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Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D) Illinois Interviewed About Corey Lewandowski; Rep. Tlaib Rejects Conditional Israeli Offer To Allow Visit; Reports: Trump Anxious And "Rattled" Over Economy. Greenland Throws Cold Water on President Trump's Reported Interest in Buying the Island for the U.S.; Authorities Say Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Others "Extremely Lucky" to Survive Plane Crash; North Korea Couples Missile Launch, Diplomatic Jab. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 16, 2019 - 17:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news.

Happy to testify. Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski says he will happily come before the House Judiciary Committee. Will his story convince lawmakers or the public that President Trump didn't try to obstruct justice during the Mueller investigation. Or will it convince Democrats that the president ought to be impeached?

Not going home. Israel reverses course that agrees to led Representative Rashida Tlaib visit her grandmother in her family's ancestral home in the West Bank but the congresswoman turns down the offer. And now she's slamming the restrictions she would have had to follow if she went. It started a new round of angry finger pointing.

Love me or hate me. Amid reports, President Trump is worried about the economy, and a possible recession. He comes up with a creative new argument. Telling a crowd that love him or hate him, everyone has to vote for him because the economy will crash and wipe out their retirement savings if he loses.

Walking away. We're learning frightening new details about the plane crash that retired NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. walked away from with only minor injuries, including that the plane bounced twice before running off the runway.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: this is CNN Breaking News.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news.

This afternoon, President Trump's former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said he's happy to come testify before the House Judiciary Committee. Democrats want to ask him about the section of the Mueller report that raises questions about whether President Trump obstructed justice. Lewandowski says he will explain why there was no obstruction and no collusion. Also tonight, there's fresh fallout from Israel's decision at President Trump's urging to deny permission for two Democratic congresswomen to visit the country. An Israeli official lifted the ban for one of the lawmakers Rashida Tlaib who wanted to visit her grandmother in the West Bank. But the congresswoman turned down the offer because it came with conditions she refuses to accept.

Also tonight, we're hearing the president is frustrated and by some reports rattled over signs the U.S. economy may be headed for a recession. At a rally last night, he raised the specter of a market crash wiping out people's retirement savings if he loses the election telling the crowd, and I'm quoting him now, "Love me or hate me, you've got to vote for me."

I'll get reaction from Democratic Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi of the Intelligence and Oversight Committees and our correspondents and analysts will have full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's start with our congressional reporter Phil Mattingly in the breaking news. Phil, what is Corey Lewandowski saying about testifying before the Judiciary Committee?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, for months, House Democrats have tried and mostly failed to get some of President Trump's top advisors closest officials in his orbit to come to Capitol Hill and testify. Testify publicly or behind closed doors. That is about to change.

Corey Lewandowski, one of the campaign manager for President Trump in 2016, one of his closest outside advisors still today, saying in a Fox News radio interview he would be happy to come and testify in front of the committee. That follows the committee's decision to subpoena Lewandowski yesterday to bring him to Capitol Hill for a public hearing on September 17th.

Now, Lewandowski, in the Fox News radio interview said he would be willing to come up and testify and that he believed he needed to -- he would defend President Trump and he needed to show that the investigation was a witch hunt. To give you a sense of how he plans on approaching that potential testimony.

One of the key issues here is that Lewandowski has been a close outside advisor to the president and was involved in some of the central issues that the Judiciary Committee is investigating in their effort to do potential impeachment. It's also worth noting he was on Air Force One with President Trump last night as President Trump went to New Hampshire. He is currently, Wolf, considering a run for the New Hampshire Senate.

BLITZER: So what else potentially could Corey Lewandowski say in an open session before the House Judiciary Committee that would raise further questions about possible obstruction?

MATTINGLY: This is a central witness for Democrats and the reason why you just go into the Mueller report. There are two specific instances in the Mueller report where Corey Lewandowski is cited specifically. He spoke to the special counsel.

I want to read one passage, in particular, to you. Where Corey Lewandowski - where it says, quote, "On June 19th, 2017, the president met one-on-one in the Oval Office with his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, a trusted advisor outside the government, and dictated a message for Lewandowski to deliver to Sessions. The message said that Sessions should publicly announce that, notwithstanding his recusal from the Russia investigation, the investigation was 'very unfair' to the president, the president had done nothing wrong, and Sessions planned to meet with the special counsel and let him move forward with investigating election meddling for future elections."

