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THE SITUATION ROOM

Democrats Divided Over Impeachment; New Warnings of Russian Election Interference; Interview With Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA); Interview With Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX); Senate Intel Report Warns Of Ongoing Election Threat; Democrats Weigh Their Next Moves On Impeachment After Mueller Testimony; Biden Taking More Aggressive Stance Against His Rivals; Marines Arrested on Human Smuggling and Drug Charges. Aired on 6-7p ET

Aired July 25, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:03]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Biden's new spine. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden takes a more aggressive tone and stance in the face of criticism from his rivals over his record. Will we see him fighting back in next week's CNN presidential debate?

And under seal. President Trump appears before a group of conservative students in front of a doctored presidential seal that bears a resemblance to Russia's state seal -- tonight, new details of how it happened and who lost their job over it.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, urgent new warnings of ongoing Russian election interference targeting the 2020 presidential race.

The Senate Intelligence Committee and the FBI director, Christopher Wray, they said separately today that the United States remains vulnerable, while Russia remains intent on interfering in the next U.S. election.

Former FBI Director and special counsel of Robert Mueller gave a similar warning in his testimony yesterday. Despite that, Republicans have now blocked election security bills in the Senate for two days in a row. The majority leader, Mitch McConnell, dismissed one bill, saying it's -- quote -- "from the same folks who spent two years hyping up a conspiracy theory about President Trump and Russia."

We will talk about all the breaking news and much more with two members of the House Intelligence Committee, Republican Will Hurd and Democrat Ted Lieu. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to CNN congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty. She's up on Capitol Hill for us tonight.

Sunlen, this Senate Intelligence Committee report is part of a two- year investigation. And it's raising a lot of red flags.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Significant, red flags, Wolf, here, about how they believe Russia is still looking to influence the upcoming 2020 election.

This is a bipartisan report, 67 pages from the Senate Intelligence Committee, the result of two years of their work on their investigation. They looked at Russia's attacks on the U.S. election infrastructure in the 2016 campaign.

And they concluded , according to this report, that Russia directed extensive activity against the U.S. election infrastructure and exploited the seams between federal authorities and state authorities.

And they certainly make recommendations about going forward in the upcoming election, this imminent warning that they have on their mind of what the U.S. could do, including, of course, the use of paper ballots to provide a paper trail for voters and then better communication between federal government and local authorities.

Here's the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA): One of the things that we discovered, which we have talked about before, was really how vulnerable our systems were in 2016.

And while I think the Russians wanted to come in and rattle the doors or rattle the windows, they found the doors unlocked and the windows wide open. And in many ways, we were just lucky that they didn't either change vote totals or move voters from one precinct to another.

I think we found that you need those paper ballot backups. You need an audited system.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SERFATY: And this, of course, follows very similar warnings coming from the former special counsel, Robert Mueller, up here on Capitol Hill yesterday during his high-profile testimony.

And, today, the FBI director, Christopher Wray, he said that the FBI does expect cyber-actors to continue to target the elections of 2020, he says, to undermine voter confidence. And point blank, Wolf, he said, we know our adversaries are relentless -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sunlen, now, a day after Mueller's testimony, the Senate has not once, but twice blocked bills aimed at strengthening election security.

What's going on over there?

SERFATY: Well, Democrats, Wolf, are certainly trying to capitalize on this moment in the wake of Mueller's testimony and potentially in the wake of this Senate Intelligence report today, hoping that they could change minds in the directions of the many election security pieces of legislation that are -- legislation that is floating around there.

But two times in two days, Senate Democrats have tried to bring different pieces of legislation to the Senate floor, and two times in two days Senate Republicans have blocked the legislation from being able to go forward.

And this time, today, it was personally blocked on the floor by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): It's just a highly partisan bill from the same folks who spent two years hyping up a conspiracy theory about President Trump and Russia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SERFATY: And Republicans in the past who have blocked similar measures have argued that they believe that Congress has done enough to respond to election security concerns.

Of course, this certainly has made Democrats up here on Capitol Hill very angry, up in arms. And I suspect we will see them continue to try to bring these measures to the Senate floor -- Wolf.

[18:05:05]

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

Let's get some more on these warnings about Russian election meddling.

