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Interview With Presidential Candidate Tom Steyer; Interview With Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI); A Spokesman Says Mueller Will Have Prepared And Opening Statement That Hasn't Been Seen By Justice Department Or Attorney General Barr; Trump Escalates Attacks, Calls Democratic Congresswomen, Racist; Hundreds of Thousands Protest Puerto Rico Governor. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired July 22, 2019 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Democrats are hoping Mueller's testimony will fuel the simmering calls for impeachment with a breakout moment that will resonate with the American people.

I will talk about it was one of the biggest proponents of impeachment, Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer.

American spies detained? Iran detains 17 of its own citizens, accusing them of spying for the CIA. Tonight, President Trump is calling that a lie, as he escalates tensions, saying it's getting harder for him to want to make a deal with Iran.

And in the streets. Outrage boils over in Puerto Rico, as hundreds of thousands of people block a major highway and launch an island-wide strike, demanding the governor step down. The unprecedented protests are resonating far beyond the island, with even President Trump calling the governor terrible.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, new details of how Robert Mueller is preparing for his appearances before two House committees this Wednesday, including an opening statement that has not been reviewed by the Justice Department.

President Trump is rehashing old attacks on the former special counsel, but says he might watch a little bit of his testimony.

Also breaking, Iran claiming to have busted a CIA spy ring and arresting 17 Iranians it accuses of engaging in espionage for the United States. Tonight, Iran's Intelligence Ministry says some of them will be executed.

We will talk about the breaking news with Senator Mazie Hirono of the Judiciary Committee and Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer. He's a leading proponent of impeachment. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

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

Kaitlan, we're about to get more on the Mueller testimony in a moment, but there's breaking news, major breaking news, about a budget and debt ceiling deal.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, it's the sign that Republicans have been waiting for, and that's the president seeming to sign off on those budget deal talks that have been going on, on Capitol Hill.

The president tweeting just a few moments ago that he was pleased to announce that Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and Kevin McCarthy have reached an agreement which the president says has -- quote -- "no poison pills" and he calls it "a real compromise in order to give a another big victory to our great military and veterans."

Now, this is essentially the sign they were waiting for, if the president would sign off. And, of course, people are saying behind the scenes, nothing is final until it is actually final.

But, Wolf, this is a deal that would essentially increase the government spending, raise the borrowing limit until after the next presidential election, so it would push off any kind of a showdown that would be looming in the next two years.

But, Wolf, of course, this isn't the only 2020 matter that's on people's minds on Capitol Hill, as they are preparing for Robert Mueller to come and make his first appearance in front of lawmakers on Wednesday.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You can't take all those bites out of the apple.

COLLINS (voice-over): After claiming he won't watch Robert Mueller testify on Capitol Hill, President Trump now admits he might tune in.

TRUMP: No, I'm not going to be watching, probably. Maybe I will see a little bit of it.

COLLINS: But he insists Democrats are wasting their time, attempting a do-over.

TRUMP: What they're doing is just hearing after hearing after hearing. It's nonsense. OK?

COLLINS: The former special counsel will testify for five hours before two committees Wednesday, and the president is gearing up by renewing his old attacks.

TRUMP: But he's got conflicts with me too. He's got big conflicts with me. As you know, he wanted the job of the FBI director. He didn't get it. COLLINS: It's an assertion his own former aide Steve Bannon called

ridiculous and petty, as Trump is still falsely claiming the report exonerated him when it came to obstruction.

TRUMP: But you know what? He still ruled, and I respect him for it. He still ruled no collusion, no obstruction.

COLLINS: Mueller never said there was no obstruction, instead explaining that charging the president with a crime wasn't an option he had because of a longstanding DOJ policy.

TRUMP: They're pulling the Democrats way left.

COLLINS: Tonight, the president is also escalating his attacks on four Democratic freshman congresswomen, accusing them of being a "racist group of troublemakers who are young, inexperienced and not very smart," even as he insists there's no racial tension.

TRUMP: No, I think they're very bad for our country. No, no, no racial tension.

COLLINS: As the feud turns into a political strategy for Trump, one of those Democrats is vowing to hold her ground.

REP. RASHIDA TLAIB (D-MI): Yes, I'm not going nowhere, not until I impeach this president.

COLLINS: At the White House today, the president souring on the idea of a diplomatic deal with Iran.

