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House Democrats Sue IRS, Treasury For Trump Tax Returns; Navy SEAL Not Guilty Of Murder In ISIS Detainee Death; New Polls Show Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) Gaining On Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D- MA) Close Behind. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired July 2, 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: 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 and Means Committee's strategy work?

And fallen angel. Teammates remember a pitcher Tyler Skaggs, as the 27-year-old's unexpected death remains a mystery. We will have the latest on the investigation and the mourning, as the L.A. Angels return to the field tonight.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, an urgent new warning of dangerous overcrowding at border detention facilities.

An independent watchdog for the Department of Homeland Security just released truly stunning images of migrants, including children, jammed together behind fences resembling cages.

The report demands immediate action, quoting a facility manager who likens conditions there to a ticking time bomb.

This comes as a new CNN poll shows nearly three-quarters of Americans now believe there is a crisis at the southern border. It's a steep increase that's most pronounced among Democrats, who see the treatment of migrants as a crisis, rather than the number of illegal border crossings.

Also breaking, President Trump's approval rating is holding steady in a new poll, despite a myriad of controversies, including his plans for a military-style Fourth of July celebration here in Washington on the National Mall.

This hour, I will speak with former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to the southern border. CNN's Nick Valencia is in El Paso Texas for us.

Nick, the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security has just issued an urgent new report.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The new Office of the Inspector General report paints a grim picture for migrants in custody.

Things are so bad, according to the report, it presents a health risk to the safety not just of the agents there in the detention facilities, but also the migrants in custody.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VALENCIA (voice-over): New images from the DHS Office of the Inspector General show what one CBP official calls a ticking time bomb in a new report obtained by CNN, dozens of migrants crammed behind a chain-link enclosure, some with barely enough room to lie on the concrete, and about 30 percent of minors held longer than the 72 hours allowed, according to the report, some children held for two weeks.

ROBERT PEREZ, DEPUTY COMMISSIONER, U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION: We have for quite some time been speaking to the overcrowding at our facilities never designed to deal with the volume of migrants that have been coming our way.

VALENCIA: The lack of capacity has put a strain on an agency under fire, and now under investigation over this closed Facebook group reportedly made up of thousands of current and former Border Patrol agents.

ProPublica first exposing "I'm 10-15," reportedly named after a code for undocumented immigrants in custody. According to ProPublica, members also shared lewd and sexist content about Latina members of Congress, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

BRIAN HASTINGS, CHIEF OF OPERATIONS, U.S. BORDER PATROL: These do not represent the thoughts of the men and women of the U.S. Border Patrol. Each one of these allegations will be thoroughly investigated.

VALENCIA: CNN sat down exclusively with someone we have confirmed is a longtime Border Patrol agent in El Paso. The agent expressed disgust at the Facebook group and says being derogatory is part of the Border Patrol culture, even hearing a supervisor joke about dead migrants.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was making fun of them.

VALENCIA (on camera): Saying what?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That, what difference does it make? It's just another life. He made a comment also regarding running over illegals. And I'm like, you can not run over people.

VALENCIA (voice-over): The allegations come on the heels of growing outrage from Democratic lawmakers visiting detention facilities today in Florida.

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D-GA): When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to say something. You have to do something.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VALENCIA: And, Wolf, we did reach out to Customs and Border Protection to respond to the allegation made in that piece from a longtime El Paso Border Patrol agent.

There was not an immediate response from CBP. But, previously, they say they take similar allegations seriously and will report them immediately to the Office of the Inspector General.

We should say that we will have more from that whistle-blower later tonight on CNN -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nick Valencia in El Paso for us, Nick, thank you.

Now to the president and his plans to put a Trump-style spin on the Fourth of July.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, the president claims military leaders, in his word, are thrilled to be part of his event, but a lot of Americans not necessarily all that thrilled.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

And, Wolf, this is an event that, in the past, presidents haven't typically attended, but we know that President Trump has said for years he wants to have a grand military event on this scale. And even last year, he tried to have one on Veterans Day, but they ended up having to scrap that planned military parade in the end.

