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Democrats Prepare for Mueller Testimony; Interview With Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL); Labor Secretary Defends Sweetheart Plea Deal for Epstein. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired July 10, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:02]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Was his news conference performance on the president's orders enough for him to keep his job?

Make-or-break moment. House Democrats hunker down in intense preparation for next week's testimony by former special counsel Robert Mueller, fearing his high-profile appearance won't have the impact they have been seeking to shift public opinion against President Trump -- tonight, new details of their strategy to get it right.

Courting AOC. Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris tries to boost her progressive credentials by tying her name to Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But Harris is competing with rivals Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who are also courting the star of the liberal left. Which candidate will win her endorsement?

And hurricane watch. Alerts go up as water inundates New Orleans, with a storm closing in, gaining strength, and expected to slam into the Louisiana coast as the first hurricane of the season. We have new forecasts just coming in from the National Hurricane Center.

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: The breaking news tonight, Labor Secretary Alex Acosta refusing to answer growing calls for his resignation and defending the secret plea deal he cut a decade ago as a prosecutor with wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein, who now faces new charges of sex trafficking involving minors.

Also tonight, new details emerging of intense Democratic preparations for the highly anticipated congressional testimony of former special counsel Robert Mueller one week from today. It's seen as a make-or- break moment for House Democrats pressing for an impeachment inquiry into President Trump and hoping Mueller's appearance will firmly convince the public of his alleged criminal conduct.

We will talk about that and more with the number two Democrat, Senator Dick Durbin of the Judiciary Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by. First, let's get the latest on the breaking news and go straight to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, you're getting reaction there to the labor secretary's lengthy news conference.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

So far, top officials over here at the White House believe the labor secretary, Alex Acosta, handled himself very well at that press conference earlier this afternoon. There were no apologies, no regrets from the embattled secretary regarding his handling of the Jeffrey Epstein case.

Secretary Acosta also claimed he has the support of the president, even though Mr. Trump hasn't always stood by Cabinet secretaries who have faced intense scrutiny in the past. But we're hearing from officials that the president wants Acosta on the job for now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

J. ACOSTA (voice-over): Under fire over a plea deal he once cut for multimillionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, Labor Secretary Alex Acosta defended his handling of the case during his days as a federal prosecutor.

ALEXANDER ACOSTA, U.S. SECRETARY OF LABOR: No regrets is a very hard question. You always look back and you say, what if?

J. ACOSTA: With new victims coming forward questioning whether Acosta was too lenient in the case, the secretary was asked whether he would have reached the same agreement today. Time and again, he pointed the finger at state prosecutors in Florida, claiming they were going to allow Epstein to avoid jail time.

A. ACOSTA: Today's world treats victims very, very differently. Today's world does not allow some of the victim shaming that could have taken place at trial. I don't think we can say -- take a case that is this bold and fully know how it would play out today. We did what we did because we wanted to see Epstein go to jail.

There is a value to a short guilty plea, because letting him walk, letting what the state attorney was ready to do go forward would have been absolutely awful.

J. ACOSTA: The secretary made it clear he's not about to resign, talking up his relationship with President Trump, while working in a plug for the administration's record.

A. ACOSTA: My relationship with the president's outstanding. He has I think very publicly made clear that I have got his support. I serve at the pleasure of the president. I thought, yesterday, he was kind and he showed great support. We are here because we are part of an administration that is creating jobs.

J. ACOSTA: A senior administration official told CNN the president's first instinct was to fight back against Democrats calling for the secretary's resignation. The official said Mr. Trump's attitude was -- quote -- "Screw them."

The secretary also blasted reports that he's on thin ice with acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.

A. ACOSTA: Our relationship is excellent, too, and that any articles to the contrary are, in his words, B.S.

J. ACOSTA: In true Trump administration fashion, the secretary took a swipe at the media.

A. ACOSTA: I have read this. And one of the things I find interesting is how -- how facts become facts because they're in a newspaper.

[18:05:07]

Thank you very much.

