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Attorney General and Commerce Secretary Held in Criminal Contempt of Congress; Interview With Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL); House Holds Attorney General Barr And Commerce Secretary Ross In Criminal Contempt; Trump Heads To Rally Enjoying Firestorm Over His Racist Tweets, Says, I Do Think I am Winning The Political Fight; Excessive Heat Warnings Issued As Dangerously High Temperatures Build Over Much of U.S.; Iran Denies Seizing Tanker, Claims Ship Was in Distress. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired July 17, 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 HOST: House of contempt. The battle over adding a citizenship question to the census escalates, with lawmakers poised to vote on holding two Trump Cabinet members in contempt of Congress. And they have just voted to table the resolution aimed at impeaching President Trump.

Dangerous heat wave. Extreme temperatures and high humidity are building over a large portion of the U.S., with millions of Americans under excessive heat warnings. Tonight, we have a new forecast.

And cartel leader complains. Mexican drug lord El Chapo objects to his incarceration conditions, calling them inhumane and a form of torture, just before he is sentenced to life in prison. After two notorious escapes, where will he serve his time?

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, President Trump lobbing fresh attacks on four minority Democratic congresswomen and saying he's enjoying the fight he started with a series of racist tweets targeting the women.

As he left the White House just a short while ago for a campaign rally, the president said he believes he's winning the political battle, and that he's not unhappy with the fallout.

Also breaking, the House of Representatives has just voted to table the resolution aimed at impeaching President Trump, killing that effort for now.

And lawmakers are poised to vote on holding Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt over a dispute tied to the administration's efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

All that coming up, but, first, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, we can expect to hear more from the president tonight about this fight that he's having with these four Democratic congresswomen.

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

And the president just left the White House. And, as he was leaving, he talked with reporters and one point said that he believes he is winning this fight with the four Democratic congresswomen known as the Squad.

He also claimed he's not rat relishing this battle. But if you look at the last several days, it sure doesn't seem that way.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): Just days after firing off racist tweets aimed up four congresswomen, President Trump now believes he's turned a corner and is actually winning the war of words he began.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do think I'm winning the political fight. I think I'm winning it by a lot. I think that they are not espousing the views of our country, the four congresswomen. I think that they have said horrible things that the press doesn't cover.

If people want to leave our country, they can. If they don't want to love our country, if they don't want to fight for our country, they can. I'll never change on that, no.

ACOSTA: The president also tweeted out this campaign-style video filled with patriotic images, including shots of his taxpayer-funded Fourth of July event on the National Mall.

But the president's true message appears to come at the end of the video. In Trumpian trolling, it says "One Squad under God."

It's another dig at the four Democratic congresswomen of color known as the Squad, who were the target of Mr. Trump's now infamous racist tweets, a signal the president still wants to fan the flames of the same firestorm he started this week.

TRUMP: It doesn't concern me, because many people agree with me. And all I'm saying, they want to leave, they can leave. Now, it doesn't say leave forever. It says leave.

ACOSTA: The president said he's pleased with the results of the controversy, telling "The Daily Mail: "Well, let's put it this way. I'm not unhappy."

The president is taking his crusade against the Squad one step further, tying them to the Democratic Party, tweeting: "They are now the top, most visible members of the House Democrats, who are now wedded to this bitterness and hate."

Republicans in Congress are now joining in on the schoolyard antics, kicking sand at the Squad too.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): Now, this is -- they're entitled to their opinion. They're Americans, but I'm entitled to my opinion. And I just think they're left-wing cranks. And they're the reason that there are directions on a shampoo bottle. I think we should ignore them.

I believe that the four congresswomen are more famous than wise.

ACOSTA: The four congresswomen say they're not surprised.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): This is a distraction.

QUESTION: Do you feel enough Republicans have spoken up against the president?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Absolutely not.

QUESTION: What message does that send that?

REP. RASHIDA TLAIB (D-MI): The normalization of it, the fact that it's against our core American values, that they're choosing him over country.

ACOSTA: The Democratic contenders for 2020 are firing back, with Vice President Joe Biden accusing Mr. Trump of setting a poor example for younger Americans.

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This isn't who we are. And the point of it -- and it's very important to remember our children are listening. Our children are listening.

ACOSTA: And Senator Kamala Harris throwing the president's words in his face.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't know. But he needs to go back where he came from, and leave that office.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[18:05:01]

ACOSTA: And it appears the president plans to keep stoking these tensions at this rally that he's on his way to in North Carolina later on this evening.

The president tweeted earlier in the day that he plans to talk about people who both love and hate the United States. That appears to be a clear indication that he plans to talk about those four Democratic congresswomen known as the Squad.

It's also an indication, Wolf, that the 2020 campaign is starting early and starting ugly -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim, thank you, Jim Acosta over at the White House. Let's go up to Capitol Hill right now and the House vote on the

resolution aimed at impeaching President Trump.

Our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, joining us with the very latest.

