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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA); House Judiciary Democrats Hold Mock Mueller Hearing Ahead Of Testimony By Former Special Counsel; Biden Unveils Criminal Justice Reform Plan As Rivals Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Presidential Candidate and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Presidential Candidate Slam His Record On 1994 Crime Bill; Senate Passes 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund Extension. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired July 23, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:02]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: To prevent the disclosure of his tax returns. Why is he going to extreme lengths to keep them secret?

And funding first-responders. The Senate follows the House and overwhelmingly passes a bill to fund the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund for decades.

This hour, we will talk to comedian and first-responder advocate Jon Stewart.

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, an 11th-hour scramble just ahead of tomorrow's testimony by the former special counsel Robert Mueller before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committee.

Mueller has made a surprise last-minute request to have his former deputy special counsel Aaron Zebley sworn in alongside him. Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff says discussions are ongoing tonight about what Zebley's role will be.

Mueller's appearance before the lawmakers is clearly weighing in on the president's mind. Sources say he's had multiple phone calls about it with aides and allies, but that he's more irritated than anxious. He's been tweeting about it today and even talked about it before a group of conservative student activists.

We will talk about the breaking news and much more with Congressman John Garamendi of the Armed Services Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown, and our senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez.

Pamela, what are you learning about this last-minute ask from Robert Mueller?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in a dramatic twist, ahead of the highly anticipated hearing tomorrow, Robert Mueller, the former special counsel, requested the committees to have his former deputy Aaron Zebley be sworn in, so that he could testify alongside him and answer any questions that Robert Mueller needed help with answering.

And so this was a request that was made at the very last minute, just before the hearing tomorrow. Now, as of now, Wolf, we have learned that basically the way the arrangement is Zebley, who we can see here in this video walking next to Robert Mueller, that Zebley, who was also Robert Mueller's chief of staff at the FBI, will still be sitting alongside him and that Robert Mueller can confer with him as he answers questions and can get his input, but that Robert Mueller will be the only one testifying as of now.

But certainly this last-minute request, Wolf, set off a scramble. Republicans were quick to pounce, saying that would be unprecedented. It's not unusual, of course, for someone like Robert Mueller to have counsel with him to advise him. Of course, there are a lot of boundaries he has to stay within and that DOJ has instructed him about.

But it certainly raises questions about why this request was made so last-minute for him to be sworn in. Now, his spokesman says that the request for him to sit alongside him was actually made more than a week ago. And here's what that statement said.

"Aaron Zebley was the deputy special counsel and had day-to-day oversight of the investigations conducted by the office. He will accompany special counsel Mueller to the Wednesday hearings, as was discussed with the committees more than a week ago."

BLITZER: Evan, what are you hearing? Because you have been doing some reporting on this as well. It's a pretty surprise last-minute request.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It is a surprise.

And as Pamela mentioned, I think it is not unusual for a witness like this to have someone who's sitting behind him, say a counsel, someone who might have more detail on something that Robert Mueller, who's kind of a big picture guy, may not have exactly at his fingertips.

What's unusual here is the fact that Zebley was part of this investigation. He was, as the statement from the spokesman said, day- to-day -- had day-to-day oversight of this investigation. He's also a witness, essentially, Wolf.

And so if you're the president's lawyers, you have to wonder whether the answers that Zebley is giving to Mueller, if he asks for them are Zebley's point of view that are different from Mueller's.

It does create an odd situation that is not exactly normal for these types of situations. So I think it does raise some concern if you're the president's lawyers as to what exactly is happening behind the scenes here and whether this changes the tenor of tomorrow's hearing as far as the president is concerned.

BLITZER: But like Mueller, Zebley is now a private citizen. So, he is not necessarily bound by any gag orders from the Department of Justice.

(CROSSTALK)

PEREZ: He is not. He is -- the Justice Department is objecting to this testimony, but he's a private citizen. He can ignore that.

But, again, the difference here and I think what makes this a little bit unusual is the fact that he is essentially a witness. And so you would normally want to hear what you -- what your point of view was on, say, indicting the president, whether they should have tried and tried to get a new OLC opinion on indicting a president, whether Zebley and Mueller have a different point of view.

We don't know. And so that's what this creates.

BLITZER: Well, you think Mueller will be whispering in his ear, asking for some advice, do you remember, I don't remember specifically?

(CROSSTALK)

[18:05:00]

BROWN: It does, though, make you wonder because there have been these prep sessions going on with Robert Mueller.

And it does make you wonder that he made this request just today, the day before, for him to be sworn in with him and to actually testify and answer any questions he may need help with.

PEREZ: And he's not getting exactly what he's asking for.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: He's not getting -- as of now, yes.

PEREZ: Right.

So it's unusual for you to be a counsel when you're also essentially a witness in this investigation.