[18:05:08]

And this time, Wolf, the president seems intent with moving ahead with it, no matter the financial, political or even the logistical cost.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It'll be like no other. It'll be special. And I hope a lot of people come.

COLLINS: On Thursday, Trump will turn Washington's 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, the best fighter

jets in the world and other planes too. And we're going to have some tanks stationed outside.

COLLINS: Defense officials have long been hesitant about using the armed forces to advance a president's agenda and said there's 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's just not who we are as Americans.

COLLINS: 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 have reached most Americans. What the Democrats' plan is, is going to destroy the country, and it's going to be horrible health care.

COLLINS: 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, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Thematically, 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 have done for veterans. There's no final form yet, but America will hear the whole speech.

COLLINS: 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: While the public will get to watch from afar, the areas closest to Trump will be reserved for VIPs, whose 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 have ever seen.

COLLINS: 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? I'm not going to allow you to politicize it.

COLLINS: Tonight, as the White House looks forward to setting the stage for the Fourth, the president was back on Twitter looking to settle old scores.

The president complained about former special counsel Robert Mueller's upcoming testimony before Congress in two weeks, saying: "Mueller should stick to the report. This is what he would and must do. After so much testimony and total transparency, this witch-hunt must now end. No more do-overs."

Trump is also ramping up his criticism of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, claiming his state's government is targeting political opponents and causing organizations like the National Rifle Association to flee the city after the attorney general opened up an investigation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: And, Wolf, we have some breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

And that's the Trump administration has decided to stop its effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. This is something that just yesterday the president said he wanted to delay printing the census because he wanted that question on there. He believed in having that question there.

But now they have announced that they will not put that question this year's census, that they are going to start printing it, even though, in his statement, the commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, said he strongly disagreed with the Supreme Court's ruling on whether or not they could add this.

BLITZER: Yes, a significant setback to the president and Republicans, this decision.

There's also some confusion that developed earlier today, Kaitlan. The vice president, Mike Pence, all of a sudden canceling an event in New Hampshire, rushing back to the White House. What was that all about?

COLLINS: Yes, Wolf, there was a lot of concern this morning because he abruptly canceled that event, even though he had not left Washington yet, and Air Force Two was still on the ground.

But the president -- vice president's office said that there is no cause for alarm for why they canceled it. But we should note that, even in the hour since then, Wolf, the office still has not said why it was that the vice president abruptly canceled his event.

It's highly unusual for that to happen, especially when the plane is ready to go and the event is already slated to move forward, like that opioids event in New Hampshire was. But, Wolf, they said it's not related to the vice president's health or the president's health, and it's also not related to national security.

[18:10:01]

They're just not saying what it is related to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kaitlan Collins at the White House for us. If you find out, let us know.

COLLINS: We will.

BLITZER: Also tonight, the battle between the president and House Democrats is taking another dramatic turn, as the Ways and Means Committee files a formal lawsuit, an official lawsuit, to get hold of the president's tax returns.

Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.

Manu, how significant is this move?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the stakes are very significant, Wolf, very far-reaching, in how it could affect Congress' ability to conduct oversight over the executive branch for years to come, which is why Democrats took time to file this lawsuit today, after months of fighting with the Trump administration.

Now, this is being led by the House Ways and Means Committee, the chairman, Richard Neal. In the lawsuit today, the House says -- quote -- "This extraordinary attack on the authority of Congress to conduct oversight is what the Treasury Department is doing by preventing Congress from getting these tax returns."

Now, what they are -- Democrats are doing in this lawsuit, they are citing an obscure provision in the tax code that says that Congress shall furnish tax returns of an individual over to the House Ways and Means Committee.

But the Trump administration has pushed back, as it has in other cases, saying there's no legitimate legislative purpose to turn these documents over.

