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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD); Trump Didn't Discuss Mueller Report During Putin Phone Call; Rep. Will Hurd (R) Texas Won't Seek Re-Election After This Term, He's The Only Black Republican Currently Serving In House; Trump Pushes Pick For Director Of National Intelligence To Withdraw Reports Surface He Exaggerated His Resume; Trump Touts A Lot Of Progress In Afghanistan After Sources Say U.S. Plans To Reduce Troops, Diplomats; NYPD Official Recommends Firing of Policeman Implicated in Choking Death of Eric Garner. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired August 2, 2019 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Firing recommendation. New York City's deputy police commissioner recommends the officer accused of putting Eric Garner in a choke hold should be fired. The fatal encounter happened back in 2014. Why has the case dragged on for years?
And praising Kim's brutality. President Trump says he isn't worried about North Korea's latest missile tests. And he's lavishing praise on Kim Jong-un, declaring he has a great and beautiful vision for his country. That's a quote, even though Kim starves his people, locks up dissenters and even has killed members of his own family.
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: We're following multiple breaking stories.
President Trump today abandoned his effort to put Republican Congressman John Ratcliffe into one of the nation's top national security jobs, the director of national intelligence.
His move comes after reports raised serious questions about whether -- whether some of Ratcliffe's claims about his past accomplishments, including that he arrested over 300 illegal immigrants on a single day as a federal prosecutor, are exaggerated or untrue.
Also breaking, 118 House Democrats now want an inquiry on impeaching President Trump. That's more than half the Democrats in the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi today promised to hold the president accountable. But she stopped short of committing to an impeachment inquiry.
We will discuss all the breaking news with Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. He is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. And our correspondents and experts are also standing by with full coverage of the breaking news.
Let's begin with our White House correspondent, Abby Phillip.
Abby, what's the president saying about his decision to give up on Congressman Ratcliffe?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, President Trump is saying that the media are the ones who are being unfair to John Ratcliffe.
But as these stories have come out this week, he has been surprised by the cold reception this nomination has gotten on Capitol Hill, according to sources who spoke to him. And other White House aides also say this whole episode proves the vetting operation in this White House is not up to snuff, as yet another Trump nominee has to withdraw.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Congressman Ratcliffe is that outstanding man. And I'm sure that he will be able to do very.
PHILLIP (voice-over): Tonight, whiplash at the White House, as President Trump abruptly yanks the nomination of Republican Congressman John Ratcliffe to be his next director of national intelligence just one day after defending him.
TRUMP: I felt that Congressman Ratcliffe was being treated very unfairly.
PHILLIP: Less than a week after announcing the pick, Trump tweeting today that: "Ratcliffe is being treated very unfairly by the lamestream media. Rather than going through months of slander and libel, I explained to John how miserable it would be for him and his family to deal with these people. John has therefore decided to stay in Congress."
The decision coming amid swirling allegations that the Texas lawmaker fabricated parts of his resume and lacked the experience for the job.
According to "The Washington Post," Ratcliffe claimed he arrested 300 illegal immigrants in a single day. But court records and interviews show that's not true. CNN's search of court records did not find any terrorism cases that Ratcliffe prosecuted, despite the claims he made on his congressional Web site.
Trump having it both ways, insisting the coverage of Ratcliffe's false claims has been unfair.
TRUMP: I read things that were just unfair. And he's just too good. He doesn't deserve it.
PHILLIP: But also claiming that the press is part of the White House's vetting process.
TRUMP: If you take a look at it, the vetting process for the White House is very good. But you're part of the vetting process, you know? We save a lot of money that way.
PHILLIP: The two-term congressman leapt to the top of Trump's list replace the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, after this exchange during former special counsel Robert Mueller's congressional testimony last week:
REP. JOHN RATCLIFFE (R-TX): Donald Trump is not above the law. He's not, but he damn sure shouldn't be below the law.
PHILLIP: Privately, the president called Ratcliffe a warrior for defending him. But Democrats cited that moment as proof he couldn't be objective.
SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA): I will go back to what I said when Director Coats left. Director Coats was willing to speak truth to power. I have seen no evidence, at least from what I have read and seen about Mr. Ratcliffe, that he will bring that same level of independence.
PHILLIP: In private , Republican lawmakers also voiced concerns about Ratcliffe's nomination to the White House. And in public, the response was muted.
SEN. MIKE ROUNDS (R-SD): I don't know him. I think he deserves to have our consideration. We will learn more about him. But this one came as a surprise to us.
PHILLIP: Meanwhile, at a campaign rally in Ohio, Trump reveling in the Democrats' infighting during CNN's debate in Detroit.
TRUMP: The Democrats spent more time attacking Barack Obama than they did attacking me, practically.
PHILLIP: And doubling down on his criticism of House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, by talking about the homicide rate in the city Cummings represents.
TRUMP: The homicide rate in Baltimore is significantly higher than El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala.