BLITZER: It's going to be fascinating. We will all watch it together.

PEREZ: Fascinating.

BLITZER: Hey, guys, thank you very much.

BROWN: Yes. BLITZER: All of this clearly on the president's mind.

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

Kaitlan, the president has been talking, he's been tweeting all day about Mueller's testimony tomorrow. What are you hearing?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he has.

And his aides are downplaying the outcome of what's going to happen tomorrow. But, Wolf, they are watching closely to what Pam and Evan just laid out, this last-minute drama that is playing out on Capitol Hill.

All the while, the president is making a series of phone calls, talking to people, making clear that he's irritated that the man who led this investigation is now going to be front and center on television the .

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS (voice-over): On the eve of Robert Mueller's Capitol Hill testimony...

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: How about this whole witch-hunt?

COLLINS: ... the White House is bracing for impact.

TRUMP: First of all, it's very bad for our country.

COLLINS: Tonight, sources telling CNN President Trump has spent the last several days discussing Mueller's upcoming appearance, and he seems more irritated than anxious that he has to watch the man who has loomed over his presidency take center stage.

TRUMP: I saw Mueller is testifying tomorrow. Yes. How many times? Two-and-a-half years.

COLLINS: Trump has been quizzing people about what to expect, while complaining that Democrats will never let the investigation go.

TRUMP: They think this is helping them.

COLLINS: His Republican allies are assuring him it won't change a thing.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I have heard all I need to hear from Mueller.

COLLINS: But even if Mueller reveals nothing new, sources say Trump wants to expose the investigation as the hoax he believes it is.

TRUMP: Actually, it started practically from the time I came down on the escalator. COLLINS: Trump tweeting that Republicans should turn the tables by

asking "Why were all Clinton's people given immunity and why were the text messages of Peter S. and his lover, Lisa Page, deleted and destroyed right after they left Mueller and after we requested them?"

TRUMP: I'm not going to be watching, probably. Maybe I will see a little bit of it.

COLLINS: And while Mueller will be front and center in front of the cameras, Trump's schedule is currently wide open.

The focus on Mueller in Washington may help a budget deal that's facing blowback from fiscal conservatives pass through Congress and win the president's signature. Congressional leaders and White House officials are working overtime to sell the deal that raises spending levels by $320 billion over the next two years.

LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: It's a pretty good deal under the circumstances. That's the way I would put it.

COLLINS: And with an eye on 2020, the president is ramping up his attacks on four Democratic freshman congresswomen.

TRUMP: This Tlaib, Tlaib.

(BOOING)

TRUMP: ... from Michigan, right? It's a great state. We -- we won Michigan.

COLLINS: Telling a group of young conservatives Tuesday Rashida Tlaib is a lunatic, after a video of her shouting at a Trump event in 2016 resurfaced.

TRUMP: She's vicious. She's like a crazed lunatic. She's screaming.

COLLINS: Trump making clear the attacks are part of a bigger political strategy.

TRUMP: Socialism is not as easy to beat as you think.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Wolf, the president just presided over the swearing-in of the new defense secretary in the Oval Office just a few moments ago. He did not mention that upcoming testimony from Robert Mueller.

But multiple people close to him have noted it's going to get kicked off at 8:30 in the morning, long before the president typically makes his way into the West Wing, when he's still back in the White House residence, reading the newspaper, watching television, and making phone calls to his friends.

BLITZER: Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you.

There's more breaking news on another investigation by Democrats into the president. President Trump has just filed suit in federal court to prevent the release of his tax returns to Congress and New York officials.

Let's go to our politics and business correspondent Cristina Alesci.

What are you learning, Cristina?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN POLITICS AND BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Trump's attorneys are fighting back in this lawsuit, essentially saying that Trump's -- attempts to get at Trump's tax returns are political retribution, acts of political retribution.

And just to give you some background here, New York state passed a law that would allow New York lawmakers to hand over Trump's state tax returns to Congress if they request it.

Now, Trump's attorney saying these efforts to get at his tax returns violate his First Amendment right to free speech because it's essentially punishment for his political views.

Now, it's unclear whether that legal strategy is going to work in court. And also I just want to make clear that the House Ways and Means Committee wants President Trump's federal tax returns, not his state tax returns. So I don't think that this has an impact on the House Ways and Means Committee's efforts to get at his federal taxes.

[18:10:02]

BLITZER: Do we know, Cristina, what provoked this latest lawsuit from the president?

ALESCI: It appears, based on my reporting and what I have been hearing, is that the president has been emboldened by the fact that the courts have been siding with him over the last several weeks, particularly when it comes at attempts to disclose his financial documents and information, particularly two cases.

A judge sided with him in regard to an anti-corruption suit that was brought by Maryland in D.C. A judge also hit the pause button on Democratic efforts to get information out of his company. So we all know that Trump likes to hit from a position of strength. He likes to attack from a position of strength.

