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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT); Warren Unveils Proposal For Cleaning Up Politics; Trump Says, Certainly Looking Like Iran Behind Saudi Oil Attack; Letter To FBI Flagged Information On Kavanaugh Alleged Misconduct Before Confirmation; Trump Suddenly Praises Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) After Attacking Him And His District Of Baltimore; Biden And Other Democrats On The Stump In South Carolina; Hours Before Vote, Trump Predicts "Close" Israeli Election Despite Repeated Efforts To Help Prime Minister Netanyahu; "SNL" Fires New Cast Member Shane Gillis After Videos Of Bigoted Remarks Surface. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 16, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Was it ignored?

And on strike. Tens of thousands of General Motors workers walk out in the first strike against the U.S. auto industry in more than a decade. We're following the very tense negotiations and whether President Trump is taking sides.

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.

We're following the breaking news on President Trump's response to the brazen and crippling attack on Saudi oil facilities. He now says it's certainly looking as though Iran is to blame. After warning the U.S. is locked and loaded, Mr. Trump is leaving the door open to a possible military response if Iran's role is proven definitively.

Also breaking, New York prosecutors now subpoena eight years of President Trump's tax returns. The move is part of the state's criminal investigation into hush money payments paid to former porn star Stormy Daniels.

This hour, I will talk with Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal. He's a member of both the Armed Services and Judiciary committees. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our White House Correspondent, Kaitlan Collins. She's in New Mexico for us right now, where the president has a rally later tonight.

Kaitlan, the president suggests he's almost sure that Iran was behind the attack in Saudi Arabia, but he says he wants more information. KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, he pointed

the finger in their direction, but he stopped short of definitively confirming it.

But he also said he wants to avoid military conflict, if possible. But then moments later, he touted U.S. military capabilities and said he's prepared to go to war if it comes to that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump is warning he's prepared to take military action as the U.S. builds the case Iran was behind strikes on crucial Saudi oil facilities.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That was a very large attack, and it could be met with an attack many, many times larger.

COLLINS: After saying the U.S. was locked and loaded, depending on verification, the White House is placing the blame on Iran, while offering no public evidence.

TRUMP: We pretty much already know. Certainly, it would look to most like it was Iran.

COLLINS: Aides are cautioning that his tweet doesn't necessarily mean that there will be a military response.

TRUMP: With all of that being said, we would certainly like to avoid it.

COLLINS: The weekend attack cut the kingdom's oil production in half, sending crude prices spiking and leading Trump to authorize the release of U.S. oil reserves if needed, though he later said: "We don't need Middle Eastern oil and gas and, in fact, have very few tankers there."

The attacks and accusations have thrown a potential meeting between Trump and Iran's president into question.

TRUMP: I have no meeting scheduled.

COLLINS: Both leaders will be in New York next week for the United Nations summit, but Trump is now backpedaling and blaming the media for reporting he was willing to meet without conditions.

TRUMP: There were always conditions. That's why the press misreported it.

COLLINS: Even though he said so on camera twice.

CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": No preconditions?

TRUMP: Not as far as I'm concerned. No preconditions.

TRUMP: No preconditions, no. They want to meet, I will meet.

COLLINS: His secretary of state and treasury secretary echoed him last week.

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: He is prepared to meet with no preconditions.

STEVEN MNUCHIN, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: He is happy to take a meeting with no preconditions, but we are maintaining the maximum pressure campaign.

COLLINS: Tonight, Trump is also calling on the Justice Department to rescue Brett Kavanaugh after a new book details sexual misconduct allegations against the Supreme Court justice, allegations Kavanaugh has previously denied.

BRETT KAVANAUGH, ASSOCIATE SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: My family and my name have been totally and permanently destroyed.

COLLINS: The book lays out one additional allegation, but the woman at the center of it declined to be interviewed and friends say she doesn't recall the incident. But 2020 Democrats are calling for him to be impeached.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Someone should investigate that, because the fact that something has not been proven, it doesn't mean it didn't occur, right?

COLLINS: Trump is also calling on General Motors and the United Automobile Workers union to make a deal.