Now, the separate cases in court over financial records, that argument about no legitimate legislative purpose has been rejected by two separate federal courts. And, in this case, Democrats say there is a legitimate legislative purpose, because they want to see whether the presidential auditing system in any way needs to be overhauled, because, as we know, Wolf, the president's broken from past practices, not released his tax returns, saying he's under audit, claiming he's under audit.

Democrats are saying that's a reason why they want to see it, whether that should be changed one way or the other. But, nevertheless, this could go for months and months and months and end up before the Supreme Court -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill, thanks for that update.

Joining us now, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. He also served as CIA director. He was chief of staff over at the Clinton White House as well.

Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us. We certainly have a lot to discuss.

But, first, let me get your reaction to the conditions at these border detention facilities. Who shoulders the blame for this awful situation? You saw what the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general released today.

LEON PANETTA, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Yes.

No, there's there's no question here that the responsibility belongs to the administration, and particularly the Department of Homeland Security, that has the responsibility for overseeing these facilities.

They have been caught totally unprepared. It's been a hit-and-miss operation. The whole issue at the border has been an administrative nightmare. And innocent people are paying the price for what I think has been an irresponsible approach to administering laws and our immigration process.

BLITZER: When you see these dangerous overcrowding situations develop, lack of access, for example, to clean water and showers, kids going without medical care, even warm meals, how does that reflect on the United States, because people all over the world are watching and seeing this?

PANETTA: Well, Wolf, as you know, I'm the son of immigrants.

And my parents came into this country and felt that this country welcomed them to be here and gave them opportunity to be able to enjoy the American dream.

The message we're sending from this disastrous situation at the border is that America has failed to be able to fulfill the dream that America has always had, which is that we welcome immigrants to this country. We want to give them the opportunity to be a part of America. We want to be able to treat them as human beings, and not as chattel.

We have a responsibility, as the greatest democracy on the face of the Earth, to be able to send a message that this country is willing to welcome everyone who comes to our country, because that is our heritage. That's our legacy. And that's what's made our country great.

BLITZER: I don't know if he would call you, or if you have an opportunity to ever speak with the president of the United States.

Given your vast experience in government, what would you say to him if you had a chance right now, Mr. Secretary? PANETTA: I would say, Mr. President, we may not agree as to how we

treat immigrants, but you have a responsibility, as president of the United States, to make sure that our country is implementing the laws the way the law should be implemented and that, at the border, there is an absolute necessity to ensure that we have both the facilities and the administration to be able to handle the flow of immigrants that are there.

[18:15:20]

We have faced immigrant flows into this country in the past. We have always been able to deal with it, because there are people who roll up their sleeves and do the right thing.

My feeling right now is that this process is totally overwhelmed, that people don't have the capability to begin to even handle the kind of volume that we're dealing with at the border. And the time right now for the president is to call a task force together, made up of law enforcement, made up of immigration services, made up of health officials, made up of those that deal with children and families, pull that task force together, and put them in charge of dealing with these human beings at the border.

BLITZER: All this is following a ProPublica report on a private Facebook group of current and former Border Patrol agents, Mr. Secretary, who were posting these incredibly sexist and racist posts targeting immigrants, targeting members of Congress.

We have also heard from House Democrats that have faced serious resistance from the Border Patrol agents when they tried to document conditions within these detention facilities.

Does Customs and Border Protection have a wider problem with its culture?

PANETTA: Well, certainly, that kind of evidence of racial attitudes and the kind of comments that they're making reflect badly on the immigration service.

I don't think it's a reflection of all those that serve. I don't think it's a reflection of the good people that are trying to do their job. But every time you have people that make those kinds of comments and that e-mail those kinds of prejudices, what it does is, it sends a huge message to the country that everyone is like that, and they're the wrong people to be handling the situation.

I hope that they investigate the matter. I hope that they discipline those involved. But, more importantly, I hope that others who do not participate in these kinds of comments step forward and say, that's not what we're about.