[17:05:12] Now, Wolf, when you talk to Democrats in the Judiciary Committee, they made two things clear. One in the obstruction piece, this is one of the key elements, the idea of President Trump trying to stand in the way, get rid of or undercut in one way or another the special counsel.

And the other is that Corey Lewandowski has been a key target for them in this investigation. Not just because of these instances in the Mueller report but because in particular he has not served in the White House. Many of the reasons that they've been able to block so many advisors on executive privilege grounds because Corey Lewandowski never served in the White House, they believe that they could not utilize that.

Now, Kaitlan Collins, our colleague, reported yesterday the White House had been considering, trying to figure out if they could use some executive privilege here but at least at this point in time Corey Lewandowski says on September 17th he plans on attending the --

BLITZER: He's very open. He's saying in this interview, he's got nothing to hide. There's no collusion, no obstruction. The last time he testified behind closed doors before the - one of these congressional committees, Democrats were asking him questions and he was refusing to answer questions. There are some Democrats who are concerned this could become a circus.

MATTINGLY: I think that is one of the big concerns. The times that he'd spoken to Democrats in the committee has been behind closed doors, at one point, he said, I'm, quote, "not answering your bleeping questions." An the idea that there is also politics involved in this, that he's considering a Senate race right now against a Democratic incumbent, that he's such an ardent defender of the president, even what he said in the Fox News interview about it being a witch hunt, he called the Democratic members of the committee phonies that the potential for this to turn into a political circus turned into a platform for Corey Lewandowski is something that people could be nervous about.

But the reality is this. He is such a central component to what Democrats on that committee are trying to do. And keep in mind, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler made very clear, they are in the middle of an impeachment investigation and they are considering articles of impeachment by the end of this year. And Corey Lewandowski and his involvement in the specific issue in the Mueller report is a key piece of that. Wolf?

BLITZER: As you point out, he's thinking of running for the Senate from New Hampshire. All right, Phil, thank you very much.

Let's go to CNN's Kaitlan Collins. She's been traveling with the president. She's in New Jersey outside of his resort over there. Kaitlan, is there any reaction so far from the White House to what we just heard about Corey Lewandowski?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Corey Lewandowski being open to testifying could signal that the White House is optimistic that that strategy of potentially invoking executive privilege so he doesn't have to answer questions about conversations he's had with President Trump could be a successful one even though he's never worked in the White House and Democrats and executive privilege experts say absolutely not. That is not something that you can do.

White House officials are still figuring out how to proceed with this as others in their colleagues are dealing with the fallout after the president urged Israel to not let those two Democratic congresswomen that he's been feuding with for weeks, enter the country even though Israel relented today under certain circumstances for one of those women, she says her travel plans have changed.


COLLINS (voice-over): Tonight Congressman Rashida Tlaib is rejecting Israel's offer to visit her family on the West Bank. An offer that came with conditions one day after the country denied her and Congresswoman Ilhan Omar entry at President Trump's urging.

"Visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in," Tlaib explained on Twitter.

Those conditions would have included a pledge not to promote boycotts against Israel while she was there. The president has faced widespread criticism for getting involved.


JOE LIEBERMAN (I-CT), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: It is disrespect for the Congress and the American political system for our ally to keep two members of Congress out of Israel.


COLLINS: But sources tell CNN, the president's advisors believe his fight with four freshman Democrats who call themselves "The Squad" could benefit him in 2020 which is why the president keeps hammering them on the campaign trail.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It really is keep America great. Because we have these socialists who want to take it away from us.


COLLINS: The one message sources tell CNN advisors fear won't work out for him is the economy. Shaky markets and unpredictable trade talks are stoking fears of a recession inside the White House.

At a campaign rally overnight in New Hampshire, the president struck a dire tone.


TRUMP: You have no choice but to vote for me because your 401(k)'s, down the tubes, everything is going to be down the tubes. So whether you love me or hate me, you got to vote for me.


COLLINS: With re-election on his mind, Trump now finds himself defending the very policies that are rattling investors.


TRUMP: And we're imposing beautiful well-placed tariffs.


COLLINS: Even admitting that his trade war with China may not end quickly.


TRUMP: I never said China was going to be easy.


COLLINS: Something he actually did say just last year when the president noted that trade wars are easy.

[17:10:02] Amid the long-running trade war between Washington and Beijing, the Trump administration is moving ahead tonight with an $8 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan, a move guaranteed to anger the Chinese at a time when officials are trying to get trade talks back on track.