J. ACOSTA: The question is whether the secretary's performance was enough to stay on. One of Mr. Trump's close friends was betting that his days were numbered.

CHRISTOPHER RUDDY, CEO, NEWSMAX: I think the plea agreement he did is indefensible. I think that he's not going to stay for long.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

J. ACOSTA: But it looks like Secretary Acosta is staying on for now. But the secretary may want to look back at how other embattled Cabinet members have fared in the past.

As one senior administration official put it, one day, you're working for President Trump, and, one day, you're not.

There was one departure here in Washington that was welcomed by the White House today. And that is the British ambassador to the U.S., Kim Darroch. He announced he's stepping down after some of his past criticisms of Mr. Trump surfaced in the news media.

One top White House official told reporters earlier in the day that this was the right course of action. They welcomed that news over here at the White House.

BLITZER: I'm sure they do.

All right, Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.

Let's get some more of the breaking news right now.

CNN's Kara Scannell is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Kara, you have been going through the legal documents around this 2007-2008 case, when Alex Acosta was the U.S. attorney prosecuting Epstein. What did you find out? KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we found that there were a

lot of kind of bare-knuckle tactics that were used by Epstein's high- profile lawyers, including Ken Starr, the lawyer who had investigated President Bill Clinton.

And what we found in the docket is that there were a lot of letters that were exchanged between the two where they were trying to get Acosta to not to knock two of his own prosecutors off the case, as well as even say that the case itself was overreaching.

When that didn't work, they appealed to the Criminal Division at DOJ in Washington, also to the Child Exploitation Center, and ultimately to the deputy attorney general's office.

And one of their arguments was that they said that this case really was only a state case, and it didn't -- it shouldn't have federal prosecution. But they also suggested it was politically motivated, because Epstein had a close association with Bill Clinton.

So that's one of the arguments that they made. But, in the end, this was a case that resulted in no prosecution. So the deal that even that they were arguing about did not result in federal charges. It was a non-prosecution agreement. And the DAG's office or a representative from there did respond to Epstein's lawyers, in saying that they felt that the prosecution was -- quote -- "appropriate."

BLITZER: When Acosta, Alex Acosta, was asked today to look back at his handling of the case, he deflected. He refused to take responsibility, saying the state prosecutors were responsible, some career professionals were making decisions. He didn't accept responsibility.

SCANNELL: He didn't.

I mean, he put the blame on the state prosecutors. And it is true that the feds stepped -- involved, for some extent, because there was concern by the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office bringing it to the FBI.

But, ultimately, Acosta has the ultimate say in that office. He was aware of this deal. He met with one of Epstein's lawyers who was a former law partner of his. And he -- his office had brought other sex trafficking cases involving individuals that were accused of trafficking many fewer victims than the dozens that were accused in this case.

Ultimately, the buck does stop with the top U.S. attorney in that office. And that was Acosta at the time. And he signed off on this deal.

BLITZER: He was the U.S. attorney in South Florida. So he has that responsibility.

Thanks very much, Kara, for that report.

We're also following intense Democratic preparations right now for next week's public testimony from the former special counsel Robert Mueller.

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

Manu, how are Democrats planning to navigate? How are they planning to prepare for Mueller's appearance?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now, behind closed doors well, the House Judiciary Committee Democrats are meeting about next week's hearing. They're trying to lay out their strategy, realizing that they're under significant time constraints over next week's hearing, which will only be two hours' long on the House Judiciary Committee side.

And with members, more than 40 members and the two hours being split roughly equally between the Republicans and Democrats, they won't have much time to press the special counsel to get their questions answered.

So, they're trying to divide up topics, try to figure out exactly what they can do to further the narrative that they want Robert Mueller to lay out, which are alleged criminal wrongdoing by this president. The question, of course, is what will Mueller ultimately be able to answer?

But, Wolf, Democrats today also lowering expectations of sorts and raising concerns about not having enough time to get their questions answered, and giving -- offering a warning also to some of their members. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: What will you guys have to do not to, frankly, mess it up?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): Well, I think I think we have to resist the impulse to editorialize.