TRUMP: Frankly, it's getting harder for me to want to make a deal with Iran.

COLLINS: As he denies the country's claims it arrested 17 of its citizens for their connections to an alleged CIA spy ring.

TRUMP: That's totally a false story. That's another lie.

COLLINS: Sources tell CNN that, in recent days, Trump has reverted to a more hawkish position on Iran, as his public offers to sit down with the country's leadership have gone unanswered.


TRUMP: They put out propaganda. They put out lies. Pakistan never lies. But Iran does, unfortunately.

COLLINS: In the Oval Office with the prime minister of Pakistan, the president raising eyebrows when he said he could wipe Afghanistan off the face of the earth if he wanted to.

TRUMP: If we wanted to fight a war in Afghanistan and win it, I could win that war in a week. I just don't want to kill 10 million people.

COLLINS: Trump hinting at a secret military plan while revealing no details, as he said he will lean on Pakistan for planning an exit instead.

TRUMP: We have been there for 19 years, and we have acted as policemen, not soldiers.


COLLINS: Now, Wolf, of course, the president says a deal on the budget has been struck. And you're seeing comments from Democratic leaders start to roll in.

But we should note, nothing is final until the president's name is actually on it, because we have been in this situation before where the president has come incredibly close to backing off a deal at the last night minute, only having to be advised by his aides and allies at the last minute to still stay good on his word.

BLITZER: We will see what happens on that front.

Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you.

Let's get some more on that budget debt ceiling deal.

Our congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty, is up on Capitol Hill for us.

Sunlen, what are you learning?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that final sign-off, the final endorsement from President Trump so important here, as Kaitlan noted, because certainly congressional leaders, as they negotiate any sort of deal, the X-factor on their mind, the wild card is always, what will President Trump sign in the end?

So, certainly, congressional leaders tonight who just wrapped up a conference call just in the last hour are excited to see that tweet coming from President Trump this evening.

Now, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, she was actually on a delayed flight returning to D.C. from Detroit, where she spoke earlier today. She was on that commercial flight and took this conference call.

My colleague Jeff Zeleny observed that conference call from the flight, also indicating how just at the last minute all of these negotiations, the final deal coming together, although negotiations have been happening for quite some time. This is a $1.4 trillion budget agreement, which would include a two-year suspension of the debt ceiling.

That's so important because it basically pushes that to the back- burner, not in the equation essentially until after the 2020 election. Now, the pressure has certainly been on Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

He had emphasized that the Treasury Department, based on their projections, he believed that they would run out of money in early September. So that really upped the ante for congressional negotiators to get a deal, to cement and come together before the end of this week, before the House recesses for nearly a month, certainly that coming together this evening.

And, Wolf, Nancy Pelosi likely to hold a vote on the House floor at some point this week, and then pushes it over to the Senate for final passage.

BLITZER: Just before the August recess.

Sunlen, you're also learning new information about Robert Mueller's preparations for his testimony on Wednesday. What are you learning?

SERFATY: Yes, some details coming out this evening from my colleague Jessica Schneider, Wolf.

She reports that Robert Mueller has indeed prepared an opening statement and that opening statement, according to Mueller's spokesman, has not been seen by anyone at the Department of Justice, nor has it or need to be cleared ahead of time. So that's significant, certainly, as the big question mark is, what will his opening statement be going into that important hearing on Wednesday?

Now, Mueller has been preparing with a small group of his staff that worked with him in the special counsel's office. And a spokesman says that his testimony will be in line with the public the statement that he made way back in late May, and that certainly he's expected to stick to what is in his report.

But a spokesman also at the same time emphasizing that Mueller here, he comes to the table fully prepared, and he is ready on Wednesday.

Now, Democrats, meantime, are getting ready as well. They're really looking and hoping for a big breakout moment to potentially shift the narrative, potentially get some more folks on board with impeachment, and certainly looking for a moment that resonates with the American public.

They know that many Americans have not read the Mueller report. So they certainly want to bring that to light, and they will likely focus on the areas that they believe that the president obstructed justice. Here's the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.


REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): I think there is very substantial -- well, the report presents very substantial evidence that the president is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors.

And we have to present that -- or let Mueller present those facts to the American people, and then see where we go from there, because the administration must be held accountable. And no president can be -- can be above the law.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SERFATY: Democrats and Republicans meantime on these committees, they have both been preparing by holding mock hearings, rereading portions and potentially the extensive entire Mueller report.