Phil, lawmakers voted to table that resolution. How close was the vote?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it was an effort by a rogue member, not supported by leadership, not about potential obstruction of justice or other issues that Democrats are supporting, specifically about the president's tweets and allegations of racism.

And yet it still got more Democrats than Al Green, the congressman who pushed that, has ever gotten before. Now, it failed by a large margin, 332-95. But that 95 number comes all from Democrats and is 29 more Democrats that voted with Congressman Al Green in a similar effort back in 2018.

And the reason is this. It underscores the fact that more and more Democrats are itching to go further in the process. More than 80 Democrats want to launch an impeachment inquiry. And very clearly, with this vote, they are making a say that they want to do more.

However, as I noted, Democratic leadership making very clear throughout this process they oppose this effort. You want to know why, this is what Speaker Nancy Pelosi had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We have six committees that are working on following the facts in terms of any abuse of power, obstruction of justice and the rest, that the president may have engaged in. That is the serious path that we are on, not that Mr. Green is not serious, but we will deal with that on the floor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: The speaker making very clear what she said repeatedly, Wolf, that they have a process that's in place, that the committees need to pursue their investigations, and then they will follow the facts wherever they lead.

That's the speaker's position. That's the party's position, at least at this point, but certainly more and more Democrats urging to do more -- Wolf.

BLITZER: At the same time, Phil, the House is also voting on holding in contempt two of President Trump's Cabinet members. Tell us about that.

MATTINGLY: Yes.

In a matter of moments, Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will be held in criminal contempt. All Democrats expected to vote for that resolution, all Republicans expected to oppose.

This is related to the immigration citizenship question on the census. House Oversight Committee saying those Cabinet officials have not been cooperative throughout their investigation. They are now pushing for this vote. It's not expected to actually have a very tangible impact, but it will also give them the authority to pursue a subpoena related to that information.

Obviously, the administration's effort on that question failed, based on the Supreme Court. They pulled back, the House continuing their efforts and continuing those investigations Speaker Pelosi talked about -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill, thank you very much.

Let's stay up on Capitol Hill.

Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois is joining us. He's a member of the Intelligence Committee.

And I know, Congressman, you have to go vote at some point. As soon as that is absolutely necessary, we're going to let you go.

But let me get your reaction to what we just heard from the president. He says he's enjoying this fight with these progressive freshman Democrats. And he says your party is moving so far to the left, that you're about to fall off the cliff.

How do you respond?

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D-IL): This is a president who has divided this country, rather than unite it.

This is a country (sic) that's pitted one group against another. This is not how you lead. You don't build coalitions to get something done. The fact that he's enjoying this makes me extraordinarily concerned about his mental health and his well-being, clearly his ability to lead this country.

BLITZER: You're also going to be voting any moment now, Congressman, to hold the attorney general, Bill Barr, and the commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, in contempt over their refusal to comply with subpoenas related to the 2020 census.

The administration has now abandoned its effort to include a citizenship question on the census. So why are you still holding this vote?

QUIGLEY: I think we're sending a message, besides the fact that we need to find out exactly what took place.

The attorney general applied for this job attacking the rule of law. He wrote memos agreeing with the president on issues relating to the Russian investigation. And he lied to the country about the Mueller report and its outcome.

He is unfit for his job. So, at some point in time, when the administration continues to attack the rule of law, the congressional branch has to hold its own. It has to hold them accountable and show that we're serious about the investigations that we have a constitutional power to conduct.

BLITZER: As you know, the House of Representatives just voted to table Congressman Al Green's articles of impeachment resolution.

First of all, how did you vote?

[18:10:00]

QUIGLEY: I voted against Mr. Green, for the following reason.

I am for impeaching this president. It is not a question of whether he is fit for office. He is not. It's not a question of whether he should be impeached. He should.

It is a question of making it work. We have maybe one shot at this in the public forum, and certainly with the United States Senate. We have to get it right.

The way this was done was an impeachment inquiry under Watergate. It is the most effective way to build the case, to succeed more in our cases that we have before the court, to get information about this president of the United States.

I understand Mr. Green's concern here. I am just as disgusted as he is with the president's tweet -- tweets. It is the basis, the sole basis, for what he filed today.

I think there are a long list of crimes and misdemeanors. So let's take our time. Let's do it right. It doesn't mean it can't move quickly. It just has to begin with an impeachment inquiry to be more effective.

BLITZER: Unlike you, Congressman, more than 80 of your Democratic colleagues voted not to table this resolution of impeachment. What does that tell you?

QUIGLEY: I think what you have to look at is the other way around.

His vote did not succeed even within the Democratic Caucus. We have to win over Republican votes, as well as the hearts and minds of Middle America. So, in my mind, the question is more for my friend and colleague Mr. Green.

Let's move this forward in a way that can get you the vast majority, if not every single Democratic vote, and attempt to get beyond Mr. Amash on the Republican side.

BLITZER: The former special counsel Robert Mueller will be testifying before your committee, and the Judiciary Committee next week, the Intelligence Committee and the Judiciary Committee. Do you think you will actually sway any of your colleagues on this

question of an impeachment inquiry?