And this lawsuit seems to be just that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Cristina, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on all of this. Democratic Congressman John Garamendi of California is joining us. He's a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, thanks for coming in.

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA): Always a pleasure.

BLITZER: So far -- and I want to get to the president's tax returns in a little while.

But, so far, you haven't yet called for the start of formal impeachment proceedings against the president. Do you think Mueller's testimony tomorrow could change your mind?

GARAMENDI: Well, we're in the process of moving towards an inquiry of impeachment, which is a step before the actual impeachment resolution would undoubtedly come to the floor.

So, we're in that process. This is a very, very important moment in this whole project.

BLITZER: Do you want hearings to begin on impeachment?

GARAMENDI: No, an inquiry that would then provide the information that could lead to the resolution of impeachment.

BLITZER: So you're stopping short of formal committee hearings at this point?

GARAMENDI: We're not ready.

BLITZER: You just want an investigation the part of the House Judiciary Committee?

GARAMENDI: That is in preparation, so that we know all the information necessary that would be in an impeachment resolution.

We're not there yet. This is part. This is a very important step, moves us forward, gives us critically important information. We're going to hear from the man who studied all of what was going on. We're going to hear his words. We're going to hear his report.

BLITZER: So, specifically, what do you want to hear him say?

GARAMENDI: I would like him just to read, read the critical paragraphs about McGahn, and other critical paragraphs.

BLITZER: The White House counsel at the time.

GARAMENDI: That's correct.

BLITZER: So you're suggesting there was obstruction of justice?

GARAMENDI: Well, that's what they said. They said there is evidence that there's obstruction of justice.

Now, whether that leads to a criminal indictment, that was a big question, another question that might be asked.

BLITZER: Well, he said he couldn't lead to any charges against a sitting president, based on Justice Department guidelines.

GARAMENDI: And now we have the attorney general saying, well, maybe he could be indicted. So maybe -- did -- was there an earlier discussion in this process

with the attorney general about indicting or not indicting? Important questions.

BLITZER: You think a sitting president can be indicted? Is that what you're saying?

GARAMENDI: I think they can. I don't see anything in the Constitution that we would prohibit it.

BLITZER: But Mueller accepted the guidelines of the Justice Department.

GARAMENDI: That was a lawyer about, what, a decade-and-a-half ago that said that it wasn't possible. That was the lawyer's opinion.

But the clear reading of the Constitution says absolutely nothing about indicting a president. It does say that if you're going to remove a president, you can only do that with impeachment.

BLITZER: Well, it's now up to Congress to make that decision...

GARAMENDI: That's correct.

BLITZER: ... whether it can go forward.

You say begin at least a very preliminary process?

GARAMENDI: A formal inquiry that would then lead to a decision to impeach, that is a resolution, or not.

BLITZER: Your leadership does -- is not yet ready for that, as you know, Nancy Pelosi, the speaker.

They're deeply worried this could backfire against the Democrats politically, and focus in on this, as opposed to other substantive issues that voters want to hear about, whether it's health care or infrastructure, stuff like that.

GARAMENDI: Well, you take a look at what we have managed to do over the last four or five months. We have gone to those substantive issues.

They're sitting over in the Senate right now. So we're continuing to do our work at the same time that we're doing these investigations. We can do both and even more than that. We have passed the National Defense Authorization Act. That's over in the Senate now.

So the work goes on. The inquiries will too.

BLITZER: What do you hope your colleagues on the Judiciary Committee and the Intelligence Committee will ask Mueller tomorrow?

GARAMENDI: I would hope they talk less, ask a question. Don't do all the preface to the question. Just lay out the question. Let Mueller talk. Let him have the four-and-a-half or four minutes and 45 seconds.

BLITZER: What do you make of Mueller's decision at the last minute to have his deputy join him up there tomorrow as he's testifying?

GARAMENDI: It'll be interesting. I have absolutely no idea why he wanted to do that.

We're going to find out right away. We are going to have to wait about 20 hours.

BLITZER: The FBI director, Christopher Wray, he testified up on Capitol Hill today. He said Russia is still working to interfere in the upcoming 2020 election.

How important is it to hear what Mueller has to say about Russia, what Russia was doing in the 2016 election?

GARAMENDI: Well, this is the first part of his report in detail about Russia's involvement in the election.

[18:15:03]

He came to -- did he come to a conclusion on collusion? Well, he apparently decided that there was not. But, nonetheless, it's very, very important that the American public understands the way in which Russia involved itself, the way in which they tried to deflect the American attention and, frankly, feed us a lot of lies.

BLITZER: The president today said something that I want to get your reaction to about the U.S. Constitution basically allowing him to do whatever he wants.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Then I have an Article 2, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president, but I don't even talk about that, because they did a report. And there was no obstruction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What's your reaction to that?