We know that Democrats tomorrow are preparing another two-hour mock hearing in advance of Wednesday. Republicans are hoping from their side that this essentially takes the air out the tires of the Democrats and their movement and their push on the Russia investigation, hoping to be able to move on and say, case closed.


Wolf, they will certainly be trying to undercut Mueller credibility tomorrow about the length of his investigation, how it began, and how it was conducted -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sunlen Serfaty up on Capitol Hill, thanks very much.

We're going to have much more on the Mueller testimony that's coming up on Wednesday.

I will also speak with Tom Steyer, the Democratic presidential candidate, who has been among the most outspoken in calling for the president's impeachment. That's coming up shortly as well.

But there's other news that's breaking right now.

Seventeen Iranians have been accused by their own country of spying for the CIA with some possibly facing execution.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is working the story for us.

Barbara, President Trump calls Iran's claim about a CIA spy ring just more lies and propaganda from the Iranians.

What are you hearing?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what the Iranians are claiming is that a number of people employed by the CIA, essentially CIA case officers, recruited Iranians to spy for the United States inside Iran.

Iran now says they have rolled up, that they have arrested these people, and they face execution. When the president moved ahead today and publicly said it was all a lie by Iran, this is going to cause some anxiety deep inside the intelligence community.

They don't want to talk about any of this. They have a longstanding policy. They neither confirm nor deny anybody who works for them, and that any indication of any information about any of this could put lives at risk, especially those of anybody who is working for the CIA or may be a CIA officer.

So they just simply do not want to talk about any of this. And, of course, it comes at a time when we are seeing Iran issue video after video of their provocations. They're being very savvy, producing a lot of videos of their claims, who they have, what they're doing, showing them taking these tankers, showing the possible photos of some of the people that they think are CIA personnel.

We're not going to show any of that, obviously. So there's a lot of concern, the U.S. trying, the Pentagon, the intelligence community trying to get this de-escalated, get it under control. The president outright today accusing Iran of lying, causing some anxiety about what may come next, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thank you, Barbara Starr the Pentagon.

Let's get some more on all of this.

Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii is joining us. She's a member of both the Judiciary and Armed Services committees.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI): Good evening.

BLITZER: I want to get to Iran in a moment.

But, first, let's discuss Robert Mueller's testimony on Wednesday. We know he was reluctant to testify to begin with. What are you hoping to hear from him on Wednesday? Does he need, for example, to go beyond what's in the written Mueller report?

HIRONO: Well, it would be good if he did, but even the portions in the written report would be enough for him to emphasize.

And, basically, what I think a first line of question would be that the president has said that the Mueller investigation showed no collusion, no obstruction, total exoneration.

I would ask Mr. Mueller, is that so? Is that what your investigation shows?

And, of course, it does not. Anybody who's read his report would know that that is not the case. So, for Mueller to go over some of the things that he emphasized, including, of course, Don McGahn, the White House counsel, being asked to fire Mueller and then being asked to lie about it, I think that all goes to the obstruction issue.

BLITZER: Do you think are there are Americans, though, out there who still haven't made up their mind on this issue of impeachment, obstruction of justice, collusion, and all of that?

Have the American people moved on?

HIRONO: I think that, if the American people -- when the American people learn of all of the things that the president did that, in my view, obstructed justice, but for the Office of Legal Counsel opinion that says a sitting president cannot be charged or indicted, I hope that the American people will realize that Russians interfered with our elections big time on behalf of President Trump, two, that this Office of Legal Counsel opinion prohibited, pretty much prevented any indictment of a sitting president.

And, third, Mueller said that if the president didn't do anything wrong, they should have said. And he did not.

So, when the American people learn these things, I hope that they will say, well, they should at least, as I have called for, the House should at least begin an impeachment inquiry.

BLITZER: Well, speaking of the House, the Judiciary Committee Chairman, Jerry Nadler, says there's very substantial evidence the president is guilty of what he calls high crimes and misdemeanors.

Will Mueller's testimony be a tipping point for Jerry Nadler, for example, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, to formally launch an impeachment inquiry?

HIRONO: I hope so, at least an impeachment inquiry.

And I think it's really important at this point for the American people to know that Russia is going to continue to interfere with our 2020 elections. They have a president who thinks that they did nothing wrong, basically, and who probably welcomes further support for his reelection.


