Return to Transcripts main page


Second Ship Seized; Can't Stop, Won't Stop; Preparing With Mueller; Rep. David Cicilline (D) Rhode Island Interviewed About Preparations for the Mueller Hearing and Oil Tanker Seized by Iran; Trump Complains Iran is Nothing But Trouble After Iranians Seize At Least One Oil Tanker Off Their Cost; Lawmakers Hold Mock Hearings Ahead of Mueller Testimony; Russia Tests Missile System in the Arctic for the First Time. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired July 19, 2019 - 17:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news.

Second ship seized. After the Revolutionary Guard seized a British flag tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, Iran sends tensions soaring by grabbing a second ship and what the U.S. military believes was a pre- planned operation. CNN has learned that armed U.S. aircraft are keeping watch over an American ship in the region.

Can't stop, won't stop. President Trump renewing his attacks on a minority Congresswomen, he's now praising his campaign crowd that chanted "send her back" saying that rally was attended by incredible patriots.

Preparing for Mueller. With mock hearings and strategy sessions, lawmakers are scrambling to prepare for next week's testimony by former Special Counsel Robert Mueller. We have new information on Democrats plans to focus on areas of potential obstruction by the president.

And Putin's Arctic policy. Russia's Vladimir Putin flexing his muscles with the new show of military might, this time in the Arctic. There is a new missile test signal a new threat to American aircraft.

Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Brianna Keilar. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

KEILAR: We have breaking news, Iran dramatically raising tensions and raising the stakes in the gulf region by seizing two oil tankers. Iran's Revolutionary Guard says it has captured a British flagship in the Strait of Hormuz and a U.S. official says a Liberian flag vessel has also been grabbed. One industry analyst calls it the highest level security threat in the region since the late 1980s.

Also breaking, President Trump is back at it renewing his attacks on a Muslim congresswoman and now praising the crowd which chanted "send her back" saying his rally was made up of incredible patriots. This comes a day after the president claimed to disavow the ugly chant under pressure from his daughter Ivanka and concerned GOP allies but now the president who started it all with racist attacks on four minority congresswomen says Somali-born congresswoman Ilhan Omar is, quote, "lucky to be where she is."

I'll be speaking with Congressman David Cicilline of the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees and our correspondents and analysts have full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's go straight to CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. Barbara, tell us what you're learning about these oil tankers that were seized just 30 minutes apart.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: A very unsettling day in the Persian Gulf region, Brianna. U.S. officials directly familiar with the event say they were seized 30 minutes apart and that it is an indication Iran had planned this, organized, coordinated, was ready to go. The information that U.S. officials have, they say, is that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps troops boarded both ships and took them to Iranian waters.

Now, in the last several minutes, Iran is claiming that one of the ships was never boarded in a hostile fashion that it was stopped for an environmental inspection and, in fact, maritime tracking website seemed to show that one of those ships now back on track and is picking up speed moving to its original destination. But still by all accounts, a British flag tanker in Iranian hands at this hour. And this is the concern, of course.

I mean this is billions of dollars of world trade shipping lanes moving through this region carrying oil, carrying energy supplies, carrying cargo and these ships moving on to cargo routes that move into Asia, the United States, Europe, this is a part of the world that is so sensitive. And these cargo ships, it is worth reminding ourselves, are defenseless against any hostile force. These are civilian mariner crews. These are people who work these ships out there just simply trying to earn a living. Iranian waters, Iranian air space is very tight. The Iranians are very close by and if they want to make a move like they did today, these ships are in tough shape to try and defend against them. Brianna?

KEILAR: And Barbara, tell us about how the U.S. military is taking measures to protect an American ship in the area.

STARR: We know, Brianna, at this hour there is an American cargo ship moving through the region. There is not a lot of detail obviously being offered. They want to keep that ship safe. But they also want the Iranians to know that the U.S. military is on station. So we are told by an official that armed U.S. aircraft are keeping an eye on this ship as it moves through this -- this American ship as it -- as it moves through the region.

[17:05:00] The Americans are keeping a very close watch. They have intelligence, surveillance and recognizance aircraft up overhead as they always do. They are making the point very strongly, they don't want war with Iran, they want to -- they are trying to deter further Iranian aggression by giving the events of earlier today, the U.S. military tonight keeping a very sharp eye on all of this. Brianna?