Joining us now, CNN senior justice correspondent Evan Perez and former FBI Special Agent and CNN law enforcement analyst Anthony Ferrante. He served as a top cybersecurity official with the FBI, was in charge of cyber-incident response for the National Security Council. He was also one of the first people to see the Russians hacking into state election systems.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

This was an attempt, if you believe all these reports, Evan -- and I think they're very, very credible -- that the Russians want to not only undermine U.S. national security by sowing dissent, things like that, but actually going into state and federal election systems and trying to change the outcome.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

And, look, so far, according to this report, there's no indication that they have done anything to change any voting totals, any voting counts. But this is a sobering report, Wolf, because it reminds us that a lot of the infrastructure that was in place in 2016 that the Russians managed to get into in all 50 states, that is still in place. A lot of states have not updated their -- the infrastructure. And, again, this is a country where all of this is handled on the state level. It's not the federal government that runs the elections. And that's one of the strengths of our system, because it means that you have to -- if you want to change vote counts in all places, you have to go through the trouble.

But it also means that you have weaknesses, some vulnerabilities that are all over the country. And, in some cases, people really have not figured out how to fix those systems. And so the question is, can you get those things done before the 2020 election?

BLITZER: You were, Anthony, one of the top cybersecurity officials over at the FBI. You were one of the first to witness the Russians going into trying to influence or try to penetrate state election systems, hack into those systems.

Does this report, what we're hearing from the FBI director, from Mueller, does that really capture the enormity of what's going on?

ANTHONY FERRANTE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Yes, Wolf, this report is very consistent with what I witnessed firsthand.

And it's also very timely. And let me explain why. First, it's important because now the world knows. Not only did -- do representatives on the National Security Council and in the intelligence community and at the White House, not only are they aware of it, but now the American people are aware of it.

And now they know that, starting in 2014, a large-scale coordinated campaign to disrupt the 2016 presidential election took place. And behind it was the Russian government. OK?

And this is also very timely report. Why? Because now is the time that we need to take action to make sure this doesn't happen again in 2020.

BLITZER: So what are you hearing, Evan? What needs to be done to fix this?

PEREZ: I think one of the first things that needs to happen is, you need to have people in charge of the election systems who actually believe that this is a problem.

One of the things that we ran into, Wolf, in reporting on this in back in 2016 was that we would call some of the state officials, and we told them some of the things that we were hearing from talking to officials behind the scenes. They were working on what they were seeing from what the Russians were doing, and all of the concerns that they had.

And we kept running into officials who were simply -- because of the partisan atmosphere, believed that this wasn't really a problem. They didn't think the Russians were doing anything. Some of them thought that this was just a plot by the Obama administration to try to swing the election for Hillary Clinton. And so what we need, first of all, is people to understand that this

is actually a problem and that they want to fix it. You hear -- if you read this report, it's 67 pages, not that long -- people should read it. And they should probably reach out to their local officials to see what they are doing to make sure that this doesn't happen again.

Certainly, what Anthony and some of his colleagues were going through at the time, there was a big concern that, come Election Day, maybe they are not going to change the voting totals, but they would disrupt things just in a couple of places to give people pause and have lack of faith in the outcome of the election.

And that's a big -- that's as big a problem as actually changing any voting totals.

BLITZER: This Senate Intelligence Committee report, the 67 pages, suggest that state election officials were not sufficiently warned by the federal government of the threats out there.

You were there. You were working in the FBI at the time. Is that a fair criticism?

FERRANTE: Unfortunately, I do think it's a fair criticism, Wolf.

Back then, when this had taken place, yes, we had seen this activity before from adversaries, nation state adversaries. We had never seen at this scope and scale. And we'd never really been in an environment like this. It was extremely sensitive.

We had a presidential candidate declaring the election was rigged. We had states that were demanding that they run the elections as they see fit. And you had the federal government watching Russia poke and probe electoral infrastructure, and we didn't know what their motives were.

[18:10:07]

It was an extremely tense time. There were hundreds, if not thousands of people within the U.S. government laser-focused on this. And it was just a very, very sensitive time.

BLITZER: Evan, one of the recommendations in the report is that the U.S. create a list of what they call potential responses to hostile foreign powers to send a clear message, if you try this, something is going to happen to you.

What are they talking about?

PEREZ: Well, I think they want to make sure that there are people -- at least the United States telegraphs to these countries that there are consequences to some of these actions.

And so, look, I think, during the 2016 elections, I think President Obama tried to say some of this, but, as Anthony points out, I think, frankly, the government was caught flat-footed. And the response perhaps was not as robust as it can be.

And we will see, Wolf, because we still have a president who doesn't believe that this actually occurred to the level that it did. He doesn't accept some of the assessments of the intelligence community.

So it's not clear that you can have -- you can have the DNI, you can have the FBI director saying this stuff, but if the president doesn't really buy into it, it's not clear whether the effect will be the same.

BLITZER: That's a very important point.

Evan and Anthony, guys, thanks very much for coming in.

There's more breaking news right now, a new effort by Democrats to get ahold of President Trump's tax returns.