BLITZER: Let's turn to other news we're following right now, the president's Fourth of July salute to America.

Is this level of direct military involvement, military aircraft, tanks, is it appropriate for the Fourth of July celebration here in the nation's capital?

PANETTA: Wolf, I have been in Washington a long time, and have always, with my family, enjoyed the Fourth of July down on the Mall, because it was a celebration of our country.

It was a celebration of America. And that celebration was for all Americans, not for Republicans, not for Democrats, but for all Americans and their families to be able to enjoy that event, to enjoy the fireworks, to enjoy the music, to enjoy the day.

It should not be politicized. No president, frankly, has done that. Most presidents that I have worked with enjoyed the Fourth of July, looking at the fireworks from the White House, and enjoying the fact that other Americans were enjoying themselves.

They didn't try to dominate the event. They didn't try to turn it into a military display of power. They just tried to say to the American people, this is your day. Enjoy it. And let us all appreciate the fact that we are Americans.

That is what the Fourth of July is all about. And I think the president does a great deal of harm by politicizing this event. I think the military, frankly, we have always taken the position, those of us that had been involved with the military, that we don't have to display our power to anybody.

We're the strongest military power on the face of the Earth. We don't have to roll tanks down the street. We don't have to roll troops down the street , because we know that we are strong and we can take on any enemy.

That's -- that is, I think, the real strength of American power. It's not to somehow display it, the same way a Kim Jong-un would, or the same way a Putin would, or the same way the Iranians would. That's not who we are as a people.

[18:20:02]

BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, as usual, thanks so much for joining us.

PANETTA: Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Leon Panetta, the former defense secretary.

We're going to have the latest on the mysterious death of the L.A. Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs. That's coming up. His teammates, they are speaking out tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Tonight, CNN is learning new details of President Trump's Fourth of July event here in Washington on the National Mall.

[18:25:00] Sources say the president will speak for about 20 minutes on topics, including his administration, and that he's asked the U.S. military chiefs of the armed forces to stand by his side in uniform.

Critics accuse the president of turning a patriotic celebration into a partisan event.

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

David Swerdlick, is the president approaching this salute to America celebration as if it were some sort of campaign rally?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN COMMENTATOR: It's like a campaign rally, or it's just sort of this implied statement of (INAUDIBLE) right?

He's conflating himself with America's independence and his achievements with a celebration that is supposed to be just about all of us being patriotic Americans.

I also think there's another element to this, which is that he, whether intentionally or not, is showing American weakness, in my view. The reason small countries have these big military displays is because they're small and they want to show that they're big.

We're the world's greatest superpower. We shouldn't need to have tanks on the Mall to demonstrate that. Yet Trump somehow thinks that we do.

BLITZER: Susan Hennessey, the counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway, she said earlier today, the president does plan on speaking at this event on the Fourth of July about the success of his administration.

Is that an appropriate moment to do so?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Of course not.

There hasn't been a single day of Donald Trump's presidency in which he has acknowledged or understood that he is president of the entire United States, and not just his narrow political base.

We have seen again and again him use the United States military as political props, conflating the official duties of his office with sort of -- with overt partisan and political activities, things that ethics laws are actually supposed to guard against.

It's a little bit rich to hear Kellyanne Conway accusing other people of politicizing the Fourth of July, when, of course, that's what's happening. In addition, we have this special VIP area. And so we're having basically a national holiday honoring our independence and sort of the founding American values being auctioned off to Trump cronies and sort of the highest bidders and donors to the RNC.

That itself is an affront to our values.

BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, Susan makes an important point, because the Republican National Committee has received a whole bunch of VIP tickets to attend. The Democratic National Committee has not received any tickets.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, and if there is a bedrock principle of the American military, is that they stay out of partisan politics.

I mean, you don't see generals and admirals at political events. And, here, the president very explicitly is saying, I want the chairman and the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as my props as I talk about the success of my administration.

