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THE SITUATION ROOM
Trump: I Am Being Investigated For Firing The FBI Director; Feinstein: Trump May Try To Fire Mueller And Deputy AG; White House Source: Trump Taking Matters Into His Own Hands; Trump Transition Team Ordered To Save Russia Records; Justice: Deputy AG Could Step Aside From Russia Probe; Feinstein: Trump Believes Rule OF Law Doesn't Apply To Him; FBI Denies CNN Request For Copies Of Comey Memos; Trump: Terrible Thing Happened To U.S. Man In North Korea; Update On Congressman Shot During Attack. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired June 16, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[17:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, under the bus. In a bizarre tweet, President Trump says he's being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man he says told him to fire the FBI Director. That would be the Deputy Attorney General Rob Rosenstein. Is the President throwing him under the bus?
Stepping aside, the Justice Department says Rosenstein is prepared to step aside from the Russia investigation, if necessary. Since he also hired Special Counsel Robert Mueller, could that clear the way for the President to get rid of both men?
Substantial damage, doctors are encouraged that Congressman Steve Scalise has improved. They say his risk of death has been greatly reduced, but he remains in critical condition with substantial damage from a gunshot wound. What lies ahead?
And North Korean brutality, U.S. officials are trying to learn just what happened to American student Otto Warmbier who was returned home in an unresponsive state after nearly a year and a half in North Korean detention. What horrors did he suffer? I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN Breaking news.
BLITZER: Two years to the day after he entered the Presidential race, Donald Trump drops another bombshell that may turn out to mark a milestone in his Presidency. The President tweeted today, and I'm quoting. "I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director." A White House source says the President was referring to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who also hired Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The Justice Department confirms that Rosenstein is prepared to recuse himself, if necessary, given his role in the firing of the FBI Director James Comey. That could open the way to a replacement seen as staunchly loyal to President Trump. Meanwhile, as Special Counsel Mueller beefs up his team of investigators, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein says, she fears that the President will try to fire both Mueller and Rosenstein and like colleagues on both sides of the aisle, she warns that would be a critical mistake. But a White House official says the President is now taking matters into his own hands saying this is a political fight and the President plans to fight it.
The White House, meanwhile, is digging in. Vice President Pence has now hired an outside lawyer although he calls that, quote, "very view routine." The President's personal lawyer also has hired a lawyer of his own and members of the Trump transition team have been ordered to save records related to Russia and to several former campaign aides. I'll talk to Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of the Judiciary Committee, and our Correspondents, Specialists, and guests are also standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.
President Trump threw everybody for a loop today with a stunning tweet on the Russia investigation and then he got away from it all, at least for a while, with a hardline speech on Cuba. Let's begin with our Senior White House Correspondent Jim Acosta. Jim, is the President spoiling for a fight over the investigation?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He certainly is, Wolf. President Trump came to Miami to bring back the cold war it seems between the U.S. and Cuba and while White House officials were desperately trying to stay on message today, the President could not resist commenting on the investigation that's put a serious chill into his administration, the Russia probe.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, are you under investigation by the FBI.
ACOSTA: Ignore reporter's questions on the Russia investigation, President Trump lashed out on Twitter admitting to the world that he's a target of the probe. Tweeting "I'm being investigated Ford firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director. Witch-hunt." Sources tell CNN the President was venting his frustration over what he considers to be illegal leaks and specifically referring to Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General who wrote a memo critical of Comey the White House initially used to justify his termination and to appoint a Special Prosecutor now running the Russia investigation. The President's anger at Rosenstein comes despite having praised him just last month.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: He's highly respected, very good guy, very smart guy, the Democrats like him, the Republicans like him. He made a recommendation, but regardless of recommendation I was going to fire Comey.
ACOSTA: Pressure is mounting on the President and his team as more of his associates are ensnared in the investigation. The Trump transition team sent this letter calling for the preservation of any Russia-related documents to former staffers and volunteers writing, "you have a duty to preserve any physical and electronic records that may be related in any way to the subject matter of the pending investigations." The man who chaired the transition, Vice President Mike Pence, now has his own outside counsel, and the President is still hearing from key supporters who is urging him to fire Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller. Former Adviser Roger Stone told CNN, I'd fire Mueller and Rosenstein for wasting the taxpayer's money. Newt Gingrich accused Mueller's team of being out to get the President.