PHILLIP: Trump even firing off a tweet appearing to make light of a break-in at Cummings' Baltimore home.
Trump tweeting: "Really bad news. The Baltimore house of Elijah Cummings was robbed. Too bad."
That comment prompting rare condemnation from Trump's former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who tweeted: "This is so unnecessary."
Trump seemingly not bothered by the tweet.
TRUMP: Well, that's OK. I don't mind that. The tweet itself was just, really, a repeat of what I heard over the news. That was really not meant as a wise guy tweet.
PHILLIP: And, tonight, there's another update in a case of President Trump has been paying careful attention to. That is the fate of rapper A$AP Rocky, who has been in a prison in Sweden on assault charges.
As of tonight, Rocky is headed back to the United States. And President Trump had a little fun celebrating that in a tweet welcoming him back to the United States, saying: "A$AP Rocky released from prison and on his way home to the United States from Sweden. It was a rocky week. Get home ASAP, A$AP" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Abby Phillip at the White House, thank you.
Let's get some more on the claims made by Congressman Ratcliffe that created so much concern.
Our senior national correspondent, Alex Marquardt, is with us right now.
Alex, what are you learning?
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there are a number of things here that led to Ratcliffe's downfall.
First, very basically, his resume. He had almost no foreign policy or intelligence experience. Certainly, when you compare it to his would- be predecessors as the director of national intelligence, his resume paled in comparison. So that led to the initial uproar, particularly among Democrats, who slammed his lack of experience.
At best, Senate Republicans were lukewarm. And then you start digging into his actual experience. Now, the credential that he held up as most relevant to become the director of national intelligence was his time as U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Texas. He claimed in his bio, as Abby just said, that he put terrorists in prison.
There's no evidence of that. We have searched the records, we have searched court cases. There's no evidence he was a prosecutor on any of those cases.
And then there's also that claim in his bio that he arrested 300 illegal aliens in a single day. That's a pretty bold claim, pretty black and white. The truth is, it was a multistate, multiagency operation. At the end of the day, according to "The Washington Post," just 45 of those illegal workers were prosecuted in his district, and six of them were dismissed.
And then, finally, this was a partisan selection for a job that is profoundly apolitical. Ratcliffe is someone who is in lockstep with the president. He has repeatedly, generally on FOX News, criticized the Mueller investigation, the intelligence agencies' role, and called for investigations into the intelligence agencies.
So when you take all of that together, it became very clear to people on Capitol Hill and in the White House that it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to get Ratcliffe confirmed.
BLITZER: So what happens now?
MARQUARDT: Well, the president needs to come up with a new name. And he said today that he's got three names on his short list. He said that they are very well-known people, that that means the vetting would go very easily.
Interestingly, he said they're from the intelligence world. So if that is true, and they're not partisan, then he could have a much easier time with whoever he selects to get through the Senate.
But the big question, Wolf, also is, who becomes the acting DNI once Dan Coats steps down? Normally, it would be his number two, Sue Gordon. But the White House hasn't said that. There could be an uproar on Capitol Hill if it's not her.
The chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, said he would be shocked. The president has said he likes Gordon, but that is far from certain. So if he doesn't name Gordon as acting, that means that she would probably retire. And then he would be faced with a situation where the president needs to name not just the top person in the intelligence community, but the number two as well.
So that's a lot of responsibility.
BLITZER: And Dan Coats leaves in a couple of weeks. Basically, that's it. Not much time.
Alex, thanks very much for that analysis and reporting.
Let's get some more on the breaking news right now. As of today, the majority of House Democrats now support launching an inquiry that could lead to President Trump's impeachment.
Our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, is joining us live from Capitol Hill.
So, Phil, what are you learning?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, impeachment supporters on Capitol Hill, Wolf, has been targeting the number 118 for months. That is the number that means a majority threshold has been crossed.
The majority of the House Democrats currently support opening an impeachment inquiry, the idea of being with the majority could come more persuasion, if you will, to Speaker Nancy Pelosi to actually launch that inquiry, something that she has said she's not willing to do at this point in time.
But while they have reached that number, it's kind of an important figurehead, but it hasn't actually moved the speaker. The speaker putting out a lengthy statement earlier today, making clear that her current course is the course the party is sticking with, saying at one point: "Democrats in the Congress continue to legislate, investigate and litigate. The president will be held accountable."
And it's really those three buckets that the speaker has made clear is the course that Democrats will continue to pursue, continue their investigations, continue legislation dealing with some of the issues that would -- that have come up, and also continue their work in the courts.
Now, that might not be enough for some of those supporters. But at least one, Congressman Adriano Espaillat, said earlier today he believes that effort will actually bring more people on board with impeachment. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADRIANO ESPAILLAT (D-NY): I think that if we get access to the testimony in the Mueller grand jury, and if we are able to subpoena McGahn before the Judiciary Committee, we will hear -- we will have a greater insight into what happened, and I think more will come our way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: Now, Wolf, it's important to note a majority of the caucus is obviously an important threshold for particularly supporters of this.