QUIGLEY: Oh, look, I moved -- the needle moved for me some time ago, after Mr. Mueller spoke for eight minutes and the response from the administration, because it was clear the administration wasn't going to follow the rule of law.

And the only way we were going to get the documents necessary is to file the impeachment inquiry. It's a much stronger case in court. He's not going to change anybody's mind. But I do think he will have a profound influence on the American public.

Clearly, the American public hadn't read the report, for the most part, and the fact that, in eight minutes, he convinced many of them that he had not exonerated the president, let's do four hours of this, and detail an extraordinarily disturbing report, reflecting the -- what I believe are crimes and misdemeanors of the president of the United States.

BLITZER: On another very important issue, the House speaker, Congressman, Nancy Pelosi, says she wants a budget and debt ceiling agreement reached by the end of this week.

Is there any chance you will leave -- you will be -- you and your colleagues will be able to leave town without a deal in place?

QUIGLEY: I think that might happen this week. We have one more week before the summer break work session. It has to happen before we leave. I always vote to raise the debt ceiling. I believe in fiscal responsibility.

But part of that responsibility, as President Reagan said, is to be responsible for the debts you have already incurred. It is incredibly irresponsible for anyone to threaten the fact that they wouldn't vote to raise the debt ceiling.

And I do have to go vote, sir.

BLITZER: All right, go ahead and vote.

QUIGLEY: All right.

BLITZER: And thank you so much, Congressman Quigley, for joining us.

QUIGLEY: Sure. Take care.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: All right, I want to get some more on all of this.

Our political and legal experts are here.

And, Abby Phillip, you cover the president for us. He says -- you just heard him say on the White House South Lawn as he was getting ready to board Marine One, he says, I think I'm winning. He said, I'm not relishing the fight. He said, I'm enjoying it.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's winning one thing, and that is what he often seeks, which is attention.

He has totally changed the conversation. He's even changed the conversation away from what he made it over the weekend, when he first sent the tweets. Instead of it being about what he said about these congresswomen, he's trying to make it about painting the Democratic Party as the party of the Squad and the party of socialism.

But at the same time, I think he also does enjoy the fight. He enjoys getting -- putting Democrats on their heels, forcing Democrats into a position where they have to take votes on resolutions about racism and take votes on resolutions about impeachment.

All of this, the president sees as a win. What's not clear is, is it actually a political win for him going down the line in 2020 or even for his party writ large?

BLITZER: Do you think, David Swerdlick, this whole episode is uniting the Democrats right now, in the face of the fight with the president? Or are the Democrats going to continue to have a lot of issues in which they have to battle amongst themselves?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN COMMENTATOR: Short term, I think it did unite the Democrats.

Going back to Saturday, the story was about the squabble that sort of leaked out into the public square between the members of the Squad and Speaker Pelosi over -- that started out about policy, about the budget supplemental for border -- for border funding, and then got a little bit personal.

[18:15:03]

And then, when the president got up on Sunday morning and did those tweets, those racist tweets, it sort of refocused Democrats to say, OK, we're on one side, the president's on the other side.

But as the days go by, I think Democrats are still going to have to wrangle amongst themselves about what agenda they pursue the second half of the year, including this -- you heard Congressman Quigley talking about he and a lot of other Democrats weren't thrilled about this impeachment resolution.

What bills are the most important ones to come up, including the debt ceiling fight? So, yes, Democrats aren't finished negotiating amongst themselves.

BLITZER: Sabrina, as you know, just a little while ago, the House of Representatives voted to table these articles of impeachment resolution introduced by Congressman Al Green.

But more than 80 Democrats voted not to table it. What message does that send? SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, clearly, there is

about a third of the House Democratic Caucus that believes there is enough reason to launch impeachment proceedings against the president right now, despite House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's efforts to say, let's just hold on, there are other avenues to investigate this president, and we're just not there yet on impeachment.

And it also reinforces that, after these past few days, where the party was unified in defending the Squad against the president's racist tweets, there are longer-term divisions in terms of how the president wants -- or how the Democratic Party wants to hold this president accountable.

And I think it's going to go back to this idea that Nancy Pelosi has still maintained the position that is politically divisive to go down the path of impeachment. She and other Democratic strategists are looking at data that tells them that it's better to make the case, a policy case, against this president to the American people.

But there is certainly a faction of her caucus, as well as a growing number of progressives within the Democratic base, who say that they want to see more firm action on the part of Democrats in Congress.

PHILLIP: But I think one of the challenges, Wolf, for Democrats is what Al Green told our Manu Raju earlier today, which was that this was not about anything that was uncovered in the course of the Mueller investigation.

It was about the president's racist comments or statements or actions. That's a problem for Democrats, because Manu's next question to him was, how are those high crimes and misdemeanors? And now you have 80 Democrats voting in favor of a resolution on impeachment that doesn't seem to really have anything to do with what impeachment is supposed to be about.

It's going to make it very difficult for them to explain themselves.

BLITZER: Let me get Bianna into this conversation.