TRUMP: I would like to see it work out. But I don't want General Motors building plants in China and Mexico. This was before my watch. And I don't think they will be doing that.

COLLINS: After nearly 50,000 General Motors employees went from the assembly line to the picket line today, shutting down 33 plants in nine states, as they call for increased wages and reopened plants.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Wolf, the president did also tell reporters today that he did not promise to protect the Saudis. Instead, he wanted to see if he could sit down with them and try to work something out.

[18:05:02]

But he did add that he said he would send his Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and a slew of other American officials there in the coming days. He just didn't say when exactly that visit would happen -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Kaitlan, thank you.

Let's dig deeper right now into why the United States is pointing fingers at Iran after the attack on Saudi oil officials.

Our National Security Reporter, Kylie Atwood, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM with me. What are you learning about the latest U.S. intelligence that's coming

in, Kylie?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well, we have not publicly seen any of this U.S. intelligence yet, but what we do know from our reporting today is that the U.S. has told at least one U.S. ally in the Middle East that Iran is to blame for this attack on the Saudi oil fields and that the attack likely originated from Iran.

Now, that would be extremely important here, because it would mean that it wasn't just Iranian proxies, but it happened, it was staged on Iran grounds.

The other thing that is important here to note is that Secretary Pompeo came out over the weekend and said it was Iran, unequivocally, that was to blame and called on all nations to condemn this attack. And now we have seen sort of a dialing back in the rhetoric, the president saying that military action is still on the table, but not explicitly yet saying that Iran is to blame.

And, as Kaitlan noted, when President Trump was asked if the U.S. will defend Saudi Arabia, the president said that he hadn't made that promise to Saudi Arabia yet. So, as Secretary Pompeo travels to the country and meets with Saudi officials, we're likely to hear more about where the U.S. is headed when they decide what they're going to do here alongside Saudi.

BLITZER: These were very precise strikes, either with cruise missiles or drones. The Houthi rebels in Yemen, they have claimed responsibility, but the U.S. intelligence community, I take it, doesn't believe that they have the capability of launching strikes like this?

ATWOOD: That's right.

So, yesterday, senior administration officials did go over some of the commercial satellite images that they think demonstrate that it was not Yemen that these attacks were originated from.

That is because of a few reasons, the first of which is the direction that the attack came from. It wouldn't have come from that attack, they said, if it was Yemen that launched them, and also the fact that there were 19 attacks, and the Houthi rebels said that there were 10 drones that carried out these strikes.

U.S. officials saying it will be unlikely that 10 drones could have carried out this tremendous attack of 19 strikes in total, but telling us that they know this information is not yet conclusive and they're working to make more information public.

BLITZER: Kylie Atwood, very good reporting. Thank you very much for joining us.

There's more breaking news on a new demand for President Trump's tax returns. This time, New York prosecutors are going after the information Mr. Trump has been battling to keep secret. Let's go to CNN's Kara Scannell. She's joining us from New York.

Kara, so what's behind this new subpoena?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the New York state prosecutors are investigating Donald Trump and the Trump Organization as it relates to the hush money payments that they made to those two women who alleged affairs with the president.

And what they're looking at is whether any state laws were violated, including whether there were any potential false business records that were filed.

As part of this inquiry, they have now subpoenaed Mazars USA. That is the longtime accountant to Donald Trump and Trump Organization, seeking eight years worth of federal and state tax returns. Now, this investigation is still in the early stages. We reported last week that they interviewed Michael Cohen at the federal prison in Otisville, where he's serving a three-year sentence in connection to this hush money payment scheme.

Prosecutors are now looking at trying to get access to Donald Trump and the Trump Organization's tax records to see if this would help in their investigation to determine if state laws were violated.

Now, Donald Trump and the Trump Organization have pushed back on the House Democrats' multiple efforts to obtain his financial records and his tax returns. The big question here is, what is the Trump -- what is president and the Trump Organization going to do?

Right now, they tell us that they're evaluating the situation. But they have moved in the past to quash. Big question here, does this end up in court again, too, Wolf?