We want to give the special counsel the opportunity to speak directly to the American people. And when he's been able to do that, as with his very brief press conference, or even in the letters he wrote protesting the attorney general's misstatement of the contents of the report, it's been very effective for the punching through the fog of propaganda left by Attorney General Barr.

RAJU: Do you think the expectations are just too high for this hearing?

[18:10:00]

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): I don't think anybody should expect much news out of this hearing. Bob Mueller has said that his report is his testimony. He's one of the most disciplined men in Washington, D.C., so I don't think any of us are expecting big headlines out of this -- out of this testimony.

(END VIDEO CLIP) RAJU: Now, Karen Bass, who is a Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, told me -- quote -- "It does concern me" that she does not believe there's going to be enough time.

She believes, Wolf, that they're going to have to come back, ask the special concert to come back, because they will be ultimately frustrated by not getting their answers.

But the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Wolf, Adam Schiff, told me that Democrats will be -- quote -- "economical" in the way they pursue their answers. And he said they will be very strategic as they pursue their questions. We will see if he's right -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will see how they coordinate.

All right, Manu, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on all of this.

Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois is joining us. He's a member of the Judiciary Committee. He's also the minority whip, the number two Democrat in the U.S. Senate.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL): Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, so let's begin with Secretary Acosta's news conference today.

You have called on him to resign. Did anything you heard today from him change your mind?

DURBIN: Well, of course not.

I voted against him, as you mentioned, when he was -- had his nomination before us for secretary of labor, and this case did come up. But more details have come forward in the period of time since he was approved by the Senate with other votes.

And I have to tell you, when I listened to him talk about the hard time that he gave Mr. Epstein, it sounded more like happy time. The fact that he could spend 12 hours a day outside of his cell in his office, and then go back and have a sleepover, that didn't seem like the kind of hard time that this kind of serious charge would merit.

BLITZER: Yes, he had a car and a driver pick him up in the morning, take him to his office. A car and a driver would drive him back, spend 12 hours a day in that office away from that prison.

The Judiciary Committee chairman, Lindsey Graham, a man you know well, he wants to see the results of the Justice Department investigation first, the investigation into Secretary Acosta, before deciding on whether a hearing in the Senate is necessary.

You have a pretty good relationship with Senator Graham. Have you spoken to him about this?

DURBIN: I haven't spoken about this specific case.

It's OK that he wants to look at the Department of Justice background sheet before he makes a final decision.

But this is the kind of thing that, typically, the Senate Judiciary Committee engages in. But for the last several years, under President Trump, many times, the Senate Judiciary Committee has been absent without leave. When it came to the Trump investigation, what little was done was done on the House side.

So I hope that we see a new life in the committee. Its constitutional role is important, and its role in history is important. And I hope that Lindsey Graham will lead us forward in that regard.

BLITZER: I spoke yesterday with Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. He's a CNN legal analyst now.

He believes it's significant that the Public Corruption Unit over in New York, the Southern District of New York, is on this case. How do you interpret that?

DURBIN: I don't know. I have to leave it to Preet. I have a great respect for him. I remember when he was a staffer to then Senator Schumer on the Senate Judiciary Committee, a very sharp fellow and an excellent prosecutor.

I don't know about the public corruption -- corruption side of this, how that might go, where it might delve. It would be pure speculation.

BLITZER: Because he suggesting that perhaps there were some public figures who may eventually emerge, unindicted co-conspirators or whatever.

No evidence of that, but that -- a lot of experts who know something about the Southern District of New York are suggesting that.

Do you want more details on the nature of President Trump's relationship with Epstein and Bill Clinton's relationship with Epstein, for that matter?

DURBIN: Well, I don't know that that's been associated with any of the charges against Epstein either in Florida or now in New York, his association with either of those presidents.

So I wouldn't necessarily say that that is relevant evidence at that point. When we're talking about human trafficking of this scale by this man, there's plenty of obvious evidence to lead to this indictment.

BLITZER: Let's turn to the upcoming testimony next week from the former special counsel, Robert Mueller. House Democrats on the Intelligence Committee and the Judiciary Committee, they're strategizing right now how best to approach these hearings, get the most out of them.