GARAMENDI: He has always tried to be the imperial president. He is stonewalling Congress. He is already acting as though he was king of the land.

He has no regard for the Constitution. It is a very serious constitutional question that is now in play. And we have to. Members of Congress and the Senate have to stand up for the Constitution for the division of powers. And that kind of talk from this president is -- we should expect it, because that's exactly what he's been doing.

BLITZER: And what do you make of his decision today to file lawsuits trying to prevent the House of Representatives, the Ways and Means Committee specifically, from getting his tax returns?

GARAMENDI: Very simple question. What is he hiding? Why isn't he showing his tax returns?

He didn't do it during the campaign, hasn't done it during his presidency. What is he hiding?

BLITZER: He says he's still under audit.

GARAMENDI: Oh, come on. Give me a break.

BLITZER: That's what he says.

GARAMENDI: I know what he said. But that's never been a bar to putting out your tax returns. No, he's hiding something. What is it that he's hiding? Follow the money.

There's clearly been questions that have been raised. Quite likely, those tax returns would develop the information that would undoubtedly be right here on headline news.

BLITZER: Congressman Garamendi, thanks so much for joining us.

GARAMENDI: Thank you.

BLITZER: The breaking news continues next with more on President Trump's mind-set just ahead of tomorrow's Mueller testimony.

Plus, what to make of Mueller's last-minute request to have his deputy appear with him. Our analysts are standing by to weigh in on all the breaking news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:21:47]

BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories this hour, including the surprise last-minute request by the former special counsel Robert Mueller to have his former deputy appear with him when he testifies before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees tomorrow.

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

And, Bianna, how do you read this move that he wants his deputy to join him, to have him sitting right next to him?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: We have all been trying to dissect this and figure out what's behind the move.

Look, I wouldn't read that much into it right now. We know that he's been his right hand for many years. He was his chief of staff when he was the head of the FBI. Look, if anything, he could be a crutch for him. I don't know if he's going to be there for both committee sessions in the morning and afternoon. But there very well may be some questions directed towards Robert

Mueller that he doesn't know the specifics of or can't recount. And he can definitely turn to him now for some more insight to it and specifics.

And I know the Republicans are getting angry about this, thinking that it's sort of a last-minute change they weren't given a heads-up about. If anything, it could give more clarity to many answers that Robert Mueller may have in other regards just says, I need to get back to you on some of this information.

BLITZER: Jeffrey, it comes after the Justice Department sent him a letter, at his request. He asked for this letter defining the contours of what he can say, basically saying you got to stick to that 448-page Mueller report.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. Right.

That was a real finger-wagging letter from the Department of Justice to Mueller. Mueller knows the rules. He's already talked about what the scope is of what his testimony is going to be. He's going to decide how forthcoming he wants to be.

And it's really not up to the Department of Justice to define how forthcoming he's going to be. It's going to be up to Mueller. He knows the broad outlines. But Mueller can be more expansive or less expansive under the rules that exists.

BLITZER: The Democrats, certainly on the Judiciary Committee, David, they're going to focus in on alleged, arguably, obstruction of justice against the president of the United States.

Do you think they have a strong case?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, I think they think that they have a strong case, that Mueller can at least paint a better picture than the written word that's in the report.

I don't think it's going to change that many minds. People who are predisposed to support the president, I think, by and large, think that this is a situation, while he's the head of the government, the head of the Justice Department, he can do what he wants.

People that are predisposed to think that the president obstructed justice already think that, but we will see. I agree with Jeffrey that special counsel Mueller kind of knows what he can say. He knows how far he can go and where the line is.

He's a war hero. He's the last Boy Scout. He's the former head of the FBI. If he decides this is his moment to sort of push the envelope, I don't think there's anything that anybody can do to stop him. But I also don't know that he will actually do that.

BLITZER: We will have to wait and watch the hearing tomorrow, all the supposed five hours that are going to be taking place during the public question. When Mueller, Sabrina, gave his public statement in May, he concluded

that public statement by stressing -- quote -- the central allegation of his -- his office investigation was that "there were multiple systematic efforts to interfere in our election," referring to the Russians.

That's certainly going to be the focus of the House Intelligence Committee's questioning and where that leads.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely.

And the House Intelligence Committee has a number of unanswered questions with respect to the campaign led by Moscow to interfere in the 2016 election. It includes, for example, the infamous June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, where Donald Trump Jr. signaled that the Trump campaign would be receptive to help from the Russians.

[18:25:15]

And that was also attended by Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, other top officials in the Trump campaign. What, if anything, came out of that meeting is a question many House Democrats on the Intelligence Committee want to pose to Robert Mueller, as well as the role of WikiLeaks.