KEILAR: Barbara Starr, thank you.

And President Trump just weighed in on Iran's seizure of the two ships and much more.

Let's go now to CNN senior white house correspondent Pamela Brown. What is the president saying, Pamela?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, President Trump is claiming the latest episode proves his warnings about Iran are correct, that it is nothing but trouble. And he says he'll talk to the UK about this ongoing situation. This is the president is trying to go back, pivoting from his criticism of the "send her back" chant and then attempt to keep the focus on the Democratic congresswomen known as the squad.


BROWN (voice-over): Tonight President Trump has gone full circle again defending his racist attack against four congresswomen.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well they call our country garbage, I don't care about politics. I don't care if it is good or bad about politics.

You can't talk that way about our country. Not when I'm the president.

BROWN: And defending his supporters. They chanted "send her back" at a North Carolina rally.

TRUMP: Those people in North Carolina, that stadium was packed, it was a record crowd. And I could have filled it 10 times, as you know. Those are incredible people. Those are incredible patriots.

BROWN: This despite concerns raised from aides including his daughter Ivanka Trump, but today the president downplayed their involvement.

TRUMP: I talk about it but they didn't advise me.

BROWN: Vice President Pence also taking heat from Republican lawmakers over the inflammatory chant and there was the president's attempt to clean-up on his own yesterday.

TRUMP: I was not happy with it. I disagree with it. But again I didn't say -- I didn't say that. They did.

BROWN: But now Trump is back where he began, re-tweeting his previous tweets, asking for the congresswomen to apologize to our country. And threatening Democrats he will carry this fight to the ballot box in 2020.

And after Congresswoman Ilhan Omar returned to Minnesota yesterday for a town hall.

REP. ILHAN OMAR (D), MINNESOTA: It sure feels good to be home. We are going to continue to be a nightmare to this president because his policies -- because his policies are a nightmare to us.

BROWN: Trump tweeting today that the welcome was a, quote, "staged crowd."

TRUMP: I'm unhappy when a congresswoman goes and said I'm going to be the president's nightmare. She's going to be the president's nightmare. She's lucky to be where she is, let me tell you. And the things that she has said are a disgrace to our country.

BROWN: The chant fallout spreading to the international stage too. German Chancellor Angela Merkel telling reporters --

ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): I distanced myself from this decidedly and stand in solidarity with the women who were attacked.

BROWN: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denouncing the comments.

JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: I want everyone in Canada to know that those comments are completely unacceptable.

BROWN: And British Prime Minister Theresa May also calling Trump's language "completely unacceptable."

TRUMP: Hopefully we're in good shape with the debt ceiling.

BROWN: The president tonight also taking a firm stance on a debt ceiling telling reporters Democratic leadership shouldn't use it to negotiate.

TRUMP: I can't imagine anybody ever even thinking of using the debt ceiling as a negotiating wedge. That is a sacred element of our country. They can't use the debt ceiling to negotiate.

BROWN: Changing his tune from 2013 when President Obama was the one facing a debt ceiling crisis.

TRUMP: The debt ceiling is a great powerful weapon. I think they should play the debt ceiling card. That is a very powerful card.


BROWN: And President Trump claimed today that he won't watch the highly-anticipated congressional testimony from former Special Counsel Mueller set for next week but even if the president doesn't watch the testimony, Wolf, White House staffers have spoken to no doubt and they'll be watching the testimony and of course they'll likely brief the president on any highlights, Wolf. I'm sorry Brianna.

KEILAR: All right Pamela Brown. That is OK. Thanks Pamela Brown at the White House.

And lawmakers right now are cramming for next week's questioning of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller who's going to appear before two House committees. CNN senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju is joining us. And Manu, this may be some of the most highly anticipated testimony that we've seen maybe in decades. What are you learning?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No question about it, Brianna. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are preparing for this long-awaited hearing. Democrats are hoping that this could reshape public perception about alleged criminal conduct in the White House. Republicans believe that they could poke holes in Bob Mueller's credibility. And tonight, we're learning new details about how both sides are preparing for this long-awaited hearing.