Earlier today, the president met with his national security team at his New Jersey golf resort for a briefing on the state of the U.S./Taliban peace negotiations, talks that could end America's longest-running war. The U.S. still has roughly 14,000 troops in Afghanistan. And Trump has been adamant that he wants them out soon.

In the meanwhile, CNN has learned the president was forced to make an awkward phone call from Air Force One after he mocked the weight of a person he thought was a protester at his rally.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: That guy has got a serious weight problem. Go home, start exercising. Now he goes home and his mom says what the hell have you just done?


COLLINS: But it was Trump who was left wondering what he had done after it was revealed the man he mocked was actually one of his supporters. A White House official telling CNN, Trump did not apologize but left the man a voice mail thanking him for his support. That supporter, Frank Dawson, said there are no hard feelings over the mix-up.


FRANK DAWSON, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Everything is good. I love the guy. He's the best thing that ever happened to this country.



COLLINS: Now, Wolf, the president has a habit of mocking protesters at these rallies but of course he doesn't typically go after his own supporters. Once aides realized the mix up they went to Frank Dawson and got his information so the president could later call him but they did stress today the president did not say the words I'm sorry or I apologize, he only thanked the man for his support. Wolf?

BLITZER: Kaitlan, good reporting. Thank you very much.

Joining us now, Democratic Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, he's a member of both the Oversight and Intelligence committees. Congressman thanks so much for joining us. Let me quickly get your reaction to the breaking news that Corey Lewandowski now says he will testify before the House Judiciary Committee and he will insist there was no collusion, no obstruction. But if he's uncooperative with your colleagues, refuses to answer questions, how useful will his testimony be.

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL): Well, I think that there are two things that come to mind. One is he's going to be testifying under oath. And so he's got to be very careful in what he says because obviously there was evidence to support what Special Counsel Mueller said about what he recounted in his conversations with President Trump.

And then, secondly, there is no executive privilege governing those conversations. He's not a member of the White House or the executive administration. And so I think that he would be subject to potentially subpoena for directly answering certain questions if he refused.

BLITZER: The Mueller report outlined Lewandowski's role in what is described as potential obstruction of justice. You don't support a formal impeachment inquiry - at least not yet. Could his testimony impact your stance on that?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Possibly. I would like to hear what he said about his conversations with the president and the president basically telling him to instruct Jeff Sessions to do something that he wasn't supposed to be doing. I think that the more we learn about those conversations, the better.

BLITZER: Another sensitive issue I want to get to, you're following -- all of us are following Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib's decision not so visit Israel in the West Bank after Israel put certain conditions on her visit. What do you make of these late developments?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, first of all, I thought that was outrageous for the president to inject domestic politics into this relationship that we have with Israel that has largely been a bipartisan one for decades. I was very disappointed. I thought it was a serious mistake on the part of the Israeli government to acquiesce to his particular request. And I think it is -- it is logical that Congresswoman Tlaib would not want to go to Israel under any conditions that would be put on what she could say and do while she was there given that no such conditions had ever been imposed on other members of Congress.

I think the larger point here, Wolf, is that the president is disrespecting Congress in his actions and while we may not share these -- the viewpoints of these particular members of Congress, we very much believe that members of Congress should be able to conduct oversight and should be able to travel unimpeded by the president.

BLITZER: It is a widely held view here in Washington, not only by Democrats but even a whole bunch of Republicans --

[17:15:00] KRISHNAMOORTHI: That is right.

BLITZER: -- as well. They are very disappointed in these late developments. Congressman Krishnamoorthi as usual thanks so much for joining us.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Yes, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, why has President Trump been asking about the possibility of the United States buying Greenland?

Also, investigators say the plane carrying NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his family bounced twice before it ran off a runway. Yet everyone on board survived.


[17:20:17] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. The former Trump aide Corey Lewandowski who was campaign manager says he's willing to appear before a House committee conducting a potential impeachment investigation into the president.

Let's bring in our legal and political experts for some analysis. And Jackie, Corey Lewandowski said he would be, quote, "happy to testify before Congress." But some Democrats already fear if he refuses to answer a bunch of questions this could turn out to be a circus.

JACKIE ALEMANY, AUTHOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST: POWER UP": Yes, completely, 100 percent. I mean there is a reason why Corey Lewandowski has remained in the president's good graces and that's because he is a reliable surrogate for the president, extoling praise on him at every single turn, regardless of the way the president has treated Corey. But it does seem like there could potentially be some sort of quid pro quo here. Corey is going to be appearing before this hearing saying that he has nothing to say but positive things that there is no obstruction of justice. This is a witch hunt and things he said in the past as your correspondent Phil Mattingly just said.

