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THE SITUATION ROOM

Trump Fails to Address Election Meddling With Putin; Strong Jobs Report; Will Mueller Appear Before Senate?; Interview With Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA); New York Subway Bomb Plotter Could Be Released Within Days; Sen. Kamala Harris (D) California Wants Inspector General To Investigate If White House Urged Barr To Open Probes Of Trump Enemies. Aired on 6-7p ET

Aired May 3, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:02]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Barr back. House Judiciary Committee Jerry Nadler makes a new offer to Attorney General William Barr, hoping to lure him back to testify about the Mueller report and overcome the impasse that has Nadler threatening to hold Barr in contempt.

Daring Mueller. Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham sends a letter to special counsel Robert Mueller asking if he feels the attorney general misrepresented their phone conversation. Will Mueller take Graham's dare to refute Barr's Senate testimony?

And jobs, jobs, jobs. President Trump touts historic job market performance, as unemployment falls to a 50-year low. But his approval rating remains stuck, with a majority of Americans disapproving of his performance in our newest CNN poll. Why is the president struggling, despite a strong economy?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, President Trump speaking with Russian President Vladimir Putin in an hour-long phone call, their first since the release of the special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

Mr. Trump says he and Putin discussed the report, as well as Venezuela and North Korea, but the president says there was no discussion of or warning against Russian interference in the next U.S. election.

Also breaking, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham daring Mueller to refute Attorney General William Barr's testimony about his phone call with Mueller and his reaction to Barr's summary of the special counsel's report.

We will talk about that and more with Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna, a member of the Oversight and reform committee.

And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by. First, let's go to our White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, an hour-long call between Presidents Trump and Putin, and no mention of election interference.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, Wolf.

And it seems that they talked about everything but what was one of the key aspects of Robert Mueller's investigation and his report that detailed that Russia interfered in the U.S. election in sweeping fashion.

But, today, when President Trump spoke with the man who U.S. intelligence says is behind that interference, the president said the topic just simply didn't come up.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I had a very good talk with President Putin, probably over an hour.

COLLINS (voice-over): President Trump was in high spirits after his first phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin since the release of the Mueller report.

TRUMP: We discussed it. He actually sort of smiled when he said something to the effect that it started off as a mountain and it ended up being a mouse. But he knew that, because he knew there was no collusion whatsoever.

COLLINS: But his good mood was quickly dashed after a reporter asked if he had told Putin to stay out of American elections, which the special counsel said happened in sweeping and systematic fashion in 2016.

TRUMP: Excuse me. I'm talking. I'm answering this question. You are very rude.

COLLINS: Asked again if he warned Putin not to attack or interfere in the next election, the president said it didn't come up.

TRUMP: We didn't discuss that. Really we didn't discuss it. We discussed five or six things.

COLLINS: It's a question his press secretary also refused to directly answer earlier in the day.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The conversation on that part was very quick, but what I can tell you is that this administration, unlike the previous one, takes election meddling seriously.

COLLINS: The phone call coming amid growing tensions between the United States and Russia over Venezuela.

Several senior administration officials have accused the Kremlin of intervening to prop up Nicolas Maduro, who the Trump administration is working to remove from power. But, today, the president downplayed Putin's involvement.

TRUMP: He is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela, other than he'd like to see something positive happen for Venezuela.

COLLINS: That statement directly contradicting what his secretary of state told Wolf three days ago.

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: He had an airplane on the tarmac. He was ready to leave this morning, as we understand it, and the Russians indicated he should stay.

COLLINS: Russia has also acknowledged it has military personnel on the ground in Venezuela. Tonight, new CNN reporting reveals that, in recent days, Trump has been at odds with his senior advisers, who have been teasing military action there.

POMPEO: The president has been crystal clear and incredibly consistent. Military action is possible. If that's what's required, that's what the United States will do.

COLLINS: Sources say has instead Trump cautioned his advisers to stick to the line that all options are on the table.

TRUMP: We have lots of options, and some of them are very tough options.

COLLINS: The president's skepticism after Juan Guaido's military uprising failed to gain traction this week, the botched operation raising questions about the reliability of U.S. intelligence that members of Maduro's inner circle were ready to defect.