CNN's Kara Scannell is working the story for us.

Kara, what are you learning?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, so the House Ways and Means Committee has just released new documents from their archives that show that congressional committees have previously relied upon this kind of weird little arcane part of the U.S. tax code known as 6103 to obtain a president's tax records.

Now, this is a big development, because Donald Trump has said that it had been unprecedented for Congress to use this provision of the tax code to obtain a president's record.

So what the House Ways and Means Committee has just released are these documents that date back to the 1970s. And that's when the Joint Committee on Taxation had used this provision to obtain some of President Richard Nixon's tax returns.

Now, in this instance, Nixon had agreed to voluntarily turn over some of his tax returns, as they were reviewing how he was treating certain charitable deductions. But the committee needed more information, and they went to the IRS, and they successfully obtained it.

Now, this, of course, is because of this fight that is going on between the House Ways and Means Committee and the president to obtain his tax returns.

Now, this -- these are two different committees. Now it's the House Ways and Means Committee. Then, it was the Joint Committee on Taxation. But these committees are only two of three that are allowed to use this provision, 6123, of the tax code to obtain the president's tax returns.

So this is viewed by Democrats as a very strong piece of precedent that they can use as they have this legal fight that is now in court to obtain the president's tax records -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we will see if it has an impact. Kara Scannell reporting for us, thanks very much.

Joining us now, Republican Congressman Will Hurd of Texas. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. WILL HURD (R-TX): Wolf, always a pleasure to be on with you.

BLITZER: All right, let's get back to the breaking news, this new Senate Intelligence Committee report painting a very frightening picture of how the Russians could build on the capabilities they developed in 2016 to create chaos here in the United States on Election Day 2020.

So why can't election security bills, for example, make it through the Senate right now?

HURD: Well, I don't know which of the bills that the Senate is working on.

And just because somebody says a bill is election security doesn't necessarily mean it's election security. And that presupposes that a lot of work hasn't already been done.

There's been several pieces of legislation that has done well over half-a-billion dollars to provide a support to election security in the last Congress and also in this Congress. Last Congress, I chaired a Subcommittee on Information Technology.

And I actually held -- two Congresses ago, back in 2016, I held the first hearing on election security, actually before the 2016 election. And from that time, there has been a lot of updates even after that election.

For example, there were some secretaries of states who are -- who were reticent from taking support or help from the federal government in hardening their infrastructure. And that has changed since then.

And so the Senate report, it has been done over two years. And some of their conclusions, some of those problems have probably been addressed.

We have to remember there's about 100,000 different election systems in the United States of America. And these -- you have the voting machine that the person actually uses to select their vote. You have the machines and the systems and the networks that tabulate those votes.

And there's a lot of steps that are taken to add security around those. And so we should have the right machines. The Department of Homeland Security has been working with our secretaries of states that have asked for this -- this type of help.

[18:15:12]

But defending and protecting these machines is just one part of the puzzle, right?

And I will use an example. My old business partner, when I was involved in a cybersecurity company, were involved in working with a metro system. And this metro system, we figured out that we could actually get access to the train, but we can only slow it down.

What we were also able to get access to was the speaker system. So you can use that speaker system to create more pandemonium than you could getting access to the train.

BLITZER: Yes.

HURD: And this is the case that we have to think about with the Russians trying to get into our election.

They want to seed doubt in our elections and our ability to conduct free and fair elections. And so you don't actually have to penetrate the machine in order to seed that doubt.

That's why this issue of disinformation is something that we need to be developing a strategy around. And just hardening or improving the defenses around those electronic systems is just one piece of the puzzle.

BLITZER: Well, as the U.S. intelligence community concluded, they want to sow political dissent here in the United States, create as much anger as possible among the American people. They think that is in their interests.

Robert Mueller yesterday, in his testimony before your committee, the Intelligence Committee, he said that Russia's interference continues even as the two of you were speaking. And you were questioning him about it.

But why did so many of your Republican colleagues in the House Intelligence Committee seem so much more interested in discrediting Robert Mueller than countering this very significant threat from Russia?

HURD: Well, I would like to see all of Congress pay a little bit more attention on how we counter this threat on Robert -- on -- that the Russians are trying to do, instead of just white-gloving the Mueller report.

Now that that's behind us, let's put that same level of attention and focus on dealing and developing a strategy to ultimately deal with this.

And so let me be clear. There is one thing that Republicans and Democrats agree on. The Russians tried to influence our elections, period, end of story.

And the Russians have been great at disinformation and doing these kinds of things. It's more than just 2016. They have been doing this for decades all across the world. And so it's not only having to -- an impact on our elections, but we should be working and learning from our friends.