But there are not many members in that 118 that actually come from the people that made Speaker Pelosi, Speaker Pelosi, the majority makers, if you will, Democrats who flipped district won by President Trump in 2016. I believe only one is currently on that list of 118.
Keep a very close eye on them. If that dam starts to break, then the political calculation starts to change as well for Democratic leadership. As long as they stay very wary of a potential impeachment inquiry, continue to expect that Speaker Pelosi will stick the course -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Another very interesting development, Phil, on the other side of the aisle.
The only African-American Republican in the House joined the list of lawmakers not seeking reelection. Tell us more.
MATTINGLY: Yes, we're talking about Will Hurd, a congressman who, if you have listened to Republican leaders over the course of the last several years, you have asked them, who's kind of the future of the party, they often pointed to Will Hurd.
If you look at the dynamics here -- he's 41 years old. He's a former CIA undercover officer. He represents a border district down in Texas, 71 percent Latino. He was considered the future of a big tent party, if you will. He's also a national security hawk, somebody that in traditional Republican Party ideologically lines up very well with where Republicans have often been. He's conservative, but he's also a moderate on certain issues that kind of brought him more to the forefront of the party. That has shifted dramatically over the course of the last three years. Obviously, this is President Donald Trump's party. He has a 90 percent approval in the party.
And Will Hurd often found himself on the opposite side of where President Trump was on issues. He voted against him fairly regularly. He spoke out against issues fairly regularly. You note those tweets about sending Democratic members of Congress back. Will Hurd called those racist, said they were bigoted.
He is now leaving Congress. And I think the big question that I have kind of picked up throughout the course of the last 24 hours since he announced that he would be leaving Congress is, what does this actually mean for the party? Is the party no longer a big tent party? Is Will Hurd leaving kind of an omen of what's to come, given the fact that this is now President Trump's party.
I will note, however -- and this is an important thing to consider, Wolf -- Hurd is not leaving the party. He made clear in a very lengthy statement announcing that he would not seek reelection that he remains a Republican, he will continue working to make the Republican Party broader.
And he also did not foreclose the idea of perhaps running for Congress or running for the Senate again, running for elected office again. So keep an eye on him. He's not necessarily going anywhere in the political sense, but he certainly won't be in Congress next year -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, he's got a lot of talent. We will see what happens down the road.
Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill, thanks very much.
With us now, Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. He's a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-MD): Wolf, it's always good to be with you. Thanks.
BLITZER: Let me start with the news on Congressman John Ratcliffe.
What does it say to you that President Trump now so quickly had to backtrack on his pick for such a critically important intelligence position?
CARDIN: Wolf, it shows me that he doesn't do his homework before making nominations, that the vetting process was not done in this case.
Here's a person who did not have the qualifications to be the national director of intelligence. And he certainly was not going to be an objective head for the intelligence community. He would not have had the confidence of the men and women who work and serve our nation in intelligence.
I'm glad that the nomination has been withdrawn. He never should have been nominated in the first place.
BLITZER: The president says he already has some possible replacements in mind.
What type of candidate, Senator, can make it through the Senate confirmation process?
CARDIN: I think what we're looking for someone who is going to be independent, is going to tell the president what he needs to know, and tell the American people what we need to know about the intelligence situation and what's going on.
We saw that with Russia. We had clear information from the intelligence community that Russia attacked our country in the 2016 elections. We, therefore, needed to take action to protect us in the 2020 elections.
That information needed to be presented to both the executive branch and legislative branch of government. So we want a person who's going to make sure that information is made available, regardless of how the president of the United States feels politically about Russia's involvement in our country.
BLITZER: It's interesting you say that, because the development today comes a day after President Trump once again publicly questioned Russia's election interference here in the United States.
Watch and listen to this exchange the president had with reporters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Mr. President, Robert Mueller said last week that Russia is interfering in U.S. elections right now. Did you raise that with Vladimir Putin yesterday?
TRUMP: You don't really believe this. Do you believe this? OK. OK. Fine.
We didn't talk about that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: If you didn't hear that, Senator, the question was: "Mueller said last week that Russia is interfering in the U.S. elections right now. Did you raise that with Vladimir Putin?"
The president said: "You don't really believe that. Do you believe this?"
Reporter said: "He said it last week. Did you raise that with President Putin yesterday?"
"We didn't talk about that."
You have actually, with some of your colleagues, been pushing for new legislation to protect U.S. elections. What are the chances of any such legislation being signed into law before Election Day 2020?
CARDIN: Wolf, we're going to continue to push for it, because we need it. We still have some states that do not have paper trail ballots, so that, if there's manipulation, we will not have the evidence of that.
We know that Russia is engaged in looking at the 2020 elections and they will be involved. We know the other countries are interested.
When I listened to the president today, it reminded me of the press conference he had with Mr. Putin when they had their summit meeting, where he answered a question that Russia may not have been involved in our 2016 election. He later then tried to change that.