So I hope that Mueller will testify to the effect that all of these things happen, they're still happening. And I hope the American people will want us to pursue the truth and justice with regard to the president and hold him accountable.

BLITZER: Let's turn to the growing tension with Iran right now, Senator.

You're on the Armed Services Committee. Have you been fully briefed on this very tense situation?

HIRONO: We have been briefed.

But what's very clear -- and things change. So our last briefing was over a week ago. But it's clear that the tensions are increasing, and that we should be de-escalating tensions.

All of this began, of course, when the president unilaterally pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, leading to Iran to take certain actions. So this is a perfect kind of climate for miscalculations to occur, miscalculations that could end up with us doing something and getting involved in a war in that part of the world once again, and not being able to get out of it.

Have we learned nothing from Iraq? Have we not learned anything from our other encounters, shall we say, in that part of the world?

So I think the president needs to make sure that we are indeed de- escalating. But, as you noted, he said he's not maybe wanting to get into a negotiation. So what is he talking about, then? Are we just going to keep ratcheting up, tit for tat? That's not where we need to be.

BLITZER: Iran claims it's captured 17 Iranians who were working for the CIA.

Is the president correct, is the president right to say that this is simply Iranian propaganda and lies?

HIRONO: For one thing, anybody who deals with the intelligence community knows that one should never even say anything along those lines.

But this is the president of the United States, who says whatever comes into his mind.

I don't even know if he was advised. I would say the intel community would have advised him not to say anything. But there you have that.

But it just, again, points out how tensions are ratcheting up. We need to de-escalate the situation. We do not want to blunder into a war with Iran, which, by the way, has so much more firepower, that there would be just so many people who would die as a result of this kind of conflagration.

So, I know the diplomatic aspects need to be strengthened, and I'm not sure that that's what's happening.

BLITZER: Senator Hirono, thanks so much for joining us.


BLITZER: We're going to have much more on all the breaking news coming up.

I will also speak live with Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer. There you see him. He's a top proponent of impeaching President Trump.

Plus, the situation in Puerto Rico is clearly escalating, as police threaten to use tear gas on protesters who are flooding the streets of San Juan, demanding the immediate resignation of the government.



BLITZER: We're following breaking news, new details of preparations by Robert Mueller and House Democrats for Wednesday's highly anticipated testimony by the former special counsel Robert Mueller, as President Trump rehashes old attacks on Mueller.

Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer is joining us now live.

Tom -- I guess I should call you Mr. Steyer, since we have never actually met.

TOM STEYER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, you shouldn't. BLITZER: But I will call you Mr. Steyer to be polite.

You certainly -- thanks, first of all, for joining us.

You have been one of the most outspoken advocates for impeachment. How much do you expect Mueller's testimony on Wednesday to shift the conversation this issue?

STEYER: I believe that Mr. Mueller's testimony, if it follows the report that he issued, will show the American people that Mr. Trump obstructed justice multiple times.

And all of our research shows that, when people hear that, they say three things, whether they're Trump voters or not Trump voters. They say: I didn't know that. He's a liar and a cheat. If I did that, I would go to jail.

BLITZER: The House...

STEYER: So, I think it's a very important moment, Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly is, potentially, at least.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler says, in his words, there's very substantial evidence the president is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors.

Would you support the chairman, Jerry Nadler, launching impeachment proceedings without, without the blessing of the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi?

STEYER: Look, I think it's absolutely essential that we start impeachment proceedings.

I'm actually calling on Speaker Pelosi to cancel the six-week vacation that starts at the end of this week for Congress and use that time to have daily public hearings, so the American people can learn what's been going on, so that, in fact, the Mueller testimony isn't the end of the story for a couple of months, but actually they continue to let the American people see what's happened, so we can make up our minds.

That's what I'm for.

BLITZER: They're clearly not going to cancel -- cancel that recess that's coming up starting next week.

You argue, Mr. Steyer, that impeachment would help Democrats politically in 2020. Are you worried, though, that that would overshadow the message on health care, infrastructure, the economy, other pocketbook issues?

STEYER: Look, I have been pushing, Wolf, for two years to get this show on the road.

[18:25:01] And, at some point, this election -- and I'm part of this election as a candidate for the presidency as a Democrat -- need to talk to people about what we're going to do for them, our vision for the future.