Countries like Estonia, Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine have seen this as well. And so...

BLITZER: You make a fair point, Congressman. A lot of Republicans are with you. They see this threat.

But why don't we ever hear about it from the president of the United States himself?

HURD: Well, you will have to ask the president that question. But I will say this.

BLITZER: But are you concerned? Are you concerned that he doesn't speak about it, he doesn't talk about it, when he goes out and speaks about a whole bunch of other issues?

He seems to ignore this Russian threat of election interference.

HURD: But the federal government that's involved in protecting our country and our infrastructure, they're not ignoring it.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But don't they need leadership from the commander in chief? Wouldn't that be significant if he personally got involved and told the director of national intelligence, told the FBI director, the CIA director, and others, told members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate, hey, this is a huge problem; if we don't fix it, we're going to have to go back to paper ballots?

We don't hear that from the president.

HURD: But that doesn't mean that this isn't happening, right?

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: It may be happening, but don't you think he should be taking the lead?

HURD: Well, I want the FBI taking the lead. I want Department of Homeland Security taking the lead.

Department of Homeland Security is the entity that has been designed to work with the states on securing our election infrastructure. I want experts that are doing this. They know this is a threat. This is something that we have been working on.

And I also think that it's up to Congress to start talking about strategies on how to deal with the broader issue. So I know that the intelligence community is focused on this and making sure that they're working with domestic entities that were prepared for this, that they're learning and taking lessons from other countries that have been involved in this.

And so I know the entities that are involved in protecting against this threat recognize that this is a threat. The FBI recognizes that they didn't do the notifications in 2016 that they probably should have and have taken steps to correct that.

The Department of Homeland Security is -- has put more resources towards this problem as well. And so the entities that are going to be involved in making sure that we continue to have free and fair elections are working towards that.

But the next step that we need to have is, if a Russian, if the Internet Research Agency says that they hacked into a machine in X- state, and they didn't really do that, how is that countered, right?

[18:20:13]

And, ultimately, the federal government shouldn't be telling the press what to say. How are we going to make sure that information gets out there, so that they don't -- that the Russians or other countries aren't able to influence the election or create that discord and that concern around this?

And Bob Mueller in his testimony and I believe Director Wray today in his testimony in the Senate made it very clear that it's not just the Russians that we have to be worried about.

And so I do know that -- and I have been involved in these conversations with folks in the intelligence community and federal law enforcement to deal with this, and been working with secretaries of states as well.

BLITZER: And you speak with a considerable amount of authority, not only as a member of Congress, a member of the intelligence community, but, earlier, you were a case officer over at the CIA.

So you understand the capabilities. You understand what the Russians are up to try to create political chaos here in the United States.

HURD: Yes.

BLITZER: Congressman Will Hurd, as usual, thanks so much for joining us.

HURD: Wolf, you have a good rest of the evening, man.

BLITZER: The breaking news continues next.

President Trump takes a victory lap, while divided Democrats weigh their next moves on impeachment, in the wake of Robert Mueller's testimony.

Plus, the gaffe with the presidential seal that cost someone a job.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:26:02]

BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following. Deeply divided Democrats weighing their next moves in impeachment tonight, following Robert Mueller's testimony before two House committees.

Our senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown, is joining us.

Pamela, the president believes Mueller's testimony was clearly a victory for him.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

President Trump has been muted today about Russian election interference amid dire warnings from top officials. But sources tell me, Wolf, that he's in good spirits and feeling vindication, as Democrats grapple with what to do following Mueller's testimony.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN (voice-over): Tonight, the White House is claiming victory after former special counsel Robert Mueller's high-stakes testimony.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: I thought yesterday was supposed to be this unbelievable movie, better than the book, and Bob Mueller was going to pave the golden road, the yellow brick road toward impeachment. Clearly, that didn't happen. It's not happening.

BROWN: The Trump campaign thrilled with the outcome and using the moment to urge surrogates on a conference call to underscore the president's message that Democrats will now suffer in 2020.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Democrats lost so big today. Their party is in shambles right now.

CONWAY: They can't get over the 2016 election. They haven't a clue how to beat him in 2020. That's pretty obvious.

BROWN: Democrats, for their part , now plotting their next move and whether impeachment proceedings are still on the table.

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): Today was a watershed day in telling the facts to the American people. With those facts, we can proceed.

BROWN: But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi threw cold water on the idea, at least for now.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): The fact that -- why I would like it to be a strong case is because I don't -- it's based on the facts, the facts and the law. That's what matters, not politics, not partisanship, just patriotism.

BROWN: Pelosi privately told her caucus to do what's best for them, but pushed back on the notion from some members that not pursuing impeachment is a violation of their constitutional duties.