But here, again, he's raising questions where the intelligence community has made it very clear that Russia is actively engaged in looking at 2020 elections.
BLITZER: Why is the president so skeptical of Russian interference going forward or Russian interference in 2016?
CARDIN: The only thing I can think of is that he has said from the beginning that Russia was not actively engaged in the 2016 elections.
He certainly gave that impression. For some reason, he equates that with the legitimacy of his own election. So, I think it's a -- there's a lot involved here. But, clearly, the president of the United States needs to protect our free election system.
And he's not taking the appropriate leadership, by his language, in protecting our free election system. If you listen to what the president says, Mr. Putin can interpret that in 2020.
BLITZER: On a different subject, Senator, the president today reacted to that break-in over the weekend of Congressman Elijah Cummings' home in Baltimore.
The president tweeting this: "Really bad news. The Baltimore house of Elijah Cummings was robbed. Too bad."
The president says he was just reacting to the news. He says he wasn't meant for that to be a wise guy tweet, in his words.
You and Congressman Cummings both represent the state of Maryland. You're from Baltimore. So is he. You know him well. You're friends.
What do you think? What did you think when you heard what the president tweeted today?
CARDIN: Wolf, this has been going on now for five or six days. What the president has done is so outrageous for a president of the United States. He should be the president for all America, including the people of Baltimore.
He was trying to distract from the legitimate work that Congressman Cummings is doing in oversight to protect against the abuses of the president. And then he made an attack on Baltimore, appealing to some of the worst instincts in this country.
That should have no place in American politics. Elijah Cummings has done an outstanding job representing the people of Baltimore. And to make fun of the -- of someone trying to get into his home, it just -- you certainly know the president does things that disappoints us all the time, but we always need to speak out, because this is just wrong and should have no place in American politics, and certainly not from the White House.
BLITZER: Yes. Nikki Haley, the former U.N. ambassador, the former governor of South Carolina, she said basically the same thing: Should not -- the president should have said this.
All right, Senator Cardin, thanks so much for joining us.
CARDIN: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, just ahead, we will have more on the breaking news, President Trump now abandoning plans to nominate a Texas congressman for a top job in U.S. intelligence.
Also, a deputy police commissioner says the officer accused of putting Eric Garner in a fatal choke hold should be fired. Why has it taken five years?
BLITZER: The breaking news, President Trump today gave up on nominating Texas Congressman John Ratcliffe to become the next director of national intelligence, blaming the news media after reports raised questions about whether Ratcliffe exaggerated his accomplishments as a federal prosecutor in Texas.
Let's ask our political, legal and national security experts about this.
Phil Mudd, you used to work in the intelligence community. Watch what the president said today when he was meeting with reporters about the vetting process that is under way.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The vetting process for the White House is very good. But you're part of the vetting process, you know? I give out a name to the press, and they vet for me. We save a lot of money that way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is that...
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: What?
BLITZER: Is that what presidents do? They put out a name, and they wait to see how the media plays with it, and then they decide whether to go forward with a nomination?
MUDD: I think we don't call that vetting. We call that a trial balloon.
Let me tell you what's going on here. You would think that there's some huge iceberg of vetting that you got to have here below the surface. You got to look at somebody's financial records, what they did with their college yearbook. You got to figure out whether they paid their nanny.
Let me tell you what the president's covering up here. He has an interface with Congress that sits in the White House. Here's what vetting is: Hey, Joe, hey, Mary, call over to the Congress, count heads on the Oversight Committee, and figure out if they're going to vote for our nominee or not.
It's not that complicated. I think he tweeted before he ever asked his guys, are we going to vote for the guy or not?
BLITZER: He says his vetting process is -- the president says, pretty good, Susan.
But you take a look at some of the failed candidates who have come out there and then very quickly, after their names are out there as potential candidates, you see some of them , the nominations are withdrawn.
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, it's clear that there's actually no vetting process whatsoever. That's pretty much what he's admitting to right here, right?
He lets the media vet people for him? Look, these are really important positions, and the lack of vetting shows the lack of care that the president has for important national security roles, national security roles in which you actually want people who have experience and experience in the field and are able to sort of be respected.
Now, one thing that might actually end up being interesting if acting -- Sue Gordon, who's currently the deputy, who will, under the statute, become the acting DNI as of August 15. She's really widely respected across the I.C., really liked by Republicans and Democrats in Congress.
And so just like we have seen, for example, with Gina Haspel, whenever Mike Pompeo left the CIA director role, we may end up seeing here that whenever Trump actually sees a career official in that acting role, he realizes that, actually, they are the best person for the job over the long term.
BLITZER: Well, certainly, the president is going to be happy when he notes -- and he's watching us right now -- part of the vetting process as far as Sue Gordon is concerned.
She said not that long ago: "The president is actually a really great motivator of change in intelligence. This is a man who wants to do. He wants to take action."
He's going to like that.