[17:10:02] (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RAJU (voice-over): Tonight, lawmakers are intensely preparing for the most anticipated hearing in decades when Special Counsel Robert Mueller testifies about the findings of his two-year investigation. Democrats and Republicans both sharpening their questions and their strategy as they hold mock hearings with top aides sitting in as Mueller.

Tonight, CNN has learned that Democrats in the House Judiciary Committee will focus on five our areas of potential obstruction of justice laid out in the Mueller report, including Trump's order to then White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller, his efforts to have that McGahn denied that the president have ordered him to have the special counsel removed.

Also, Trump's order to former campaign manager Cory Lewandowski to tell the then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to limit the investigation to exclude the president and later threatening to fire Sessions if he did not meet with Lewandowski.

There were also episodes in the Mueller report of alleged witness tampering, including Trump encouraging former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen not to cooperate with federal prosecutors.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY), JUDICIARY CHAIRMAN: Just if he says what was in the report, and says it to the American people so they hear it. That will be very, very important.

RAJU: Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee plan to press Mueller about the extent of Russian interference in the 2016 election and contacts between Russians and the Trump campaign. And will ask Mueller about his finding that Trump publicly expressed skepticism that Russia was responsible for the hacks at the same time that he and other campaign officials privately sought information about any further planned "WikiLeaks" release of Clinton campaign emails.

RAJU: We can't go beyond the report.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: Well we're going to ask him questions beyond the report. We're going to expect him to answer.

RAJU: With the stakes enormous, Democrats say they are preparing carefully, re-reading the entire 448-page report.

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: This is not going to be a whole bunch of numbers freelancing. This will be organized.

RAJU: Republicans, meanwhile, plan to press the special counsel about whether his team was biased as well as anti-Trump texts sent by FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page.

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I mean we've got a lot of questions about how Robert Mueller's team was assembled.

RAJU: And they plan to raise questions about why the investigation started in the first place.

REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA), RANKING MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: That is the basic questions of understanding the conclusion and you have to understand where it started.

RAJU: But Mueller has already indicated he won't go beyond the four corners of his report.

ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: Director Mueller will be impeccably prepared. He's not a verbose and dramatic witness but he knows his stuff.


RAJU: But some Democrats already are trying to lower expectations from this hearing. One Democrat Jim Himes told me not to expect much news out of this hearing because of the fact that much of it probably will be what was in the Mueller report. Others, however, say that it could drive more people towards the impeachment camp. The question is how people like Nancy Pelosi ultimately come out. She has told her colleagues privately to approach this calmly, seriously, don't raise expectations, don't lower expectations but the expectation is that she probably will still oppose opening up an impeachment inquiry even after this hearing. Brianna?

KEILAR: Manu Raju, thank you from the Hill.

And joining me now is Democratic Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island. He's a member of both the House Judiciary Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee. Sir, thanks for being with us.


KEILAR: I do want to talk to you about the preparations for the Mueller hearing in just a moment but first let's talk about Iran which has just seized at least one oil tanker, boarded another or inspected another. You sit on the Foreign Affairs Committee. Have you been briefed on this?

CICILLINE: We have not. This is -- these events have just happened. But this is a very serious and dangerous situation, frankly. It is in part the inevitable result of a failed policy by this administration. The president walked away from the Iran deal, instituted additional sanctions on Iran, with really no strategy of what to do after that. So Iran has engaged in a lot of aggressive behavior and now against one of our allies. And there doesn't seem to be a strategy or plan in place as to how we move forward.

I think we have to de-escalate the situation. We have to obviously work closely with our allies in the region. But this is the problem of ripping up an agreement that prevented Iran from becoming a nuclear power that our allies worked on with us for all of the months without something to replace it or even a strategy with an end game. And I think this is very, very disturbing and of great concern.

KEILAR: What do you think Iran is up to here?

CICILLINE: I think Iran is reacting to the imposed sanctions and the fact that we walked away from the deal and they've also accelerated the enrichment of uranium. I think we have to figure out how we get back to a diplomatic solution. But it is hard.

You know our allies who were part of the P5 + 1 stayed with the agreement. Iran up until very recently and we think still has complied with the terms of the agreement even though we walked away from it. So it is made a diplomatic resolution even more difficult.