Do you have any advice for them?

DURBIN: Wolf, you have covered a lot of these hearings, haven't you?

BLITZER: Yes.

DURBIN: You know what one hour on each side comes down to, when you have...

BLITZER: That's because -- that's because the lawmakers usually like to make statements and speeches...

DURBIN: That's right.

BLITZER: ... as opposed to asking short, concise, but really important questions.

DURBIN: That's true.

But most good questioning requires some follow-up. If I have five minutes to work with, I better be darn lucky with that first question and the follow-up to get to something relevant.

BLITZER: But can't the chairman of these two committees change the rules and decide that one or two members would have 20 or 30 minutes to do it...

DURBIN: Oh, sure.

BLITZER: ... as opposed to five minutes for individual members, and then have some staffers who are really knowledgeable on all the specifics go in detail and ask not only the questions, but the follow- ups?

DURBIN: That's quite possible.

[18:15:00]

I don't know Chairman Nadler is going to do at the House Judiciary Committee.

My only point is, two hours of testimony Judiciary, two hours Intel, one hour to a side, Democrats and Republicans, is a not a lot to work with. I would not anticipate that there be any blockbuster revelations in that brief period of time.

BLITZER: Yes, I suspect you're probably right.

Does the Justice Department, Senator, have standing to try and block the testimony of two of Mueller's top deputies?

DURBIN: I don't think so. And, quite honestly, we know that the position of the administration

is to obstruct and stop every chance they have in terms of people coming forward and testifying as to what they have seen, heard or participated in. That's just their standard approach to everything.

It's a bare-knuckles fight to bring these administration witnesses before the Congress, but I think the American people expect it. They expect that our branch of government will hold the executive branch accountable. And Donald Trump's no exception.

BLITZER: At an election security briefing up on Capitol Hill today, top officials wouldn't say whether President Trump had actually received a full-scale briefing on 2020 election security.

Does that concern you?

DURBIN: I can tell you the most important part of that was that the key agencies, intelligence and law enforcement agencies, are on the case. They are not taking 2020 for granted. They're moving in the right direction.

They have had some success already when it comes to the 2018 election and thwarting efforts to intervene there. I think that's a good indication that they're taking 2020 seriously.

We ought to stay on top of it, though. We got to work with election authorities all across the United States. My state of Illinois state board of elections was one of the first hacked by the Russians back in the 2016 election cycle.

So we don't assume a thing. We're going to be ready for the fight. And we should be.

BLITZER: Did you go to that briefing today?

DURBIN: I did.

BLITZER: And did you learn something?

DURBIN: I did.

I thought there were several things that were brought out that were very reassuring. And, as I said, the top leaders of these agencies were there making the commitment that they want to move forward. I think we ought to take election security very seriously in this country.

The integrity of our elections is critical to a democracy. And when it comes to these foreign countries intervening, they ought to know that the United States is not going to take it sitting down.

BLITZER: That's very important, indeed.

Senator Durbin, thanks so much for joining us.

DURBIN: Thanks, Wolf. BLITZER: All right, the breaking news continues next.

We're going to take a closer look at the Justice Department's investigation of the plea deal that the current labor secretary, Alex Acosta, struck with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein a decade ago, when Acosta was the U.S. attorney.

Plus, hurricane watches have just been posted, as the storm takes aim at the Louisiana coast. We have a new forecast that is just out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:22:11]

BLITZER: We're following breaking news.

Labor Secretary Alex Acosta standing firm in the face of growing controversy over the plea deal he reached as a prosecutor a decade ago with multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein, who is now facing new charges of sex trafficking.

Acosta is defending his handling in the case, refusing to resign. And we're told he has President Trump's support, at least for now.

Let's dig deeper with the former top FBI lawyer during the Russia investigation. Jim Baker also spent two decades at the Justice Department. He's a CNN legal analyst.

Jim, thanks very much for coming in.