HENNESSEY: Yes, it's certainly flattering to the president.
Look, part of the role of the DNI is to communicate intelligence into the president. It needs to be accurate. You also have to develop a rapport with that person. It's one thing that we heard out of Dan Coats again and again, that he really struggled with actually connecting with the president.
So I think that this is a little bit of maybe Gordon showing that actually she is able to do that, she is able to understand sort of the president as her primary intelligence client.
BLITZER: You're shaking your head. You know her. She actually said that today, by the way.
MUDD: Yes, this will never happen, because the nominee...
BLITZER: What will never happen?
MUDD: That she will become the DNI or maybe even acting, because the nomination doesn't have to do with qualification.
Look, the president said the intelligence community has run amok. That includes Dan Coats, the careerists who are at CIA and the FBI. She is a careerist who is under Coats, somebody the president presumably includes in his characterization as the community running amok.
How can he then say, these careerists who aren't loyal to me, I'm going to nominate one to be DNI? It's not about qualifications. It's loyalty. And he can't look at her and say he's going to get that.
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And Phil brings up a really important point, because part of what drew the president to Congressman Ratcliffe in the first place is that he was a staunch Trump ally in Congress.
He used his time at that House Intelligence Committee hearing when Robert Mueller testified about the Russia investigation to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the special counsel. He's one of those people who perpetuated the notion that the entire Russia investigation was a hoax.
And that's precisely why the president wanted someone who he believed was on his side to be the next DNI. BLITZER: And the law that established the director of national intelligence specifically stipulates that that individual must have extensive intelligence expertise.
HENNESSEY: Yes, I mean, look, one of the things -- President Trump might want a loyalist, might want to Trumpist in that role, but I think he's learning that he's not going to get one of those people confirmed.
And we have seen him go through this process before. He floats some names. He even sort of nominates people via Twitter. And when those wash out, he essentially loses interest and ends up with what is effectively an establishment pick.
BLITZER: Just yesterday, Sabrina, we heard the president once again publicly express doubts about Russian interference in U.S. elections.
I will play the clip once again. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Mr. President, Robert Mueller said last week that Russia is interfering in U.S. elections right now. Did you raise that with Vladimir Putin yesterday?
TRUMP: You don't really believe this. Do you believe this? OK. OK. Fine. We didn't talk about that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: I mean, what do you think?
And, Kylie, I want you to weigh in on this as well.
SIDDIQUI: This fits into a pattern where the president has repeatedly cast doubt on the notion that Russia interfered in the U.S. election, despite the widespread conclusion by the intelligence community that that's precisely what happened.
And it was just a week ago that Robert Mueller, when he was asked to really characterize his key takeaway for members of Congress, for the administration, for the American public from his two-year-long investigation, he said it was about the urgency to the American democracy when it comes to this broader threat from Russia.
And he specifically said, in some of his most pointed words, that they're still doing it.
They're doing it right now as we sit right here.
And the president continues to cast doubt on whether that's the case. And he certainly has not taken many actions to deter it from happening in 2020 and beyond. BLITZER: Yes. He doesn't like that but he hears very often from the U.S. intelligence community and with Dan Coats. He's still the Director of National Intelligence. He's publicly disagreed with him on several occasions.
KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Repeatedly. And we also are at a point with Russia where we're not working with them on anything demonstrably. But the White House has said that they are going to work with us in Syria. The State Department has said the same thing. We haven't seen any of that.
And just today, we have the U.S. officially withdrawing from the INF Treaty. And that is something that led -- was started back in the cold war. It's a fundamental of arms control worldwide. It's considered to be a bedrock agreement and now because Russia had been the one who had not been complying for the last six months, the U.S. gave them a heads-up that they were going to be getting out of it.
But the question is now, how do we work with Russia and continuing this? And a senior administration official, when he was discussing this pullout, this situation today was asked, you know, will the U.S. commit to trying to put in place arms controls agreements worldwide. And he put the onus back on Russia saying he wasn't sure if Russia would be the one that would be able to commit to such a thing.
BLITZER: Let me get your thoughts, Phil, on Congressman Will Hurd, a republican of Texas, announcing he's not going to seek reelection. He's only 41 years old. You served with him in the CIA when he was a clandestine officer.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think this is really interesting because the conversation in the past couple of hours has been about him leaving. I don't think that's the real conversation.
Let me couple this with something else that happened in the past, and that's Nikkie Haley did a remarkable job, I think, at the U.N. after the President, also young, a rising star, a lot of experience in the Republican Party. I put both of them together because I think this is the reckoning movement. People are saying, I've got a future in the party. I think in the future, people, including constituents, are going to ask me, what did I do when President Trump was in. They're both, I think, Hurd and Haley, setting themselves up for the future. It's not just about today.
BLITZER: What do you think?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: No, I think that's absolutely right. Certainly, Will Hurd is someone who was a rising star in the party before sort of the party became the party of Trump.