BLITZER: I suspect it will.

Kara Scannell, thank you very much.

Now to the renewed controversy surrounding Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. We're learning about a letter sent to the FBI just days before his confirmation.

Our Justice Correspondent, Jessica Schneider, is joining us right now.

So, Jessica, a U.S. senator flagged information about additional allegations of misconduct by Kavanaugh. What are you hearing?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we have seen that letter that Delaware Senator Chris Coons sent to the FBI just days before Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed.

In it, the Democratic senator told the FBI that numerous people had contacted his office saying that they had pertinent information about Brett Kavanaugh, but they actually had trouble getting it through to report it to the FBI.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): In a letter obtained and reviewed by CNN, Democratic Senator Chris Coons urged the FBI to reach out to a witness about Brett Kavanaugh's alleged misconduct at Yale.

[18:10:05]

The letter is dated October 2, 2018, four days before Kavanaugh was confirmed. Coons writes he heard from several people who reportedly had key information, but had trouble getting through to the FBI.

Coons specifically asked the FBI to follow up with a man who sources say was Max Stier, a possible witness to the incident, and a Yale college classmate of Kavanaugh and Ramirez, with information relevant to Ramirez's allegations.

Coons played a key role in the confirmation hearings.

QUESTION: If Judge Kavanaugh is shown to have lied to the committee, nomination is over?

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R-AZ): Oh, yes.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): I would think so.

SCHNEIDER: Convincing Republican Senator Jeff Flake to call for a supplemental FBI background investigation before Flake would vote Kavanaugh out of committee.

But in a new book, "New York Times" reporters say the FBI did not investigate Stier's alleged claim concerning another student. The newspaper later clarified, saying that student declined to be interviewed.

Her friends say she doesn't remember the incident. A Coons aide tells CNN the FBI received the letter, but never heard back. And a Democratic senator tells CNN -- quote -- "The broader point is that the FBI investigation was not thorough and credible."

The Republican in charge of the Judiciary Committee during Kavanaugh's confirmation says his panel did a thorough review.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R-IA): In the end, there was no credible evidence to support any of the allegations.

SCHNEIDER: CNN previously reported the FBI interviewed nine people in connection to claims by two other women against Kavanaugh, Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez.

Now, almost a year after Justice Kavanaugh was sworn into the Supreme Court, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler is calling for a renewed inquiry.

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): We're going to start looking into the adequacy of the investigation upon which the confirmation was premised when the FBI director comes before us next month. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: And the president has asked the DOJ to come in and rescue Kavanaugh, but, of course, the DOJ is not the personal attorney for the president or any Supreme Court justice.

Now, a Supreme Court spokeswoman said that Justice Kavanaugh had no comment on the new allegation against him or the calls for impeachment coming from some Democratic candidates for president.

And, Wolf, only one justice has ever been impeached. That was way back in 1805, and that justice was never actually removed from the bench by a vote from the Senate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jessica, thank you.

And joining us now, Senator Richard Blumenthal. He's a Democrat. He serves on the Armed Services and Judiciary committees.

I want to talk about Justice Kavanaugh in a moment, but let's talk about Saudi Arabia first.

Have you been fully briefed on what the U.S. knows about this attack against the Saudi oil facilities?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): There is a lot more that I want to know.

The simple answer is, Congress has not received a full briefing. It should, because there's a lot of evidence we need. And the main point here is, the president must come to Congress for authorization before he pursues military force.

BLITZER: Do you think Iran was responsible?

BLUMENTHAL: There's a lot of evidence that points toward Iran as being responsible, in one way or another, either furnishing the arms that were used, possibly even launching the missiles or drones.

But we need to act, if we do militarily, as a last resort. We need to pursue diplomacy first.

BLITZER: As a member of the Armed Services Committee, what kind of evidence would you like to see that would be credible, believable?

BLUMENTHAL: We need to link the arms to Iran. Either they're furnishing them or they're actually launching them. And that would be done either by human intelligence or surveillance that was done by other means or other evidence that should be within the prerogative of the executive branch.