Bianna, the president, as you know, says -- he says, I do think I'm winning this political fight. And he's saying he's enjoying it at the same time.

What does that say to you?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, look, this is not the first test that that faction, the growing faction of frustrated Democrats, will have at trying to impeach the president.

The president sees that he has the majority of his party on his side, and you could very well see more grenades thrown from this president with regards to tweets, with regards to language, with regards to responding to the Squad or many -- or any other Democrats.

And it's really going to pose a challenge for Nancy Pelosi to hold her caucus in line. Remember, she's constantly saying that there are these six committees that are on top of these investigations, that thus far the courts have overwhelmingly ruled in their favor and to let this play out.

But this is not a president who's going to win on policy issues. He knows that's not a strength of his. So he focuses on social issues. Remember, a few weeks ago, he said, within two weeks, he's going to have a new health care plan out. That's not here.

Instead, we have racist tweets that we're now talking about three days after the fact. So this is going to become much bigger of a headache for Nancy Pelosi. She just recently said that this is a small faction, this is only four out of my larger constituency.

And then you have the president now making this his prime focus. So if the majority of Americans didn't know who these four were a few days ago, they certainly do now.

BLITZER: You know, there's a vote going on also on the House floor right now. There you can see it right there up on the screen, a motion to go ahead and cite the attorney general of the United States, the commerce secretary of United States in contempt because of their refusal to fully cooperate with the Congress as far as the citizenship question on the 2020 census.

But, Sabrina, the Democrats dropped that citizen -- excuse me -- the Republicans dropped -- the Republican administration dropped that citizenship question in the face of legal challenges and court orders. So why are the Democrats doing this now?

SIDDIQUI: Well, the House Oversight Committee is saying that Barr and Ross did not comply with their subpoena for certain documents going into the administration's motivations for trying to put that citizenship question on the census.

And they're also pointing to the fact that Ross testified before Congress that it was the Justice Department that had sought for this question to be added, when, in fact, it turned out that he went to the Justice Department to ask them to kind of create essentially this case for the inclusion of that question.

[18:20:06]

And so I think Democrats want to pursue further, you know, whether -- one, whether the administration was misleading, which they clearly have been found to have been misleading, but also whether or not they're obstructing justice in terms of simply handing over those documents to Congress.

Look, it's largely symbolic, but Democrats say, at a minimum, it allows them to go to court and enforce those subpoenas against Ross and Barr.

BLITZER: And, David Swerdlick, you look at the numbers right there, 211 in favor. You need 218, assuming everybody is there, in order to pass.

SWERDLICK: Right.

BLITZER: It's about to pass. You can see three Democrats voting nay against this contempt resolution, 185, 189 right now, 214-191.

It's about to get up to 218. And it looks like this resolution to hold the attorney general and the commerce secretary in contempt will go forward.

SWERDLICK: Right.

I mean, big picture, we're probably going to get those votes, and big picture going forward...

BLITZER: It's now 121, you can see right there.

SWERDLICK: OK, right. So there you go.

BLITZER: That's the majority.

SWERDLICK: Just to follow up on what Sabrina said, at a certain level, this is the Democrats in the House. This is the only branch of government half. They control half of one branch of government. They are asserting their power and saying, look, we have this legitimate oversight power.

And the attorney general and the secretary of commerce and, in some other cases, some other individuals, like the secretary of treasury when it comes to the president's tax returns, have tried to sort of stiff-arm their legitimate oversight power, and they're trying to reassert control over them.

I don't think this is going to change what they get out of the attorney general, the treasury secretary, but I do think it is essentially sending a shot across the bow, saying that, we're getting closer to saying we have had enough with intransigence from the administration.

BLITZER: How do you think, Abby, the White House -- you cover the White House, of course -- is going to react to this resolution holding these two Cabinet members in contempt?

PHILLIP: Right.

Well, the Commerce Department and the Justice Department have already -- they earlier today, just before this vote, asked the House not to do this. They said, we are trying to cooperate with you. This is going to cause the relationship between the branches to further deteriorate.

So they were trying to make that argument. Obviously, it didn't work here. But the White House has been saying that they have a right to not comply to certain things that they say do not belong to Congress, that Congress does not have a legal right to have access to.

So I think you're going to hear that argument from them again. And, ultimately, this is not quite over, even though the president said that he -- that they're moving forward without the census question. There is still the possibility of litigation in the future.

And there is a possibility in the president's mind that they could try to find some other way maybe to add an addendum or to take up the legal case for why it deserves to be on the census at a later date.

BLITZER: Phil Mattingly, our congressional correspondent, is watching this roll call.

They have got more than 218. Unless a lot of Democrats change their minds, this motion to hold these two Cabinet members in contempt is going to pass.

MATTINGLY: Yes, no question about it.

And, look, that was the expectation. Democrats for the most part -- you see a couple Democrats who are voting against this resolution, but for the most part are staying in line with what Democratic leadership and what the committee chairs are trying to do here.