I do think that, you know, the interesting question is what he does from here. Certainly, I would very much doubt it's the last we're going to see of him, including an elective office. You know, I think he does seem to have larger ambitions. But then there's also the question of after he's announced his retirement, he's still going to be serving out the rest of his term. We saw him sort of engaging in harsher questioning of the Mueller -- sort of the election features in the Mueller hearing. We heard him on this show essentially characterized the President's comments as racist.
And so whether or not we're going to see more criticism, more aggressive criticism from Hurd if he doesn't feel like he has an election on the line in a year-and-a-half.
SIDDIQUI: And Will Hurd was the only black republican in the House of Representatives. They only have 13 republican women in the House too, of whom have also said they are retiring. And so as much as the Republican Party has been reluctant to take on the President more broadly because they're concerned about upsetting his base, you are seeing very much the ramifications of the President's rhetoric, of his actions, in terms of not just alienating minorities, people of color and women in terms of voters but also really hindering recruitment efforts for republicans at a time when this country is increasingly diverse, and there are very long-term implications for the ways in which they have struggled when it comes to minority --
BLITZER: You know, Kylie, you mentioned the withdrawal of the United States of the INF Treaty with Russia. But there have been other withdrawals as well including withdrawals involving the Iran nuclear deal, for example, and now the sanctions being posed directly on one of the Iranian architects of that, the Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, the Paris Climate Accord.
Also it's of other withdrawals that we see a new strategy emerging as far as North Korea is concerned, the President putting a very positive step forward on everything the North Koreans are basically doing. What are they saying with the State Department, the career diplomats that you're talking to?
ATWOOD: They're still determined that this president is the key to diplomacy, right? They have acknowledged the fact that, at the working level, things aren't going so well. We have Steve Biegun, who's a Special Representative for North Korea at the ASEAN conferences right now. He was hoping to meet with his North Korean counterpart. It doesn't look like that's going to happen.
Again, at the working level, things just aren't going so well, and that's because President Trump is outfront thinking he can be the one to negotiate.
But as you said, I mean, the U.S. just this week sanctioned the Foreign Minister of Iran. So if the Trump administration does want to actually renew the JCPOA, come up with a new deal, how on earth are they going to be able to do that if they can't talk to the number one negotiator? It doesn't look like the President of Iran is going to come to the table.
And that's what the Iranians said when the Trump administration made that move.
BLITZER: You know, it's interesting because the President's reacting to the latest ballistic missile tests by the North Koreans, he's saying this. He Tweeted that the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, quote, will do the right thing because he is far too smart not to and he does not want to disappoint his friend, President Trump.
He thinks there's a real strong personal friendship at stake here.
SIDDIQUI: And where are the results when it comes to this two-way flattery between the President and Kim Jong-un after that historic summit where the two world leaders sat down for the first time in person? You didn't really see a clear commitment on the part of Pyongyang in terms of denuclearization along the Korean Peninsula.
And when the President downplays these short-range ballistic missile test, he's also sending a message, according to several experts, to South Koreans, as well as to Americans living in the region, that they shouldn't be concerned with what are very real threats.
And it's just not clear what the status of his talks are with North Korea. There certainly hasn't been any substantive progress that the administration can point to.
BLITZER: The President also says that Kim Jong-un has a great and beautiful vision for his country. You wanted to make a point?
ATWOOD: No. I just wanted to say that, of course, as that's happening, as there's, you know, forward movement on negotiations, North Korea continues to develop its nuclear program. That's a reality here. That is a threat to the United States that the U.S. is having to deal with, having to monitor, having to watch while the President is still saying nice things about Kim Jong-un.
BLITZER: On a very different subject, let me get your thoughts because we haven't discussed this, Susan. James Comey, the fired FBI Director, there was a recommendation or a referral from the Inspector General over the Justice Department, Michael Horrowitz, that maybe this -- quote, what Comey did should be referred to law enforcement, to prosecutors, because he may have broken the law revealing classified information. The Justice Department lawyers all went through it and said there's no laws that were broken, we're not going to go forward with this. What's your analysis?
HENNESSEY: Well, there's a little bit of an irony here, and it's coming full circle that James Comey may have accidentally, inadvertently shared information that later was deemed to be confidential at the confidential level. Of course, that's also what happened to Hillary Clinton, sort of the chain of events that set all of this off.
You know, look, the President is certainly going to try and use and spin this Inspector General report to somehow suggest that Comey engaged in wrongdoing. That's just not what happened. That's not what the Inspector General report says. It says that, basically, they were trying their best, as all Inspector General reports do. They found some sort of issues and process issues, but I think pretty much this is DOJ closing the book on any allegations of wrongdoing in terms of de-chairing of this --
BLITZER: The President clearly accuses Comey of breaking the law. But doesn't the FBI Director have classification authority to decide what should be or what shouldn't be classified? And if they go ahead after he does what he does, they then say, well, some of that information was confidential, and, really, even though it wasn't at the time and that may have been a problem.