[17:15:02] But we need to de-escalate this. We need to you know work with our allies, work with the U.N., if there is in fact a violation of international law based on what is being reported, the seizure of this tanker. This is a very important area of the Strait of Hormuz, 30 percent of the World's oil travels through that as a huge area of commerce. And we have to be able to protect obviously American ships, but this is the problem when you unilaterally end an agreement --

KEILAR: Do you just read this as Iran showing it has leverage? It has control?


KEILAR: It could cause problems?

CICILLINE: I think this is -- exactly. This is Iran engaging in aggressive malign behavior which they have continued to do but as a way to kind of react to both the seizure of the tanker by the UK some time ago. And the United States walking away from the agreement and increased sanctions. So they're just trying to, I think, continue to be disruptive in the region, continue to show that they have the ability to cause problems and this is a very serious situation.

KEILAR: I want to talk about these preparations that are underway for the Mueller hearing next week because there is a lot. We know that Democrats on the Judiciary Committee have been holding mock hearings. They've been focusing in on these five areas of potential obstruction. I want to hear in particular which area of potential obstruction may be most interesting to you? That you would want to explore further with Robert Mueller?

CICILLINE: Well, the areas that we'll all focus on as you mentioned are the five areas where the special counsel said all of the elements of the offense were met, the obstruction of justice. I'm particularly interested in focusing on the president's direction to Cory Lewandowski. Not working in the administration but telling him to direct the attorney general of the United States not to investigative the current presidential election or the past one but only investigate future elections, effectively ending the investigation of President Trump.

This is an outside party being directed by the president to tell the attorney general to essentially stop investigating. This is a very significant obstruction of justice. In fact, the president dictates it. And it is written down. So I'm interested to know about that. This is again a person who is not a member of the administration, who is his former campaign manager and who then was instructed to meet with Jeff Sessions in a place that he decided where there wouldn't be a log so he wouldn't have to sign in so there is no public record. And was also told to tell Jeff Sessions if he didn't meet with him - with Cory Lewandowski, he'd be fired.

I mean think about that. What's going on? This is a clear effort by the president to stop the investigation being conducted by the special counsel and I have a lot of questions about that.

KEILAR: Do you think Robert Mueller needs to go beyond the scope of his report.

CICILLINE: I don't. I think Robert Mueller needs to answer the questions and frankly tell the story to the American people. He investigated this for 22 months. This is -- this report is explosive. It has damning evidence against the president. All Mr. Mueller needs to do is recount for the American people exactly what he found. This will be the first time most people actually hear what is in the Mueller report. Most people haven't read it. I, of course, did. A lot of American people have not. This will be their opportunity to hear from the special counsel what he found, the evidence of misconduct of the president, the efforts to obstruct the investigation.

And I think that will be very, very powerful. Mr. Mueller is not going to -- my guess is he's not going to add anything new. But he's going to be very, very seriously and soberly walk us through that report and walk through the findings so the American people could have a full understanding about the misconduct of this president.

KEILAR: Congressman David Cicilline, thank you for joining us.

CICILLINE: My pleasure.

KEILAR: Up next, breaking news. Officials say Iran has seized at least one oil tanker in what the U.S. military believes was a planned operation.

And close to 200 million Americans are facing a deadly heat wave. There are warnings across much of the country and New York City has declared an emergency.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [17:23:50] KEILAR: Following breaking news across the country as people in electric companies try to cope with the life-threatening heat wave that will be peaking this weekend. About 195 million people across the U.S. are under watches, warnings or advisories due to the extreme heat.

CNN's Polo Sandoval is in New York City where an emergency has already been declared. How are people coping there, Polo?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, with that emergency in place here, you have to -- all you have to do is look behind me. You can see how people, particularly here in New York, are keeping cool right now. By any means necessary. In this case of course, as you're seeing, a dip in the iconic fountain, but today it was hot, tomorrow it will be even hotter. And the most vulnerable people, children and the elderly.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is incredible how hot it is.

SANDOVAL (voice-over): Tonight much of the United States is sweltering.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This year it is really hot. It is like burning hot.

SANDOVAL: About 195 million people under heat watches and warnings. Part of a potentially record-breaking heat wave set to scorch the country through Sunday.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have one, two, three, four of our teachers over there because they can't handle it. It is just me who is over here.