[18:05:15]

One thing the president is feeling confident about, the economy.

QUESTION: Are you going to run on the economy?

TRUMP: Yes. Yes. I will be running on the economy, sure.

COLLINS: A strong new jobs report revealing the U.S. economy added 263,000 jobs in April, and the unemployment rate fell to 3.6 percent, the lowest in 50 years.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Wolf, up until now, President Trump has given John Bolton pretty wide leeway in managing the Venezuela situation.

But today and recent days, he's been telling him he does not want him teasing the military option in Venezuela as much. Now, we just got a statement from the National Security Council spokesman.

They said -- quote -- "Bolton is executing the president's strategy of maximum pressure to achieve a peaceful transition to democracy in Venezuela." They added, "As President Trump himself has made clear, all options are on the table" -- Wolf.

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

We're also following breaking news up on Capitol Hill.

Our congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty, is there for us, tonight.

Sunlen, Lindsey Graham, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is now giving special counsel Robert Mueller an opportunity to refute Attorney General William Barr's testimony this week.

What is the latest?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

Senator Graham writing to Robert Mueller today, asking him if he wants to provide testimony to his committee, but testimony only on one singular issue, an issue that came up during Attorney General Barr's testimony up here on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

Barr told the committee on Wednesday that he talked about this phone call that he had with Robert Mueller, and Barr says, during that phone call, he -- that Mueller said he did not think that the four-page summary was inaccurate, and Barr said that Mueller said he was unhappy with the media coverage of the Barr summary.

That, of course, is a quite different tone and different substance than what we have heard of Mueller's complaints, of course, that were documented in that letter he, himself, sent to Barr. So, Senator Graham today basically giving Mueller an opportunity to go ahead, refute what Barr says.

He says -- quote -- in this letter: "Attorney General Barr testified that you believe media coverage of your investigation was unfair without the public release of those summaries. Please inform the committee if you would like to provide testimony regarding any misrepresentation by the attorney general of the substance of that phone call."

Now, Graham, of course, is adamantly opposed to having Robert Mueller appear in person before his committee and to a full testimony. At this point, though, it's very unclear what Graham is referring to when he says provide testimony, whether that takes the form of staff interviews, whether that takes the form of him providing some written testimony.

Of course, Wolf, the House Democrats over on Judiciary, they, of course, trying to negotiate a time for Robert Mueller to come in, potentially on May 15.

BLITZER: Among other things, the attorney general, Bill Barr, Sunlen, is also under pressure on two fronts. What are you learning?

SERFATY: That's right, absolutely, first and foremost coming from the House Judiciary chairman, Jerry Nadler. He has basically renewed his threat and also issued somewhat of a counterproposal, of course, as it relates to Nadler pushing to get the unredacted Mueller report and the underlying materials.

That, of course, DOJ has not complied with their subpoena requests for. So, Nadler making this counterproposal today, saying that his committee would be willing to work with the DOJ to prioritize which investigative materials, materials like witness interviews, are turned over to Congress first.

That, of course, showing a little bit of give on Nadler's part, but he is not negotiating on his insistence that all members of Congress be allowed to view the grand material -- materials, those, of course, in the redacted version that had been blacked out. He wants to make sure all members of Congress can still see that, not negotiate on that part.

And Nadler is saying that Barr has until 9:00 a.m. on Monday morning to comply. Otherwise, he will hold him in contempt of Congress. Now, meantime, Barr is also facing some pressure coming from Senator Kamala Harris.

Of course, she has called tonight for the DOJ inspector general to investigate whether the White House has urged the attorney general to open up investigations of anyone. This, of course, was a breakout moment that she had during that hearing with Bill Barr, really pressuring him, setting up a sort of awkward pause at times with him over the suggestion that he could have opened -- been pressured to open up investigations.

Of course, the 2020 candidate very eager, Wolf, to keep her name in this conversation.

BLITZER: Sunlen Serfaty up on Capitol Hill, thanks for that report.

Let's get some more on all of this.

Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna of California is joining us. He's a member of the Oversight and Reform Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for coming in.