BLITZER: If it were Iran directly launching these attacks or through a proxy launching these attacks with Iranian weapons, what would be their incentive? Why would they do this?

BLUMENTHAL: The Iranians and the Saudis are enemies. And the Iranians may want to send a message to the Saudis or to the potential allies of the Saudis or to the United States.

But the United States should not be protecting Saudi interests. We should not be at the mercy of the Saudi oil reserves or their financial incentives. The royal family should not be the one authorizing the use of military force.

BLITZER: So, if the U.S. does conclude that it was Iran, how should the U.S. respond?

BLUMENTHAL: There should be consequences if there's an attack on the Saudis, but it should be consequences that are the result of not only the United States acting, but our consulting and acting with our allies. That is very, very important.

BLITZER: You heard the president a little while ago in that Q&A with reporters saying that, if the U.S. were to launch strikes against Iran or whoever was responsible for this attack on Saudi Arabia, he says the Saudis would have to reimburse the United States financially for any such operation.

[18:15:08]

What do you think about that?

BLUMENTHAL: To me, the financial reimbursement is far less important.

It pales in importance compared to the vast dangers of our becoming embroiled in another endless war. We have been involved in the Iraq War with very questionable reasons for 18 years, the loss of blood and lives and injuries.

As a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, I can tell you, you will be paying the cost of that war for years to come in human suffering. And that is what matters to me, our men and women in uniform who may be implicated.

And I would make this point, Wolf, and it's really an important one. Military consequences in any conflict with Iran could be immense. That is what we're hearing from the generals, when it comes to their nuclear deterrent, if we were ever to take military force seriously there.

And we should be very mindful of those dangers.

BLITZER: On another sensitive issue -- and you're on the Judiciary Committee -- what do you think of New York prosecutors now going after President Trump's tax returns, eight years of tax returns, and filing formal subpoenas in order to get those tax returns?

BLUMENTHAL: They are investigating violations of law.

And the tax returns have financial information that is relevant to that investigation. Follow the money. I know that as a former prosecutor. In this instance, Donald Trump should have disclosed those tax returns, as every other president has done long before now. And they are within their rights to seek... (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: If Congress can't get their hands on these tax returns, do you think New York prosecutors will be able to do so?

BLUMENTHAL: They may well be able to do so, because they're conducting a criminal investigation, and a criminal subpoena often is more readily enforceable.

BLITZER: Let me get your thoughts on the latest allegations against Justice Kavanaugh.

BLUMENTHAL: Lying to Congress should be disqualifying for a Supreme Court justice, in fact, for any public official.

These allegations reinforce the concerns that led me to aggressively and actively oppose the Kavanaugh nominations. They were never -- they were never investigated fully and fairly by the FBI.

I brought similar allegations. The Max Stier issue that's been raised is only one of a number involving Debbie Ramirez, Carrie Bertram (ph). We wrote letters we brought to the FBI's attention, this kind of information.

The FBI was straitjacketed. And there is a need for investigation now, because there never was then.

BLITZER: Several of the Democratic presidential candidates have already called for Justice Kavanaugh's impeachment. Are you with them on that?

BLUMENTHAL: I'm with them on the investigation. There needs to be an investigation.

I think that the consequence of that investigation cannot be prejudged. And I might add, Wolf, that the House Judiciary Committee is only one of the ways to do the investigation. The Senate Judiciary Committee has an interest, because that's where he allegedly committed these lies by denying categorically any involvement in these incidents.

The U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia has jurisdiction. The FBI was misused, because it was straitjacketed. And it ought to have an interest.

BLITZER: All right, Senator Blumenthal, thank you so much for joining us.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

BLITZER: The breaking news continues next. Will the drone attack on Saudi Arabia's oil facilities bring a counterattack from the Saudis? And could it involve the United States?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:23:16]

BLITZER: Breaking news tonight. President Trump suggesting he's almost sure that Iran is responsible for drone strikes on Saudi oil facilities.

He says he doesn't want a war with Iran, but insists the United States is well-prepared should it come to that.

Let's bring in our experts.