[17:25:02] SANDOVAL: Major cities have opened cooling centers for those without air-conditioning and officials from New Mexico to New Hampshire are warning people to stay indoors, stay hydrated and check on their neighbors.

ELIZABETH PENNIMAN, AMERICAN RED CROSS: Look out for the elderly. Look out for young people. They are the most vulnerable.

SANDOVAL: Today in New York City, the Mayor de Blasio declared a heat emergency cautioning residents to reduce electricity use and ordering high rise office buildings to raise its thermostats to avoid power outages.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK: We keep emphasizing 78 degrees unless you have a specific condition where you needed to be cooler, 78 degrees will keep you safe, will keep you cool enough, will keep you healthy. And again we want to always be careful not to use more electricity than we need to.

SANDOVAL: Major events being canceled. From the Ozzy musical festival in New York to horse races in Saratoga and in Illinois, zoo workers are doing their best to help the animals beat the heat.


SANDOVAL: And, look, it is only going to get hotter here. Last month it was the hottest June ever recorded on the planet. That is according to scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Brianna. And we're likely going to be seeing more of these kinds of heat waves, likely going to happen more frequently, experts say, Brianna. It is part of this ongoing climate crisis.

KEILAR: All right. Polo Sandoval, thank you so much.

CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar has the latest forecast for us and this heat wave is going to get worst, Allison.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It is. And in fact, for some people this may not peak until we get to Sunday of this weekend. Yes, take a look at the map behind me. This is what we talked about, all the excessive heat warnings, watches and even some heat advisories.

Again, as you can see, it is a majority of the eastern half of the country. And even for those that may not have had some of the watches or warnings it doesn't mean they are not hot. They just haven't been hot enough to meet those criteria. Like for example, again, right now it feels like 102 in Charleston, South Carolina, it feels like 103 in Charlotte, 111 for places like Kansas City and Minneapolis. Again, that is the temperature combined with the humidity that is out there. And that added humidity is also helping to fire up some storms.

We have a moderate risk here of severe weather across portions of the -- of the Midwest as well as the northeast. We're talking damaging winds, the potential for hail and even some tornados. The good news for a city like Chicago is you're finally going to start to see some relief on Sunday, feels-like temperature today of 108, 104 tomorrow. But finally, back down to about 73 once we get to Sunday.

But look at places like New York and Boston. The temperatures are actually only going to continue to go up as we go through the rest of the weekend. So will the feels-like temperature. But also, Brianna, as you mentioned earlier and we've been talking about this too. It is also the overnight low temperatures. Many of them are not going to get any cooler than 80 degrees. And that is simply not cool enough for a lot of folks' bodies to be able to cool off.

KEILAR: All right. Allison Chinchar, thank you so much.

Coming up, more on the breaking news, Iran seizing at least one oil tanker off its coast, a source says, the U.S. military is guarding an American commercial ship in the same area.

Plus new details about how Democrats are planning to handle Robert Mueller's public testimony next week.


[17:30:00] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: We're following multiple breaking stories including Iran's seizure of at least one oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz today. And there are now conflicting reports about whether a second tanker was seized. Leaving the White House just a short time ago, President Trump complained Iran is, quote, nothing but trouble.

Let's get the insights of our political and national security analysts.

And, Shawn Turner, first to you, Iran is clearly messaging that they hold cards here. But as this continues to go on, what will Iran continue to do?

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, you know, Brianna, I think it's important that we understand what's motivating Iran right now. Look, since the United States pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal and the administration imposed new sanctions on Iran, those sanctions have absolutely crippled Iran's economy. So much so that Iran has goods sitting on ships in ports around the region that they can't bring home because they can't afford to buy fuel for those ships.

So what does Iran want out of this? Look, you know, Iran -- people might think, on the surface, that Iran is trying to goad the United States into a military conflict or an armed conflict, but that's not the case at all.

What Iran is doing here, their strategy, is to get the international community -- those in the international community who can apply pressure on the United States, those who have some sway with the United States -- to apply that pressure to take the first steps to de- escalate this. That's Iran's strategy. And for Iran right now, de- escalation means the loosening of the sanctions.