He told investigators behind closed doors that you know he wasn't going to answer that bleeping question. And you know he is potentially announcing his run for Senate in New Hampshire, a state that the Trump campaign is really focused on. So you know obviously he is -- he can't lie before Congress. That would be in violation of the law. But I doubt that Corey will say anything that is going to be damaging or negative and I think we could even see potentially Senate campaign ad cut from this appearance.

BLITZER: Because you heard the president last night in that rally in New Hampshire basically endorse Corey Lewandowski and one of the points he made or maybe the first point he made is he's great on TV.

ALEMANY: Just like the most important thing to this president.

BLITZER: That is what he was telling people in New Hampshire. A huge crowd there --


BLITZER: -- at that rally. Sam, the Mueller report lays out some specifics about potential obstruction of justice including the president asking Lewandowski to pressure then Attorney General Jeff Sessions to rein in the special counsel's investigation. That is a significant point that members of the House Judiciary Committee will press him on.

VINOGRAD: Exactly. And let's remember Lewandowski is in a different category than other folks that have been subpoenaed by House Judiciary. He will not most likely be able to claim executive privilege based upon the fact he hasn't worked at the White House. He's been an outside advisor. And one of the key issues for the committee when they question Lewandowski gets to intent. Because Lewandowski was with the president when he did things like try to pressure Sessions to end this investigation, to try to do a deal to only investigate future election cycles, Lewandowski can if he's testifying honestly speak to whether the president knew what he was doing, had knowledge of whether he would be breaking the law by trying to obstruct justice and again get back to this question of intent. That makes the House Judiciary Committee's questions and what they really focus on all the more important.

BLITZER: Joey, since he never worked in the White House, worked in the government, he was a campaign manager, if the White House decided they wanted to assert executive privilege, would they have a legal case?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It does not appear so. But that doesn't mean they won't try it any way. So what is executive privilege? Look, privilege is a very important. They are important because you want candid advice, right? You want say for example attorney/client privilege, you want when you sit down with a client for them to tell you everything and for you not to repeat that. Otherwise they will not give you their best so relate it by analogy to the president. Someone comes in the executive office. You want them. There is an advisor. There's another government official, you want to have a conversation that will not be front page news as a result of that executive privilege is something that's very important.

However, the issue applies to people working in the government to protect the internal deliberative process of the government. When you are talking back to your original question about someone who was an informal advisor and not a government official, then the privilege does not apply.

And so, again, the president will obstruct in terms that he does obstruct and that is not have anyone go to Congress. Don McGahn executive privilege, Hope Hicks executive privilege, it will not work with Corey Lewandowski.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by. I want to take a quick break. There is a lot more we need to discuss and we will right after this.


[17:29:15] BLITZER: Let's get back to our political experts. You know, April, as the markets are showing some signs - potential signs of trouble, getting wobbly right now, some economists are suggesting there could be a recession, the president seemed to try out a new campaign theme at his political rally in New Hampshire last night. Listen to this.


TRUMP: You have no choice but to vote for me. Because your 401(k)'s, down the tubes. Everything's going to be down the tubes. So whether you love me or hate me, you got to vote for me.


BLITZER: What do you make of that argument?

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, this kind of goes along with the line of when the president was running for president the first time and asking the black community, what do you have to lose.

[17:30:00] The CBC came out, have show and tell, the CBC came out with this saying we have a lot to lose. Basically, this premise of the president you just need to vote more me because you need to vote for me.

Basically, this premise of the President, you just need to vote for me because you need to vote for me doesn't wash, particularly when this is a president who had a temper tantrum over a wall and shut the government down to the angst and the chagrin of government employees, those companies and businesses that worked around employees, the government offices.

And the GDP didn't move. You know, those in rural America are hurting right now because of the tariffs. You have the clothing industry. We are possibly going into a recession with the Dow dropping. The President says anything out of his mouth, and it affects the markets.

People need to use critical thinking. It's not just, "vote for me because I'm entertaining." Politics is personal. And if your pocket -- if you go in your pocket and you pull it out and there's lint, that's going to show up at the polls.

BLITZER: You know, Jackie what do you make of his point, love me or hate me, you've got to vote for me?

