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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego; Cuba Reversal; President Trump Lashes Out at FBI and Justice Department Over Investigation; Gunman Found with List of GOP Congressmen's Names; Officer Who Fatally Shot Philando Castile Found Not Guilty. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 16, 2017 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:03]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: 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. Tonight, a new warning that the president may be getting ready to fire Rod Rosenstein or the special counsel he appointed.

Terrorists killed? Russia claims it may have scored a critical hit with one of its airstrikes in Syria killing the elusive leader of ISIS. But, tonight, the U.S. military is not convinced.

Cuba reversal. The president goes to Miami to unveil new restrictions on U.S. dealings with Cuba and to slam his predecessor again. Did he oversell his new attempt to roll back Obama era policies.

And imminent risk of death. (AUDIO GAP) reveal just (AUDIO GAP) it was when he arrived at the hospital after being hit in a shooting rampage. Stand by for new details on his condition right now.

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 now publicly acknowledging that he's under investigation for firing FBI Director James Comey. He is apparently blaming his troubles and turning his wrath on his deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein.

And in a stunning new tweet, the president complains that he is being investigated for firing the FBI director by the man who told him to fire the FBI director. That remark is raising urgent new questions about the fate of Rosenstein, who wrote a memo used to justify Comey's firing and who later launched the special counsel investigation.

Also tonight, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein says she is worried that the president might try to fire both Rosenstein and the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

Also breaking, the FBI just denied CNN's request for copies of James Comey's memos detailing his private conversations with the president. The bureau arguing that releasing memos could interfere with the work of law enforcement. CNN sued the FBI for access to the notes, which Comey quoted public testimony saying they were not, repeat, not classified.

Also tonight, the U.S. military is skeptical about Russia's new claim of that the leader of ISIS may be dead. Moscow says it's investigating reports that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in one of its airstrike in Syria last month. U.S. officials say they have no evidence to confirm that.

This hour, I will talk about all those stories and more with Congressman Ruben Gallego, a Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.

And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.

First, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He traveled with the president to Miami today.

Jim, as the Russia investigation widens right now, the president seems to be determined to fight back his way.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

That's right, Wolf. The president came here to Miami today to unveil his new get tough policy on Cuba. He said he was canceling the Obama administration's policy on Cuba, when in fact he is preserving much of it.

But his carefully planned message today on Cuba was completely overshadowed by a tweet he posted earlier this morning on the Russia investigation. The president essentially admitted he is under investigation in the Russia probe for possible obstruction of justice.

The president tweeted -- we can put this up on screen -- "I'm being investigated for firing the FBI director by the man who told me to fire the FBI director. Witch-hunt."

Now, we are told by sources in the office of Mr. Trump's outside counsel that the president was venting his frustrations over what he considers to be illegal leaks coming out of the administration. But the tweet appears to be aimed at Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who, remember, wrote that memo that the White House used to justify the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

The president is also receiving advice from key supporters who are urging him to fire special counsel Robert Mueller. One former adviser, Roger Stone, told CNN -- and we can put this up on screen -- -- quote -- "I would fire Mueller and Rosenstein for wasting the taxpayers' money."

Earlier today, Newt Gingrich, another key supporter of the president, the former speaker of the House, accused Mueller's team of being out to get the president. Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: 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 be on the witch-hunt.

And I keep telling everybody at the White House this is not like New York real estate law. This is criminal law. These people are coming after you to put you in prison.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Now, we should point out, in just the last several minutes, we have confirmed that the president has fired another major legal heavy hitter for his outside counsel team.

John Dowd has also joined the president's outside counsel legal team. We confirmed that just in the last several minutes, Wolf.

[18:05:05]

We should also point out it was one week ago, remember, the president told reporters he would let us all know shortly whether he has any recordings of his conversations at the White House.

We did not receive an answer on that all week long. We should make that very clear and a source inside the outside counsel's office today told us, Wolf, there is still no updates to this question, where are the tapes? We still do not have an answer to that question, Wolf.

BLITZER: Any -- no explanation at all?

ACOSTA: No explanation, and no explanation from the White House.

I called a White House official earlier this morning. Even on that question, they are referring us to outside counsel. So, we're getting the runaround on a very key question, something that the president raised himself. He's the one who said that there may be tapes of these conversations with Comey and others inside the White House. He is refusing to answer that question, and so is his legal team, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim Acosta in Miami for us, Jim, thanks very much.