Now, their calculus could change but, right now, it's about the sanctions. If their calculus does change, I think we're going to continue to see these kinds of actions toward others -- other nation- states. And we're also going to see them move back toward the path of establishing themselves as a nuclear power.

KEILAR: How should the President respond, Susan?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, so this is a situation in which cooler heads need to prevail. We certainly don't want to accidentally blunder our way into a military confrontation with Iran. And these are the kinds of contexts in which those mistakes and miscalculations end up happening.

It's really important to rely on expertise. Not just military expertise but foreign policy expertise, people who understand how the Iranians think, how they negotiate, what they care about. We've seen that the President sort of rejects that expertise. He doesn't rely as much, you know, sort of on the State Department.

[17:35:02] It's also a good example of why you need a president who has a lot of credibility whenever he's speaking both to our adversaries and our allies. And let's be honest, Donald Trump does not have a lot of credibility. You don't know if he actually means what he says.

You know, again, we say him responding -- this is a crisis with our closest foreign ally, the British government. Rather than sort of using this as an opportunity to have a united front, a show of strength, he sort of makes a swipe at Theresa May on her way out the door. It's hard to see how that is productive rhetoric in this situation.

KEILAR: And he's -- he is not consistent. For instance, his response to the downing of an American unmanned aircraft was to order a strike and then to pull back at the last moment, he said. So, I mean, what does that tell you about how he is going to continue to handle this?

REBECCA BUCK, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, first of all, it shows just how unpredictable Donald Trump is when this comes to these big sorts of foreign policy and national security decisions, and so we don't really know how he could react in this scenario.

Whether he would decide to de-escalate or escalate, it's just totally a wild card. And so that, you know, is reason for a bit of nervousness on its own. But then we also don't know, you know, will the President be listening to his advisers in this case, or who will he be listening to?

In this case, at the last minute, as you said, Brianna, he did listen to the counselors and the -- his advisers and decided to pull back from that strike. But will he be listening to some of the more hawkish Republicans or people on the right, or will he be listening to career professionals? We really just don't know.

KEILAR: Does he have a plan, Jackie, or is he just winging it?

JACKIE ALEMANY, AUTHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST'S POWER UP: No. That's, I think, one of the biggest criticisms here, why did the Trump administration pull out of the Iran nuclear deal to begin with when it was just going to lead into a pretty predictable game of brinksmanship?

And I think Rebecca hits on the biggest question at hand right now, which is, you know, there is the opportunity to potentially engage with diplomacy with Iran as the Iranian Foreign Minister said the at U.N. yesterday, for the first time, really opening up talks with the United States, saying that they would be willing to subject themselves to nuclear -- international nuclear inspections if the U.S. decided to lift the crippling sanctions on them.

But the question is, is Trump beholden to his hawkish advisers, the John Boltons of the administration, or is he going to listen to the Pentagon and to experts here who, like people like DIA Director Robert Ashley who was just talking with your colleague, Jim Sciutto, and saying that these moves, these hostile aggressions have been pretty predictable.

And this is what Iran is doing to change the status quo here in order to, you know, free themselves from this recession and try to wiggle their way out of these sanctions that are really hurting their economy.

KEILAR: Oh, the President keeps saying, over and over, that there was no short-term -- you shouldn't have a short-term plan, and yet he has no plan. He shouldn't have a -- he said this was a short-term plan that the President had, which was for 10 years -- President Obama, the former president -- but he has no plan.

HENNESSEY: Right. I think that's becoming increasingly clear, that he really doesn't have any plan at all. We also know that this is a president that tends to sort of go with the last person he spoke to.

This is an administration that is actually staffed with some pretty aggressive Iran hawks. You know, certainly, John Bolton; Mike Pompeo as well. You know, there are a lot of people that have, in public, talked about things like regime change very, very --

KEILAR: But now he's talking about Rand Paul.

HENNESSEY: Right. So it's sort of it's the flavor of the month. The problem is that is not a recipe for steady, you know, productive diplomatic talks. And the problem is, is that, you know, for all this sort of near misses and insanity we're seeing out of the White House, the moment in which you pay the price for that is in crisis moments. And this is starting to look like it might be a genuine moment of crisis.