I think it's worth kind of putting it in context. After the resolution of condemnation yesterday, after the failed impeachment effort by one lone member earlier today, this, what you're watching right now on the floor, is what Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leadership want to be the strategy in terms of how they deal with the administration.

And yet it also underscores part of the difficulty that they're having. Democratic leadership has made clear, let the committee chairmen do their work. Let the committee chairmen do their investigations. And this underscores that there are a myriad of investigations, whether it's an immigration question the census, whether it's potential obstruction of justice, all sorts of things going on, investigations into the EPA and other agencies that are going on, obviously a lot of border issues as well, but that they want the committee's to be able to do their job.

But you're looking right now, as they gavel down the vote, you get the final tally, the attorney general and the commerce secretary will be voted to be held in criminal contempt, that there are a number of Democrats who are frustrated that this is not enough.

You send this criminal contempt to the U.S. attorney's office in D.C., and they are not going to do anything. Their boss is William Barr. While you have the opportunity to pursue subpoenas through House lawyers because of this, that takes a long time.

And I think that's why you see kind of -- you saw a little bit of the impeachment vote earlier, but you see more kind of grumbling in the rank and file of, what are we actually accomplishing here?

And I think Democratic leadership says, we have won a number of court cases, we are obviously moving through this process in a methodical manner. Robert Mueller is going to be up on Capitol Hill in less than a week from today. That is what they're accomplishing.

But there are a lot of Democrats that want to do more. So it's kind of an interesting paradox here, where you have Democratic leadership, this is exactly what they want to do. They think this shows their efforts are working. And you have rank-and-file members that are urging an impeachment inquiry or want to go further, who think this is too slow.

And that's kind of the balance that you have seen the speaker try and manage over the course of the last several months and that she will continue to manage and has made clear she will continue to manage, at least for the near-term, Wolf.

[18:25:01]

BLITZER: So, practically speaking, Phil, when they're holding the attorney general and the commerce secretary in criminal contempt -- and the resolution has just passed, as we saw -- what does that exactly mean? Where do we go from here?

MATTINGLY: So we have seen this once before.

And I think it's actually demonstrative as to what's going to happen next in this process. Attorney General Eric Holder, back in 2012, was held in criminal contempt by the Republican-led House.

What happens when they're held in criminal contempt is it gets kicked over to the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, D.C., where they can pursue additional penalties or additional efforts to get the information that the House has been looking for.

Well, the U.S. attorney's office in D.C., their boss is William Barr, the attorney general that they just held in criminal contempt. So not unlike 2012 under the Obama administration, it's very, very unlikely the attorney general is going to, let's say, allow the U.S. attorney's office in D.C. or the political appointee atop that office to pursue anything further.

One wrinkle here that might be interesting is, this resolution also contains a provision that allows the House lawyers to pursue a subpoena for the information, both the documents, the testimony, the depositions that they have been seeking related to this issue.

That down the line may be more effective or significantly more effective than what they're trying to do with the U.S. attorney's office. But the big issue, again, is that it's going to take time. All of this when it goes to court takes time. It's the Democratic strategy. It's what they want to pursue for this moment.

But those are the next steps, to the extent that they're actually tangible at this point, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very interesting developments.

Bianna, I want to get your thoughts on what this Democratic strategy now suggests. These two Cabinet members, now the House of Representatives has just voted to hold them in criminal contempt.

GOLODRYGA: Well, look, I agree with Sabrina, this is largely symbolic.

But it's also principled, in the sense that this is a committee and this is a group of Democrats who say that they are going to follow through on what they initially threatened.

And this is something that in many ways could be seen as a deterrence, they're hoping, at least, for the administration going forward, saying, if you're going to continue stonewalling, there will be consequences, and we will follow through on the actions that we are legally allowed to take.

This goes back to what Nancy Pelosi has been arguing throughout all of this, saying that, behind closed doors, these committees are following through on what they have argued they are mandated to do.

So, going forward, maybe perhaps -- at least this is hopeful thinking from some Democrats -- the administration will think twice about stonewalling on every particular issue.

BLITZER: These two Cabinet members, they are going to be held, they are now being held in criminal contempt, Sabrina, and I'm sure neither Wilbur Ross nor Bill Barr, the commerce secretary, the attorney general of the United States, wants that on their records.

SIDDIQUI: Well, certainly not.

And they did write that letter, as Abby pointed out, urging House Democratic leaders not to hold this vote. They have argued that they have complied with some of these document requests. And I think, as Phil was pointing out, look, this goes to the U.S. attorney's office in Washington.

Their boss is William Barr. So I don't think we're going to see any fines being levied against William Barr or Wilbur Ross, nor will we see either them certainly being sent to jail, which is another penalty that can be carried when you hold someone in criminal contempt.

But the plan B here for Democrats was to now be able to go to court and try and enforce a subpoena. And I think it really is about sending that message and saying, we are still here to do legitimate oversight.

And a lot of their efforts to do so have been stymied by the administration. And so this is kind of upping the ante, because, before, you saw, at least in the committees, a vote in the past to hold William Barr in contempt. But they didn't bring that to the full floor of the House. And they certainly didn't elevate it to criminal contempt.