[17:05:09] NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: That's why I'm very worried about Mueller, not that Mueller is a bad person but he is surrounding himself with a collective group of people who are going to engage in a witch hunt, and I keep telling everybody at the White House, this the not like New York real estate law. This is criminal law. These people are coming after you to put you in prison.
TRUMP: I am canceling the last administration's completely one-sided deal with Cuba.
ACOSTA: The probe's twists and turn overshadow the President's new policy towards Cuba unveiled in Miami where Mr. Trump hammered the Castro government in Havana for its human rights abuses.
TRUMP: We will not lift sanctions under Cuban regime until all political prisoners are freed.
ACOSTA: Two years ago, Cuba's President Raul Castro claimed to CNN those prisoners don't exist.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why do you have Cuban political prisoners?
RAUL CASTRO, CUBA PRESIDENT (through translator): Give me a list right now of political prisoners so can I release them.
ACOSTA: But contrast to the President's tough rhetoric on Castro with his comments on Russian President Vladimir Putin, somebody Mr. Trump rarely criticizes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Putin's a killer.
TRUMP: A lot of killers. We've got a lot of killers.
ACOSTA: One week ago the President told reporters he would disclose whether he has recordings of his conversations at the White House in the near future. That has not happened all week long and today the office of the President's outside council told CNN there are no update to the question where are the tapes? Still no answer Wolf.
BLITZER: I'm not surprised. All right, Jim Acosta, thanks very much. Could Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein step aside from the Russia probe and could that clear the way for the President to make a move against Special Counsel Robert Mueller? Our Global Affairs Correspondent Elise Labott is with us. Elise, what are you learning?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Rod Rosenstein is under pressure from all side as the Special Counsel weighs to investigate the President for obstruction of justice. President Trump lashing out at Rosenstein for his role in the widening probe raising questions about whether the Deputy Attorney General should recuse himself from the investigation and renewing concerns that Trump might get rid of Rosenstein, the only man who can currently get rid of Mueller. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
LABOTT: The Deputy Attorney General could be the next Department of Justice official to recuse himself from overseeing the Special Counsel's Russia investigation which Rod Rosenstein himself set in motion by hiring Robert Mueller to lead the probe.
ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: Director Mueller is going to have a full degree of independence that he needs to conduct that investigation appropriately.
LABOTT: Rosenstein's role is under scrutiny now that it appears Mueller's probe may have broadened to investigate obstruction of justice which could include the President's firing of FBI Director James Comey. Rosenstein played a role in that decision. His memo is critical of Comey was initially used by the White House to justify the termination.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Trump made the right decision at the right time, and to accept the recommendation of the Deputy Attorney General and the Attorney General.
LABOTT: The President later admitted he was going to fire him anyway.
TRUMP: I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.
LABOTT: Today a Justice Department Spokesman told CNN, this is about Rosenstein's future quote, "if there comes a point where he needs to recuse, he will. However, nothing has changed." Questions about his recusal come after this strange statement late Thursday in which Rosenstein himself referred to recent media reports about whether Trump was being investigated saying, quote, "Americans should be skeptical about anonymous allegations." That drew concern from Democrats like Dianne Feinstein who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee that Trump was not only considering firing Mueller but Rosenstein as well. In a statement calling such a move a blatant violation of the President's Oath of Office, Feinstein warned quote, "if the President thinks he can fire Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and replace him with someone who will shut down the investigation, he's in for a rude awakening." If Trump does fire Rosenstein or he recuses himself, Mueller's investigation would be overseen by Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand who the Senate confirmed in May to be the third highest ranking official at the Justice Department. Brand previously served at DOJ under President George Bush.
RACHEL BRAND, U.S. ASSOCIATE ATTORNEY GENERAL: If confirmed, I will strive to undertake my role with integrity, independence and fidelity to constitution principles and the rule of law.
LABOTT: As the investigation moves forward, Mueller is now looking at Jared Kushner's meetings, specifically whether he was acting as a member of the Trump campaign in transition or as a real estate businessman when he met with the Head of a Russian bank. And other members of the Trump transition are being directed to preserve records pertinent to the Russia probe, including foreign travel and records related to former Trump campaign associates, specifically former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, former Foreign Policy Adviser Carter Page, former Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort and his Deputy Rick Gates and longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone.