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): Great to be on, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, so, the president of the United States has a one- hour phone conversation with Vladimir Putin today, discussed a whole bunch of issues.

[18:10:01]

They spoke about what the president still calls the Russian hoax. And Putin made a big joke about it. But the president, President Trump, never warned Putin against interfering in the 2020 election, let alone discussed what happened in 2016. What does that say to you?

KHANNA: It's really astounding. Even Republicans on the Hill acknowledge Mueller's conclusion that the

Russians intervened, that that intervention was systematic. The most basic duty of the president of the United States is to tell Russia to knock it off, to make sure that they never do it again.

And Sarah Sanders' statement is totally hypocritical to go after Obama. Obama had the guts to tell Putin to his face that this interference needs to stop.

BLITZER: Why do you think the president doesn't just do that when he has a conversation with Putin?

KHANNA: I think he's so concerned and wrapped up in his own legitimacy of his own election, and he can't separate the two.

And I would just ask, as an American citizen, that he be able to do that. Put aside the issue of his campaign. He needs to stand up for the United States' sovereignty.

BLITZER: And when it comes to Russia, he also publicly totally contradicted what his own secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said earlier in the week in a conversation with me here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Pompeo made it clear that Russia was directly responsible for Maduro's regime in Venezuela right now, that Maduro was ready to get on a plane and fly out. The Russians talked him out of it. And he seemed to accept Putin's suggestion that Russia's really not involved.

KHANNA: Well, Wolf, here's what I think is going on.

Putin said Russia is not involved, and I think the president actually disagrees with his own advisers. I think the president's instinct is ,we shouldn't be involved in a civil war in Venezuela, and Bolton and Pompeo are pushing him to that.

Here's the irony. He's tweeting out that we should have good relations with Russia, and Bolton is the one who is trying to get us out of the INF Treaty. So my view is that the president is being ill- served by some of his advisers.

BLITZER: Because he's disagreeing with Bolton, his national security adviser, and with Pompeo, both of whom have done several interviews this week on this very subject.

What do you make of Senator Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, his proposal now to Mueller to come and testify and potentially correct some of the statements made by the attorney general, Bill Barr, involving Mueller?

KHANNA: Well, Senator Graham's been in Washington a long time, and this is a cynical ploy. He knows that Bill Barr and Mueller are good friends, and that Mueller is going to want nothing to do with contradicting Bill Barr.

And it's a total sideshow, a distraction. The country needs to hear from Mueller about the president's conduct, about what happened with the president's administration. We all know that Bill Barr has misled Congress. That shouldn't be the topic of conversation.

BLITZER: But Mueller was irritated by the public statements that the attorney general was making, and that in part led to a phone conversation and then a letter that he sent to the attorney general specifically saying that what he was suggesting was not necessarily in line with the substance of the Mueller report.

KHANNA: And I'm sure Mueller would testify, at some point, when he's called before Congress, that Bill Barr mischaracterized the report. But he's not going to make the entire show about whether Bill Barr wrote an accurate summary letter to the United States Congress.

What we need to hear from Bob Mueller is the conclusions of the report, what the conduct was of this administration, and whether he thinks it was...

BLITZER: You think Mueller will testify before the House Judiciary Committee?

KHANNA: I do. And I think he owes that to the country, and I'm confident he will.

BLITZER: And you think Don McGahn, the president's former special counsel, who is now a private citizen, will he appear before the House Judiciary Committee?

KHANNA: I do, but this is why it's so important to get the underlying evidence.

We need the notes of what Don McGahn told the FBI witnesses, so we can lock him in. Otherwise, McGahn, who is a lifelong Republican, is not going to be inclined to implicate the president. What we need is the underlying evidence, so that he can't contradict his testimony.

BLITZER: What do you think of these incredibly positive jobs numbers, the low unemployment rate, the hundreds of thousands of jobs that are being created?

How much credit do you think the president of the United States deserves for this?

KHANNA: Look, the numbers are good. I'm sure Trump is going to run on them.

But here's the real story. Rural America and communities of color have been left behind. I'm going to Spencer, Iowa, with Bernie Sanders, and the story there is not having a robust downtown, not having access to rural broadband and high-speed Internet, not having a shot at the jobs of the future.