BLITZER: Let's talk, David, about what we heard from the president of the United States as he was leaving the White House a little while ago. He's off to a political rally in North Carolina right now.

And he continued -- he's not backing down at all. He continued his attacks on these four Democratic congresswoman, all congresswomen of color. "If they want to leave," he said, "they can leave. I will never change. I do think I'm winning this political fight. They have said horrible things, statements that have never been made before. The Democratic Party is so far to the left, they're falling off the cliff."

I'm paraphrasing what the president said just moments ago.

SWERDLICK: Right.

Yes, as Abby said earlier, the president likes this fight. And part of the reason he likes this fight is because a lot of his supporters like this fight and they like the fact that he fights.

Health care is complicated. Iran is complicated. Jeffrey Epstein is poison for the president. But when you talk about this, you're -- he's basically saying, big picture, the last several days, you have got MAGA America, and I'm your champion. And then you have got these four women of color member of Congress who hate America, who hate you, who hate everything that the MAGA crowd stands for.

And that's simple. The president can get his hands around it. He can sink his teeth into it. And so he's willing to go along with this as long as it goes, no matter whether there's a citation in Congress calling him racist or not -- or calling his statements racist or not.

[18:30:00]

BLITZER: And he went out of his way to say, Abby, that 187 Republicans, in his words, are in favor of Trump referring to the roll call last night. Only four Republicans voted against them.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's a pretty clear view as to how he looks at this whole thing. You are either for him or against him. And he praised the Republicans for being incredibly unified in his view, that he only had four defections plus one independent, a former Republican who left the party, Justin Amash, earlier this year because of Trump.

And, you know, this is part of what this is all intended to demonstrate. The President isn't backing down because he niece he doesn't have to. He knows that he doesn't have to -- he's not going to have any consequences to this from his own party.

And, in fact, what he has really demonstrated is that he is capable of bringing his party to wherever he is. They have helped to protect him in this situation, helped him to reframe the whole conversation around a turf that they are more comfortable on, and that is for President Trump is a major victory. It shows that he has really consolidated that power within his party, and he is relishing that today.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Also, he is saying --

BLITZER: And -- yes, Bianna, go ahead.

GOLODRYGA: Well, I was saying, also, he is saying, I don't know if it's numbness or just what two years into the Trump administration looks like, but you're not seeing the outrage that you saw initially from comments like this from the business community, from the evangelical community. So you have the President Sunday after sending that Tweet saying and hearing crickets from his own base and other Republicans doubling down and now tripling down and now viewing this as an issue that can really divide the wedge, not only amongst Americans but also among the democrats, because, clearly, there were other issues and other dynamics at play within the party. He seized on that.

I think for the short-term, this will unite the democrats, but longer term, you're already seeing reports that Nancy Pelosi is hoping to schedule a meeting with the four congresswomen, the squad. Their issues have not been resolved and they will need to be addressed at some point. But now, spending all of this time combating the President's comments, going into the debates where obviously policy is first and at the forefront, the President wants to focus on these social issues in the country instead.

Never mind the fact that he beat up on the country going into the 2016 election, comparing it to Russia saying we did bad things, we killed people, disparaging the intelligence community, the carnage speech that he gave during his inauguration, the irony, I think, is not lost in anybody that if another democrat criticizes, especially a democrat of color, criticizes this administration, they don't get the same response.

BLITZER: And, Sabrina, I just want to point out that the President said he is not relishing the fight, he's enjoying it. He certainly does have his political base behind him.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He absolutely does, and that's part of why you saw the Republicans in Congress rally behind the President, maybe a handful of them were critical about his Tweets against the so-called squad, but most of them even couched and saying, well, he has a point that, you know, these four congresswomen of color are somehow anti-American, because -- simply because they are challenging longstanding U.S. policy and trying to change the way that the political process has long been carried out here in Washington.

But I think what we've seen time and again with this president is a willingness to really try and exploit racial grievances for political gain because he genuinely thinks that it works.

And in 2016, it may have helped to solidify the base, but in 2018, and that's probably a more recent metric, even though he tried to spend a lot of time talking about the caravan and instilling (ph) fears around migrants coming from U.S.-Mexico border in the closing weeks prior to the election, he really wasn't successful beyond some of the red states where you had some of those democratic senators up for re- election.

In fact, in the House, it clearly didn't resonate. It did have an impact of turning off suburban women in particular. And so it's not entirely clear that this strategy that he is really doubling down on at the moment is going to prevail in 2020.

BLITZER: Well, the President is just reacting to this vote on the House of Representatives, a vote to table the impeachment resolution, and the President just Tweeted this, and it's an official presidential statement, Abby, that you covered the White House. I will read it to our viewers. You can see it up on the screen.

The United States House of Representatives has overwhelmingly voted to kill the resolution on impeachment, 332 to 95 to 1. This is perhaps the most ridiculous and time-consuming project I have ever had to work on, impeachment of your president, who has led the greatest economic boom in the history of our country, the best job numbers, biggest tax reduction, rebuilt military and much more, it is now over. This should never be allowed to happen to another President of the United States.