And these people have devoted their lives, these military leaders, to the service of this country, regardless of who happens to be president at the time. They have served under Democrats and Republicans.

And to subject them to being part of a political stunt like this is really demeaning to those officials.

BLITZER: The president says, Jackie Kucinich, that the Pentagon brass, in his words, are thrilled to be participating.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I can't imagine the Pentagon brass are going to tell the president what they really think.

This is someone who has viewed the U.S. military since he's been in office as an extension of himself, hence calling them "my generals." It's just that that is something that he has done throughout this.

And you can't really say it better than Leon Panetta did in the last statement about how -- and, as David said -- the strongest military power in the world, we're strong enough to take on anyone. You don't need to march through the streets with armaments.

BLITZER: The tanks.

KUCINICH: Right.

BLITZER: On another issue, I want to get your legal opinion, Jeffrey Toobin.

The House Ways and Means Committee has now filed a lawsuit seeking six years of the president's tax returns after they got stonewalled for the past three months.

Does the chairman of the committee, Richard Neal, make a strong case for these records?

TOOBIN: I think they make a very strong case.

But I think Neal has been totally asleep at the switch. It's July. Where has he been? I mean, there are lots of disputes going on about access to documents in congressional investigations. But here there is a very specific law that says the Ways and Means Committee is entitled to ask for tax returns. I mean, it's very clear. And Neal has been jerking around, and

holding hearings and writing letters and trying to make a record, when this is actually a very simple case that should have been filed in February, not in July.

And now it's going to be in the district court, in the circuit court, and maybe in the Supreme Court. And who knows if it'll even be resolved before the next presidential election.

BLITZER: Because the law says, Susan Hennessey, that the committee has a right to ask, and, if asked, the IRS and the Department of Treasury shall make available those tax returns.

HENNESSEY: I think Jeffrey is right.

Clearly, the -- clearly, Congress -- Chairman Neal has been attempting to go really slowly and methodically, establish that record.

[18:30:04]

That said, there's a point in which the writing has been on the wall from the very beginning. The President had said, we are not complying with subpoenas.

Now, importantly, even if they actually get this tax return information, it won't necessarily become public. This entitles the committee to examine these tax filings privately within the committee. Of course, that does leave some bread crumbs for other forms of oversight and, of course, they're allowed the talk about whether or not they have seen potential abuse in those records.

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

SWERDLICK: Right. As Jeffrey points out, even though 26 USC 6103 gives Chairman Neal, or for that matter, Chairman Grassley in the Senate Finance Committee the right to have these documents furnished to them on request, the fact that the Trump administration is stonewalling, Secretary Mnuchin, the White House, basically is a win for them because they know it's going to drag out in the courts.

I don't know, again, as Jeffrey said, why they haven't pressed harder for an expedited legal review of this because there's really nothing to review. The law is the law in this case.

BLITZER: Tell our viewers why, from the President's perspective, this is such a big deal. Why doesn't he do what all of his predecessors in modern times have done, release his tax returns?

KUCINICH: Well, he says he's under audit, which there's been ample -- people who deal with these sort of financial records and say they don't need -- it doesn't matter if you're under audit. You still could furnish your tax records. I mean, does the President have something to hide? Is it now a game that he can just -- he thinks that because he was elected, people don't care? It really does, and he has said in the past, I'll release them. I won't release them. Maybe I will. Maybe I won't. At this point it's, about defying Congress. And his administration seems intent to do that.

BLITZER: Because some have suggested, Jeffrey, he doesn't want, for example, people to see how much charity, for example, he actually gave over the past six years as a private citizen or how much money he actually made as opposed to what he says he made. Those are some of the issues that have come up. What do you think?

TOOBIN: How many he gave to charity, how much income he actually has, what percent of -- did he pay -- of his income did he pay in taxes? You know, most people who get W-2 income who have regular jobs, they get -- you know, they pay a percentage of their tax returns.