Phil Mudd, what kind of evidence would the president need, would the American public, the Congress, need to convince everyone that this was an Iranian operation?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Pretty good evidence.

But if you look at the opportunities, we ought to be seeing a lot on the intel side. Think about the multiple opportunities we have. First, the Americans have been watching the Iranians for a lot of years. I presume they're watching the kinds of locations that these weapons would be launched from Iran. That's opportunity one.

We have got a lot of friends in the region, the Kuwaitis, the UAE. So as missiles or drones are transiting the region, is anybody else picking them up? The Israelis might.

And then, of course, you have got the blast site. Are there pieces? Is there residue on the ground? Do the Saudis have their own devices that could have picked up incoming? So, that's three opportunities.

And, finally, after the event, are the Iranians talking about this on circuits the Americans are listening to? We ought to have some idea already a pretty good idea who did this.

BLITZER: If it were Iran, would it warrant a U.S. military response, military action? And the president says, if the U.S. were to get involved militarily, the Saudis would have to reimburse the United States financially for any such operation.

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: First answer, no.

I have seen no compelling evidence that our national security interests are at stake here with this strike on the oil facility that would warrant a U.S. unilateral attack against Iran. I think we should be looking for chances to de-escalate the tension.

And as for reimbursement, my goodness, how inappropriate is that? The United States military is not a mercenary force. We fight for the national security interests of the country. I would like the president to focus on that and finding a way to de-escalate the tension, rather than automatically talking about locked and loaded and going to war.

[18:25:05]

BLITZER: And, April, this was the president's tweet on this issue: "Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked. There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded, depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack and under what terms we would proceed."

So he's clearly waiting to get an official declaration from the Saudis.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

Wolf, I was in the Oval Office earlier today with the pool. And the president said, you know, that he believes that it's Iran. But he said -- at the same time, he said he didn't want to give anything official, but they had the logistics, they had location where the attack came from.

So he knows, but he says, right now, he doesn't want to go into any new escalation, but they are prepared. And I asked him, I said, Mr. President, do you want war? He said, no, but we are prepared. He talked about the strength of the military.

And he also gave an example from a general who said something to President Obama at the time, talking about the ammunition that they didn't have. And he said -- or the ammunition that wasn't at the stockpile numbers that they would have before.

KIRBY: Yes, the inventory.

RYAN: Yes, the inventory.

And it sounded crazy, but, you know, listening to the admiral just a few minutes ago, he said, you know, there is some truth to it, but it may not be what the president said. It might be a little exaggerated.

But the bottom line is, the president is saying he doesn't want to go to war, but there's a lot of conversation, and it sounds like he's ramping up rhetoric.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Jeffrey, go ahead.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: But prepared for what?

I mean, Iran is a bigger, wealthier, more powerful military than Iraq. And look what a disaster it was there for the American military and the American people.

You know, the idea that we could get involved in a war with Iran, which is an enormously large and powerful country, much bigger than Iraq, is just madness. And I don't -- you know, to say we're prepared, I mean, it just seems crazy to me.

KIRBY: I actually don't think that's what he wants or what he's driving at. The fact that they had two principal committee meetings in the last

couple of days tells me that they are really trying to find other options and look at other ways. It's just Trump, I think, is just being bellicose. He has to get that stuff out there.

But my understanding is, they really are trying to find diplomatic and economic levers to pull. And he might actually be able to get more international support now for economic increased sanctions on Iran than before, because this attack has affected the global oil economy.

BLITZER: Well, let me ask Jeffrey.

When the president says the U.S. is locked and loaded as far as potentially Iran is concerned, Marc Short, the chief of staff to the vice president, Mike Pence, says that doesn't necessarily mean the president is threatening military action.

What do you think?

TOOBIN: Well, of course it's a threat of military action.

But one thing we do know about the president is, he makes military threats all the time and he doesn't follow up on them, thank goodness. You know, he basically threatened to bomb North Korea off the face of the Earth, and now we know he's in love with Kim Jong-un.