JIM BAKER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, so, Secretary Acosta says it was valuable to get a guilty plea deal with Epstein, rather than roll the dice and go to trial.

Does that explain the unusual circumstances surrounding that plea deal?

BAKER: Well, not fully, at least to me.

I mean, this was a significant activity that he was engaged in and he pleaded guilty to in terms of criminal activity against very young victims. And so, look, prosecutors have to make hard choices. They have to deal with the evidence that's in front of them. They have to deal with reality.

They have to deal with victims and the accused and courts and try to figure out what is the best thing to do. If we step back for a moment, what really this is about, I think, is seeking justice, justice for the victims, most importantly, also bringing Mr. Epstein, who's accused at this point in time, to justice, if he in fact committed the offenses that are alleged in the new charges.

And then, also, it's about holding the Department of Justice accountable for the decisions that it made. So I'm glad to hear that there's some level of internal review going on at DOJ. But I think that needs to be -- I don't understand exactly why it's being done by the Office of Professional Responsibility, as opposed to the inspector general.

But whatever happens there I think should be made public, so that the American people can have confidence in the decisions that were made.

BLITZER: Well, you don't have confidence in the Office of Professional Responsibility?

BAKER: Well, they're more limited in their resources and in their scope of what they can do, especially when you're talking about somebody who's a former Justice Department official at this point time, even though he works for another government agency. That's Secretary Acosta.

BLITZER: So, you think there should be a full-scale inspector general investigation?

BAKER: I would think so. I mean, this has enough of the public attention.

And there were so many victims and continue to be victims, victims who are going to suffer as a result of Mr. Epstein -- Epstein's alleged crimes for the rest of their lives.

BLITZER: And this note -- this decision not to notify victims about the plea deal that was worked out, that's pretty extraordinary, isn't it?

BAKER: It seems extraordinary to me, yes.

And I think it was a lapse. At a minimum, it was a lapse, if not a violation of the law, which the court -- the one court that has looked at this recently -- seemed to be saying or was saying. And so that needs to be looked at and understood what exactly happened there, and an explanation to the public needs to be made.

BLITZER: And they need to explain that breakfast meeting that Alex Acosta had with one of Epstein's lawyers.

[18:25:01]

He says it was after the plea deal was reached, but that was pretty unusual too. It was in a restaurant at a hotel, as opposed to a formal meeting someplace.

BAKER: It doesn't seem to be -- look, people have to make -- I understand he was trying to say that there was a logistical problem.

But it seems as though a meeting of that importance on a case of that importance that required the personal intervention of the U.S. attorney, who does not normally get involved in cases, that seems like it should have been a full-blown meeting at the department -- at the U.S. attorney's office.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Robert Mueller's testimony next Wednesday, a week from today.

What do you expect the American public will learn, will gain from this appearance?

BAKER: I hope they gain deeper insight into what special counsel Mueller found.

I don't think there are going to be any big bombshells or new revelations or anything of that nature. I think he's going to stick to the report and tell the American people what he found.

If the Democrats are astute in how they develop their strategy for asking questions, the facts will get out through the words of special counsel Mueller. And that will be good, that will be informative, because the concern is, I think, that most Americans have not really understood -- have not read the report.

And there's been so much conflicting stuff out there in the media about what exactly he found and what...

BLITZER: Because he says he's sticking to what he wrote in the report, and he's not going to move beyond that.

BAKER: He's going to stick to the report.

No, that's right. They're going to have to pry it out of him, I think. But if they pry out just the facts, I think the facts are quite damning.

BLITZER: Let's see how good these lawmakers are in asking the important questions.

BAKER: That's what we're counting on them for.

BLITZER: Well, let's see what happens.

Jim Baker, thanks very much for that.

There's more breaking news up next. A hurricane watch has just been issued for part of the Louisiana coast. Heavy rains already are causing some big problems.

Stand by for the latest forecast.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:30:00]

BLITZER: All right, there's breaking news. Positive reviews from the White House for the embattled Labor Secretary Alex Acosta who gave a lengthy news conference today defending the plea agreement he oversaw with financier Jeffrey Epstein and the sex crimes case more than a decade ago. Let's dig deeper with our correspondents and our analysts.