MUDD: Absolutely. I mean, this is a joke. Can you imagine going to a judge saying, initially, this was unclassified or sensitive. Someone then decided later down the road it's confidential, we want to process --
BLITZER: That's the lowest form of classification.
MUDD: Yes, that's right. I mean, there's a couple of points here. Number one, national security information, when you release, it means you're giving the adversary an advantage and you're exposing something about how the U.S. collects intelligence. This stuff is a about a conversation between the FBI Director and the President. Can you tell me what we're revealing to an adversary?
The second thing, a little inside baseball, when you see top secret code word released, that's a problem. Confidential is one of the lowest levels of classification.
BLITZER: I think it's the lowest, Phil.
MUDD: Not the lowest, but it's about what's the low for officially- use only, I suspect, you could say, but that's not even classified.
HENNESSEY: They're law enforcement sensitive.
HENNESSEY: But, no, it is certainly one of the lowest. It's hard -- usually, it's not even referred to as classified information.
MUDD: My point is I suspect the grocery list for the White House is classified confidential. You cannot go into a judge and say I'm going to put this guy in some sort of judicial risk, because at some point somebody decided a conversation with the President might reach the lowest level of classification. This is a joke.
BLITZER: On Afghanistan, you have done some excellent reporting, Kylie. The U.S. -- the President apparently wants to remove a lot of U.S. troops, a lot of U.S. diplomats, a lot of U.S. contractors from Afghanistan and there are enormous numbers right now. What are you hearing?
ATWOOD: So what we're hearing that's new is that the Trump administration, the State Department, is in the midst of drawing down from the embassy in Afghanistan by 50 percent. That's their goal. They want to cut it in half by the end of September. That's a pretty staggering rate at which they're moving right now.
BLITZER: Within two months, yes.
ATWOOD: So they're in the middle of that. That's happening while Ambassador Khalilzad, our top negotiator with the Taliban, is meeting with the Taliban and hoping to establish some sort of agreement with them that would then lead to a troop withdrawal. They're hoping that the number troops in Afghanistan could go from 15,000. That's about where it is right now, to between 8,000 and 9,000.
And the new thing here is that we know the numbers. We know, according to my sources, that Ambassador Khalilzad has talked to the Afghan government about these numbers. We are not in the midst of that troop withdrawal yet but they are certainly moving towards it if they can come to a peace agreement with the Taliban.
BLITZER: It's been 18 years, Phil, the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan still continues, hard to believe it's still continuing. You have a a brand new, very hot, very important book that has just come out. Let's put it up. There you see it right there, Black Site, The CIA in the Post-9/11 World. And you've got some really important information. But give us a headline or two why our viewers should be interested in what you've written.
MUDD: Pretty simple. If you look at the stuff that the intel community is involved in today, for example, the Russia stuff and the election security stuff, go back 18 years. And what I tried to do, I interviewed about 35 people, most of whom will never appear on CNN. They have never spoken. Go back 18 years and live in the shoes of people who decided to open detention facilities and detain Al Qaeda guys with aggressive interrogation techniques.
I wanted America to be able to step back in a way that haven't yet and say what happened. Whether they like it or not, I want them to live it, so that that piece of history never dies. That's what the book is about.
BLITZER: So the mistakes that were made, and you document plenty of mistakes that were made in those so-called black sites where the detention -- the interrogation was going on don't happen again. Is that your deal (ph)?
MUDD: That's part of it. But also there are successes there and for people who like this or don't before they say, we want to critique you for mistakes or before they give us too much credit, they ought to live what it was like, because, pretty soon, it's going to be forgotten.
BLITZER: You lived it.
MUDD: I did. I never want to live it again. We sat there in 2002 and I thought we were losing. When we had our first detainee, the question was, if we're losing, if there's another 9/11 and we didn't use aggressive techniques, what will people say? There was a lot of that going on.
BLITZER: Congratulations on your new book. It's an important book, and I recommend it highly to our viewers out there because of important lessons to be learned.
Much more right after this.
[18:46:44] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're back with our national security analyst, Susan Hennessey.
Susan, you're the narrator of a new podcast explaining the Mueller report, very understandable ways. I want to ask you about that. But let's listen to this brief excerpt.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Reading the report is hard. It's long. It's dense factually and covers an immense amount of ground. It's got a lot of law, blocks of black redactions make portions nearly unreadable. It's one of the most important and consequential documents of our time.
But a lot of people aren't reading it. Members of Congress aren't reading it. Members of press aren't really reading it. You can forgive the average citizen if they aren't reading it either.
This podcast tells the story that Mueller does, but in a format that's a little more manageable. Buried and you the legalese is a hell of a story, part gripping spy teller, part tale of White House intrigue, part alarm bell for anyone who cares about democracy around the world.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BLITZER: That sounds very, very impressive. But for everyone who hasn't necessarily read all 448 pages and footnotes of the Mueller report, what story lines are you highlighting?