Roger Stone, who served more as an informal adviser to the president, he had contacts with WikiLeaks, which disseminated those hacked e- mails from both the DNC and Hillary Clinton's campaign. Was there more coordination between the campaign and between WikiLeaks in releasing those damaging e-mails?

And they also want to know about negotiations over Trump Tower Moscow, which, of course, is what Michael Cohen has testified was an ongoing discussion between members of the Trump Organization and the Russians.

Ultimately, it fell through, but it was ongoing during the course of the campaign. And those close to Trump were, of course, misleading in terms of the timeline of that project. So I think those are some of the questions that you will see from the House Intelligence Committee, where they want to stay more focused on the role of the Russians, as opposed to the House Judiciary Committee, which will focus on the actions the president took to impede the investigation.

BLITZER: But, Jeffrey, Mueller concluded on this very sensitive issue that there was not sufficient evidence to say there was conspiracy or coordination.

He didn't use the word collusion.

TOOBIN: As every single Republican will point out tomorrow.

BLITZER: Right.

TOOBIN: I mean, I think one of the very important lines of questioning from the Republicans is going to be about what Robert Mueller did not find, that you did not find a criminal conspiracy to coordinate, conspiring with the Russians.

BLITZER: Between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.

TOOBIN: And I think that's going to be a theme we hear over and over again from the Russians -- from the Republicans, and as well they should.

I mean, it's a very important part of Mueller's investigation, and they should be pointed out.

GOLODRYGA: And to Sabrina's point, I think you can expect to see Democrats asking Mueller why specifically he didn't interview Donald Trump Jr. regarding that Trump Tower meeting as well. They had interviewed others that had been present there.

But I think that's where, if anything, you may see some of the most interesting information come out of Robert Mueller. He stated twice in those nine minutes that he spoke the significance of Russia attacking our election system and our democracy here.

He said it's something that should impact every single American and Americans should be focused on. I think you're probably going to hear him reiterate that again tomorrow and really stress the need for the American system going into 2020 to have made some significant changes going into our next election.

SIDDIQUI: But that's also why it's important, given the limited time that lawmakers have to question Robert Mueller, for these committees to really stay within their purview and for the House Intelligence Committee to focus more on volume one of the Mueller report, which is Russian interference in the 2016 election, and for the House Judiciary Committee to focus on volume two, which is potential obstruction of justice by the president.

Because that's what enables Democrats, who now control the majority of the House and are faced with this question of what they should do in terms of the president's alleged misconduct, to kind of build a narrative and say, look, there was a systematic effort by the Russians to interfere in the election.

The Trump campaign, according to Robert Mueller, was receptive to those efforts. And this is the action that the president took to impede with that investigation. It may be the case that the cover-up is worse than the crime. But that's precisely why they want to hear from Robert Mueller directly in terms of what he and his team found.

BLITZER: David, we know the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, they have been going through these mock rehearsals, these drills, and we have now learned, thanks to our Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb, that Norm Eisen, who is a counsel on the House Judiciary Committee, a former ethics czar in the Obama White House, former CNN contributor, senior fellow at Brookings, that he's been playing Robert Mueller in these mock -- these mock rehearsals.

SWERDLICK: Right, Norm Eisen, our former colleague, he's one of the sharpest guys in town.

I think he will have an encyclopedic knowledge of the Mueller report. So he would be a good person to play special counsel Mueller in these hearings. But Norm is a pretty lively guy and a guy who likes to explain things.

I think the big question is whether or not Mueller is going to want to explain things or whether he's going to stick to what he said in that press time several weeks ago, and just say what's in the report.

I think Democrats -- this is back to your point. I think Democrats could have boiled this down to four questions: Why not conspiracy? June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya, why wasn't it a campaign finance violation? Was there obstruction of justice? And is Congress doing enough to protect the United States against Russian interference in the upcoming election?

Somehow, they moved this a whole week to get more time, even though you could really -- those are the key questions in this case.

GOLODRYGA: Which is why the storytelling is so significant here. Remember, the majority of the country has not read the Mueller report.

[18:30:00]

I'm a bit confused as to why these hearings aren't swapped and you aren't hearing volume one being told in the morning and then seeing volume two really focused on with intelligence and in the afternoon, to go judiciary in the afternoon because you really get a sense of the narrative of what played out, and you go through a time arc starting with Russian interference and then can you go to the question of obstruction, what have you.

But to just have Robert Mueller go through the report that he and his prosecutors wrote themselves regardless of what questions will be asked, I think the takeaway from him reciting his own words will be significant for many Americans who may be hearing it for the first time.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting because Norm Eisen has been playing Mueller in these mock hearings, these rehearsals, but another Judiciary Committee aide has been playing Republican Congressman Jim Jordan, who supposedly they're gearing up, he's going to be interfering or breaking in, raising all sorts of procedural issues during the course of the democrats' questioning and they've been gearing up for that as well.