That's where Democrats are focused. We need to bring prosperity to the places...

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: But unemployment among African-Americans is at record lows also.

KHANNA: The unemployment has fallen. No one can deny that. But the question is, do people have good-paying jobs? Do they have an opportunity for upward mobility in the middle class, and are communities of color in rural America really facing the prosperity?

I'm happy to have that conversation with Donald Trump. The growth has been in the coasts. The growth has been in Wall Street. The growth has been in places where people work for Fortune 500 companies.

What Democrats believe in is, we need to bring that prosperity to communities left behind.

[18:15:03]

BLITZER: Ro Khanna, Congressman, thanks for coming in.

KHANNA: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.

Just ahead, is President Trump emboldening Russia by refusing to confront Vladimir Putin on the issue of election interference? I will ask the former director of the National Intelligence Service, James Clapper. He's here.

Plus, the president contradicting his own secretary of state on Russia's role in the crisis in Venezuela. Why aren't the president and some of his top Cabinet members on the same page?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: More now on the breaking news, President Trump's first phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin since the release of the Mueller report.

The president says they did not -- repeat -- not discuss Russian meddling in the U.S. elections during the hour-long call.

The former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM with us. He's a CNN national security analyst.

General Clapper, thanks very much for coming in.

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right.

Here's a clip from what the president said today. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Mr. President, did you address the election meddling issues that came up in the Mueller report with Mr. Putin today? TRUMP: We discussed it. He actually sort of smiled when he said

something to the effect that it started off as a mountain and it ended up being a mouse. But he knew that, because he knew there was no collusion whatsoever.

[18:20:04]

QUESTION: Did you tell him not to meddle in the next election?

TRUMP: We didn't discuss that. Really, we didn't discuss it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is the president emboldening Russia by having a one-hour phone conversation with Putin, and then telling all of us he didn't even discuss Russian meddling in the 2016 election and the threat that it's going to do the same in the 2020 election?

CLAPPER: Well, I think, yes, he is.

I think both leaders, both President Putin and President Trump, are in a state of denial for different reasons, in Putin's case, obviously, denial -- deny that there was any meddling at all.

And in the case of President Trump, acknowledging there was meddling, you know, cast doubt on the legitimacy of his election. And it is bad because it marginalizes what happened, as well-documented, exhaustively documented in the Mueller report. And it marginalizes that in the minds of the American voter, American people. And it emboldens the Russians to keep doing what they have been doing.

BLITZER: Because the phone conversation lasted more than an hour. How valuable is that omission by the president to a former KGB agent like Vladimir Putin?

CLAPPER: First of all, just an editorial note, it was probably substantively only a half-hour, because you have to allow -- cut it in half for translations.

BLITZER: But even a half-an-hour is a long conversation.

CLAPPER: Well, it is. But I just wouldn't want to exaggerate that.

And, yes, it's just not good to -- not to have brought that up, particularly in the face of the evidence. I mean, it would have been nice to at least go through the motions of asking to extradite the Russians that were indicted in the two key indictments that Mueller put out in February and July of last year against the IRA, the Internet Research Agency, the St. Petersburg troll farm, and the 12 GRU officers in -- last July.

And he didn't, didn't even mention that. So it's -- but it's not surprising.

BLITZER: You served, what, for some 50 years in the U.S. military, the intelligence service. You have seen a lot, the Cold War. How worried are you about this threat from Russia right now?

CLAPPER: I am very concerned about it.

And what concerns me is, we don't focus on that enough. We're all hung up about collusion or obstruction or the absence thereof. And the big deal here in my mind and the big concern I have had from the get-go has been the threat posed by the Russians, which is profound, and it's going to continue. We're going to see it again in 2020.

BLITZER: He also seemed to be taking Russia's position on Venezuela, in contradiction to what his own national security team is saying. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: He is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela.

BLITZER: Are the Russians responsible now for what's going on?

POMPEO: We have made clear all along, Wolf, that Maduro is surrounded by Cubans and has been supported by Russians there in Venezuela. And we have told the Russians and we have told the Cubans, no, that's unacceptable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The president says that Putin is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela.