That's why I have pushed so hard for almost two years to get public hearings, to let the American people know what's going on.

Look, a huge part of my campaign is to say this. This government isn't working for the people. This impeachment process, which people in D.C. seems to think is about congresspeople and senators, should really be about letting the American people know what's been going on, and letting us make up our minds, so we can, in effect, drive this process.

That's what I have been fighting for.

BLITZER: But even the -- even if the Democratic majority, let's say, in the House were to impeach the president, there's no way you're going to get 67 senators to convict and remove him from office. Don't you agree?

STEYER: I absolutely do not agree, Wolf.

I think my -- and that's my point about the American people. If we get a chance to see the evidence, and Trump voters and non-Trump voters say what they say to us in research, which is, we didn't know this was true, he's a liar and a cheat, if I did this, I would be in jail, then I think the country itself will make the decision, the American people will make the decision, and the elected officials will follow.

I'm trying -- my belief in this is, the smartest people in this country are the American people taken together. Let's put it up to them. Let's not make this a Washington process. Let's make this an American process.

BLITZER: You have spent millions of dollars on ads pushing for impeachment.

But a CNN poll last month found that 54 percent of Americans are still opposed to impeachment. So, why do you think spending -- and you spent a lot of your own money on your campaign -- why do you think this will shift Americans' perceptions and win you the Democratic presidential nomination?

STEYER: Look, I'm not running on impeachment. I'm running to try and restore the government to the American people.

And this is a perfect -- impeachment is an example, because the American people have not gotten a chance to hear the truth in the way they can hear it.

We have had one televised hearing this whole year. It's the middle of July. The Congress is about to go out on a six-week vacation to the middle of September. And we might have two hearings in the first eight-and-a-half months. How are Americans supposed to know the truth, unless they get the

truth presented to them? That's what we have been pushing for. And I think it's an absolutely typical part of government not to work to the American people, not to look to them as the final arbiter, but to try and work, in their own way, inside the Beltway, with the insiders making the decisions for everybody else.

It hasn't worked. It's not going to work.

BLITZER: But, so far -- and I assume you will agree -- public attitude, as far as impeachment is concerned, has basically stayed roughly the same, those who oppose it, those who support it, those who have no opinion.

You spent a ton of your own money trying to convince the American public that impeachment is the way to ago. It hasn't succeeded yet.

STEYER: Well, actually, if you go back to Watergate, to the last president who was forced out of office because of high crimes and misdemeanors, this president has more than met the criteria, as Chairman Nadler says.

In order for the American people to get behind this idea, they need to be given the evidence. In the 1970s with Richard Nixon, there were a series of televised hearings, which is exactly what I'm calling for, which let the American people understand how much criminality there was in the Nixon White House.

We need to get the evidence on TV to the American people to show them how much criminality there is in the Trump White House, because then let Americans make up their minds.

You're asking Americans to make the decision without having the evidence presented to them. We have been saying all along, we trust the American people. Get them the evidence.

We haven't had anything since Michael Cohen, which is months and months ago.

BLITZER: Let me get your reaction to this warning today from fellow 2020 Democratic presidential contender Elizabeth Warren.

She says she's seen, in her words, serious warning signs in the economy and says a single shock could bring it all down. You're a former hedge fund manager, a self-made billionaire. Do you agree with her assessment?

STEYER: Look, I think that Mr. Trump, as it regards the economy, is a fraud and a fake and a failure.

And I think that the United States economy is being led by someone who doesn't understand the first thing about what drives long-term prosperity.

So, do I -- what she's referring to is a level of debt in society that has traditionally been associated with slowdowns. I wouldn't use the word crash, which is a word that I saw at least in the headlines of this, but I think what we're doing long term under Mr. Trump is actually undermining our prosperity, undermining the ability of working people to get a living wage.

And I virtually disagree with everything that he's done. So, I believe -- I would love to take Mr. Trump on, on the economy, because I have spent decades thinking about it and building a business from scratch.


He's a faker and a failed businessperson. And I'd love to go right at him in what he claims to be his strength because he doesn't know the first thing about it.

BLITZER: But the economy is right now pretty strong, unemployment is low, stock markets at record highs, people have jobs. It's a pretty strong economy right now.