TOOBIN: And that's smart. I mean, it's good to be prepared and Jordan is very good at being disruptive and, you know, interjecting his views even when it's not his turn to speak. And, you know, there is nothing ever wrong to overpreparing for a big event, and it seems like the democrats have taken this seriously as have the republicans. And I think the committee -- we can only hope that the hearing will be better because everybody is on their game.

BLITZER: He is something we should be watching out. We know that Mueller is going to be very, very sensitive to the integrity of his investigation, the integrity of the FBI, the entire team. If republicans start raising all sorts of innuendos, allegations that these guys were not fair, they were biased, they were anti-Trump, they were pro-Hillary Clinton, that presumably could spark a very negative reaction from Mueller.

SWERDLICK: I don't know how Mueller will respond to that. I do think though that you're talking about someone who -- remember, at the start of this, even republicans across the board were saying he was the right person to lead this investigation. He was a person of impeccable integrity. So I think it will be incumbent on democrats in the committee to remind republicans what they said on that. I think, yes, if you're Special Counsel Mueller, you've got to push back on some of that stuff.

But we've gotten to a point, Wolf, where someone who, again, I said a minute ago, is a war hero, is a former Head of the FBI and has never been accused of doing anything wrong --

TOOBIN: And a republican.

SWERDLICK: And a republican and presumably was friendly with Attorney General Barr at some point in their career. If this is the guy that republicans are saying doesn't have integrity, then, you know, this committee process is going to go off the rails.

BLITZER: But, Bianna, is it too late for the democrats right now? This has been going on and on and on. Is it too little too late?

GOLODRYGA: Look, it's their make or break moment. It's their one time to get Mueller to testify before them. They're doing their job, right, as oversight. So I don't think they had any other choice. I think this is their opportunity to hear from Mueller.

Hopefully, expectations aren't so high that they assume that the world will be different come Thursday morning. I think that they will be satisfied to hear Mueller answer many of their questions and also read from the report.

The majority of the country though has already moved on from this. The President likes to focus on that as well. He said he's not going to be watching. I'm assuming that he will be watching.

But going back to your point about Mueller, we know that he's a rather modest man, so I doubt that we'll hear him say, but I'm a war hero, I'm a republican, how dare you attack me? Though I think that as The New York Times has reported, this is going to be his 89th time before Congress. He's used to this. He know that a lot of this is theater as well. So I think we're going to see him grounded. I think we're going to see him focused on getting through this. Remember, he does not want to be there.

And I think when you have somebody who is a witness who's going to be testifying in a situation where he'd rather not be, I think things will be getting under his skin. But I think he'll be measuring -- SWERDLICK: It strikes me that -- go ahead.

SIDDIQUI: I was going to say that this is where democrats have to be careful because their best bet is to focus on what Robert Mueller laid out in the report and having him in his own words really detail these ten episodes in which the Special Counsel found that the President may have sought to obstruct justice.

I've spoken to some democrats on the House Judiciary Committee who do have a lot of process-related questions, why did you not compel the President to testify? What do you make of Attorney General William Barr's handling of the report? Was he being misleading to the American public?

Now, those questions serve a purpose certainly in terms of whether or not they had all the evidence that they needed or whether they believed that there's some effort by the administration to engage in a cover-up. But what's really going to shift public opinion or potentially even the opinion of House Democrats who have not yet been prepared to embrace an impeachment inquiry is Robert Mueller really outlining the actual misconduct or alleged misconduct on the part of the President of the United States.

The last time that you saw a flurry of House Democrats come out in favor of impeachment, it was when Robert Mueller stood before those cameras and said that while we could not charge a president with a crime, we also could not exonerate him.

[18:35:04]

BLITZER: You wanted to make a point?

SWERDLICK: No, let me just follow up on what Sabrina said. It totally agree with you. The only thing I would add though, it's a challenge for Mueller in that situation because it's a situation where he has already said that he can only go so far as the former prosecutor and I do think he's going to make a decision on whether or not he wants to push that envelope. He strikes me as a guy that wants this to be dignified.

But at a certain point, what was the whole point of him coming out of retirement to do this if he's not going to advance the ball?

BLITZER: You know, Jeffrey, as significant as Mueller's testimony potentially could be Don McGahn, the former White House Counsel. If he were ever to appear before a House Committee publicly say what happened, potentially, that could even be more of a mess.

TOOBIN: Well, obviously. I mean, that's the thing that's so frustrating about this. In an investigation, you don't hear from the prosecutors. You hear from the witnesses.

