personnel come and sit on the South Lawn and watch the fireworks. We've seen military around, but this is taking it to another level.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about another sensitive issue that has come up, Ryan. The House Ways and Means Committee now has filed a formal lawsuit against the Commerce Department, the IRS. They want the president's tax returns for the past six years. Chairman Neal, he's put forward his lawsuit. How strong of a case do they have?

LIZZA: Well, and you know, I'm not a lawyer but most of the lawyers that have looked at this have looked at the language of this law and it's pretty clear, the chairman of this committee or its equivalent on the Senate side may request anyone's tax returns. Doesn't mean, you know, just to him, doesn't have to make it public but they don't really have to have a reason or anything.

I do think in the complaints --

BLITZER: The law says if they request, the tax returns shall be given to the committee.

LIZZA: Right. Shall, not, you know, there is a negotiation. Not up to the administration's decision. And, look, they are a little bit sensitive to the fact that they -- of what the reasoning behind this is. Right? The Trump administration has said, no, we're not giving you that because you don't have a legitimate legislative purpose. The law doesn't suggest that they need one but they do lay out one in the complaint and say, you know, we're Congress, our legislative purpose here is to study whether presidents are abiding by the tax laws.

BLITZER: This could be a long, drawn-out process in the courts right now.

CILLIZZA: Well, Donald Trump is banking on it, honestly. He's banking on it being a long drawn-out process. They were never -- this started a long time ago. In 2015, Donald Trump starts talking about his tax returns. Oh, I'll definitely release them, then a change happened during the campaign anyway. April 3rd, Richard Neal writes his letter requesting them from Steve Mnuchin, Treasury secretary. That was never going to happen.

So, we're in the beginning of the end stage. The problem is, any nonlawyers Ryan Lizza and I even know, legal processes like this can take a very long time. Donald Trump has two options essentially here, I think. Well, three. One, they win, which maybe. But his other win is that a decision comes after the 2020 election and therefore it's sort of like, well, maybe he's in the middle of the second term or he's lost and it doesn't matter. But the goal was to delay, delay, delay and that's what they're getting here.

BLITZER: You know, Bianna, and let's not forget, why is the president so sensitive about the American public seeing his tax returns? All of his predecessors in modern times, they've released their tax returns. He has fought it during the campaign and he has fought it very bitterly since he was elected.

GOLODRYGA: Well, he's given multiple explanations, one that he's still under audit, another is that he's viewing this as an expedition, as presidential harassment, as Democrats trying to find an issue with the president and many of his supporters including his vice president and including even those -- his chief of staff would say that this is something that the American public knew going into the election. They didn't have his tax returns and yet they elected this president, so those who supported him had no problem with it. So why are people politicizing it?

CILLIZZA: The -- just, OK, they do make that argument, Bianna is exactly right. But this is like saying, well, Donald Trump won therefore America is cool with ties that are too long. Like, yes, Donald Trump's ties are a little bit long. But there is nothing to do with why he won. Tax returns were not on the ballot. There is not one question in the exit poll about taxes and taxes, not one. In our most recent poll, end of April CNN poll, 66 percent of people want to see Donald Trump's tax returns.

So, this argument -- the excuses and the argument don't make sense. He doesn't want to give them because he thinks that there's be something that will be embarrassing.

RYAN: By law --

GOLODRYGA: Yet it's not a pressing issue with many voters, right.

[17:45:01] I mean, it's not something we've seen come up in debates and I think what this administration and what the president is banking on is that this will all become the new normal and that we've become numb to situations like this.

RYAN: So, here's the problem. By law you don't have to -- at this point, you don't have to give your tax returns. But when you have the Mueller report that still has tentacles, that is the issue. The Mueller report is saying that Congress and the courts can deal with this. And the White House is saying it's harassment, but the House is saying, who has the right, and is checks and balances that our founding fathers put in place, they're saying you're attacking us by not supplying this.

This is something that they were pushed on doing. They had to do this. The IRS and Mnuchin said no. They said we're going to show you, checks and balances are still in place.

LIZZA: And look, what this case and a lot of other case has showed is that when you just have a system of norms, and a sort of, you know, gentleman's agreement about certain things like tax returns, someone like Trump could come along and blow up all those norms.