And, David Swerdlick, the President urged secretary Acosta to go before the cameras, Answer reporters' questions. It was a long news conference that he had. But did he really truly explain why Jeffrey Epstein, a decade ago, was given such a lenient sentence?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So, Wolf, from my point of view, if the question is, did Secretary Acosta help himself on the P.R. front and with the President? I think the answer is yes. President Trump likes people who go out there cool as a cucumber, get everything done in the weeds and the legalese and don't address the big moral questions. And I think that helped him stick around at least a little while.

If the question is, did he explain the sweetheart deal? No. He said at one point that Jeffrey Epstein, quote, needed to go to jail. But if he needed to go to jail, why did he get such a short sentence when he had 12 hours a day of work release when you're talking about a crime that involved sexual crimes involving children?

BLITZER: Do you think he's safe for now, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: For now, probably, he bought himself time. It's very important to note that, so far, we have not heard anything from republicans on Capitol Hill, even those who tend to be more conservative, small C, on these issues, people who, you know, are very cautious, I should say, maybe is a better way to say it, on issues like this are saying, let's not jump to conclusions. Let's see how this plays out. That could change.

If anything new comes out, any piece of information that we don't know about, that would lead to question whether or not he's actually not telling the truth now, which is entirely possible because there are a lot of documents that we still haven't seen on this issues.

The audience of one, we knew he was talking to, I totally agree with you, that he was talking about the facts. He didn't admit any regrets, which if you are Donald Trump and that's your M.O., that was probably music to his ears.

BLITZER: And so far, the President has not Tweeted, not reacted publicly as far as we know, right?

BASH: Yes. No, that's right.

I mean, The other thing to keep in mind though that was separate from this issue, there is reporting, including ours, that he wasn't exactly the most -- in the most favored nation status of cabinet members for President Trump. So that's an important thing to keep in mind, that he wasn't the most popular.

BLITZER: Susan Hennessey, listen to one of the lawyers for Epstein's accusers responding. Listen to this.

Well, let me read it to you. We do not understand, and more importantly, our clients do not understand why Secretary Acosta is willing to speak to the media about these issues but not to the women whom Epstein abused. What do you think about that? SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. So one of the things about Acosta's sort of performance today is that he sort of intimated not just that this was the fault of state and career federal prosecutors rather than accepting personal responsibility. This is sort of intimated this was the fault of the victims, that they weren't -- victims weren't willing to testify. He said the message to victims is you need to come forward. That sounds a lot like shifting the blame to children who were victims of sexual assault.

And he also sort of absurdly suggested that the legal landscape has somehow changed in the intervening decade. That's not a true. A decade ago, there was no such thing as a child prostitute. There is no such thing as a child prostitute.

[18:35:00]

Children are victims of sex trafficking crimes. What Epstein was permitted to plead to did not reflect the sort of chargeable conduct that he actually -- they actually could have proven in court at that time. You know, so, look, it does appear as though Acosta has done himself some favors with President Trump.

You know, that said, it's not as though his current role has nothing to do with any of it. The Secretary of Labor oversees U.S. labor laws including human trafficking laws. And so it is hard to understand how he can credibly continue to serve in this role.

BLITZER: You know, while he is testifying, while answering reporters' questions, I should say, Bianna, Secretary Acosta, some of his victims -- more of Epstein's victims are coming forward and there was a very, very powerful interview on the Today Show. Savannah Guthrie interviewed one woman who was only 15 years old at the time. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, CBS TODAY SHOW ANCHOR: Did Jeffrey Epstein rape you?

JENNIFER ARAOZ, EPSTEIN ACCUSER: Yes, he raped me, forcefully raped me. He knew exactly what he was doing. And I don't think cared, what hurts even more so that if I wasn't afraid to come forward sooner, then maybe he wouldn't have done to it other girls.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Jennifer Araoz, she was recruited at age 14. She was raped at age 15. This is so horrific to listen to these testimonies.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It really is. It was gut- wrenching to watch. I watched that entire interview, Wolf. And I think what was the hardest part to hear from Jennifer was that she, in some way, shoulders responsibility and guilt for not coming forward sooner.