Also tonight, the president's tweet is ramping up the pressure on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. There's growing speculation, in fact, right now that he might recuse himself from the Russia investigation if the president doesn't fire him first.

Let's go to our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider.

What is the very latest you're learning, Jessica?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, tonight, Rosenstein and the Justice Department keeping that option for recusal open. The deputy attorney general is sticking with his stance that he would remove himself if the investigation ends up involving the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

It's a possibility that has become a lot more apparent in recent days, as special prosecutor Robert Mueller widens his probe.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tonight, the man who named a special counsel to run the Russia investigation after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself may now be forced to do the same thing.

A spokesperson for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein acknowledged today Rosenstein is willing to step aside from overseeing Robert Mueller's Russia probe, telling CNN, "If there comes a point where he needs to recuse, he will," but adding that, as of now, "Nothing has changed."

ROD ROSENSTEIN, U.S. DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: Director Mueller is going to have the full degree of independence that he needs to conduct that investigation appropriately.

SCHNEIDER: Rosenstein's role is under scrutiny now that it appears Mueller's investigation could broaden to include the president's firing of FBI Director James Comey and whether that was an obstruction of justice.

Rosenstein wrote the memo the president initially used to justify dismissing Comey, citing his handling of Hillary Clinton's e-mail investigation. But days later, Trump cited different reasons, saying he let Comey go because of the Russia probe.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.

SCHNEIDER: Experts say Mueller may now want to ask Rosenstein about his decision to write that memo and if the president ordered him to do it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did anyone ask you to write the memo?

ROSENSTEIN: As I said, Congresswoman, I'm not at liberty to talk about that now.

SCHNEIDER: Overnight, Rosenstein issued a rare public statement, not about his role in the investigation, but about leaks coming out of it.

In a press release, the deputy attorney general suggested reporters may be relying on sources outside of the United States, writing in part, "Americans should exercise caution before accepting as true any stories attributed to anonymous officials, particularly when they don't identify the country, let alone the branch or agency of government," adding, "Americans should be skeptical about anonymous allegations."

Today, in an even more bizarre twist, the president himself lashed out at Rosenstein on Twitter, writing: "I'm being investigated for firing the FBI director by the man who told me to fire the FBI director. Witch-hunt."

Trump's tweet, which voiced what some aides say is his growing ire with the man he appointed to be his deputy attorney general, infuriated members of Congress.

In a tersely worded statement, Senator Dianne Feinstein, a member of the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, said: "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."

Despite the controversy swirling around the investigation, tonight, there are more signs it is moving forward. "The Washington Post" reports that the special counsel is investigating the finances and business dealings of Jared Kushner. Plus, the general counsel for the Trump transition sent a memo to all transition and campaign officials to preserve all documents and materials related to the Russia investigation.

And both Vice President Pence and Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen have hired lawyers to represent them if needed in the probe. The president told reporters not to read too much into it.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's very routine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: And Vice President Pence isn't the only one lawyering up. President Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen and former campaign aide Michael Caputo, they have both hired private attorneys -- Wolf.

[18:10:00]

BLITZER: Lots of lawyers getting assignments right now. Thanks very much, Jessica, for that, Jessica Schneider reporting.

Let's get reaction to all of this.

Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego, a member of the Armed Services Committee, is joining us right now.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

REP. RUBEN GALLEGO (D), ARIZONA: Thank you.

BLITZER: Let me put that tweet up from the president that is causing all the stir right now.

He says: "I'm being investigated for firing the FBI director by the man who told me to fire the FBI director. Witch-hunt."

I want you to respond to that. Was that tweet, that statement from the president of the United States appropriate?

GALLEGO: It's not appropriate. I mean, first of all, I guess thank you for confirming, because none

of us knew that this was actually occurring at this time. We don't get that type of notification.

But, second of all, I think it is an attempt at intimidation on the deputy attorney general, as well as potentially the special counsel, which is entirely inappropriate by the president.

And I think that he needs to maybe heed the advice of his advisers and lawyers to stay off Twitter at this point.

BLITZER: You saw that statement from Senator Dianne Feinstein, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, that she is concerned the president will attempt to fire the special counsel and the deputy attorney general.