You know, the Watergate hearings, the key witness was John Dean, because he was a participant in the cover-up. Don McGahn was someone who was apparently recruited into a cover-up. Corey Lewandowski was recruited into a cover-up. They are the people who really could put incriminating evidence before the American people, which is why the White House is fighting so hard to keep them off stage.

BLITZER: I know you have read the U.S. Constitution, you're an expert on the U.S. Constitution, Article 2 specifically. I'm going to play a clip of what the President of the United States said today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, U.S PRESIDENT: There I have in Article 2, well, I have the right to do whatever I want as president but I don't even talk about that, because they did a report and there was no obstruction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TOOBIN: The sound you heard was every constitutional law professor in the country keeling over that that's what he thinks of Article 2. We have a government of enumerated powers, where the powers of the Congress are stipulated in Article 1. The President's powers are in Article 2. He's Commander-in-Chief of the military. He can make treaties. He cannot do anything he wants. That is not what the Constitution says.

BLITZER: He said, I have the right to do whatever I want as president.

TOOBIN: With all due respect to the President that is not true under any circumstances. And the idea that he would even say it is, frankly, chilling.

GOLODRYGA: Well, if I were to make a guess, it's his translation of what's been said to him by his Attorney General, Bill Barr, right? We've heard Bill Barr talk about Article 2 as well. I think this goes back to the point regardless of Bob Mueller who has been experienced in anticipating a lot of things likely did not anticipate Bill Barr to come out and act the way he did after the Mueller report came out. You can't overstate the significance of those four pages that Bill Barr released and his interpretation of the report prior to Mueller speaking out, addressing that himself.

BLITZER: Remember Nixon at one point said if the President does it, it's not illegal. How did that work out?

TOOBIN: That did not work out so well. But, you know, I think this is how Donald Trump views the presidency and it's part of why he is so offended by this investigation. Because he thinks especially in something like firing James Comey, which is alleged as part of the obstruction of justice, he thinks he has the power to do it so he can do it for any reason he wants.

SWERDLICK: Yes. And, Wolf, I also think it's of a piece with so many episodes we've seen over the last two-and-a-half years. You know, 02 Corinthians, the Bible, what a good book, never heard of it before. Article 2, the Constitution, read it for the first time. It turns out Abraham Lincoln was a republican. All that President Trump is like learning about the country he's leading as he's going along. And, of course, he's going to overstate that he has all that power.

TOOBIN: And more and more people are talking this Frederick Douglass.

SWERDLICK: Yes. Well, he --

BLITZER: All right. Guys, we've got a lot more news. Stand by.

Just ahead, why Joe Biden's new criminal justice reform plan is fuelling criticism from some of his rivals.

Plus, other breaking news, funding approved for 9/11 victims for decades. Advocate and Comedian Jon Stewart talks to us about it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:00]

BLITZER: Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is out with a new criminal justice reform plan, but some of his rivals are already using it to highlight his record on a controversial crime bill from a quarter century ago. CNN's Jessica Dean has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: Well, my name is Joe Biden.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, former Vice President Joe Biden unveiling his criminal justice reform plan.

BIDEN: I'm amazed how far we've come, but I know how much further we have to go.

DEAN: The rollout comes the week before Biden is set to share CNN's debate stage in Detroit with Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, both of whom have aggressively hit his record on the issue, particularly his role in crafting the 1994 crime bill which critics say led to an era of mass incarceration.

BIDEN: I supported the bill. I will accept responsibility for what went right, but I will also accept responsibility for what went wrong.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ): I think it's only right that he talk about everything from his support of the 1994 crime bill, which was one of the sort of jet fuel to mass incarceration, all the way to his stance on busing.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA): That 1994 crime bill, it did contribute to mass incarceration in our country.

[18:44:50]

DEAN: Biden's new plan includes recommendations from congressional black caucus members and seeks to reduce the number of people in prison while also reducing crime by creating a $20 billion grant program aimed at pressuring states to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent crimes and incentivize inmates to complete educational and rehabilitation programs.

[18:45:13] Retroactively eliminating the disparity between sentences for crack and powder cocaine and decriminalizing marijuana use.

Booker's response, quote: Joe Biden had more than 40 years to get this right. The proud architect of a failed system is not the right person to fix it.

This as Kamala Harris announced she's teaming up with Congressman Jerry Nadler to legalize marijuana saying in a statement, quote: Times have changed. We need to start regulating marijuana and expunge convictions from the records of millions of Americans so they can get on with their lives, the statement read.

Also today, Senator Elizabeth Warren announced she's joining forces with Congressman Jim Clyburn for a student debt relief bill that mimics the plan she's already put forth. Their proposal would wipe out student debt for tens of millions of Americans.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That debt not only affects the people who try to carry it, it affects our entire economy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DEAN: Here in New Orleans the former vice president stopped by the youth empowerment project today, a type of program his new policies would support within its juvenile justice component. He wants to spend a billion dollars on reshaping the juvenile system in America.