We didn't see any of that from Secretary Acosta today. He was asked multiple times what he would have done if he could do things over, if he felt guilty, if he could have done things differently, if he was sorry.

Now, this obviously speaks to his audience of one and not wanting to admit any responsibility or wrongdoing in front of the President. But when you talk about something that involves the rape of young children, it's beyond rationalizing how he should be acting in front of the President's eyes versus how a human being should be acting.

And I totally agree with Susan. He kept referring back to how times have changed. This was only a decade ago. And maybe he was conflating the Me Too movement with child rape and pedophilia. But you cannot, not to take any significance from the Me Too movement, but we're talking about children at the age of 13, 14, 15.

And, by the way, Jennifer, in many respects, is one of the lucky victims because she's alive today. If you read the report from the Miami Herald, many of these women fared far worse, including death and suicide. So I do think watching that today is something that -- I don't know if the Secretary watched, but he should go back and watch that interview.

BLITZER: And only one story out of so many.

BASH: Out of so many. I mean, you know, the amazing reporting from Julie Brown from The Washington Post.

BLITZER: From the Miami Herald.

BASH: Excuse me, from the Miami Herald. You're with The Washington Post. Of course, from the Miami Herald, brought all this.

But actually just a quick -- Susan, the other thing that struck me is that he was obviously playing a political game and not admitting any culpability. But I wonder if there is also a legal reason why he didn't.

HENNESSEY: Yes. So one of the things he sort of dodged answering questions on was this question of whether or not he had violated the Crime Victims' Notification Act in failing to notify the victims. He basically said, look, this was DOJ policy at the time. To the extent that the judge said that it was illegal, he is criticizing the Department of Justice and not me personally.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody stand by. There is a lot more news. We're following a hurricane watch, as posted, as a storm takes aim off the Louisiana Coast. We have a new forecast just up.

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BLITZER: She's the star of the liberal left and some of the top democrats running for the White House are hoping to tap into her progressive power by linking their names to Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Our Senior National Correspondent, Kyung Lah, is working the story for us.

Kyung, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, now, Kamala Harris, they're all hoping to burnish their so-called progressive credentials through the New York Congresswoman. What's the latest?

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, hitching her star to a notable democratic name. She is scheduled to arrive here after a busy day in Washington. This is her fundraiser here in Brooklyn. About a thousand people will be here tonight in support of Senator Harris. But as you said, Wolf, a very busy day in Washington where she introduced legislation with that notable name.

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LAH: Senator Kamala Harris teaming up with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Harris and the freshman Congresswoman introduced joint legislation aimed at helping people with criminal records fairly attain housing, planting a flag on the left, as Harris hopes to highlight her progressive creds.

It's called the unofficial AOC primary, 2020 democratic hopefuls vying to be seen as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez' ally.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And we're teaming up today.

LAH: Elizabeth Warren has hailed her alliance with Ocasio-Cortez from this video slamming Treasury Secretary Mnuchin to a more light-hearted conversation about gender portrayal of women in Game of Thrones.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am delighted to be here with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

[18:45:01] LAH: But Ocasio-Cortez has also formed ties with Bernie Sanders. They teamed up on legislation and stumped together for progressive candidates in the 2018 mid-terms.

SANDERS: There is no middle ground!

LAH: As Sanders rallies progressives in his bid for 2020, Ocasio- Cortez has echoed his very words.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): I will be damned if the same politicians who refuse to act then are going to try to come back today and say, we need a middle of the -- a middle of the road approach to save our lives.

LAH: That was an apparently reference to Joe Biden. He has questioned whether Ocasio-Cortez's brand has mass appeal.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think Ocasio-Cortez is a brilliant bright woman. But she won a primary. In a general election fights, who won? Mainstream Democrats who are very progressive on social issues and very strong on education, health care.