[17:10:16] LABOTT: And now, slew of Trump associates including his personal lawyer Michael Cohen are lawyering up. Vice President Mike Pence hired a personal attorney although he downplayed the significance today calling it routine and former Trump Campaign Aid Michael Caputo has also hired a personal attorney. Sources tell CNN, Wolf, that Caputo has been contacted by the FBI.
BLITZER: All right. Elise thanks very much. Elise Labott reporting. Joining us now Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York, he's a member of the House Judiciary Committee. Congressman, thanks for joining us.
REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Thanks for having me, Wolf.
BLITZER: And so as you know, the President tweeted this today. I'll put it up on the screen. "I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire FBI Director. Witch-hunt." I want you to react to that tweet. Was it appropriate?
JEFFRIES: Well, I don't think it was appropriate but this is a President who has engaged in questionable behavior over the last several months particularly as it relates to the ongoing investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and Russian spies as well as the possibility that there may have been an effort to cover it up, obstruction of justice, abuse of power. Now, Wolf, this is the President who fired the Acting Attorney General Sally Yates after she shared her concerns with the White House that Michael Flynn could be a Russian asset. President Trump directed the firing of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara after it was publicly revealed that his office was investigating close allies of the Trump Administration. And then, of course, he fired FBI Director James Comey after apparently, Comey refused to slow down and/or terminate the ongoing criminal investigation into Michael Flynn which Trump appears to have requested in his conversations with James Comey. And so it wouldn't shock me that there could can be further irresponsible behavior from a President who thinks that this is a witch-hunt, but that would be a dramatic turn of events, and I think it would only lead to a further escalation of concern amongst members of Congress and the American people as to the behavior of this President.
BLITZER: Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee and the Senate said she's concerned the President will attempt to fire Mueller, the Special Counsel, and the Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein. After this tweet do you actually believe that could happen?
JEFFRIES: I think it's a possibility based on the history that I just laid out, but it's going to be important for members of the House and the Senate, Democrats, and Republicans, people on the left and the right, to make it clear that no person in this country is above the rule of law, even the President of the United States of America. There are certain norms that must be followed in terms of allowing this independent Special Prosecutor to proceed with his investigation. Bob Mueller is incredibly well-respected on both sides of the aisle as a law enforcement professional. I expect that he's going to follow the facts wherever that may lead. If Donald Trump should be exonerated, I'm sure that's something that Bob Mueller would be willing to do as well.
BLITZER: Should -- do you believe -- you're a lawyer, should the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein recuse himself from overseeing Special Counsel Mueller's investigation?
JEFFRIES: Not necessarily at this point, but I do think it's appropriate for Rod Rosenstein to keep the doors open as he's indicated depending on the direction that the Special Prosecutor's investigation goes. If in fact there are questions as to whether Donald Trump obstructed justice by terminating the FBI Director in order to try to thwart or halt the investigation into his campaign's possible collusion with Russian spies and Rod Rosenstein was used to provide a prefectural argument to justify that termination, then it may become at a certain point important for him to recuse himself. But as you indicated Wolf, directly into your reporting, that could unleash a series of troubling consequences in terms of who will be left in charge at the Department of Justice.
BLITZER: As you know, Senator Dianne Feinstein also said this in a statement. I'll put it up on the screen. "It's becoming clear to me that the President has embarked on an effort to undermine anyone with the ability to bring any misdeeds to light, be it Congress, the media or the Justice Department. The Senate should not let that happen. We're a nation of laws that apply equally to everyone, a lesson the President would be wise to learn." Here's the question for you, she's on the Senate Judiciary Committee, do you think your House Judiciary Committee is doing enough to hold the President accountable.
[17:15:11] JEFFRIES: Not at all. And unfortunately, though the Chairman is a good man, Bob Goodlatte, the House Judiciary Committee has been missing in action in terms of our responsibilities as members of the Article One, independent, separate and co-equal branch of government in the House of Representatives. There are two sides to the United States Congress, and we in the House should do our job in overseeing the Department of Justice and the things that are happening as it relates to the investigation to ensure its independence, to make sure that the President understands that both democrats and republicans stand united in wanting the American people to get the facts without interference from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
BLITZER: The House Intelligence Community really on your side of aisle, they really taken the lead in the House of Representatives. Stand by Congressman, we have much more to discuss. We'll take a quick break, we'll resume our special coverage right after this.