STEYER: You know, it's funny, Wolf. I know you say that, but if you actually go around the country and talk to people, people have jobs. They actually have to have two or three jobs. The problem here is people don't have a living wage. We have a huge problem with affordable housing. The problem is healthcare is it costs too much and therefore is unavailable to tens of millions of Americans. It's not a question about whether the average is okay or the level of employment.

What's going on is the corporations have taken over the government, they've written the laws to benefit themselves and they're taking all the cream, so that means working Americans haven't had a raise for 40 years. That's why I said that my campaign is about taking back the government for the American people.

BLITZER: As you know, the President ran on the fact that he was an outsider, a successful businessman. He could do things that other politicians couldn't do. You're also an outsider, a very successful businessman. You're running basically on that same concept. Is that right?

STEYER: Well, let me say this, Wolf. For ten years as an outsider, I've been putting together coalitions of ordinary citizens against corporations and winning. You can look at my record and see that for ten years, we've taken on the oil companies and won, we've taken on the utilities and won, we've taken on the drug companies and won, we've taken on the tobacco companies and won. I've also put together the largest grassroots organization in the United States to register, engage and bring out voters in the youth and in underrepresented communities for a decade.

So, actually, I think I have a history of succeeding in these fights. I think I have a history of succeeding as an outsider. Mr. Trump had his finger on something that was true that almost all Americans agree with, which is this government has been taken over by corporations. He promised that he would stand up for working people. He's done the exact opposite. In fact, he is the greatest proponent of this corporate takeover of our government in history.

So, yes, he did have a point and Americans believed his point that this government was failing and had been taken over by corporations. He has done nothing to push power back to the people, whereas I have a ten-year record of not only trying, but succeeding as an outsider in getting things done in the -- to the tune of billions of dollars for the sake of working people.

And I have a history of actually getting people involved in the system to take back the government, which is what I am in favor of, and is actually what I'm talking about in terms of impeachment. Let the American people have the power that this government is supposed to give them.

BLITZER: Well, good luck out there on the campaign trail. Tom Steyer, thanks for joining us. You're welcome to come back, of course. I appreciate it.

STEYER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. There's more breaking news just ahead, including new details of President Trump's attacks and Robert Mueller's preparations just ahead of the former Special Counsel's testimony to Congress.

Plus, the breaking news on the deal that's just been struck between Congress and the Trump administration about the budget and debt ceiling.



BLITZER: We're following breaking news. A spokesman for the former Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, says he has prepared an opening statement for his testimony before two House panels on Wednesday. Let's dig deeper with our experts and our analysts.

And, Jeffrey Toobin, it looks like the advanced -- the statement -- the opening statement that he has prepared has not been reviewed, has not been shown to the Department of Justice. What does that say to you?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, he's not an employee of the Department of Justice anymore and it says that he's going to say what he wants to say. I don't think that's going to be very expansive or well beyond what he wrote in the report, but it's going to be his words, not the Justice Department's words.

BLITZER: You know, David, what does it say to you that the President is simultaneously arguing that the Mueller findings should stand, no collusion, he says, no obstruction, but at the same time, he's actively, publicly trying to discredit as much as possible the Special Counsel?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. The more confusion around the testimony and the report, the better for the President from the President's perspective. March 24th, Attorney General Barr came out with the synopsis saying no conspiracy, no criminal charges. President Trump had praise for Special Counsel Mueller and for the report. Now that he knows Mueller is going to come up and testify, and there's a potential for him to say things that maybe make it look worse for the President, even if there's no criminal charges, now, he wants to go back to demonizing the Special Counsel.

I do think people sort of see this happening. But at the same time, the confusion works in his favor.

BLITZER: You know, Sabrina Siddiqui, the President first said he wasn't even going to watch any of the hearings on Wednesday involving Mueller. Now he says, maybe I'll watch a little bit of Mueller's testimony. What seems more likely to you?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, I think there's little doubt that the President will be watching Robert Mueller's testimony.


And as you pointed out, he repeated some of those falsehoods we've heard him put out there in the public before that the report found no collusion even though what the report actually said was there was not sufficient evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians. The President also claimed that there was no obstruction when actually the report detailed at least ten instances in which the President potentially obstructed justice.

And what's important about that is, as David pointed out, so far, the public's perception has largely been shaped by that initial letter from Attorney General William Barr, which was highly misleading. Most Americans have not read this 448-page report. Frankly, a lot of members of Congress have not read it. And so this will really mark an opportunity for Robert Mueller to correct the record, and for the first and only time, frankly, publicly detail what he and his team actually found.