Up next, he's going to be taking his message to the NAACP and the National Urban League before appearing on the CNN debate stage next week.

And, Wolf, his advisers say that he will not allow his record on this to be mischaracterized. He's proud of it and he very much believes in the policies he put forth today.

BLITZER: It will be a very lively debate next week.

CNN's Jessica Dean in New Orleans, thanks very much.

There's breaking news up next. Both houses of Congress have now approved extending the fund for 9/11 victims for decades. Advocate and comedian Jon Stewart, he talks to our Alisyn Camerota, that's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:51:43] BLITZER: There is more breaking news tonight. The Senate followed the House in passing a bill providing money for the 9/11 victim compensation fund for decades.

Let's get some more. CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota is with us right now.

And welcome to THE SITUATION ROOM. So, glad you're here to do this.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Great to be here.

BLITZER: You had a chance to speak to Jon Stewart, the comedian, who's been such a powerful advocate for this cause.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I sat down not only with Jon Stewart but with John Feal, who is the first responder who's really became sort of the face of this fight. And this is their first wide-ranging interview. It was right after their win.

And you'll hear that they are still sort of processing their emotions, kind of range from everything from pride and relief to some residual anger at how hard this 18-year fight has been.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON STEWART, 9/11 VICTIM FUND ADVOCATE: You hear senators on the floor talking about I just want to have a conversation about fiscal responsibility. And, like, man, we sat in your office five years ago. You could have had that conversation. You could have had that conversation at any point during those five years.

You're a senator. Have it with your colleagues but don't do it on the eve of these people's hopes and dreams of finally putting this behind them. This was not the moment. And it's disingenuous to suggest that that's all you were doing, especially when you vote against the bill.

But his childishness aside, we've tried to get into that office many, many times to have those conversations with those staffers., and haven't been able to.

CAMEROTA: Are you talking about McConnell? Are you talking about Mike Lee? Are you talking about Ron Paul?

STEWART: Senator Paul and Mike Lee. Absolutely. We tried in numerous occasions to have that conversation with them process.

JOHN FEAL, 9/11 VICTIM FUND ADVOCATE: You could debate any time Rand Paul I'd love to debate you on the merits and the -- the merits of this bill. And you have your merits I'll take mine. You could show up if you want.

STEWART: I won't -- he called me a gutter snipe. I never mind to call him a scalawag, and a ragamuffin. I'll escalate this.

(LAUGHTER)

CAMEROTA: That --

STEWART: It was too stark. I mean, to sit down that day that Lou was talking and that Mike O'Connell was talking, and (INAUDIBLE).

I wasn't angry about the chairs that weren't supposed to be filled not being filled. I was angry about the chairs that were supposed to be filled that weren't. He said, you know, we're very busy. And I was sitting next to a man who had decided to spend one of his last days on earth fighting for his brothers and sisters so that they wouldn't have to go through it.

And to not have the ability to perceive what an incredibly arrogant and out of touch statement that was to give to man whose liver would shut town that night and he would go into hospice, we are busy.

CAMEROTA: Is there anybody whose humanity you want to recognize? Is there anybody who surprised you? Is --

FEAL: Mitch McConnell. Mitch McConnell is a human being and I thank him for that. And while we're never going to agree on our politics, Mitch McConnell was honest and straightforward at that meeting that we had with my team. And I thank the Senate majority leader.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: So, Wolf, John Feal told us that he expects President Trump to sign that bill this Friday at 2:00 p.m., and that will help those first responders for decades to come. And I should also just mention that the full interview will be seen tomorrow on "NEW DAY".

[18:55:03] And we have an extra early start at 5:00 a.m.

BLITZER: Thank you so much for doing this. And these guys were so, so important. So powerful.

CAMEROTA: And inspirational to the rest of us.

BLITZER: They really were. And so many people grateful to them.

Alisyn, thanks very much for coming in.

CAMEROTA: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Just ahead, President Trump congratulates the incoming prime minister. But he and Boris Johnson haven't always gotten along.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Former British foreign secretary and Trump ally, Boris Johnson, is poised to become the next British prime minister. The hard line Brexit supporter won the Conservative Party's leadership contest by a landslide and will take over from outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May when she steps down tomorrow.

President Trump congratulated Boris Johnson saying he is referred to and I'm quoting the president now, as Britain Trump.

But their relationship hasn't been always that all warm. As mayor of London, Boris Johnson blasted Donald Trump for implying parts of the city were dangerous due to radicalization.

Johnson also said he has been mistaken for President Trump because of their hair. It's a joke.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll be back first thing tomorrow morning for a CNN special live coverage of the Mueller hearings. That begins at 8:00 a.m. Eastern.

In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. You can always tweet the show @CNNsitroom.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

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