[17:20:00] BLITZER: Our breaking news. President Trump in another stunning tweet says, quote, "I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director." That would be the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who also hired the Special Counsel Robert Mueller. There are growing concerns about the fate of both officials as the President seemingly gears up for a fight over the Russia investigation. We're back with Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York. He's a member of the Judiciary Committee. Congressman, the FBI now has formally denied CNN's freedom of information act request for the former FBI Director James Comey's memos about his conversations with the President citing a law enforcement exception.
Those memos where he said he testified were unclassified, and the explanation the FBI gave us is this. "There is a pending or prospective law enforcement proceeding relevant to these responsive records and release of the information in these responsive records could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings." That suggest to me that there already is or is about to happen some sort of investigation about the President's behavior and it could be explained at least in part by those memos of Comey's conversations with him. How do you read that? You're an attorney.
JEFFRIES: It seems to me that that is probably the case. You have the underlying criminal investigation that relates to the possibility of coordination between members of the Trump campaign, high-level individuals like Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, possibly Jeff Sessions, Michael Cohen, his personal attorney, Carter Page, his Foreign Policy Adviser, other individuals such as Jared Kushner, and the question as to whether they were engaged in conduct that was criminal collusion with Russian spies, that's the ongoing investigation that Bob Mueller is undertaking right now, but then, of course, there's the secondary element as to whether there's a possible cover-up and attempt by the President or others at his direction to squelch that investigation because of his view that this was somehow a witch-hunt. That equally would be problematic criminally, and the refusal of the FBI at this point to comply with the freedom of information request suggests the very real possibility that the FBI and the Special Prosecutor's office are looking hard at the possibility of abuse of power, obstruction of justice and whether there was an attempt to cover up the underlying allegations of criminal conduct.
BLITZER: Yes. I should point out that CNN, like other news organizations, are suing the FBI in federal court for access to this unclassified memorandum, and as you know one of them was actually handed over to a Columbia University Professor by Comey and then some of the substance of that made available to the New York Times. We're going to stay on top of this part of the story as well. Congressman, thanks for joining us.
JEFFRIES: Thanks for having me Wolf and have a great Father's Day weekend!
BLITZER: Thank you, you too.
Coming up, the search for answers to why a U.S. student ended up in a coma while he was held prisoner by North Korea. Also an update on Representative Steve Scalise, the doctor just revealing that by the time the Congressman arrive at the hospital after being shot, he was at imminent risk of death.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACK SAVA, MEDSTAR DIRECTOR OF TRAUMA: He was awake on scene, but by the time he was transported by helicopter to the MedStar Trauma Center he was in shock.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[17:25:00] BLITZER: We're following breaking news. President Trump's latest Twitter outburst declares he's under investigation for firing FBI Director James Comey. The President also appears to be lashing out at Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, although his tweets don't specifically name him. Let's bring in our Political and Legal Specialists. And Ryan Lizza, the President's tweet today generating a lot of buzz quote, "I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director. Witch- hunt." You've written a new article about President Trump's relationship with Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General. What's your analysis?
RYAN LIZZA, THE NEW YORKER WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I mean, he -- it looked like Rosenstein feels perhaps that he made a mistake and that he was caught up in a sort of plot to get Rosenstein to sign off on Trump firing Comey when Rosenstein didn't actually know all of the facts about Comey and Trump's relationship, right? And part of this I think is Comey's fault. If Comey had gone to Rosenstein and hadn't kept his -- what he thought was the troubling parts part of his relationship with Trump to himself, maybe Rosenstein would not have written that famous memo that Trump then used to cite when he fired Comey.
Now that's a confusing sequence of events but I -- what it looks to me from the outside is that Rosenstein after Comey was fired, after he learned the facts of what Comey alleged how Trump told him to back off the Flynn investigation and pledge loyalty and all the rest, Rosenstein then appointed the Special Counsel, then went before Congress and said, "Even if the President says I should fire that Special Counsel, I won't do it unless there's a just cause." And that sequence of events, I think, has enraged Trump where you get this tweet, and he's basically saying, "I thought this guy was on my side in getting rid of Comey, and now, I'm realizing he is not as pliable as I hoped he would be.