What is your reaction to that?

GALLEGO: I would say the president should look at history. And that did not go very well last time a president tried do that with the Saturday Night Massacre.

There is a lot of open questions. Director Mueller is -- sorry -- special counsel Mueller is very well regarded within the D.C. community, as well as the legal community.

He is a patriot. He is a Vietnam War veteran, Bronze Star with a V. He's served multiple presidents. And for him -- for the president to fire him would really indicate that there is a lot more going on here and I think would cause a stronger reaction from Congress. Potentially, at least in my opinion, it would be the grounds for starting impeachment procedures.

BLITZER: Really, you would go that far?

Because some have suggested, if he were to do that, fire Mueller, fire Rosenstein, for example, they would see that as a potential violation of his oath of office. You agree? You would see it that far, right?

GALLEGO: Absolutely.

At that point, I think the United States Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, have to step and really essentially save democracy and uphold the rule of law.

Nobody is above the rule of law. And the president making overt efforts at obstruction of justice cannot -- we cannot stand for that. So if he makes an attempt at, you know, a redux of Saturday Night Massacre, it is incumbent upon us, as we also swore to protect the Constitution of the United States, to start impeachment proceedings.

BLITZER: Should the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, recuse himself from overseeing special counsel Mueller's investigation?

GALLEGO: I don't know the details of it. Clearly, if he is part of the investigation when it comes to

obstruction of justice, and he is going to end up having to either testify or give some form of testimony about what occurred, then, you know, I think at that point, that would be appropriate.

As long as the investigations are going strong, and do not have the interference or pressure being put on by deputy attorney general, I think we could proceed as possible. But I don't have enough information to really say one way or the other.

But, again, the most important thing is that we actually have access to the truth, we follow the evidence. And if the evidence takes us to a place that we don't want to go, but could end up being obstruction of justice or prove obstruction of justice, then that's when Congress has to really step in and do their constitutional duties.

BLITZER: Rosenstein himself, by the way, he said publicly that, if necessary, he would go ahead and recuse himself.

As you just heard in our report, officials who worked for the Trump transition team have been directed to preserve all records that might be relevant to the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign.

How important, Congressman, do you think that could be to the investigation?

GALLEGO: Well, obviously, I think the genesis of all of this was whether there was collusion from the Russian spy service or under the direction of Putin with members of the Trump transition and/or the election.

So, preserving all those types of documents are really important for evidence. But, clearly, Wolf, there is something going on here. I don't want to jump to too many conclusions, but there is clearly a lot of smoke right now, which means there is definitely going to be some fire there.

If you look at it, the lawyers for the Trump administration are also lawyering up. So, when lawyers are lawyering up, that means that something is not right. Something is amiss.

And I think we, as members of Congress, and the public should be quite aware of this and, you know, be on guard that there aren't any attempts to fire the special counsel.

BLITZER: I want you to stand by, Congressman. We are getting some more information into THE SITUATION ROOM. We will resume this conversation right after that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:19:10]

BLITZER: We're back with House Armed Services Committee member Ruben Gallego, following breaking news on President Trump publicly now complaining that he is under investigation for firing the FBI Director James Comey.

Congressman, I need to you stand by, because there is another story that is unfolding right now, Russia's claim that it may have killed the leader of ISIS.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has been digging into that.

Barbara, what are you learning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Russia may be claiming this, Wolf, but I have to tell you, here in Washington, the Pentagon, the intelligence community, they're not so sure.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): Russian reports that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the founder and leader of ISIS, might have been killed in one of its airstrikes in Syria, circulated across Moscow and Washington, with little proof the terror leader is actually dead.

[18:20:05]

SERGEI LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): I do not have 100 percent confirmation about the elimination of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

STARR: It began with the Russian Defense Ministry saying it was investigating reports he was killed in an airstrike last month, a claim the U.S. military has not seen evidence of.

COL. RYAN DILLON, OPERATION INHERENT RESOLVE SPOKESMAN: We cannot confirm these reports. If these reports are true, then everybody wins.

STARR: But there is no victory banner just yet.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: If in fact they did kill Baghdadi, if in fact they were there, that would give them a tremendous propaganda victory.

STARR: Both sides do agree Russian warplanes on May 28 carried out airstrikes near Raqqa, ISIS' self-declared capital.