BLITZER: You know, Ron Brownstein, have you seen anything to suggest that the American public could be swayed on the whole issue of impeachment following Mueller's testimony on Wednesday?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the problem democrats have, Wolf, is that the resistance to impeachment is as much practical as ideological. I mean, even though as when we're discussing Barr's letter shaped the initial reaction, half of Americans roughly in the CNN polling right after the Mueller report said that the President obstructed justice. Impeachment support has always been below the share who say that he did something wrong. And I think that's understanding that the Senate is very unlikely to convict that this is enormously wrenching (ph) process. And now, we are, what, 15-and-a-half months from the election.

So even -- I think the best democrats can hope for out of this is shifting the dynamic in the share of people who say the President did something wrong. Changing the feelings on impeachment is probably going to be tougher.

BLITZER: You know, Jeffrey, Mueller is going to spend about two-and- a-half hours before the Judiciary Committee, take a break two-and-a- half hours or something along those lines before the Intelligence Committee, then go into a private closed door session with Members of the Intelligence Committee. How should lawmakers be preparing for this?

TOOBIN: I have one piece of advice. They should shut the hell up and let Mueller talk. The Congress people are terrible at asking questions but they ask them at great length. The whole point of this hearing is to hear from Robert Mueller. And if these -- especially the democrats who want to get something out of this hearing -- spend all their time talking instead of listening to what Mueller has to say, the whole thing will be a big waste of time.

BLITZER: Because I think they're going to do the usual, Jeffrey, five minutes for each member, rotating between democrats and republicans. And you know the questions that the democrats will be asking will be a lot different than the questions that republicans will be asking.

TOOBIN: You know, most of these members of Congress can't say, good morning, in less than five minutes. So, I mean, it's going to be a tremendous challenge to them to turn the hearing over to Mueller and prompt answers that do them some good. But we'll see if they can do it.

BLITZER: Yes. Our special coverage will begin Wednesday morning 8:00 A.M.

You know, David Swerdlick, the President once again attacking these four democratic congresswomen, all congresswomen of color, saying they must hate our country. That's a quote. They must hate our country. What do you make of the latest developments on this?

SWERDLICK: Yes, two things, Wolf. One, I do think this is the President now trying to calibrate just how racist he can get and to maximum political benefit. In this case, he's doing something that politicians have done in the past, which is saying, I'm not the racist. You're the real racist. It's sort of like I'm rubber, you're glue situation. I think he thinks that that's the way to turn the corner on this issue.

I did speak to Congresswoman Pressley's Press Secretary this afternoon and what she said was two things. One was that her Congresswoman, Congresswoman Pressley, did not -- wasn't rattled by these statements herself but she was concerned about how these statements from the President affected her constituents. And she also said that, you know, in her mind, she didn't come to congress for this tit for tat for the President, that she came here to pursue an agenda on behalf of her constituents, and this was, in her view, a distraction.

BLITZER: You know, Sabrina, I want to show you and our viewers a really awful image that was posted on the Facebook page of the Illinois Republican County Chairman's Association depicting these members, these four members of Congress, calling them the Jihad Squad. The image has since been taken down.

The President insists he's not inflaming racial tensions, but, clearly, this kind of incident suggests that he is.

SIDDIQUI: Absolutely. And there was also a police officer in Louisiana who was fired today for suggesting in a Facebook post that Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez should be shot.

So there are people who are very much reacting to what the President is saying because he is inflaming these tensions from the highest office in the land. And his words do matter. You know, I know we're parsing some of the political implications, his motivations in terms of who he's trying to animate within his base for political gain.

But there is a real prospect of inciting violence that comes with these racial attacks that he is making against these four congresswomen of color.

[18:45:07] And it is very clear that he is trying to appeal to some of the racial grievances of a faction of Americans. And that is within itself very dangerous. And it's probably only going to escalate as the 2020 campaign heats up. And that's what a lot of people are concerned about.

BLITZER: You know, Ron Brownstein, who gains politically from this fight?

BROWNSTEIN: You know, it says something about America 2019 that we are debating who gains from open racism. Look, the president is making a very clear bet here. He is betting on increasing his margins amongst groups that are shrinking in society, mostly evangelical blue collar whites and non-urban whites who are the most uneasy about racial change. And you cannot say that will not work in the Electoral College, possibly, for sure. It almost certainly will not produce a popular vote majority.