But, a couple days ago, the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, specifically told me that the reason Maduro of Venezuela didn't leave -- there was a plane on the tarmac -- was because the Russians told him not to leave.

CLAPPER: Well, this is another classic case of not believing anything that Vladimir Putin says, who, by the way, is a winner in all this.

And I think I would go with Secretary Pompeo's analysis. The Russians have on and off had long interest in Venezuela or anyplace in the Western Hemisphere they can gain a foothold. If it isn't Cuba, it's Venezuela.

So -- and, by the way, I'm not sure I understand exactly what dog we have in this hunt, particularly when we're speaking about military options. Well, options to do what?

BLITZER: Military -- well, the president keeps saying all options are on the table.

CLAPPER: Are on the table.

BLITZER: But his national security advisers, like John Bolton, keep suggesting that that military option -- and Pompeo also suggesting that's a very real option for the U.S.

CLAPPER: Well, I understand that. I'm just not sure I understand, what is the military option? What would be the objective of a military intervention in Venezuela?

And I hope people remember history, because sometimes those don't turn out so well.

BLITZER: The president today praised "The New York Times" for a front-page story, as he notes, that there was an undercover FBI investigator who met with a Trump campaign official, George Papadopoulos. The president views this as spying.

The attorney general says this is being looked at. Do you think the Justice Department inspector general will find anything inappropriate on the part of the FBI or the U.S. intelligence community as far as this is concerned?

CLAPPER: Well, I don't know.

But I will say that using undercover agents is a standard and legitimate technique that is widely used in investigations. That technique has been used to thwart a lot of counterterrorism plots in this country.

[18:25:09]

So, I'm sure -- I mean, there are protocols and standards for using an agent. And I'm sure that's the case here.

BLITZER: So you're saying this was not done lightly.

CLAPPER: No, it's never done lightly. And I'm sure it wasn't here either.

BLITZER: Was it spying?

CLAPPER: Well, yes, I guess it meets the dictionary definition of surveillance or spying, a term I don't particularly like. It's not a term of art used by intelligence people.

It has a negative connotation of a rogue operation, out of control, not in compliance with the law. And that's not the case at all.

BLITZER: General Clapper, thanks so much for coming in.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up: The head of the Senate Judiciary Committee gives special counsel Robert Mueller an opportunity to refute Attorney General William Barr's testimony. Is it, though, a political stunt?

Plus, the pending release of a man convicted of plotting to bomb New's York subway system. Why is he being set free?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:30:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: We're following breaking news. President Trump revealing details of his first phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin since the release of the Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on Moscow's meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Let's dig deeper with our correspondents and our analysts.

Susan Hennessey, the President did not at all raise the issue of Russia's interference in the election during this long conversation with Putin. How troubling is that?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's not surprising at all but it is incredibly troubling because it says that the President continues to not take this very important national security issue seriously. And I do think we have to ask ourselves whether or not Trump is concerned about Putin meddling in the 2020 election.

You can imagine a situation -- we saw from the Mueller report that the President had no concern about accepting that help, delighted in the assistance in the 2016 election. And even if he were to lose the next election, based on what he said during 2016, calling the election rigged, saying he might not respect the outcome if he lost, Russian meddling might actually add to that.

And so one of the issues as we hear Trump's own -- the own administration officials really sounding the alarm about 2020, about what's coming, his departments, certainly his Homeland Security Department can attempt to protect (ph) intellectual infrastructure, his intelligence community can attempt to get inside into the adversary. But, ultimately, this is a deterrence question.

And if the President of the United States is not even bringing it up on phone calls with Vladimir Putin, you have to ask yourself if you were Putin, would you be concerned.

BLITZER: Why won't, you know, Shawn, the President confront Putin on Russian meddling in the election, which the Mueller report, like the U.S. intelligence community earlier, laid out in great detail why the Russians were doing this?

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. You know, I never thought I would say this, but I think this is one of those rare occasions where I think we really can't tell what the President is thinking in this case. If you go back and you look at what Russia was doing leading up to the 2016 presidential election, Russia was engaged in an information operation that stoked the divisions in this country that really built on the strife, the divisions that we already have in this country. And all of that intense strife, all of those divisions, all of that discontent benefited the President, and he knows it benefited him.