The -- so, yes, it's a military threat, but one of the problems when you lie all the time is that people don't believe you and people don't take you seriously. And I think that's really where the president is.

BLITZER: And, Phil, very quickly, how do you interpret locked and loaded?

MUDD: Well, excuse me, the president is talking to a domestic audience. Locked and loaded could be a peashooter. It could a bazooka.

I'm going with a peashooter, because the bazooka, the president doesn't want that downside. He doesn't a war. Peashooter.

BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. There's a lot more we need to discuss.

We will right after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:30:00]

BLITZER: All right. We're back with our analysts.

As President Trump declares Iran certainly appears to be behind the attack on the Saudi oil facilities. And our John Kirby, this is what the president tweeted. The fake news is saying they I am willing to meet with Iran, no conditions, and that's in quotes. That is an incorrect statement. But listen to what the president has said on multiple occasions as well as members of his cabinet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would say certainly meet with Iran if they wanted to meet.

REPORTER: Do you have preconditions for that meeting?

TRUMP: No preconditions, no. If they want to meet, I'll meet.

You want to talk, good. Otherwise you can have a bad economy for the next three years.

CUHCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: No preconditions?

TRUMP: Not as far as I'm concerned, no preconditions.

STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: The president has made clear, he's happy to take a meeting with no preconditions, but we are maintaining the maximum pressure campaign.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: The president has made very clear, he is prepared to meet with no preconditions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you think?

KIRBY: Let's see what he tweets tomorrow morning. I mean, I think he just felt like maybe the idea of no preconditions made him look weak, so he was going to slap that back today. We'll see where he is tomorrow.

I don't think a meeting is in the offing right now. The general assembly is coming up next week. I really don't think they're going to meet. But I do think that that general assembly gives him an opportunity to talk with allies with partners about how to de-escalate the tension.

BLITZER: How do you think Iranians are reacting to that sort of mixed message where he say, I'm willing to meet with President Rouhani without no preconditions, and now he's not willing to meet without conditions?

MUDD: I used to work on Iran when I was at the CIA. These guys are really smart and they're good at the art of the long ball. They're looking at this saying there's a downside risk here. This is the president who looked at the Iranian complying on the nuclear deal and still ripped up the deal.

These guys, the Iranians, have got to be looking at negotiations with people like the Chinese and the North Koreans, up, down, up, down, tweets and saying, we want to get in on that. And, finally, they're smart, they're looking at polling data saying, we get in now and he's out in a year and a half, two years, why would we have negotiated with him. [18:35:02]

I think, well, too much risk.

BLITZER: I'm anxious to get Jeffrey Toobin's thoughts on the latest developments involving Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh. The allegation now is that the FBI didn't do a thorough job in its pre- confirmation investigation.

TOOBIN: Well, Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly's book, I think, establishes what was obvious even at the time, that this was not an FBI investigation. This was a whitewash designed by Chuck Grassley and Mitch McConnell to get Brett Kavanaugh confirmed quickly. The FBI was given a completely impossible assignment of doing a thorough investigation in a ridiculously short period of time, which they did not do, because they couldn't do on.

And what we're seeing now is that there was a lot more they could have done. Could they have proved, for sure, that Brett Kavanaugh had lied about his relationships in high school and college? I don't know. But this was a fake investigation designed to get Brett Kavanaugh confirmed. That's what it did. But the truth about the allegations is certainly unknown.

BLITZER: So what's going to be the impact, if any? Because you see these Democratic presidential candidates now saying he should be impeached.

TOOBIN: Zero, nothing. Brett Kavanaugh is going to be on the Supreme Court for the next 30 years. That's what this is going to be.

You know, Mitch McConnell, you know, Phil was talking about the long ball, Mitch McConnell has always had his eye on the long ball when it comes to the judiciary. He is doing anything -- the Senate essentially doesn't do anything anymore. They don't pass bills. All they do is confirm people and they confirm people for judges. They just confirmed their 150th Trump appointee to the federal bench. That's what they're doing.

Brett Kavanaugh is probably going to have an unpleasant time if he visits certain universities. That's the only consequence he's going to face because he's confirmed and there's no way of getting him out.