BLITZER: Right. The whole issue of loyalty for Donald Trump is very, very powerful. Jeremy Diamond, as you remember, the President's initial explanation for firing -- for firing Comey was that Rod Rosenstein, among other things, that memorandum or that -- the paper that he submitted, but that excuse quickly fell apart during the course of the President's interview with Lester Holt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LESTER HOLT, NBC NIGHTLY NEWS HOST: Monday, you met with the Deputy
Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
HOLT: Did you ask for a recommendation?
TRUMP: What I did is I was going to fire Comey, my decision. It was not --
HOLT: You had made the decision before they came in --
TRUMP: I was going to fire Comey. He made a recommendation. He's highly respected, very good guy, very smart guy. The Democrats like him, the Republicans like him. He made a recommendation but regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. So, why is the President now backtracking on this?
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, one of the things that we know about this President is that what's politically expedient is always what's best for him, and we know that this is a President, you know, we're looking back now on two years of Trump's -- since Trump's campaign announcement. And throughout those two years, we've seen a President with very little disregard for facts and for the truth. And what he usually uses, the argument that he used is what is most politically expedient at the time. And so, the President clearly there was saying, "Listen, this was because of the Russia thing. I didn't do it because of the Rosenstein memo," but now that he feels betrayed as you were talking about, you know, he's now going to use this and go forward and say, you know, we're going to instead castigate Rosenstein. And the question is, what does this mean for what comes next? You know, is he going to fire Rosenstein in order to fire the special counsel? What comes next is the big question that remains here.
BLITZER: And Dianne Feinstein certainly has that ominous fear in her mind, Rebecca Berg, she issued a very strong statement. Let me read a couple of lines from it. "I'm growing increasingly concerned that the President will attempt to fire not only Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating possible obstruction of justice but also Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein who appointed Mueller. The message the President is sending through his tweets is that he believes the rule of law doesn't apply to him, and that anyone who thinks otherwise will be fired. That's undemocratic on its face and a blatant violation of the President's oath of office." Those are very, very strong words from her.
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, especially when you consider that Dianne Feinstein is really not at partisan bomb thrower. She chooses her words very carefully. As the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee and a member of the Intelligence Committee that is investigating this matter concerning Trump and his campaign and potential Russia collusion, she really does take her work on those two committees very seriously. Not one to just throw something like this out there unless she really means it, and I think in this case, she does want to lay down a marker and lay down a warning to the President of what would happen if he took those steps. Clearly, not wanting to take the risk that he would do what he did to James Comey.
BLITZER: Danny Cevallos, you're our legal analyst. What would it take for Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General to recuse himself?
DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The Department of Justice has policies on this issue, both in the Code of Federal Regulations and you can also look to the U.S. Attorney's Manual as well, but generally speaking, an actual conflict is not required. Just the appearance of a conflict or the appearance of the loss of impartiality, at least under the U.S. Attorney's Manual is enough for a recusal, and typically, just to give you an idea, Wolf, this is the kind of thing that gets reported up to your section chief if you're a U.S. attorney. When you're at this high on the apex of the pyramid, there aren't a lot of section chiefs to report up to, but the appearance of a conflict of interest may be enough and should be enough under the regulations.
BLITZER: Yes, Rosenstein himself said he would -- he would recuse himself, if necessary. Let's take a quick break. We'll resume all of our breaking news coverage right after this.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
[17:39:04] BLITZER: We're getting breaking news about a very serious collision involving a U.S. Navy Destroyer. I want to quickly go to our Pentagon Correspondent, Barbara Starr. Barbara, what are you hearing?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this happened just a few hours ago off the Coast of Japan where daylight is now breaking. A U.S. Navy Warship, the USS Fitzgerald, we have some photos of it underway some time ago to show apparently collided with a merchant ship off the Coast of Japan, according to the U.S. Navy. Here is what is so concerning at this hour. The U.S. Navy confirming that the ship is now -- has now taken on some water. The ship is listing. The Japanese Coastguard is on scene rendering assistance. The U.S. Navy says that there are some U.S. Navy personnel who are injured. They are trying to determine that. We're getting some new pictures in, I believe, right now of what is happening off the Coast of Yokosuka, Japan.
[17:40:00] That is on Japan's southeast coast, as the Japanese Coastguard is arriving on scene at first light to assist this U.S. Navy warship. You see it listing there. There is a merchant ship it collided with. We don't know how that happened. We don't know the status of the merchant ship. The Navy is seeking more details at this hour, and we are told this is now a major incident. The ship is not in danger of sinking, the Navy emphasizes, but families are being notified, Wolf, about this incident.