PELOSI: It's not about me. It's about our caucus. It's about our country.

BROWN: And, tonight, another battle brewing over immigration, after a California judge halted President Trump's third country asylum ban, just hours after another judge said it could go forward, pending lawsuits.

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham slammed the judge's ruling as -- quote -- "the tyranny of a dysfunctional system," this as CNN has learned in exclusive new documents that hundreds of red flags were raised internally within the Trump administration about how families were being separated at the U.S.-Mexico border some months before the controversial zero tolerance policy was announced.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And, Wolf, it doesn't appear that the president is focused on immigration tonight. Instead, he's weighing in again on Twitter about A$AP Rocky, an American rapper being held in Sweden.

After a confrontation with two men that was caught on video, Sweden charged the rapper with assault, even after the president said he would talk to the prime minister to get Rocky out.

Now Trump is chastising the U.S. ally for not releasing him, saying, Sweden -- quote -- "has let our African-American community down in the United States. I watched the tapes of A$AP Rocky, and he was being followed and harassed by troublemakers."

He added: "Give A$AP Rocky his freedom. We do so much for Sweden, but it doesn't seem to work the other way around." And then he said Sweden needs to take care of its -- quote -- "real crime problem."

Wolf, the president has gotten unusually involved in this case, after several celebrities, including Kanye West, have pushed for his release. Tonight, this certainly seems to be escalating the situation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly is, the U.S. and Sweden clearly at odds.

Pamela Brown at the White House, thanks very much.

Let's get some more on all of this.

Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu of California is joining us. He's a member of the Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. TED LIEU (D-CA): Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We got a lot to discuss.

But let me start with this new Senate Intelligence Committee report. If Russia used 2016 to grow its capabilities and learn more about American election infrastructure, what are they capable of doing in 2020? [18:30:07]

LIEU: Thank you, Wolf, for that question. What the Judiciary and Intel Committees showed yesterday with Special Counsel Robert Mueller is that both democrats and republicans agreed that the Russians systemically, in a sweeping manner, attacked our elections in 2016 and they're going to do so again.

The House of Representatives has passed two bills to the U.S. Senate to prevent that election tampering and hacking from happening. Unfortunately, Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans are not taking the bills up.

BLITZER: But you say that democrats and republicans agree on Russia's 2016 election interference. If that's the case, why haven't we seen any major election security bills in the Senate, for example? They seem to die pretty quickly.

LIEU: So the House of Representatives has passed those bills. I don't know what's going on through Mitch McConnell's mind. But, clearly, he is not taking these bills up for a vote. If they were taken up for a vote, they would pass. I don't know why he doesn't want to strengthen our election security.

One of the bills mandates that these machines be made in the United States. Now, who could be against that? So it's not clear to me why the Senate Republicans are blocking these bills.

BLITZER: It's a serious problem. You were at the center yesterday of one of the most dramatic moments of the hearings with Robert Mueller. You have to walk back this testimony to you in response to your questioning that the reason that they didn't formally indict the President was because of the Justice Department guidelines, a sitting president can't be indicted.

But you say Mueller fully understood your question. Doesn't Mueller's correction, which he later provided, prove otherwise?

LIEU: This is what's so odd about that exchange. Special Counsel Robert Mueller agreed that the OLC opinion prevented a sitting president from being indicted. And then the republican member after me asked him a series of questions to try to get him to walk it back, and he did not do that. And then it wasn't until there was a recess in the Intel Committee that he started walk some of that back. I don't know who got to him. I don't know who talked to him, but that was very odd what he did.

BLITZER: Well, what are you suggesting? Because he said he misspoke, he didn't understand or whatever it was. That's why he wanted to clarify and walk back his response to your question. Are you saying he only did that because of pressure from someone?

LIEU: I don't know. But he clearly answered the way he answered to me, and then he had numerous times to walk that back by the next republican member who asked a series of questions on exact same issue trying to get him to walk it back. So I don't really understand what happened.

But we all agree and even Robert Mueller would agree that there is an OLC, Department of Justice opinion that says the sitting President of the United States cannot be indicted.

BLITZER: Yes. That's what he repeatedly said that. He was working under those guidelines.

Mueller declined to even read from his report in response to a lot of questioning from the democrats. His answers were short, sometimes stilted. Do you think he did a disservice to his report during those hours of testimony yesterday?

LIEU: I would have liked if Special Counsel Robert Mueller was more talkative, but he did say yes and true to a large number of devastating facts. He also admitted in my questioning to the first two elements of obstruction of justice that were satisfied and then on the third element, intent, I simply read from his report, and it said, quote, substantial evidence, unquote, of evidence for intent.