[18:35:01]

That's the President reacting to this vote that happened a little while ago.

PHILLIP: I don't know if it's over. I mean, they are tabling it because Nancy Pelosi wants to deal with this at a later future date. But this is the President putting a spin on this by basically saying, and he's not wrong about this, the democrats were forced into this position by one of their members who simply wanted to impeach the President because he, I believe, that is past time to do that.

And the President has been making this argument at the beginning that this has all been about just impeaching him just because he is the President. That's why this is politically challenging for democrats, that's why Nancy Pelosi has been trying to say, let's make sure we have our ducks in a row before we go there, because of this Tweet from the President, which is frames it as simply just a political witch hunt, a chase after him for doing, in his view, nothing.

BLITZER: I'm sure the President who is rallying tonight in North Carolina is going to be gloating about all of this. There is a lot more on the breaking news. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:00]

BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, President Trump is saying he is enjoying the fight he started with a series of racist Tweets targeting four minority democratic congresswomen, and he thinks he is winning. We expect to hear more from him about the racially charged political battle at a rally he is holding tonight in North Carolina.

Let's talk about this and more with former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, our Senior Legal Analyst. Preet, thanks so much for joining us.

Let's start on a personal level. I want your thoughts, personally, like me, you're a child of immigrants. What message does it send to have the President of the United States enjoy this fight, enjoy the fallout for him telling these four American women of color to go back to where they came from?

PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I think it sends a terrible message. He shouldn't be enjoying dividing the country. He shouldn't be enjoying going back on principles that I think go back two centuries and that have been espoused by both democratic and Republican presidents.

The democratic presidents talk about inclusiveness and having people come from all over the world and become successful and contribute to the country. You've had Republican presidents do the same, most notably, as people have been talking about talking recently, the final speech that Ronald Reagan gave from the White House was about inclusiveness and about how it's important that America is an idea and that everybody can become an American even if you were born elsewhere. That's not true of any other country.

And at a personal level, I have experienced it myself. You know, my family came from India. I was born in India and came from virtually nothing. And I got to become the Chief Federal Law Enforcement Officer in Manhattan. That can only happen in America. And when you've had that kind of experience, you learn to love your country. And because I love my country, I wanted to serve it. I served it for 17 years, both in the executive branch and also in the legislative branch.

And from time to time, some idiot will say, go back to where you came from. It will happen on social media. It happened once in a while (ph) as when I was a kid. Largely, people have treated me and my family exceptionally well, which is the reason why we feel very comfortable here.

And there's a big difference from -- between someone, you know, in the school ground or on social media saying you should go back to where you came from, between that and the President of the United States saying it, and enjoying saying it and thinking that it's a game when he is playing when he's doing, I think, a large amount of damage to basic principles of this country.

With respect of the four congresswomen, they serve their country too. I don't agree with all the things that they say, and this robustness agreement within the Democratic Party and within Republican Party and between the parties. But, presumably, if you choose to serve your country, whether it's the United States Attorney or a member of Congress or a judge or whatever else, you're doing that presumably because you love the country and you want to make it a little bit better.

Martin Luther King wanted to make the country different too. He wants to change the country in a good way. We can have disagreements and arguments about the best way of going about that and debate policies, but to say that only certain kinds of people who are of a certain color, that if you don't like it, you can leave is absolutely racist.

And, by the way, don't just take my word for it. I'm sorry to go on a little bit of a rant. There is a policy guideline within the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that gives guidance to employers about what does or does not constitute unlawful conduct in the workplace, discriminatory conduct in the workplace.

And one of the examples they give, and it's a policy that this administration oversees, is if you tell someone to go back to where they came from, to go back to another country, is listed as an example of a thing that could be unlawful. And here, you have the President of the United States not only saying it, but enjoying it and relishing it.

BLITZER: Very well said, Preet.

Let's get to some of the other legal issues. Let me get your immediate reaction to the House of Representatives just moments holding the Attorney General of the United States, Bill Barr, in criminal contempt. How significant is this?

BHARARA: I mean, it's significant when you hold a cabinet officer in criminal contempt. And in recent years, it's happened a little bit more often. As prior -- people have said on the show prior to my appearance that happened to Attorney General Holder back, I think, in 2012.

As we've also discussed from time to time, the consequence of that is, you know, not much. You know, the Justice Department the entity to decide whether or not to proceed with the criminal prosecution of the U.S. Attorney in the District of Columbia who reports to, guess who, the Attorney General.

And so as is in prior cases, I don't think much more will happen with respect to that criminal contempt finding.

[18:45:01]

But, you know, it's a sign the democrats mean business, because you don't do it lightly.

BLITZER: On another sensitive issue, we're following the news that the investigation into Michael Cohen and the hush money payments that he made on behalf of President Trump has now ended. The Southern District of New York where you served as the U.S. attorney was involved in this probe.