BLITZER: Not in danger of being -- of sinking at this point. I'm told -- I'm looking at the information we have on the USS Fitzgerald. It usually has a crew size of about 330 sailors. That's a lot of sailors and presumably some Marines on board as well.
STARR: This is a ship that is actually home-ported in Japan as part of the forward U.S. naval presence, actually, to be a defensive presence against North Korea. This is a ship that has a -- is a missile defense ship. Those 330 crew like every U.S. Navy warship practice for these kinds of emergencies, we're told, and the Navy has really asked that we emphasize, they see no danger at this point of it sinking, but we have to say, as we look at these pictures of the ship listing at this hour, it is not entirely clear what the situation actually is. These Navy ships have a number of protective measures where they can shut off certain areas of the ship. If water comes in, if the hull is breached, which is how water comes in, they can shut off certain areas of the ship. Crews practice rapidly moving to safer areas, but we don't know at this hour what exactly transpired, where the ship was breached, how much water came in, how soon they could shut it off.
The U.S. Navy issuing a statement saying they are assessing the extent of injuries to U.S. naval personnel. So, all indications are there are some injured crew members. Again, we don't know about the merchant ship that was involved in the collision. The Japanese Coastguard is a very capable maritime force, they are very experienced. The U.S. Navy has excellent working relationships with the Japanese forces. They are said now to be on scene rendering assistance, but you look at the pictures, Wolf, at minimum, for the families who are watching who may have loved ones on board, this is a very worrisome situation. Again, the Navy emphasizing at this hour the ship will not sink, they say, but there are injuries on board, and we do not know the extent of them, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, Barbara, and we do know according to the Navy Web site that in February, the Fitzgerald received about $21 million in upgrades and repairs. All right, Barbara, I know you're working this story. You're going to get us more information. We'll update our viewers as that comes in. Barbara Starr over at the Pentagon.
Let's get back to our political and legal specialists as we're awaiting word on all of this. And Ryan Lizza, let me quickly get your thoughts. The Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, he put out a what I would regard as a sort of bizarre statement about the news media, and anonymous source, let me read it to you. "Americans should exercise caution before accepting as true any stories attributed to anonymous officials, particularly when they do not identify the country let alone the branch or agency of government with which the alleged sources supposedly are affiliated. Americans should be skeptical about anonymous allegations. The Department of Justice has a long-standing policy to neither confirm or deny such allegations." It's a very strange statement. It sounds like something that the White House or the President may have told him, you know, go after these anonymous sources. They deny that, by the way. LIZZA: Yes. A lot of people have speculated that the justice
department has said that is not the case, and now, this statement came before two pretty big Washington Post stories, one saying that the President was being investigated for obstruction of justice and then another saying that Jared Kushner, the President's top adviser, and son-in-law, was being investigated for his financial transactions, potentially with Russian entities.
And, look, one thing, you know, Rosenstein really does have a very good reputation as a by-the-book U.S. attorney. This is a guy who was a George W. Bush U.S. attorney, that Barack Obama kept for his entire eight years. It's very rare, so when he -- when he came into the Justice Department as Deputy Attorney General, he's the longest- serving U.S. attorney because both Republican and Democratic Presidents trusted him to stay on. He sort of stepped in it a little bit with his memo recommending the firing of Comey, but I think that can be justified by the fact that he's a by-the-book guy and he thought what Comey did in the Clinton case really wasn't the case. So if you assume that he -- this is -- this is his true character, perhaps the statement is him trying to navigate both the White House who wants to clamp down on leaks and him just trying to tell Justice Department officials, "Hey, don't leak. It's not appropriate." But it sure was unusual.
[17:45:14] BLITZER: Yes. No, he had a sterling reputation when he was the U.S. attorney in Baltimore. He was confirmed, what, 94-6, something along those lines.
BLITZER: Jeremy, you cover the White House for us. It does sound like something that someone at the White House could have initiated even though they deny that.