RYAN: That's right. He did come along.

LIZZA: And what --


LIZZA: And what the Democrats most likely, because Republicans don't seem to care as much about this, there needs to be a sort of package of legislation that says, OK, all these things that he blew past, these now need to be in codified law.

BLITZER: Another important --

GOLODRYGA: And they could frame it as not as an attack on this particular president, but setting a precedent, you know, whoever down the road, whether a Republican or a Democrat is going to be in office, that they're not going to be going through this process ever again.

BLITZER: Very significant development, the Justice Department now says the 2020 census will go forward without that question that Republicans and the president wanted involving citizenship.

CILLIZZA: Yes, and I mean, the bigger, broader point here is it's -- every study that had been done, obviously, hypothetically done, but suggested that this would lead to an under-count predominantly of nonwhites. OK. And that give --

RYAN: There's always been an undercount of nonwhites.

CILLIZZA: Right. But -- and an even larger one because you put it in there. The point -- the other point, so that's the big political point. The other point is Donald Trump, maybe it was 36 hours ago, or 24 hours ago, said, we're looking very strongly at delaying the census. I mean, this just goes to everything that he does is written on sand at the edge of the water. I mean, it just can be washed away and then the next he just changes his mind or he's convinced otherwise or his legal aides decide something. But this is a win for the Democrats without question.

RYAN: So, I'm going to say this going back to the census, especially now with all the immigration issues going, there was going to be, no matter what, a problem with undercounting, again, because people are afraid to come out and say, I live here. I'm here. In the midst of all of this question, if they could stay or not. So --

BLITZER: That's right. A big step back for the president with this decision by the Justice Department. We'll see how he reacts. I assume we'll be getting a tweet pretty soon.

Everybody -- everybody, stick around.


BLITZER: Coming up, the latest on the shocking and mysterious death of the Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs. His teammates are holding a news conference right now.


[17:52:34] BLITZER: We have some break news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM about the sudden shocking death of the Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs.

Let's bring in CNN's Scott McLean.

Scott, Skaggs' his teammates, I understand, they've have been holding a news conference. What are you hearing?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf, there are still a lot of questions about this death especially considering Tyler Skaggs was a 27-year-old athlete at the top of his care who actually pitched more than four innings on Saturday. But according to the local medical examiner's office he was found dead at the Hilton Hotel on the fourth floor about 25 minutes from the park here yesterday afternoon.

Local police, though, do not suspect foul play nor do they suspect suicide in this case. There is an autopsy that was scheduled for today but we won't know the full results of that until October. As you mentioned, the team's management held a press conference today where they were asked about Tyler Skaggs. They offered no answers about his death. Just kind words about the player. The general manager Billy Eppler called the death incomprehensible. And the manager, Brad Ausmus, was asked about what the team did after yesterday's game was cancelled. Listen.


BRAD AUSMUS, ANGELS MANAGER: The team all got together a couple of times and some of the guys spoke but I think most importantly in the end we were able to talk about Tyler and laugh about some of the stories and some of the goofy things he did. Listen to some of his music. So, it was good.


MCLEAN: And Wolf, there are really condolences coming in from across the league. He was drafted back in 2009. Played his first game in 2012. So, he has been around the Major League for a long, long time now. Last night's game was obviously cancelled in light of this. Tonight's game will go ahead as scheduled beginning with a moment of silence for Tyler Skaggs -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A very sad story indeed. All right, Scott, thank you. Scott McLean on the scene for us.

Coming up, President Trump stealing the spotlight for the nation's Fourth of July celebration deploying military aircraft and tanks. Taking center stage for an unprecedented speech on the National Mall.


[17:59:29] BLITZER: Happening now, the Trump of July. As the president gets ready to roll out big military guns to celebrate America's independence, he's creating partisan fireworks. Is he turning the nation's birthday into a Trump campaign event?

Ticking time bomb. That's how one official is describing conditions at the southern border as an independent watchdog releases disturbing photos of overcrowded detention facilities. We're following the danger and the outrage as more Americans are now convinced there is a border crisis.

By any ways and means. House Democrats escalate their battle to obtain the president's tax returns by suing the IRS and the Treasury Department. Will the House Ways --