So, basically, it's as if Robert Mueller says, look, here is a piece of bread. I'm putting a piece of ham on that bread. Then I'm going to put another piece of bread on the ham, and we say that's a ham sandwich. And he goes, no, I'm not going to call it that. Well, it's a ham sandwich.

So that's essentially what he did. He laid out the evidence and it meets the elements of obstruction of justice.

BLITZER: The House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, says it's still not time to open impeachment proceedings in the House. Is this debate more about a lack of political will than a lack of evidence?

LIEU: Speaker Pelosi is an amazing speaker. I'm honored to be on her leadership team. She's going to make this decision and consultation with the democratic caucus. And whatever decision she makes, I'm going to respect.

BLITZER: How unlikely is it that your committee, the Judiciary Committee, would launch a formal impeachment inquiry on its own without a full House vote?

LIEU: We're not going to go rogue, Wolf. Everything that the Judiciary Committee does will have the blessing of Speaker Pelosi.

I'm going to tell you what's going to come next. We're going to file litigation to get the grand jury materials that we have not yet been able to see. We're going to file litigation to compel Don McGahn to come and testify publicly before the Judiciary Committee, and we've asked Hope Hicks to come back and testify because she lied to us the first time that she testified.

[18:35:06]

BLITZER: Lots going on, and we'll see if you succeed in that effort. Congressman Ted lieu, thank you for joining us. LIEU: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, how did President Trump end up standing in front of a fake presidential seal showing a two-headed eagle clutching a set of golf clubs?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:00]

BLITZER: We have breaking news tonight. A two-year Senate Intelligence Committee investigation of election interference raising lots of red flags and serious new concerns about the upcoming presidential election. Let's dig deeper with our experts and our analysts.

Susan Hennessey, this report, and its 67 pages, very detailed, it illustrates the confusion, the miscommunication, the lack of information during Russia's attacks on the U.S. election infrastructure in 2016. And it says, quote, Russia may have been probing vulnerabilities in voting systems to exploit later. So what does that mean looking ahead to 2020?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. So I think this is yet another alarm bell. We've seen a couple of this about the risk we face in our election infrastructure. So one of the things that this report makes clear is that no votes, there's no evidence that votes were changed in the 2016 election. That's good news. Just because it didn't happen in 2016 doesn't mean it can't happen in 2020. This report is a testament to how incredibly vulnerable we were then, how incredibly vulnerable we remain today.

Remember, foreign actors, in order to achieve their goals here, don't have to actually change vote count. All they have to do is insert a measure of uncertainty into sort of the election outcomes, right? Imagine if in the 2020 election, there were serious questions about whether or not we could trust vote counts.

Imagine a contested election when the President of the United States, when he was a candidate, suggested that he might not concede an election if he didn't win, suggested that an election might be rigged, right? These are really, really serious issues, and there are reasons why we need to have absolutely integrity in our systems.

Now, we've seen really good work being done at places like the Department of Homeland Security. You know, notwithstanding all that good work, we aren't seeing a serious commitment to funding election infrastructure. We aren't seeing even sort of the basic steps. And part because republicans are blocking what should be non- controversial, bipartisan measures.

And no matter what we do on sort of the technical election security side, if you don't have a president who is committed to nation state deterrence, to communicating to other countries that they can't do this, then there's very little that you can do sort of below the presidential level, you know, to defend yourself if you don't have that deterrence.

BLITZER: Bianna, the report says there was no evidence that actual votes were changed in 2016. But today, the Director of Cyber Security at the Department of Homeland Security issued this warning. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTOPHER KREBS, DIRECTOR, DHS CYBERSECURITY AND INFRASTRUCTURE SECURITY AGENCY: To be clear, in 2016, while the Russians attempted to interfere, we don't have any evidence they were in a position to change a vote, to alter the vote count or otherwise manipulate the outcome from a quantitative perspective. I'm not resting on that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You know, even if they haven't changed the vote or can't change a single vote, Russia would still win if it creates this impression that the election system here in the United States is vulnerable. Is that right?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely, Wolf. And we know that Russia targeted all 50 states, penetrated some more than others, including the State of Illinois, had access to some 200,000 voters' information. So this is clearly an issue.

I mean, the positive side is kudos to Senators Warner and Burr for really being the adults in the room throughout this process and having an effective and, for the most part, bipartisan inquiry here on this committee, looking into what they can do to avoid going forward having the same crisis.

I do have to say though, when you read this report and you look at what their suggestions are, one of them includes forceful intervention from leadership here to other rogue nations, giving them the implication that they will be punished if they continue this in a way that's not going to be beneficial to them.