The real estate industry, which has been the President's primary source of income, is notorious for ways to avoid not just some federal taxes but all federal taxes. And if his tax return comes out that he made so many million dollars and paid no federal taxes, that would certainly be quite interesting. But, you know, his behavior has certainly led anyone reasonable to believe that he has something to hide.

HENNESSEY: And let's keep in mind that also that New York Times bombshell, New York Times story that revealed that Donald Trump, on multiple years, appears to have been the single U.S. citizen that claimed the greatest tax losses, the plenty of red flags about what might be in there.

BLITZER: Quickly, what did you think of the Justice Department decision to go ahead with the census without asking any questions about citizenship?

HENNESSEY: So this is clearly the right decision in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, of course, that the reason that the government had offered from wanting to include this question was pre-textual, sending it back down to the lower courts.

There was a question about whether or not the Trump administration was going to litigate this, take it through like the appeals process. This is the right call to say, okay, we're going to print the census questions without this citizenship question on it and go about the really critical and important process of making sure we are fairly counting all persons in the United States.

BLITZER: Everybody stand by. There's more breaking news coming in to The Situation Room right now.

There's a verdict in the trial of a Navy SEAL accused of murder in the stabbing of an ISIS detainee. Stand by, we have a live update.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:35:00] BLITZER: All right. There is more breaking news we're following here in The Situation Room. Verdicts just announced in the trial of a decorated Navy SEAL charged with murder and the death of an ISIS prisoner. CNN's Nick Watt is working this story for us.

So, Nick, Eddie Gallagher, he was acquitted of all but one charge. Update our viewers.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. He was charged with premeditated murder of a teenaged ISIS fighter. He was charged with posing with that corpse and also on other occasions firing his rifle indiscriminately into crowds of civilians and on one particular occasion, hitting, shooting an old civilian man with a sniper rifle, doing the same with a young girl.

And also he was charged with obstruction of justice for trying to stop his fellow SEALs from turning him in and then retaliating against the ones who did. He was cleared of all of those charges, Wolf, apart from the charge of posing for a photograph with the corpse of that dead ISIS detainee.

And listen, the defense said from the beginning, we can't argue that he didn't take that photo because you've all seen the photo. And that was really the major plank of the prosecution's case. They said Chief Eddie Gallagher's own words are enough because he sent those trophy photos to friends with messages like got this one with my hunting knife and got my knife skills on.

[18:40:01]

But a jury of seven fellow military men found him not guilty of all those charges. Right now, there is a sentencing hearing going onto find out what actual sentence he will get for that charge of posing in that photograph. The maximum is four months and, Wolf, he has already served more than that.

Now, the defense said this was never a case about murder. This was a case about mutiny. They alleged that these SEALs who turned Eddie Gallagher in just didn't like him, didn't like his leadership style, and so made all of this up. And there were really no forensics in this case, whatsoever. I mean, the battlefield where this alleged crime took place was in Iraq, which was inaccessible to investigators, and also there was no body. There was no autopsy. Even a forensic pathologist called by the prosecution on the stand, he said, I can't even give you a cause of death based on the evidence that I have. So it was always going to be an uphill struggle. And it was always going to be who the jury believed, which SEALs they believed.

And in the end, they have cleared Eddie Gallagher of six charges. It looks, Wolf, like he will be out and home for the 4th of July.

BLITZER: Nick Watt report for us, and, Nick, thanks for that update.

There's other breaking news we're following as well, new polls showing potentially key shifts in the democratic race for the White House. Our Senior Washington Correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, is here. He's got the latest, some surprising new numbers following the democrats' first debate.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they are indeed, and these numbers are all telling the same story. The democratic primary race is a very fluid one. Nationally, we know, Kamala Harris is gaining ground on frontrunner Joe Biden after her debate performance last week. But even more significantly, we're learning tonight the same is true in Iowa, where Harris and Elizabeth Warren are rising and Bernie Sanders is not.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Tonight, a reset of the 2020 race and a reshuffling in the top tier of the crowded democratic field. A new poll Iowa poll from Suffolk University in USA Today shows Joe Biden in the lead but far from an invincible with Kamala Harris on the rise in the state that kicks off the voting in just seven months.