DIAMOND: Well, you know, it's interesting is that a Justice Department official told our Evan Perez that it was not the White House that had ordered them to put out this statement but they did so on background, declining to say it on the record right after the Justice Department's Deputy Attorney General slams the use of anonymous sources. So, you know -- but clearly, what this is, though, you know, this all comes against the backdrop of Rosenstein and how the President is feeling about him. You know, we saw his tweets this morning suggesting that the Deputy Attorney General was part of this witch-hunt that he has slammed for months now and perhaps there's a thought process going on in Rosenstein's mind of, you know, maybe I need to do something to get a little bit of job security and certainly putting out this the statement might help allay some fears that the White House and certainly on the part of the President that Rosenstein is some kind of a political figure championing this witch-hunt against him.
BLITZER: Very interesting. You know, Rebecca, the former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, he's been outspoken in his defense of the President throughout all of this period. I want you to listen to what he said this morning. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GINGRICH: The President of the United States cannot obstruct justice. The President of the United States is the Chief Executive Officer of the United States. If he wants to fire the FBI director, all he's got to do is fire him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Now, he was the Speaker of the House when Bill Clinton was President of the United States, and he was accused of obstructing justice, and he was eventually impeached by the House of Representatives, and the Speaker of the House was Newt Gingrich.
BERG: Right. Well, now, the shoe is on the other foot, and Newt has taken a different view of things. I don't want to try to be a Newt translator here. It might have been that he was talking about criminal obstruction of justice versus impeachment which is a political process, and it is very hard to charge the President with a crime. If Mueller were to find anything troubling about the President himself, it might be that he just takes that to the House of Representatives to the Senate, and says, "OK. Do with this what you want."
LIZZA: That is -- there's way too fair to Newt.
BLITZER: Hold on. I want to get Danny Cevallos, he's our legal analyst into this conversation. Is Newt Gingrich right when he says the President of the United States cannot obstruct justice, the President of the United States is the Chief Executive Officer of the United States, and if he wants to fire the FBI director, all he's got to do is fire him? The latter part is absolutely true. He could fire the FBI director for no reason at all, but the part where he says the President cannot obstruct justice, is that true?
CEVALLOS: That's incorrect, especially based on that logic. Yes, it's lawful. Yes, the President can fire the FBI director. That's a lawful act, but there are plenty of federal laws that can be violated by lawful acts with an evil or corrupt intent. A simple example would be bribery. If you give an official a bag of cash and that official gives you a job, those two acts are by themselves, lawful, but they're done corruptly, and with the corrupt intent, that is the factor, that's the element that makes an otherwise lawful act unlawful under any of a jubilee of different federal criminal laws. They are very expansive in scope and definition. So obstruction is certainly one of those laws.
BLITZER: All right. Everybody stand by for a moment, because we're following multiple breaking news stories right now. The latest medical update on Congressman Steve Scalise. Just a little while ago one of his doctors revealed the Congressman was in imminent risk of death by the -- by the time he arrived at that D.C. hospital after being shot Wednesday morning. I want to go to the hospital right now. CNN's Ryan Nobles is on the scene for us. So how is Congressman Scalise, Ryan, doing right now?
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the short answer is that he's doing much better, especially much better than the condition that he arrived in here at the Washington MedStar Hospital Center just a couple of days ago. We actually got a detailed report as to his condition when he arrived from the head of trauma here. Dr. Jack Sava, listen to him describe what the situation was like here just a couple of days ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. JACK SAVA, MEDSTAR WASHINGTON HOSPITAL CENTER DIRECTOR OF TRAUMA: The Congressman's status remains critical. We are encouraged by improvement in his condition over the last 36 hours. We have controlled the internal bleeding, and his vital signs have stabilized. He will require additional operations to manage abdominal injuries and other bone injuries. The round fragmented and did substantial damage to bones, internal organs, and blood vessels. I understand he was awake on scene, but by the time he was transported by helicopter to the MedStar trauma center, he was in shock. I would say that when he arrived, he was in critical condition with an imminent risk of death.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[17:50:12] NOBLES: Now, sitting in that press conference today, Wolf, there was no doubt that you got the impression that Congressman Scalise is lucky to be alive here today. And there is a good chance that he will make a full and complete recovery, even to the point where he may be able to run again, which is remarkable considering everything that he has been through. But Dr. Sava cautioned us, he still has a very long road ahead. There could setbacks, there could be more surgeries. And no matter what, he's going to be in the hospital for a long time, and require a great deal of recovery and rehabilitation going forward.
BLITZER: And we're all praying for him and wish him only a speedy recovery, only the best. Thanks very much, Ryan Nobles, over at the hospital for us.