Russia says it was this ISIS command post -- 300 militants, including Baghdadi, may have been present. But in the aftermath, on the right, there is little sight of a bomb blast. The buildings are destroyed very precisely, close-by structures untouched.

LEIGHTON: The bomb site looks as if it's very clean. It doesn't look like it was subject to the bombing that we normally expect from Russian or Syrian air forces.

STARR: U.S. officials are adamant they don't know for certain if Baghdadi is still alive or where he's hiding.

As U.S.-backed fighters have gotten closer to Raqqa in recent weeks, ISIS fighters and leaders have been pushed out of the city, U.S. officials say, many fleeing south to Mayadin. U.S. airstrikes and special operations are picking up in that area.

But Baghdadi several months ago was reported west of Mosul, Iraq, near the city of Baa'j. For now, there are no credible sightings of the terror leader. Just days ago, Syrian media reported him dead.

DILLON: We have seen this before. This has been a battle drill where many times these claims have been brought up.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Baghdadi is someone who is extremely careful about his personal security. And U.S. officials say, right now, they are doubtful he would be at a meeting of 300 people -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara, you're also following some breaking news on a U.S. Navy destroyer involved in a collision. Tell our viewers the latest information.

STARR: Wolf, I think we have fresh video to show everyone. This is a very concerning situation at this hour.

This is out in Japan, where it is early morning, and the U.S. Navy destroyer Fitzgerald, a couple of hours ago, collided with apparently a merchant vessel about 60 miles off the coast of Yokosuka, Japan. You can see the damage there to the Navy ship.

They are pumping out water. The ship is listing. Apparently, the hull has been breached, we are told. The ship is taking on water. The Navy says it is not in danger of sinking at this hour, but they are still trying to stabilize the ship. They are trying to ensure the safety of the crew on board.

The Japanese coast guard is on scene rendering aid. U.S. Navy assets at this hour are also -- aircraft on their way to the scene of this collision to try and render aid to the crew and to the ship. Navy emphasizing tonight the ship is not in danger of sinking at this point, but this is major incident, when you see this damage. Military families, Navy families being informed at this hour about the incident -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, very serious, crew size approximately 330 sailors, among others. That's a lot of sailors, indeed.

All right, Barbara, you get more information, you will share it with our viewers.

I want to get back to Congressman Ruben Gallego.

Congressman, you're on the Armed Services Committee. You're an Iraq War veteran.

First of all, do you believe these Russian reports that they killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?

GALLEGO: No, not really.

I mean, this is Russian propaganda. It happens to be coming exactly at a very opportune time, wherein Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Turkey are all in the midst of a diplomatic row, and now they look like somehow they are the Middle East heroes by taking out one of the worst terrorists in the world.

And in general, just in that -- working that area, it is very difficult to confirm anything. When I was in Iraq, we were trying to track down Abu Zarqawi, and we used to just hear all the time that he had just been killed or had been killed or we were close to him. And it ended up not being true.

So, I doubt that this is the case. If it happened to be the case, then great. But, at the same time, let's remember that actually Russia has been an extreme destabilizer in that region and has not been contributing to really fighting ISIS as of the last couple of years, and only recently has gotten into that, and mostly has been contributing fighting the Free Syrian Army and other factions, basically just to bolster Assad.

So, you know, hopefully, it's true, but I sincerely doubt it.

BLITZER: Well, practically -- you're a man of some experience, military experience -- if in fact Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead, what would that mean as far as the war against ISIS is concerned?

[18:25:00]

GALLEGO: I think the war against ISIS continues. ISIS is starting to transform itself from a terrorist organization that had control over land and was able to tax, you know, people and actually have somewhat of a functional level of government, and it's going to go down to, I would say, what we would see as classic al Qaeda-style terrorism.

And this will just be handed off to somebody else. But it would be good, obviously, to get rid of somebody that evil, and it would hopefully strike a blow against the recruitment ability of ISIS.

BLITZER: Congressman Gallego, thanks very much for joining us.

GALLEGO: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, more breaking news.

In a stunning tweet, Trump says he is being investigated for firing the FBI director by the man he says told him to fire the FBI director. Is the president gearing up for a brand-new fight?