But I just will add, there is a real cost to all of this. You saw that NPR, PBS poll, Marist poll that came out today. Just one number, Wolf. 2/3 of white voters with a college education say the economy is working for them. Yet only 38 percent of them say they approve of President Trump's performance and only 34 percent of them say they are now inclined to vote to re-elect him.

That is an unparalleled, unprecedented convergence between economic satisfaction and dissatisfaction with the president and it reflects precisely the kind of behavior he's exhibited over the past week. There's a cost as well as a calculation.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Jeffrey. I want your thoughts.

TOOBIN: No, I just like, Ron is so smart. I love that. I thought that was so interesting.

No, I wasn't familiar with that poll. But look, I mean, this is what -- this is what the Trump presidency has been all about.


TOOBIN: It has not been about reaching out to the middle, about celebrating the good economy. It's about pleasing the base, whether it's judicial appointments or denouncing black people and people of color. This is how the president has decided to conduct his presidency. And, you know, we're going to see if it works next November.

BLITZER: We certainly will. A year from November.

BROWNSTEIN: Two more World Series.

TOOBIN: Every four years, right?

BLITZER: Something like that.

All right, guys. Stand by.

There's more breaking news we're following. Very serious news. Police now warning the huge crowds protesting tonight, demanding the governor's resignation there. You see pictures coming in from San Juan.


[18:52:03] BLITZER: We have more breaking news we're following. Huge demonstrations in Puerto Rico with hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets demanding the governor's immediate resignation.

Our senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh is joining us live from San Juan.

So, Nick, what are you seeing now?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we in the last hour or so, police gave more of a technical warning for the crowd to move back away from the barricades. Now, that's the first time we have heard them speak towards them in that way so far.

And I've got to tell you, Wolf, since we last spoke, the crowds here have swollen massively in size as well as noise, frankly. They started out today down on the major expressway. Now hundreds of thousands, they are nowhere near in the numbers here after the rain has diminished, but the streets are frankly lined here, and briefly entertained by (INAUDIBLE) man that came out with glass of wine and danced in the balcony behind me.

Governor Rossello, though, he's not really dancing (ph) so much. He gave an interview today in which he said that he wasn't resigning again and apologized to the people and also Ricky Martin, the Puerto Rican singer who he insulted in one of the chat groups that was leaked that sparked this crisis here. But also pointed out that there was one particular mayor that supported him, that mayor actually when asked didn't say that. He said he is going to wait for the impeachment process that's slowly beginning here to spill out. But the concern I think is that because the last time we saw this number of people on the streets here in old San Juan was Wednesday and ended in altercations, police firing tear gas. Myself saw one of the younger protesters dancing along the front of the barricade there, waving a Puerto Rican flag and taunting the police in front. They were calm. He was kind of joking.

The mood here is still relatively positive, but it's the sheer number of people and the fact that they have twice now heard the man that went out of power saying he wasn't going anywhere for now that makes people think they get more volatile later on -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, the fact that he says he's not going to seek reelection, that hasn't changed anything, has it?

WALSH: Absolutely not. Everyone knew he was likely to lose that vote in the first place. Him saying he's not standing here again. And again, just made them realize he's out of touch with their need for him to go now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll stay in close touch with you, Nick. Thank you very much. Nick Paton Walsh in San Juan.

Stay with us. There is much more news right after this.


[18:59:02] BLITZER: Looking at some live pictures coming in from San Juan, Puerto Rico, right now, where protesters are demanding the resignation of the Governor Ricardo Rossello.

The governor is under a lot of fire right now after the leak of some highly offensive text messages he shared with his inner circle as well as allegations of corruption in his administration. We're going to keep a very close eye on this story as it continues to develop. Once again, those are live pictures coming in from San Juan.

Back here in Washington, the late Justice John Paul Stevens is lying in repose tonight at the U.S. Supreme Court. Dozens of former law clerks lined the court steps as his casket arrived inside. He was honored by some of the current justices as well as the president and the first lady.

Stevens died last week at age 89 following a stroke. He will be buried tomorrow in private ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. May he rest in peace and may his memory be a blessing.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show @CNNsitroom.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.