ALEMANY: Well, we've, at the "Post," been reporting just how worried people inside the White House are about the volatility of the markets and potentially dropping into a recession. And Trump's comment last night actually runs counter to exactly the effect that a recession would have on his re-elect, which is that it would undercut his incumbent advantage.

And, you know, as we've seen with a lot of his supporters, who have been repelled by his language and a lot of the more inflammatory remarks he's made in his presidency, they've excused that because of the economy and the upswing it's been on since Trump's taken office. Largely due to a lot of the work that Obama did, but that being said, this would hurt the President.

And if this is really the only excuse that he can come back to convince his voters why they should continue to allow his tweets, his rhetoric, his trade war to continue this kind of market volatility, I think they're going to have to do a better job convincing voters otherwise.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. There's other report -- news we're following. The President's reported interest in buying Greenland is being met with a chilly reception in the island territory.

Our senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen is in the southeastern part of Greenland. He's got more. Fred, what are you hearing?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Wolf. Well, the people here in southeastern Greenland really seem to be almost mocking President Trump's idea to possibly buy or acquire Greenland. This country's government has said, quote, that Greenland is not for sale.

And folks that we've been speaking to have said, look, this is something that the U.S. has tried in the past. They talked about 1867 in the period shortly after World War II. And one resident said it's simply not going to happen.

Now, on the face of it, it might not be such a crazy idea for the United States to want Greenland. This place is apparently very rich in natural resources. And what's been going on in the past couple of years is that Chinese companies have been trying to move in and exploit those resources, and so that's, of course, something that the U.S. is not very fond of.

This place is also strategically extremely important. America has a big military base here and even early warning system for ballistic missiles, so it is something, on the face of it, would make sense.

But of course, if Greenland does have all of these natural resources if they manage to exploit them, the first thing they'll want to do is they'll want full independence. Right now, they're still semi- autonomous. They're still part of Denmark. So before wanting to become part of the United States, it's possible they would rather become independent.

One thing President Trump would probably have to do is finally acknowledge that the global climate crisis is real. As you can see behind me, there's a lot of icebergs that are currently breaking off glaciers here as this was one of the warmest summers in this country's history -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very interesting. Fred Pleitgen, thank you very much, on the scene for us in Greenland.

You know, Samantha, from a national security standpoint, how important is Greenland?

VINOGRAD: Well, it depends on who you ask, President Trump or actual national security experts. From a national security perspective, Wolf, there is a reason why we have a military base in Greenland. It's our northern-most base and provides us critical access when it comes to countering countries like Russia and defending against missiles and other kinds of movements in that region.

From President's Trump -- President Trump's perspective, it is an area rich in natural resources. And what we're seeing right now is a new Cold War in a very cold region of the world, the Arctic. And that is why this is the time that we should be working with Greenland, we should be working with Denmark, on countering Chinese and Russian influence in the region as allies rather than embarking on potentially looking at a real estate purchase.

And final point, Wolf, President Trump can't and/or is unwilling to maintain the territorial integrity of the United States, the territories currently under his control. Now is not the time to be looking to add more to that.

BLITZER: Well, he likes real estate as we all know.

VINOGRAD: He does. He does. BLITZER: You know, Joey, what do you think? Because the government

of Greenland, they actually reacted today by saying Greenland is not for sale.

JACKSON: Well, look, the reality is, is that everything has a price, right? And so, it should be noted by way of history that, apparently, this was explored in 1946, I believe, under Truman. It didn't go anywhere but did happen.

[17:35:03] And then by way of historical significance, too, remember, the Louisiana purchase happened in 1803, right, as it related to France. In addition to that, we also have Russian purchase, right, or at least Alaska purchased from Russia, I think, in 1867. So there's some precedent for this to occur. Times have changed, it doesn't happen, but it's not as crazy as you might think at first blush.

BLITZER: Well, let me ask April. What do you think? Because you're smiling -- you seem to be laughing about the whole thing.

RYAN: Yes, because we're being very cerebral about this. Sources close to the President have told me that, behind his back, they were laughing because this was not well thought out at all.

BLITZER: Because I know -- he did ask his advisers to give him a legal review. Is it even theoretically possible?

ALEMANY: Yes. And I think that what is --

RYAN: It is (ph).

ALEMANY: -- important here is that, you know, one adviser weighed in and said that the President hasn't brought this up in a campaign rally, which would be probably a talking point that would receive a lot of applause which shows that he might not actually be serious about this.