We've seen sanctions, yes. But thus far, Vladimir Putin, from a cost benefit analysis, comes out on top. And not only Russia, Wolf, you're now talking about Iran, you're seeing China. There's a bunch of other actors who are seeing how successful Russia was in 2016, and they are going to be jumping on the bandwagon as well.

So with all due respect to the President wanting to interfere with Sweden in getting a rapper out, if he spent just 20 percent of that time focused on Russia and focusing on the American public, reassuring them that that will never happen again regardless of where people stood politically in 2016, if there's one issue people can unite on, it's our integrity system here with regards to elections.

And I also have to say in response to Mitch McConnell's argument now that he's not going to take any partisan legislation, if you go back to 2016, and we've all criticized the Obama administration for not doing enough and not being more forceful in response to intelligence information showing what Russia was doing. When he approached Mitch McConnell then and said, let's bring this forward in a bipartisan manner to show the American public what's going on, he said no.

[18:45:04]

So it is a bit ironic to see him now saying, let's do something from a bipartisan perspective.

BLITZER: David Swerdlick, if nothing happens in the Senate, and the Republicans keep putting up blockades to passage of any legislation, are they going to suffer politically?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, I don't think so. I think, in fact, they would suffer politically if Senator McConnell and Republicans did move forward. I agree with Bianna that hats off to the bipartisan team of Senator Burr, the Republican chair from North Carolina, Senator Warner, the Democratic ranking member from Virginia, for working together on this, in what should be, as you said, bipartisan legislation.

But Republicans don't want to move forward with this in large measure because they think it will reinforce the idea that President Trump is illegitimate. Even if it's only enforced in the mind of President Trump himself because they don't want to go to -- to take any steps that would suggest that President Trump didn't get to the White House all by himself.

So, Senator McConnell is going to stand pat on this I think for now, especially given that it was so close to the Mueller hearings where Special Counsel Mueller did warn that Russians are trying to interfere right now.

BLITZER: Let me get Jeffrey Toobin to weigh in.

Go ahead, Jeffrey.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Why would President Trump want to stop Russian interference when he won the last time with Russian interference? He wants to win again.

BLITZER: Yes, but we don't know if that Russian interference actually changed votes, do we?

TOOBIN: Well, there are lots of ways to win an election other than changing the dials on the voting machines. I mean, we've had report after report about how WikiLeaks helped them and social media at the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg helped them.

This is in part how he won. And he doesn't want to stop that process. I mean --

GOLODRYGA: But if I could --

BLITZER: Go ahead, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: I totally agree, and I get what you're saying, Jeffrey, but I also think that as I mentioned earlier, it's not just Russia now. So, Maybe Russia has as Vladimir Putin said specifically, he was in favor of Donald Trump winning. Perhaps that will be the same for Russia in 2020.

But what if Iran has different ideas? What if China has different ideas? They see how -- what if North Korea has different ideas and decides to back somebody else? You can see the disinformation campaign going towards a Democratic candidate. It spirals out of control and it's not necessarily always going to favor Donald Trump.

BLITZER: The Russians want to sow dissent here in the United States.

Bianna, let me get your thoughts, because you're an expert on Russia and related issues, a very different subject. The president took the stage the other day in front of a group of conservative students Turning Point USA. He did it in front of a screen with a fake presidential seal on it.

Look at the differences. The eagle has two heads similar to the eagle on the state seal of the Russian federation. The eagle is clutching get this, a set of golf clubs.

The group says there was no malicious intent. The staffer responsible has been fired.

What's your reaction?

GOLODRYGA: Well, first of all, good thing the staffer has been fired. If there were a sitcom, if this were "Veep", we would be laughing right now.

But you know who is laughing? The Russians. The Russian media, in fact, I looked at what they were covering, and they're covering just this, making fun of the president, making fun of his support team for even allowing this to take place, and calling him Putin's puppet.

BLITZER: All right. Jeffrey, go ahead, because I saw you smiling.

TOOBIN: Well, no, I mean, I confess that I find it funny. It's ill of me, but I find it funny. I find it interesting that the president is taking a firm stand in support of African Americans as long as they're in Sweden. So, you know, progress is being made here.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Everybody, stick around. There's more news we're following.

Look for a different more aggressive tone and strategy from Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in the CNN debates.

CNN political reporter Arlette Saenz is joining us right now.

Arlette, you're getting new information from your sources. What are you learning?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, Wolf, Joe Biden is certainly adopting a feistier approach. The former vice president and his staff showing that they are ready to fight back against critics heading into that next debate. One adviser telling me that Biden is not going to take attacks on his record sitting down.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAENZ (voice-over): With CNN's Democratic primary debates less than a week away, front runner Joe Biden is going after two of his biggest critics. Both of whom he'll share the debate stage with.