So what the President is doing is he's sitting in front of Vladimir Putin, and he knows that Vladimir Putin did this. And the President recognizes that if he confronts Vladimir Putin, basically it's like looking a gift horse in the mouth. Vladimir Putin gave the President something in the 2016 presidential election. He gave him a sense that -- he gave his base a sense they were in this together, and the President worked to continue to build on those divisions, and it helped push him into office. So I think he won't confront him because he does not really have a lot of concerns as to whether Vladimir Putin does this again in 2020.

BLITZER: The President, Rebecca, once again attacked the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller's investigation today, even as he touts his own transparency. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: He had an airplane on the tarmac. He was ready to leave this morning, as we understand it. Russians indicated he should stay. We think the situation remains incredibly fluid.

BLITZER: I just want you to elaborate, Mr. Secretary, on what you said earlier, that he was apparently ready to leave, head off to the airport, Maduro, but the Russians talked him out of that. Is that right?

POMPEO: That's right.

BLITZER: So you blame Russia for the violence right now?

POMPEO: He was headed for Havana.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And that was the clip on Venezuela. Putin in the phone call -- in the phone conversation with the President today, he said, you know what? We're really not involved. But you heard what the President -- what Pompeo, the Secretary of State, told me the other day.

REBECCA BUCK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. And so the President continues to believe Vladimir Putin over his own administration, his own career professionals working for the United States government, working for the American people, but also trying to help him make the best decisions possible, the most informed decisions possible.

And we really haven't answered the question of why President Trump continues to believe people like Vladimir Putin, who don't have his best interests or the best interests of the United States at heart, versus people who are working for the betterment of the United States on behalf of the United States.

BLITZER: I mean, listen to how the President describes the overall Russia investigation. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: I call it the Russian hoax. It turned out to be. No collusion, no obstruction. It was a total hoax, and yet I was transparent.

[18:35:00]

We gave 1.4 million documents. We gave hundreds of people. I let him interview the lawyer, the White House lawyer, for 30 hours. Think of that. 30 hours. I let him interview other people. I didn't have to let him interview anybody. I didn't have to give any documents. I was totally transparent because I knew I did nothing wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He says he was totally transparent, but he refused to sit down for an actual interview with the Mueller team.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. The President and his legal team refused to make -- well, his legal team refused to make the President available for an interview with the Special Counsel, so he can't really argue that he was fully transparent. He certainly can't make the case that he was cooperative when he spent the greater part of the last two years publicly attacking not just the Special Counsel and the investigation, but the integrity of the FBI and the Justice Department. And now, we also know that the President is trying to block Don McGahn, the former White House Counsel, from testifying on Capitol Hill.

So he clearly feels like there's still a lot that he doesn't want to be laid out there in public even though we know from what we've seen of the Mueller report that McGahn is really at the center of some of the President's efforts to potentially obstruct justice. He, of course, threatened to resign when the President issued an order that the Special Counsel be fired.

And, you know, the question now is whether or not he's going to try and claim executive privilege. Of course, a lot of legal experts will tell you that the President can't now try to claim executive privilege when what McGahn told the Special Counsel and investigators has already been made public.

BLITZER: And we'll see if McGahn actually shows up and testifies. That will be significant, Mueller as well.

Much more on all the breaking news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:00]

BLITZER: More breaking news we're following. A new fallout tonight from the Attorney General, William Barr's controversial testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the Mueller report earlier in the week.

And, Susan Hennessey, one of the members of the Judiciary Committee, Kamala Harris, is now running for the democratic presidential nomination, she's calling on the Justice Department, the Inspector General there, to investigate the Attorney General, who struggled to answer questions about whether the White House urged him to open up specific investigations into the President's opponents. Is Senator Harris on to something?

HENNESSEY: Well, she's certainly on to something in that this should not be a difficult question for the Attorney General to answer, whether or not the President of the United States has directed him to open an investigation into political opponents. Any attorney general since Richard Nixon would be able to answer that question immediately without having to pause over what the word suggests might means. They would have said, no, of course not. That is a prototypical abuse of power, abuse of office.