Elizabeth Warren also climbing as Bernie Sanders falls below the top three contenders. The survey of likely Iowa caucus goers (ph) largely mirroring the findings of the latest CNN national poll out Monday. In a new Quinnipiac poll today showing Biden at 22 percent and Harris at 20 with Warren and Sanders not far behind.

Aides to Biden say the former Vice President always knew he would have a contest, not a coronation, but they did not expect it would happen so quickly after a shaky first debate last week in Miami. Biden foreshadowed this himself not long ago on the campaign trail.

JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: I see all these polls they're giving to me. They don't mean a thing right now. This is a marathon and the marathon is just beginning.

ZELENY: The increasingly competitive primary fight coming as candidates are preparing to blanket the campaign trail in Iowa for 4th of July.

All eyes will be on Harris, whose debate performance has suddenly made her a top contender. The spotlight shining on Sanders, but not with the kind of attention he's accustomed to with Iowa and national polls show him losing ground.

The Sanders campaign announcing today it raised $18 million over the last three months, he's been surpassed by Pete Buttigieg, who revealed on Monday, he has raised more than $24 million. Yet Sanders is responsible for driving much of the policy discussion in the 2020 campaign and shifting the party to the left, which was on full display during last week's back-to-back debates.

Some democrats worry that President Trump and other republicans are smiling tonight at the fact that the Democratic Party is moving too far to the left.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Every poll that I have seen suggests that every part of our progressive agenda is supported by the American people. ZELENY: But the new CNN poll showed that while 85 percent of democrats and democratic-leaning independents want the government to provide a national health insurance company, only 30 percent want to completely replace private insurance as Sanders is pushing.

Meanwhile in Chicago Today at Jesse Jackson's Rainbow PUSH Coalition meeting, Buttigieg acknowledging challenges of his own, particularly introducing himself to African-American voters who are are a critical slice of the primary electorate.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-IN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, when you're new on the scene and you're not from a community of color, you got to work much harder in order to earn that trust because trust is largely a function of quantity time.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Now, as for Biden, he's entering what his aides say as a critical month of July with only four weeks before the next democratic debate, where he hopes to get a second chance to present his argument that he is the strongest democratic to take on President Trump. They'll also, I'm told, be campaigning far more aggressively, heading to Iowa tomorrow with three events alone on the 4th of July and then, Wolf, off to South Carolina.

BLITZER: Very interesting. All right, Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much for that report.

There's more breaking news just ahead.

We have some new details on the mystery death of 27-year-old baseball star Tyler Skaggs.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:45:00] BLITZER: There's more breaking news just ahead. We have some new details on the mystery death of 27-year-old baseball star Tyler Skaggs.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There is breaking news in the sudden death of 27-year-old Major League Baseball pitcher Tyler Skaggs.

CNN's Scott McLean is in Arlington, Texas, where Skaggs was found dead in a hotel room.

Scott, an autopsy is scheduled for today.

[18:50:01] And his team, the Los Angeles Angels, I understand they had a news conference.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

Tyler Skaggs showed up in Texas ready. He walked off the plan in boots and a Stetson ahead of a four-game series with the Texas Rangers. It seems no one expected that a 27-year-old athlete at the top of his career would be found dead.

Today, the team's GM called it incomprehensible.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILLY EPPLER, ANGELS GENERAL MANAGER: We lost a member of our family yesterday.

MCLEAN (voice-over): Tonight, an autopsy is under way on the body of Los Angeles pitcher Tyler Skaggs. The 27-year-old found unresponsive in this Texas hotel Monday just hours before his team was set to play a four-games series against the Rangers.

Skaggs' sudden death remains a mystery after investigators said they do not suspect foul play nor suicide.