But I think Fred in Greenland actually made a really good point, which is that if he was going to be seriously considering buying this, he probably would be well served to admit that climate change does exist and is currently rapidly melting the region.

VINOGRAD: But come on. I mean, President Trump has been cutting funding for military bases and other alliances. This is what he's been saving up for? I mean, this is kind of like a give me a break moment, right?

I mean, we are literally throwing allies under the bus, and he's wasting time and wasting his lawyers' time and others looking at whether it's legally possible to purchase a territory from our ally, Denmark. Why doesn't he spend the time sitting down with Denmark, sitting down with Greenland, and talking about actual national security interests rather than wasting time?

BLITZER: Well, April, the -- Denmark actually said what Greenland is saying, it's not for sale. RYAN: You know, I'm going to back to what Joey says, if the right

price is there, it could be. But, you know, again, this President throws everything out there just to throw something at the wall to see if it sticks, and we're doing a lot of talking and this President really is not seriously thinking as much about this as we are. So it's going to be on to the next subject. He might want to buy Paris the next day, who knows? So it's just -- you -- I hate to say that, but, I mean, you have to laugh to keep from crying.

ALEMANY: I don't know, April. Paris isn't what it used to be, according to the president.


RYAN: All right, now.

BLITZER: All right, guys, I love Paris in the springtime. Everybody, stand by. There's a lot more news we're following.

Authorities say NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and others are extremely lucky after walking away from a horrific plane crash. We're going to bring you the latest on the investigation.

Plus, more provocation from North Korea in the form of missile tests. Is Kim Jong-un also testing the limits of President Trump's patience?


[17:42:28] BLITZER: Tonight, new details on the plane crash involving NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Despite the horrific wreckage left behind by the accident, Earnhardt, his wife, and three others were able to escape without serious injury.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher has been tracking the story for us. Dianne, tell us what you're learning.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, the NTSB out here today. Right now, they're dismantling that private plane behind me. They're going to take it to a facility in Georgia where they will continue their investigation into the cause.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at how high the fireball is going.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Tonight, the National Transportation Safety Board on the ground investigating this fiery plane crash that retired NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. managed to escape holding his 15- month-old daughter, Isla. His wife, Amy; their dog, Gus; the plane's two pilots also rushing to safety. Authorities say, despite the flames and thick black smoke, no one was injured beyond some cuts and bruises.

SHERIFF DEXTER LUNCEFORD, CARTER COUNTY, TENNESSEE: We removed the package (ph) involved in the plane crash. Everything else went -- they're all extremely lucky. GALLAGHER (voice-over): Investigators are climbing through what is

left of the now-charred Cessna Citation aircraft, pulling out luggage and a child seat. The NTSB has not determined a cause for what it is calling a, quote, firm landing at Elizabethton Municipal Airport.

RALPH HICKS, SENIOR AIR SAFETY INVESTIGATOR, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: The airplane basically bounced at least twice before coming down hard on the right main landing gear.

The aircraft actually went down into the ditch, came back up, before it came to rest.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): The skid marks in the grass still visible. A part of the airport fence wrapped around the fuselage.

BARRY CARRIER, FIRE CHIEF, ELIZABETHTON FIRE DEPARTMENT: If that would've been where the door was, it would've been a lot more difficult for him to get the door open.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): NTSB investigators say interviews with the pilots and Earnhardt family are consistent with surveillance video they obtained of the crash and that there is some data including a cockpit recording they plan to analyze.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Checkered flag at Talladega.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Voted NASCAR's most popular driver 15 times in a row, Junior followed in the footsteps of his legendary father, Dale Earnhardt, Sr., who died in a crash at the 2001 Daytona 500.

Throughout the day, fans drove the 20 minutes from Bristol Motor Speedway where NASCAR is racing Saturday to take photos at the crash site. The Earnhardt family already back at their home in North Carolina. Dale Jr. will not call the race on Saturday.


GALLAGHER: Now, the NTSB says that those were the two regular pilots for this private plane, and there were no calls of distress before that firm landing happened.

[17:45:05] Dale Jr.'s sister thanked everybody for all of the outreach and the prayers that have been offered, said that the family is participating and cooperating with anything authorities are asking, Wolf. But the Earnhardts have asked for some privacy and, of course, they've been through so much over the past 24 hours.

BLITZER: They certainly have. We're so happy they're all OK. Dianne Gallagher, thanks for that update.