Biden taking a more aggressive stance against Kamala Harris on health care, and Cory Booker who is attacking Biden's criminal justice plan.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: For a guy who helped to be an architect of mass incarceration, this is an inadequate solution to what is a raging crisis in our country.

SAENZ: Biden firing back, taking aim at police practices in Newark, New Jersey, while Booker was mayor.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: His police department was stopping and frisking people, mostly African-American men.

[18:50:04] If he wants to go back and talk about records, I'm happy to do that. But I'd rather talk about the future.

SAENZ: The former vice president also knocking Harris's stance that she can pay for Medicare for all without raising taxes on the middle class.

BIDEN: I find that people who say they are for Medicare for all, that they're not going to tax the middle class because you don't need to do that -- come on. What is this? Is this a fantasy world here?

SAENZ: The more aggressive approach is a change in tune for Biden, who said this before the first presidential debate.

BIDEN: I think it's a gigantic mistake if Democrats, 20 or whatever number we have, go after each other. It's only going to make it easier for this guy to win.

SAENZ: But after the last face-off, Biden decided he needed to fight back. His team insists Biden won't get personal, but will draw contrasts on policy and records.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools. And she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.

SAENZ: Biden telling donors last night, quote, I'm not going to be as polite this time. And he also had this to say about his relationship with Harris.

BIDEN: I thought we were friends, and I hope we still will be.

SAENZ: His team insists Biden won't get personal, but will draw contrast on policy and records.

BIDEN: You can't run for president and beat Donald Trump without leveling with the American people what you're going to do and how you're going to pay for it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAENZ: Now, I'm told Biden has reviewed the tape from that first debate and he is going to be sitting down with his top staff and advisers in the days leading up to the next one as he is gearing up to face off against those rivals once again -- Wolf.

BLITZER: CNN's Arlette Saenz in Indianapolis for us tonight, thank you, Arlette.

Be sure to tune in next Tuesday and Wednesday nights for the CNN Democratic presidential debates. Ten candidates each fight night beginning 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Breaking news next, more than a dozen U.S. marines arrested on human smuggling and drug charges. We're learning new details.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:56:49] BLITZER: There's more breaking news tonight. Sixteen U.S. Marines arrested on some disturbing charges, including human smuggling and drug offenses.

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

Barbara, these arrests follow serious accusations against some Navy SEALs. What are you picking up there?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight a number of cases of troops behaving badly.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): Tonight, 16 U.S. Marines under arrest for human smuggling and drug offenses. Taken into custody while lined up for morning roll call at Camp Pendleton, California. Another eight marines under questioning for drug offenses.

Inside the corps, there is concern the misconduct may be more widespread. The Navy taken the step of kicking an entire platoon of elite SEALSs known as SEAL Team Seven out of Iraq for drinking alcohol in a war zone. That is against regulation.

COL. DAVID LAPAN (RET.), U.S. MARINE CORPS: I think it's highly unusual to have a unit, especially a special operations unit sent home early.

STARR: The 20 SEALs are headed back to San Diego for possible disciplinary action. An investigation is under way to determine if other violations including sexual assault occurred.

The head of Special Operations in Iraq calls it a deterioration of good order and discipline.

General Richard Clarke, the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, says all troops will be held to ethical, moral and discipline standards.

GEN. RICHARD CLARKE, COMMANDER, U.S. SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND: We are also aware that members of our soft units have failed in recent times to always meet the standards. This misconduct erodes that trust.

STARR: Earlier this month, a military court ruled that Navy SEAL team leader Eddie Gallagher, a one-time member of SEAL Team Seven would be demoted in rank and have pay reduced for posing for a photo with a dead ISIS prisoner while he was serving in Iraq.

Meantime, an investigation has also found that several members of SEAL Team 10 used cocaine last year while stationed in Virginia and they were subsequently disciplined.

All of this raising questions about whether there is a crisis in morals and ethics in Special Operations Units, still killing enemy forces 18 years after 9/11.

LAPAN: Yes, they are asked to go out and kill as part of their jobs. But they're supposed to be able to do it with discipline and do it in ways that don't allow them to lose their bearing and to lose their discipline.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Now, so far, top military commanders say they don't believe there is a systemic problem in the special operations community. But make no mistake, Wolf, there are growing questions whether the members of these elite units after all the years can handle the violence and stress of the work they're asked to do -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And there is no doubt these young men and women -- they're under enormous pressure especially in a war zone, so many years after the war started in Iraq. Still a war zone in Iraq right now, almost 6,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you very much.

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.

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