And, of course the Mueller report, there's a reason why Harris was asking that question, and that's that the Mueller report says, that on multiple occasions, Trump did exactly that, directing Jeff Sessions to open an investigation into his political opponent, Hillary Clinton. It was sort of a footnote to the Mueller investigation. We've barely even discussed it, one, because there's so much else on table, but also because the President does this in public. He does it on Twitter.

And so, somehow, he has been successful in acclimating to the public to this notion of this really astonishing abuse of office, something a prior President would have been impeached for. The fact that he's shameless enough to do it in public, somehow that makes it acceptable.

BLITZER: It's interesting, Rebecca, that in a new letter, the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, Lindsey Graham, is offering the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, an opportunity to come and provide testimony. Is this a new development? What's going on here?

BUCK: So this is sort of a political play, Wolf, right? Because Lindsey Graham, if he wanted answers, he has tools he could use to get those answers. Mueller could come and testify to the Senate Judiciary Committee. They could subpoena information. They have quite a toolkit at their disposal. But instead, Lindsey Graham is putting out this open letter essentially, saying, if you want, you can give us this information, totally up to you.

This is Lindsey Graham being able to say, you know, plausible deniability, be able to say, I did what I could. I gave Mueller the opportunity. If he really wanted answers, he could do what we believe the House Judiciary Committee is doing, House Intel, you know, talking about having a hearing with Robert Mueller.

BLITZER: Shawn, how do you see it?

TURNER: I think Rebecca is absolutely right. Look, in the coming weeks and months, we're going to see Lindsey Graham go to the microphones and he's going to stand there and say, I gave Bob Mueller every opportunity to come up and to explain to us whether or not he differed with the Attorney General with regard to the letter that the Attorney General put out, and he did not take advantage of that opportunity. He's going to say, what does that tell you? He's going to say, well, that tells you exactly what I said. That means this is over, and that he did not have any issues and that it was all about the media. So this absolutely was -- this was a strategic move, a political move on the part of Lindsey Graham.

HENNESSEY: And it's important to note what Graham is actually doing. In his letter, he's asking Mueller whether or not Mueller objects to Barr's characterization of a single phone call, the substance of a single phone call. So what he's doing is he's putting this out, if Mueller doesn't object to this very, very narrow question, clearly, the effort here is to then say, well, obviously, Mueller doesn't object to any of this, and therefore there's no reason to have him testify.

BLITZER: What do you think, Sabrina?

SIDDIQUI: Well, that's precisely the point. Lindsey Graham wants to challenge Robert Mueller to dispute a very specific characterization on the part of Attorney General William Barr of the phone call that the two men had after Mueller sent that letter to Barr complaining about the March 24th memo that he says mischaracterized and failed to capture the context of his report.

[18:45:04]

I actually reached out to Lindsey Graham's office and said, are you actually inviting Robert Mueller to publicly testify before your committee? And his spokesperson said, well, there are many ways in which individuals can provide testimony to a committee, which is sort of a cute way of saying, maybe they'd actually prefer that he just provide some sort of written form of testimony, essentially, again, trying to get him to dispute what Barr said or, in fact, to confirm that he has no issue with the way Barr characterized their phone calls and they could try and put this issue behind them.

But make no mistake, Lindsey Graham has made it very clear which side he stands on. He's been very supportive of both the president as well as the Justice Department and Attorney General William Barr. I don't think he wants Robert Mueller to come and answer open-ended questions on Capitol Hill about the investigation or how it was characterized.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: All right. Everybody, stick around.

There's more news. He was convicted of plotting to bomb the New York City subway. So, why is he now about to get released from prison?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:50:35] BLITZER: One of the terrorists convicted of a plot to bomb the New York City subway almost a decade ago is now expected to be released from prison within days.

CNN national correspondent Athena Jones is working the story.

Tell us what's going on, Athena.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is in handcuffs.

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, Najibullah Zazi who once plotted to bomb the New York subway system could walk free within days.