BLITZER: On a different subject, April, you were there, you were a pool correspondent in the Oval Office. The president was answering reporters' questions. And you asked him about Congressman Elijah Cummings and Baltimore, your hometown.

You live in Baltimore. The president has labeled Baltimore a rat and rodent-infested community, the worst in the USA. But all of a sudden, he started saying some nice things about the congressman from Baltimore, Congressman Elijah Cummings.

RYAN: Yes. It was very interesting to hear that tone, the shift in tone, because he went in on Elijah Cummings talking about how nasty he had been and who he thinks he is, because Elijah Cummings is the head of Oversight and Government Reform and has taken him to task on many of the issues, from emoluments to just everything that's going on that has a question.

So today, the president said, look, he said, you know, I drove through Baltimore, I flew in, but I saw Baltimore. He saw different parts of Baltimore when he went to the GOP retreat last week. And he said, bottom line, his urban agenda deals with the opportunity zones and this, that, and the other, unemployment, this, that, and the other, particularly with the African-American community.

When he went to Elijah Cummings, he said, you know, I want the Elijah Cummings that I first met with when I became president, when we talked about the issues of prescription drugs and lowering the drug price. They met actually and talked about it inauguration day at the inauguration luncheon. And then, subsequently, they had a meeting.

And if you remember that first press conference, I had asked the president about his urban agenda, and he talked about Elijah Cummings and Elijah Cummings didn't want to meet with him. It just happened to be a scheduled mishap, and they met and got along.

But with all that's going on, Elijah Cummings have been going in on him. Now, the president is offering an olive branch, if you will, to Elijah Cummings to come meet again and talk about issues of urban America (ph).

BLITZER: He described Elijah Cummings as a very caring man and even said he would be more than happy to meet with him again.

Everybody, stick around. There's more news we're following.

New backlash against Beto O'Rrourke's call to confiscate assault weapons. Democratic rival Pete Buttigieg says, O'Rourke is playing into Republicans' hands.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:00]

BLITZER: Tonight, some of the top Democratic Presidential Candidates are on the stump in South Carolina. CNN's Arlette Saenz is in Galivants Ferry, South Carolina for us.

Arlette, Democrats are stepping up the campaign to win over southern voters, particularly African-Americans.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: They really are, Wolf. And we are here tonight at the Galivants Ferry stump at this traditional Democratic event going back to the late 1800s.

Senator Amy Klobuchar just spoke. Mayor Pete Buttigieg is about to take the stage, Joe Biden and Bill de Blasio also speaking in a short while, as these candidates are trying to court voters here in this critical early State of South Carolina, particularly the African- American vote.

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JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have not relegated racism and white supremacy to the pages of history.

SAENZ: Former Vice President Joe Biden's visit to states like Alabama and South Carolina, part of his push to win the black vote, a key voting bloc in the path to the Democratic nomination. Biden's current front-runner status is powered in large part by support from black voters.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My mind has been made up pretty much from the beginning.

SAENZ (on camera): And who's that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joe Biden.

SAENZ: A recent CNN poll found 42 percent of black Democratic voters want Biden as their nominee, a 30-point difference from his closest rival, Bernie Sanders.

But Biden has also faced some criticism for his past handling of race- related issues, like his role in crafting the 1994 crime bill and his opposition to school busing.

And this response to a question about the legacy of slavery at last week's Democratic primary debate.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We bring social workers into homes and parents to help them deal with how to raise their children. It's not that they don't want to help. They don't want -- they don't know quite what to do. Play radio, make sure the television -- excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night, the phone -- make sure the kids hear words.

SAENZ: Pete Buttigieg weighing in on "STATE OF THE UNION".

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It was a well-intentioned answer and it was a bad answer.

SAENZ: Meanwhile, Elizabeth Warren unveiling a sweeping anti- corruption proposal that set strict new limits on lobbying powers, including banning lawmakers and their senior staff from serving on corporate boards, and requiring new lawmakers to disclose potential financial conflicts before taking office.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The money is everywhere. It's so many different ways, the corruption infects so many different decisions, that it comes to us what to do about it.