LAH: In the crowded 2020 field, progressive Democrats believe Ocasio- Cortez' endorsement could help separate one hopeful from the rest.

Last May, Ocasio-Cortez signaled who is grabbing her eye.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: What I would like to see in a presidential candidate is one that has a coherent world view and logic from which all these policy proposals are coming forward. I think Senator Sanders has that. I also think Senator Warren has that.

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LAH: Harris' campaign says this fundraiser that I'm at tonight did sell out very quickly after her performance at the first Democratic debate. The campaign saw a significant bump in fundraising right after the debate.

Wolf, she is expected to give comments tonight. She is expected to address the crowd and she'll be introduced by Spike Lee's daughter -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by for that. Kyung Lah, appreciate it very much.

There's breaking news next. The possible hurricane brewing in the Gulf of Mexico prompting a state of emergency in Louisiana. We have a new forecast just out from the National Hurricane Center.

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[18:51:46] BLITZER: There is more breaking news. A hurricane watch has been issued for parts of Louisiana as a tropical storm system gains strength in the Gulf of Mexico.

Our meteorologist Tom Sater has a new forecast just out from the National Hurricane Center.

Tom, the system is already flooding parts of New Orleans and states of emergency are in effect.

TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Wolf, I mean hurricane season started June 1st, it's been relatively quiet. But we may be looking at our first landfall and not just of a tropical storm, but maybe a category 1 hurricane in south central Louisiana. Today, a precursor with the heavy rain that moved through.

Just an odd event, here in yellow right now, we got a tropical storm watch from the Pearl River to the mouth of Mississippi, does not include New Orleans right now. In pink, from the mouth of the Mississippi, to Cameron, Louisiana, it is a hurricane watch. Most likely will change to a warning, but we've got a couple of days.

This hasn't been named a depression yet. If it's named a tropical storm in the next 24 hours, its name will be Barry. The thunderstorms that moved through, tornado warnings, we had submerged cars, businesses, the French Quarter, 250 calls for emergency help and assistance. The last thing they need is to pick up over nine inches of rainfall

when we are looking at maybe 10, 15 or even 20 in the days ahead. The reason this is so important to watch, the Mississippi River is at 16 foot at a levee in New Orleans. When Katrina hit, it was only 3. It's expected to go to the highest level in 90 years, a real test for this levee system come this weekend, Wolf. We'll have much more in the days ahead.

BLITZER: We certainly will. Tom Sater, thank you.

We have other breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. New trouble in the Persian Gulf apparently involving Iran.

Let's go to our own Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

What are you learning, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, good evening.

CNN has just learned that in about the last seven hours, Iran made of an unsuccessful attempt to seize a British oil tanker trying to move through the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf region. This is a British oil tanker that was surrounded essentially by five Iranian Revolutionary Guard small boats, armed Iranian boats that tried to make the tanker shift course and go into Iranian territorial waters.

There was a British warship nearby escorting, HMS Montrose. It moved into position. We are told that Montrose trains its guns on the Iranian ships and gave them a verbal warning to back off. Montrose especially equipped with large cannons on the deck to drive off small boats.

The Iranians had been threatening to try and seize an oil tanker. It looks like they tried to do it today, just about 7 hours ago, unsuccessful according to all reports. There was a U.S. military aircraft overhead recording video of the incident we are told.

BLITZER: They haven't released that video yet, have they?

STARR: They have not. The video is being processed. The U.S. military tonight trying to figure out exactly what the video shows. They are coordinating all of this, of course, with the U.K. -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks very much.

Much more news right after this.

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[18:589:26] BLITZER: So how do you celebrate a fourth World Cup title? With a ticker tape parade down New York's famous Canyon of Heroes. Thousands and thousands of people cheered members of the world champion, U.S. women's soccer team as they rode down Broadway in Lower Manhattan, celebrating their 2-0 victory over the Netherlands in Sunday's World Cup Final in France. Team stars Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Julie, Carli Lloyd, they were

joined by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio on a float with the globe bearing the words "world champions" and Rapinoe says she hopes to use the team's fame to improve the world. Congratulations to the women again.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

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