Also breaking right now, President Trump calling what happened to U.S. student Otto Warmbier in North Korea a terrible thing. Let's go to Brian Todd. He's got more on this search of what happened to this 22- year-old while he was held for about a year and a half in North Korea.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, there are still so many unanswered questions in this case. U.S. officials searching for more information tonight as to what happened to Otto Warmbier to cause him to lapse into a vegetative state. Kim Jong-un's regime is saying nothing about what happened. And the outrage over this young man's condition is growing.
TODD: The mystery surrounding what happened to American student Otto Warmbier in North Korea, seen here playing in the snow with children in Pyongyang, is deepening. Tonight, American officials say they are no closer to knowing what led the 22-year-old who was arrested and held by the brutal regime of Kim Jong-un for stealing a sign in a hotel to suffer brain damage.
TRUMP: What happened to him is a truly terrible thing but at least the ones who love him so much can now take care of him and be with him.
TODD: Warmbier's doctors say they found no evidence to support North Korea's claim he contracted botulism in captivity before being returned to the U.S. on Tuesday. His doctors say he's unresponsive, that he's lost much of his brain issue due to cardiopulmonary arrest, and that two brain scans sent by Pyongyang suggests he's been in this vegetative state for at least 14 months.
DR. DANIEL KANTER, UNIVERSITY OF CINCINNATI HEALTH: The earliest images are dated April 2016. Based upon our analysis of those images, the brain injury likely occurred in the preceding weeks.
TODD: Experts say while they're surprised North Korea would allow an American being held to reach such critical condition, they say mistreatment in North Korean jails is not uncommon.
GREG SCARLATOIU, THE COMMITTEE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IN NORTH KOREA EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: We know that they applied very brutal treatment, torture, beating, rape, to their own people, and also to foreigners who are held in custody.
MICHAEL GREEN, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: All of a sudden, he was thrown into this hell hole. So anything is possible. He could have suffered shock when he was sentenced to hard labor. He could have been beaten. He could have tried to take his own life. Whatever the circumstances, it is likely the result of the fact that the North Koreans put him in this situation.
TODD: Another key question, why did Kim's regime keep Warmbier's condition a secret for so long.
SCARLATOIU: Perhaps they waited, hoping that he would come out of the coma. He didn't. Eventually, they panicked.
TODD: Pressed by CNN, U.S. officials are not commenting tonight on how they might retaliate for the return of a 22-year-old American in this condition.
GREEN: I think this will put pressure on the administration to be more supportive of tougher human rights sanctions and to not wait so long for the Chinese. I think this puts the monkey back on the back of the administration.
TODD: Tonight, even as America contemplates, what it will do in the Warmbier case, a prominent reality star is being wined and dined by the North Korean regime. Former NBA star Dennis Rodman arrived in Pyongyang on Tuesday. U.S. national security officials say the visit is not on behalf of the U.S. and Rodman says he is there to promote sports. The former star of President Trump's show, "Celebrity Apprentice". TRUMP: Dennis, you're fired.
TODD: Presented North Korean officials with a copy of Trump's book, "The Art of the Deal".
TODD: Now, Rodman had said he had nothing to do with Warmbier's release and his return to America and that he's not in North Korea to help free three other Americans being held there. As for how America is going to respond to the Warmbier situation, analyst say U.S. officials have to be careful about any possible retaliation because of the possibility that Kim Jong-un's regime could then turn its guns on U.S. allies, South Korea or Japan, or that it could do harm to any of the three Americans still being detained in North Korea. We're told U.S. officials are weighing the possibility of banning all American tourists from traveling to North Korea. Wolf?
[17:54:58] BLITZER: You know, Brian, Warmbier's father has turned his anger toward that tour company, right?
TODD: He has, Wolf. Fred Warmbier says the tour company promotes this as the safest tour, ever, and claims no Americans ever get detained, and that they provide fodder for the North Koreans. Now, that tour company, which is called, "Young Pioneer Tours" has denied all of that saying, they never make those claims and they have very strict warnings for tourists of what to do and not to do.
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Thank you very much. Coming up, breaking news. President Trump says he is being investigated for firing the FBI director by the man he says told him to fire the FBI director. Could Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein be forced to step aside?
BLITZER: Happening now. Breaking news. Trump's new target, the President goes after his Deputy Attorney General, suggesting he's to blame for a witch-hunt that left Mr. Trump personally under investigation.