During a news conference today, those who knew Skaggs say they are shocked.

EPPLER: Tyler brought joy to everybody around him. He was magnetic. People were drawn to him. He was generous and kind. And our team will never be the same without him. For some reason, that is incomprehensible to all of us. He lives on now only in our minds and in our hearts.

MCLEAN: Overnight, major league teams across the country paused for a moment of silence to remember Skaggs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For him to pass away at such a young age, it's hard.

MCLEAN: Stunned Angels fans gathering outside the team's stadium in Anaheim, to share hugs, lay flowers and light canals in a growing memorial for the beloved pitcher. The Rangers say the game will be played as scheduled, saying there will be a pre-game moment of silence for Skaggs who would have been 28 later this month.

On Saturday, Skaggs pitched 4 and 1 third inning in a 4-0 loss to the Oakland A's. It would his final start.

Skaggs who was nicknamed Swaggy by teammates was drafted in 2009 amid his Major League debut in 2012 with the Arizona Diamondbacks at just 21 years old. He was traded to his hometown Angels the next year before undergoing elbow surgery that sidelined him for all of 2015.

But by 2018, Skaggs seemed to be hitting his stride on the field and off it too.

He married his wife Carli in late 2018, writing on Instagram that 2018 was the best year yet. Tonight, as investigators continue to search for clues, fans and friends are shaken and searching for answers as how to talented young pitcher could suddenly be gone.

BRAD AUSMUS, ANGELS MANAGER: The last image I have with his awful cowboy shirt on playing cards. So, I'll miss him.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCLEAN: And you can see the Angels are back on the feel tonight, Wolf. The team's GM says that's exactly what Tyler Skaggs would have wanted.

BLITZER: Scott McLean on the scene for us, thank you very much.

Just ahead, after President Trump ventured on to Kim Jong-un's turf, could concessions to North Korea be next? We're going to tell you what we are learning tonight. We'll be right back.

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[18:58:02] BLITZER: Tonight, we're learning more about the possibility that the Trump administration might actually settle for a nuclear freeze by North Korea rather than full denuclearization.

Our national security reporter Kylie Atwood has been working sources for us.

Kylie, what are you hearing?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well, sources are telling me that, yes, the Trump administration would potentially consider a freeze of North Korea's nuclear program if that were part of a -- of an approach that gave them something back, if it was from incremental success that they could see. Not that it was the end state they are looking for process. They still want the complete denuclearization of North Korea.

But if they can start moving forward after these talks have been stalled since Hanoi, that would be a positive thing for them. The question is, when do the U.S. and North Koreans get back to the table? And President Trump said it would be within weeks after he met with Kim Jong-un at the DMZ.

And the State Department when I asked them today is -- Steve Biegun, who's a special representative for North Korea, planning a specific date or a specific time? Is he in touch with his North Korean counterparts? They wouldn't give me an answer to that. They said they have no comment. So, we're still waiting to see when they get back to the negotiating table.

BLITZER: How does a temporary freeze, let's say, compared to what the U.S. position was when the president and Kim Jong-un met in Hanoi and that ended with the U.S. simply leaving.

ATWOOD: That's right, it's a drastic change because the U.S. walked away from that, saying that North Korea wouldn't give them enough. North Korea said the U.S. wouldn't give enough. So, this would be a softening in position at least at the negotiating table to hopefully get to a successful outcome.

BLITZER: And then the special envoy, Steve Biegun, is he planning on actually sitting down with North Korean counterparts any time soon?

ATWOOD: That's the plan. We don't know when.

BLITZER: They are going to talk. But where do they hold these kinds of meetings? Does he go there? Does he meet in neutral sites?

ATWOOD: It would be at a neutral site, usually in another country that has diplomatic relations with both the U.S. and North Korea.

BLITZER: Good reporting, Kiley. Thank you very much -- very much at stake on all this.

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show @CNNSitroom.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

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