Does this mean President Trump and his associates are now in the clear?

BHARARA: Well, President Trump has been in a clear for whatever duration remains, as we've been discussing in the presidency, as we have been discussing for the months and years now, because of the Office of Legal Counsel opinion, and whether it means that other folks are in the clear, I hate to speculate, but that is what it seems to me both based on the description that the Judge Pauley gave of the notification by SNDY indicating that certain part of the investigation was over, and also the reporting going with it.

I think we will know more about that tomorrow, but it is seeming notwithstanding a lot of speculation, that no other people will be charged and maybe that there was evidence, but they could not rely sufficiently on the candor of Michael Cohen and they don't think he would make a good witness, or maybe, you know, contempt issues with the respect of the people that they may have been thinking about charging. But largely, I think your thesis is correct.

BLITZER: Preet Bharara, as usual, thank you so much for joining us.

BHARARA: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. The breaking news continues next. We're going to have more on the House vote to hold the Attorney General William Barr and the Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt.

Plus, the dangerous heat wave building over much of the United States right now. We're going to get the latest forecast.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:50:12] BLITZER: There is more breaking news we are following. A very dangerous heat wave building over a large portion of the United States, promptings warnings and advisories.

Our meteorologist Tom Sater has their latest forecast for us.

Tom, the combination of heat and humidity could be the worst we have seen in, what, years?

TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It could be. The amount of Americans that are going to feel triple digit heat is just unbelievable. I'll share the numbers. High pressure is going to take up shop in the eastern half of the country. It's going to compress the air and heat it up. It's going to bring up truck loads of moisture high humidity from the gulf, all the way to eastern Canada and stagnant air mass at best.

Already, 15 states, Wolf, were under excessive heat warnings where it feels like 105 to 110. The dark colors, excess of heat watch. It will all march toward the east. The worst of it will be Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Look at these numbers: 250 million Americans will see temperatures at 90 degrees or higher. That's 85 percent of the population, 60 percent of the population will feel temperatures that are 95 or higher.

Could we have record highs, we may see more than 20. But it's the overnight lows where we could see over 100 temperatures broken because the temperature won't drop out of the 80s at night. It feels like 105 Oklahoma City, Kansas City, 108, St. Louis, 108 degrees. Chicago getting up to 105.

Here you go, Wolf. There you go, New York City, 108, Saturday. You get the top prize at 109 on Sunday. It will get cooler but not until Monday.

BLITZER: We're all going to be shvitzing. There's no doubt about that.

Our meteorologist, Tom Sater, thank you very much.

The breaking news continues. The House votes to kill the resolution aimed at impeaching President Trump.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:56:33] BLITZER: Iran is breaking its silence about a Panamanian flagged tanker that U.S. intelligence suspect was seized over the weekend. Iranian state television claims the ship broke down. It was towed to Iran for repairs.

CNN's Fareed Zakaria talked to Iran's foreign minister.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": Foreign minister, what can you tell us about the Panamanian flagged tanker that appears to have been escorted to a port in Iran by the Iranian navy?

JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, I haven't had any briefing about that. But I've heard in the news is that it required assistance. And it's being assisted. But I haven't seen any private briefing about that.

ZAKARIA: You know, a lot of people think that the Iranian government is trying to raise tensions in the Persian Gulf by interdicting tankers, by in a sense signaling that it could in various ways block the flow of oil from the Straits of Hormuz.

ZARIF: Well, you see, we are in the Persian Gulf. We have 1,500 miles of coastline with the Persian Gulf. I mean, we control the Strait of Hormuz. It is -- I mean, these waters are our life line.

So their security is of paramount importance for Iran. But throughout history, Iran has provided security in these waters. The United States is intervening in order to make these waters insecure for Iran. You cannot make these waters insecure for one country and secure for others.

ZAKARIA: Do you believe that as a result of this, whoever is to blame, you could have an escalation which would result in a military incident?

ZARIF: Well, in such a small body of water, if you have so many foreign vessels, I mean, accidents will happen. You remember 1988 when a U.S. warship in the waters shot down an Iranian civil airliner, killing 290 passengers. So, accidents, even catastrophes can happen under these circumstances.

ZAKARIA: Do you think that with tensions being as high as they are, there is a possibility of war?

ZARIF: Well, you cannot simply disregard a possibility of a disaster. But we all need to work in order to avoid one.

There is a war going on right now. It's an economic war. An economic war against Iran targets civilian population. And President Trump is on the record saying that he is not engaging in military war but in an economic war.

Economic war is nothing to be proud of, because in a military confrontation civilians may become collateral damage. But as in economic war, civilians are the primary targets.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And you can see the full interview on "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" Sunday morning, 10:00 a.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Finally, tonight, breaking baby news. Our technical director Matthew Jacobson and his wife Dana are now the proud parents of Mason Wade Jacobson. He was born Sunday weighing 6 pounds 8 ounces, 19 inches tall. We're sending our warmest, warmest congratulations, best wishes to this great new family.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show @CNNsitroom.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.