KEILAR: All right, all of you, stand by for me. We have a lot more to talk about. We're going to change topics because Democrats are preparing in earnest for Robert Mueller's testimony. We'll be right back.


KEILAR: We're back now with our reporters and analysts to talk about the upcoming Robert Mueller hearing and the preparations that Democrats are doing because they're doing a lot behind the scenes.

They're holding mock hearings, and they're focusing in, Susan, on the five areas of potential obstruction when it comes to President Trump. Does that sound like the -- I guess, the firmest ground for them to be standing on?

HENNESSEY: Well, certainly, it's a good sign that they appear to be taking an approach to this hearing that's really disciplined and rigorous. There was a little bit of a concern that they would all just kind of be out there giving five-minute speeches.

They're smart to be focusing on the President's conduct. There's a lot in this report, but, obviously, Donald Trump's personal conduct is the most significant thing here. You know, they're going to be tempted to try and push Robert Mueller to go beyond the report, beyond what's actually in that document. I really think that's going to end up being wasted time. The task at hand here is to get Robert Mueller to tell the story that

is contained in that report in a credible, nonpartisan voice so that the American people can understand what is in that document. And that Mueller's testimony is not -- is the first step. It's not the last step.

But at the end of the day, you know, Robert Mueller is -- you know, we were saying it earlier, it's sort of like calling the police officer that investigated a crime whenever you're trying it in front of a jury. You might call the detective, but then you're going to call all those principal witnesses so they can tell the story for themselves. Don McGahn, Hope Hicks, Cory Lewandowski, we need to see those being lined as well.

KEILAR: We just had David Cicilline on the program, and I asked him, does Robert Mueller need to go beyond the scope of his report because he said he won't. But the Congressman said, no, he doesn't. What do you think?

ALEMANY: Well, yes, there is this belief amongst House Democrats and a lot of aides that I've spoken with who have been helping their bosses prepare for next week, which they really consider a big flashpoint in this whole rallying cry to impeach the President, and that, you know, this is going to be a learning experience.

I mean, we know that there are a number of Republican lawmakers who haven't even read the Mueller report. So for Americans out there who aren't quite familiar with this, this is going to be helpful just to hear, as Susan just said, Robert Mueller repeat these instances of obstruction of justice in his own words.

But at the same time, you know, Ted -- Representative Ted Lieu spoke with the "Post" yesterday, and he said that a lot of this is also going to be just pointing out that any reasonable person listening will probably come to the conclusion that the President committed a felony.

I think, you know, you're going to see representatives ask in 32 different ways, according to a source I spoke with, if the President was not the president, would he be in jail right now for the litany of actions that are outlined by Robert Mueller? And that's what he is going to repeat on Wednesday.

KEILAR: So then where does this go, Rebecca? What's the next step for Democrats?

BUCK: The next step? I mean, Susan laid out a few -- bring more witnesses in, continue to tell this story. But I think this is an important step, and we shouldn't just move beyond it too quickly because this is going to be the first time that Robert Mueller is telling the story of this report in his own words.

Of course, he gave that brief press conference, but having a back and forth with lawmakers over many hours is going to be a totally different experience. And I think Americans who haven't read the report are going to see this in a new light and in a new level of detail that is going to potentially make this a really impactful day.

[17:45:09] KEILAR: On the issue of Russian interference, Shawn, do you think that this is something that is going to be focused on in the way that it should, considering Democrats are focusing on obstruction in their mock hearings?

TURNER: Well, Brianna, I think there are two issues here. I think that it certainly should be something that should be focused on, particularly as we prepare for the 2020 presidential election. But, look, you know, this is Robert Mueller before members of Congress, and it's going to be all about the President and obstruction of justice.

I do hope that there are some members of Congress who make a decision to talk about the -- what I think, at least for right now, for the country going forward, is the more important issue of Russian interference.

You know, I think I should also point out, Brianna, that, you know, while I agree that this is Mueller telling the story of this report, but when I read the Mueller report, I wrote dozens and dozens of questions in the margin of that report. Because Robert Mueller -- you know, there were several places where he intimated things, but he stopped short of making conclusions.

So I do hope that some members of Congress will ask some of those important questions beyond what's in the report. And while Mueller may not answer them, I need to be asked.