WILLIAM STAMPUR, ZAZI'S ATTORNEY: He will hopefully be released in a short period of time. The reality is that the light at the end of the tunnel is extremely bright for him.

JONES: A federal judge in Brooklyn sentencing the convicted terrorist to 10 years for three counts connected to the terror plot. For Zazi, who has been in prison since his 2009 arrest and was facing a life sentence, that amounts to time served.

The unusual reprieve coming after what the judge said was Zazi's unprecedented cooperation with investigators. Zazi who learned to make bombs while at an al Qaeda training camp in Pakistan met with investigators more than 100 times after pleading guilty to the plot in 2010. He reviewed hundreds of photographs, testified in multiple trials and provided critical intelligence and unique insight regarding al Qaeda and its members.

Prosecutors say his assistance came in the face of substantial potential danger in the form of retaliation by al Qaeda.

I tried my best to correct my horrific mistake by cooperating with the government, Zazi told the court during a sentencing Thursday, adding he is not the same person he once when he was arrested. I find it almost hard to imagine what I was involved in in 2008 and 2009.

In a letter to Judge Raymond Dearie, the 33-year-old Afghan native writes about his path to extremism and change of heart in prison.

Around late 2006, Zazi met two men who introduced him to the teachings of the now deceased al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki. Zazi watched hundreds of lectures and was seduced by what he called the leaader's twisted and corrupted teaching of the Koran.

He thought he would be doomed forever in the afterlife if he didn't wage jihad against America to protect Islam. Zazi earned his GED while in prison and gained a new understanding of the Koran which he says changed his perspective. He disavows terrorist ideology.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: He came to understand that is not the message of Islam, not the message in the Koran. In fact, the message is the exact opposite of that. And that is what changed for him and that is why all useful intelligence came to the United States which no doubt has saved lives.

ZAZI: Zazi will become the third accused terrorist to be released in New York. Zarein Ahmedzay, a Zazi associate who pled guilty in connection to the plot, was released in December. An American al Qaeda recruit Bryant Neal Vinas who once pitched terrorist leaders on plans to bomb the Long Island railroad and a Walmart was released in 2017.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES: Now, it is unclear what the terms of his release will be in and what kind of supervision, what level of supervision he'll face. It is also not clear how concerned Zazi is about his own safety and what sort of arrangements may have been made to deal with those potential concerns.

In his letter to the judge, Zazi said he would continue to assist law enforcement in any way he can -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Athena Jones, reporting for us, Athena, thank you.

Stay with us. There's more news just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:58:00] BLITZER: Finally tonight, a word about today, World Press Freedom Day.

It was established by the U.N. more than a quarter century ago to recognize that a free press isn't a luxury. It's essential to develop and more importantly to maintain democracy.

It's hard to believe but that idea is under assault now, more than ever. In far flung corners of the world, journalists are under siege. In Myanmar, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo of "Reuters" are imprisoned, held for reporting the truth.

In the Philippines, my former CNN colleague Maria Ressa has been charged for criticizing the Duterte regime on her website Rappler.

And in Syria, it appears that Bashar al Assad is still holding Austin Tice, a brave free lancer, a former U.S. marine, after six years. His parents hold out hope tonight he's still alive.

And sadly, right here in the United States, reporters who show up to do their jobs are often insulted, harassed, sometimes as was the case of our friends at "The Capital Gazette" in Maryland, they're killed.

And they're called the enemy of the people by the president of the United States.

On this World Press Freedom Day, I'm reminded of words of the brilliant Dallas TV anchor Dale Hanson who recently said, we aren't the enemy of the people, we are the people.

Reporters around the world, they risk their lives to document war and risk their freedom to confront despots. They, we, we are just like you, we are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, doing our duty to shine light where there's darkness, always hoping to make it home to our families at the end of the day, just like you.

So, tonight, I hope you'll take a moment to remember those brave journalists who have died and those who are still being detained, as well as reporters working at your local newspaper or TV station just down the street. They are not your enemy. They are working for you because they are you. And they, just like thousands of my colleagues at CNN, they deserve your praise and your protection. We dedicate tonight to them.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. Thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUFRONT" starts now.

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