HENNESSEY: Yes. So, we are just sticking to the story that Robert Mueller actually tells, the story of what the Russian social media manipulation operation looked like, what the hacking operation looked like and also what the report says about what the Trump campaign and his associates knew about those operations at the time, what they did, their efforts to actually sort of go out and obtain a set of hacked emails that it turns out may not have existed.
So, it's not diving into the question of whether you want to call it collusion or sort of the legal conclusions, it's just the facts so that the American public can listen to the story in sort of compelling, digestible format and decide for themselves what it means.
BLITZER: So, what are you doing to make the Mueller report more readable, more digestible?
HENNESSEY: So, essentially, we're telling it -- we're just telling the story. It's a little bit like listening to a true crime podcast. We're just going through what happened. We're having journalists who told the story, who covered it in real time, including some of the journalists who broke the story of the Mueller investigation on CNN, on this very show.
You know, coming -- they're coming in, giving the listener sort of a context, telling them the story of what happened. There's no hot takes, there's no political commentary. Really, just taking to -- really, this remarkable, fascinating and really, really consequential story that Robert Mueller has laid out for the American public.
BLITZER: You clearly want to give the Mueller report more exposure to the American public and to detail some of the specific charges that were included there, including obstruction.
HENNESSEY: Yes. We think that the Mueller report is one of the most consequential documents of our time, it is incredibly important, regardless of what political party you might be a part of. Just understanding what the Russians did, understanding what happened on the American side.
You know, we hear a lot that sort of the American public, they've seen the Mueller report, they don't care, they don't support impeachment, everyone wants to move on. We've seen an overwhelming response of this podcast, it went number one to the charts really with almost no publicity. And we think that this really demonstrates the proposition.
But, you know, people care about this report, they still care about this report, but they need help in understanding and breaking down of what it means.
[18:50:01] BLITZER: Thank you for what you're doing. Very, very important work.
And to our viewers, you can find the first three episodes of the podcast called "The Report" at Lawfareblog.com, or wherever you get your podcast. Susan Hennessey is doing an amazing job. Thanks to Susan.
When we come back, a firing recommendation for the police officer accused of putting Eric Garner a chokehold. Why has it taken five years to reach a decision?
BLITZER: This Sunday, an all new episode of CNN original series "THE MOVIES" explores American cinema of 1960s.
Our Tom Foreman takes a closer look at how the decade's political upheavals and technological advances influenced Hollywood.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Movies about psychotic killers, lurking assassins, zombies, demons. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What have you done to it?
FOREMAN: The annihilation of everything.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You made it.
FOREMAN: In the 1960s, with Cold War raging and society in turmoil, the film business embraced fear. Even in dark comedies like "Dr. Strangelove".
STEVEN SPIELBERG, DIRECTOR, "SAVING PRIVATE RYAN": I came out of the movie fearing nuclear war with the Russian more than I ever had before. It really takes to you Armageddon.
FOREMAN: Hollywood itself was scared, facing its own doomsday device, television.
[18:55:00] JOHN LANDIS, DIRECTOR: In the '60s, the studios were staggering from people not going to theaters. It's hard to compete with free stuff in the living room.
FOREMAN: The answer at least for a while was to turn to big pictures, too big for tiny screens, and fans loved them.
ALONSO DURALDE, FILM CRITIC: But also, those movies were too big and they were too difficult to make. You look at something like "Cleopatra" cost, it nearly not only crippled one studio but the business.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now, really, Harry.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Harry was the other guy. I'm Sid.
FOREMAN: So, the business kept changing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They call me Mr. Tibs.
FOREMAN: With fresh directors, stars and stories.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm the best you've ever seen. I'm the best there is.
FOREMAN: Taking on the same topics the nation was engaging.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You shouldn't be defending him, then why are you doing it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Gregory Peck's Atticus Finch really does help America sort of come into the discourse of the civil rights struggle.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When we think of classic Hollywood, we think of romance and glamour. That begins to break down in the '60s and we start to get a more complex view of human psychology.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mrs. Robinson you are trying to seduce me.
FOREMAN: Where was it all heading, Hollywood didn't know. But as America rode out of the 60s, who did.
BLITZER: Thanks to CNN's Tom Foreman for that preview.
Be sure to tune this Sunday, 9:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific for CNN's original series, "THE MOVIES".
Just ahead, more than 5 years after it happened, police officials say the officer who put Eric Garner a fatal chokehold should be fired.
BLITZER: Finally tonight, important developments in the case of a white New York City police officer accused of fatally choking an African-American man. Eric Garner's death in 2014 generated national outrage. Garner's last words were, "I can't breathe".
Today, a police department deputy commissioner recommended the policeman, Daniel Pantaleo, should be fired. He had been on desk duty since Garner's death. The case has dragged on because the Obama Justice Department got involved and only two weeks ago the Trump administration decided not to file any federal charges. It's now up to New York's police commissioner to act.
We'll stay on top of the story.
Thanks to our viewers for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.