KEILAR: Shawn, Susan, Jackie, Rebecca, thank you so much.

And coming up, Vladimir Putin's latest power play. Why is his military testing missiles in the Arctic?


[17:51:09] KEILAR: Russia's Vladimir Putin is flexing his muscles with a new show of military might, this time in the Arctic. Brian Todd has been looking into that. Brian, tell us, what is Putin up to?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, for the first time, Vladimir Putin has test-fired one of his most dangerous missiles in the Arctic. The Russian President is moving fast to dominate that region, and the U.S. has fallen way behind him there, which analysts say puts America in a very precarious position.


TODD (voice-over): Tonight, Vladimir Putin is staging his own version of war games on ice. In newly released video from his military, the Russian strongman is showing off the first test of one of his key missiles in the Arctic, called the TOR-M2DT. Experts say it could target American aircraft from short range.

THOMAS KARAKO, DIRECTOR OF THE MISSILE DEFENSE PROJECT, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: These are clearly designed for Arctic type conditions. It's launched out, popped up in the air, and then, of course, it will ignite after that. But this kind of missile is going to go after aircraft and drones and that sort of thing.

TODD (voice-over): The missile is part of Vladimir Putin's vision of dominating the arctic region. He has deployed long-range rockets there. He's built sprawling military bases in the Arctic and once made a show of visiting one, sweeping in on a military transport, traversing a glacier, and hammering at the ice for no apparent reason. Those bases can house hundreds of troops and warplanes, which operate in temperatures that can dip well below zero.

MICHAEL KOFMAN, SENIOR RESEARCH SCIENTIST, CNA: These are really bases set up in perhaps some of the most inhospitable, if not the most inhospitable places, on earth. They're so cold that, you know, short of living on another planet with no oxygen, this is one of the most dangerous and hazardous areas to operate.

TODD (voice-over): But Russian forces pride themselves on being able to operate in the bitter cold, sometimes even training with reindeer. Putin is aggressively navigating the region, even having a Russian flag planted on the Arctic Ocean floor.

Analysts say he's got his sights set on enormous oil and gas reserves there, possibly worth trillions of dollars. And he wants to control new lucrative commercial shipping routes through the Arctic, which have opened up recently because of melting ice.

JAMES TOWNSEND, TRANSATLANTIC SECURITY PROGRAM SENIOR ADJUNCT SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR A NEW AMERICAN SECURITY: If you're able to cut the time of transit by ship by weeks, saving lots of money, going from one side of the globe to the other. Russia is present along much of that route, and they are going to be the toll keepers, in a way.

TODD (voice-over): And experts say the U.S. is way behind Putin in the Arctic. Russia has dozens of ice-breaking ships deployed there, they say, but the U.S. has only two, one of which is unreliable. And they say it's time the U.S. sends more military assets into the region.

TOWNSEND: We've got to be sending P-8 maritime patrol aircraft up there and watching. We've got to have our satellites up there watching. We've got to have our allies up there -- Norway, other NATO allies, Sweden, Finland. We all need to be keeping an eye on what the Russians are doing there and making sure that they're not crossing a line.


TODD: Now, while military experts caution that the U.S. cannot really afford to get into an arms race with Vladimir Putin in the Arctic, they do worry about what Putin's military supremacy there could lead to. If there is a military conflict with Russia in the future, this latest missile battery could be part of a longer-range Russian strike force that would have the capability of striking the continental United States from the Arctic region -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Brian Todd, thank you so much. And coming up, we have breaking news. Officials say Iran has seized

at least one oil tanker in what the U.S. military believes was a planned and coordinated operation. A source says U.S. military aircraft are flying cover for an American commercial vessel there in the gulf.


KEILAR: Happening now, breaking news. Under siege. Iran's Revolutionary Guard boards two oil tankers, seizing at least one of them, and dramatically ratcheting up tension with the West. Tonight, the U.S. military is on alert and using armed aircraft to protect American ships in the region.

Under his skin. President Trump reversing course once again, strongly defending his racist attack on four minority Democratic Congresswomen and defending his supporters who echoed them, even as world leaders condemn his words.

[18:00:07] Under oath. House Democrats are digging --