Coming up, Kim Jong-un is, once again, trying to drive a wedge between President Trump and a key U.S. ally. We're going to have the latest on North Korea's latest provocation right after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [17:50:18] BLITZER: North Korea launched more short-range missiles

early today, continuing a series of military and diplomatic provocations. Let's get the latest from CNN's Brian Todd. Brian, what is Kim Jong-un up to?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, the dictator is moving very aggressively, fine-tuning his short-range missiles for quick- strike capability against the U.S. and South Korean forces. And he's using those missiles as a diplomatic sledgehammer to get what he wants from the U.S. and its allies.


TODD (voice-over): After two more launches overnight sending ballistics flying at six times the speed of sound toward the Sea of Japan, North Korea's aggressive young leader appears to, once again, be trying to dictate terms to the U.S. and South Korea from the tip of his spear.

The test-firing of two short-range missiles late Thursday is Kim Jong- un's sixth such provocation in only about three weeks. Analysts say he's, again, clamoring for President Trump's attention but also signaling his rage.

EVANS REVERE, SENIOR DIRECTOR, ALBRIGHT STONEBRIDGE GROUP: The message is that, as long as you have South Korea exercises continue, North Korea is going to do -- continue to develop, deploy, and test some new capabilities that can do damage to the United States, to our troops, to our bases, and to South Korea.

TODD (voice-over): Those precision joint military exercises between U.S. and South Korean forces started a few weeks ago and will be conducted at least into next week. U.S. officials have repeatedly said they're defensive, designed to sharpen American troops' readiness for any possible hostilities on the peninsula. But the drills have always made the young self-declared Supreme Commander of North Korea's military uneasy.

COL. DAVID MAXWELL (RET.), SENIOR FELLOW, FOUNDATION FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: His rhetoric calls these preparations for invasion and to strike against him, particularly. The purchase of the F-35 by South Korea gives it the capability to strike deep and to strike any leadership target or any missile target in North Korea, so he is afraid of this training.

TODD (voice-over): At the same time tonight, Kim is firing another diplomatic salvo at his South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae-in. Kim's regime saying it has no desire to talk face to face with South Korean officials again. This comes as President Trump, according to sources in the administration, has soured on Moon, believing he hasn't done enough to rein in North Korea's aggression.

Some observers believe Moon's getting a bad rap. It was Moon, after all, who spurred a lot of momentum for the peace process early on, hosting Kim Jong-un's sister at the Winter Olympics and having an aide hand-deliver Kim's first request for a summit to President Trump. But analysts say the dictator in Pyongyang is conveniently forgetting all of that for his own game.

MAXWELL: Kim Jong-un, really, is trying to delegitimize Moon Jae-in and undercut his political power in South Korea and most importantly, to drive a wedge between the South Korean and U.S. alliance.

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, veteran diplomats are warning the President of the dangers of investing too much in his personal one-on- one relationship with the dictator who they believe wants to keep their nuclear weapons.

REVERE: Indeed, he does not intend to denuclearize. So one of the central dangers is the danger of what I call self-delusion, that the President may convince himself that something is happening that is not really happening.


TODD: And to give an idea of just how much the U.S. and South Korea have bent over backwards to tolerate Kim's provocations and to work toward peace, analysts point out that since that first Trump/Kim summit in Singapore in June of last year, the U.S. and its allies in the region have canceled at least 12 sets of military exercises, and they've scaled back many others. While at the same time, Kim Jong-un has not scaled back any of North Korea's military exercises one bit -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very interesting, Brian. There's also real concern about the immediate threat the so-called short-range missiles, which have a range of about 600 miles, that Kim has been testing posed to U.S. and South Korean forces or their -- they're not very far away.

TODD: They really are not, Wolf. It's a huge threat. Analysts say these latest missiles that Kim has tested, well, they've demonstrated a very serious improvement in North Korea's missile program. One expert from MIT says these latest missiles Kim has tested are very impressive given their trajectory, their ability to maneuver in flight, all of which makes them harder for U.S. missiles defenses to strike. It is a huge threat tonight.

BLITZER: Seriously. It seriously is. All right, Brian Todd reporting. Thank you.

Coming up, we'll have more on the breaking news. The former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski says he is happy, happy, to come testify in open session before the House Judiciary Committee.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Willing to talk. After being served with a subpoena, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski says he looks forward to testifying in the House impeachment probe. Will the White House prevent that from happening?