SAENZ: Also playing out on the campaign trail, a debate over the mandatory buyback of assault-style rifles.

BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hell yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.

SAENZ: Some Democrats voicing concern those comments play into the hands of Republicans.

BUTTIGIEG: Even this president and even Mitch McConnell are at least pretending to be open to reforms. We know that we have a moment on our hands.

SAENZ: Beto O'Rourke pushing back, tweeting: When candidates say at least Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell are pretending to be interested, expletive, that is not enough.

Buttigieg responding to O'Rourke in South Carolina today.

BUTTIGIEG: I'm not going to tell anybody else what to do. I do think right now, we have an extraordinary moment to get something done. And I don't think it can afford to wait.

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SAENZ: Now, Joe Biden has been a frequent fixture here in South Carolina. He'll be taking the stage shortly. He attended this event back in 2006 when he was gearing up to run in 2008. Biden is hoping that he can bank on those longtime relationships here in the state, including with black voters to carry him in this campaign -- Wolf.

BLITZER: South Carolina very, very important.

All right. Arlette, thank you very much.

Still ahead, drama on NBC's "Saturday Night Live." One of the show's newest cast members is shown the door because of bigoted comments, and a Democratic presidential candidate offers to meet with him.

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BLITZER: Tonight, President Trump says he expects a close election in Israel, where voting gets under way just hours from now.

CNN's Oren Liebermann reports.

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OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting for his political future in closing hours of campaigning. In an election that's too close to call, Netanyahu is re-upping his hard line promise to annex parts of the West Bank and bringing back his time-tested strategy to boost voter turnout, warning his party Likud's supporters they're about to lose.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): In the polls, I received just four hours ago, we're losing and we're losing not because I don't have a majority in the country. The majority of the country wants me to be prime minister, we're losing because Likud voters are complacent.

LIEERMANN: Over the weekend, Netanyahu got another helping hand from President Donald Trump, who offered to discuss a mutual defense pact after the elections. Netanyahu celebrated the idea, never mind that Israeli security experts have reviewed and rejected a defense pact in the past.

DAN SHAPIRO, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO ISRAEL: They wouldn't want to necessarily implicate the United States in actions that Israel might feel it needs to take in its own defense.

And the United States prepares to have a certain degree of distance and even deniability from actions that Israel may feel it needs to take without being bound to them by a formal defense pact.

LIEBERMANN: Netanyahu's former chief of staff, Benny Gantz, now his rival, doing his own rounds in the media. He lacks the charisma of Israel's longest serving leader, but the two have polled neck and neck repeatedly. His main message: Netanyahu is a danger to democracy.

BENNY GANTZ, BLUE AND WHITE LEADER (through translator): Everyone who does not want to see here next week a government that tramples the principles of democracy must go out and vote Blue and White so we don't wake up the day after the election with a prime minister with no restraints.

LIEBERMANN: These two men were separated by less than 15,000 votes in April's election. Gantz thought he won in a bad exit poll. Netanyahu thought he won with a coalition. Both claimed victory that night and both were, in the end, mistaken.

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LIEBERMANN: Netanyahu and Gantz, who generally avoided media interviews at the beginning of the campaign have now basically launched an all out push to get on TV as much as possible, to get in a newspaper as much as possible, and especially in the case of Netanyahu, doing as many Facebook Lives as possible in a frenetic get out the vote effort with just a few hours to go until voting begins here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Oren Liebermann in Jerusalem, thanks very much.

Just ahead, after "Saturday Night Live" fires one of his newest hires over bigoted comments, a Democratic presidential candidate is reaching out.

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BLITZER: Tonight, "Saturday Night Live" is taking a new cast member's bigoted comments seriously, announcing Shane Gillis has been fired. Videos recently came to light of Gillis making defamatory remarks about Chinese Americans and gays during a comedy podcast.

Tonight, Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, the only Asian American in the race, says Gillis has reached out to him and they are likely to meet soon.

To our viewers, thanks very much for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

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