And an update on badly wounded Congressman Steve Scalise -- a doctor now revealing that, when he arrived at the hospital, he faced an imminent risk of death.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. JACK SAVA, MEDSTAR WASHINGTON HOSPITAL CENTER: 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)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:30:46] BLITZER: We're back with breaking news. President Trump's first public acknowledgement that he's personally under investigation in the widening Russia probe. The president now seeming to blame his Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for his troubles fuelling questions about how long Rosenstein may actually stay in his job.

Let's bring in our chief of correspondents, analysts and specialists to help us better appreciate what's going on. I want to start with Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, first of all, welcome to CNN. You're going to be our newest White House reporter starting on Monday. This is going to be an exciting new adventure for you. So let's talk about breaking news right now. The president, his latest Twitter outburst including this.

"I am being investigated for firing FBI director by the man who told me to fire the FBI director. Witch hunt." He was referring to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the man he praised effusively only a few weeks ago in that interview with Lester Holt. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS: Monday you met with the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Right.

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 --

TRUMP: I was going to fire Comey. He made a recommendation. He's highly respected. Very big 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, Kaitlin, why the change?

KAITLAN COLLINS, DAILY CALLER: That's a great question. This is a guy who he has praised as smart and respectable and now he's throwing him under the bus and blaming him for the legal complicated situation that he's put himself in. And it's interesting because we just didn't see this coming for the president to flip-flop on him and throw him under the bus. And -- just kidding, and it's interesting, it'll be interesting to see what happened. I don't think he'll be able to shake him like he thinks he can. BLITZER: Yes. It's a major development.

Evan, you cover the Justice Department for us. Might he at some point, Rosenstein, actually feel compelled to recuse himself? He said publicly he would if necessary.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: I think, look, I think that possibility is very much on his mind. And I think, you know, partly you saw from the tweet today which by the way came as a surprise to the president's own legal team, I'm told. They didn't expect him to be up and tweeting this morning and certainly not the attack on the deputy attorney general. But I think Rosenstein's thought is that if it comes to that, and if he becomes a witness in this investigation that is now run by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, then that need may arise.

And he's sort of said this publicly and today we are told again by Justice officials that that is still the state of play. And obviously inside the Justice Department there's a lot of tension built around this whole idea, you know, you have a bit of tension between the deputy attorney general on the fourth floor and the fifth floor, the attorney general, two of them are not really seeing eye to eye over the handling of this Russian investigation.

BLITZER: Well, the Attorney General Sessions, he's recused himself from the Russia investigation. The deputy attorney general, he's presumably in charge, he oversees the special counsel in this particular case. So when you say there is tension developing, you have been doing some additional reporting on it. What else are you hearing?

PEREZ: Well, one of the things is there is great distress especially on the fifth floor which is where the attorney general sits because they believe that Rod Rosenstein's handling of the Russia matter had actually made things a lot worse. He is the one who decided to hire Mueller as a special counsel. As a matter of fact, the attorney general was completely taken by surprise that this was being done. He was not consulted. He was not told. That he learned about it frankly when he was over at the White House. And he was told about it just about the time that we, in the press, learned about it. So that spread some of the tensions between those two sides there.

And look, the president himself, as you can see, is very, very angry. Both at Sessions for himself, for recusing himself and also at Rosenstein for essentially making things worse by bringing Robert Mueller. They blame all of this on Rosenstein.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting that, and I want -- Abby Phillip, I want you to come into this conversation. The president's tweet this morning when he says he's under investigation.

[18:35:05] His aides are now suggesting well, he was referring to news accounts, the "Washington Post" story, not necessarily that he's been officially informed by Mueller or anyone else that he is under investigation. What do you make of that? ABBY PHILLIP, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right. Well, you know, they are

saying that he is just reading the news just like everybody else. He's watching TV. He's seeing these reports and is commenting on it. And that's actually, I think, a pretty reasonable belief. I think it's reasonable that he would not be informed that he was necessarily under investigation unless he needed to have contact with the special prosecutor for that reason. But at the same time, why comment on it? Why make a statement that implies that the story is true?

And when, you know, I went to Marc Kasowitz, Trump's personal attorney's office, asked him about that, they characterize "The Washington Post" story as being based on anonymous illegal leaks, which implies that the story, the foundation of the story, that the president was commenting on was based on leaks, based on things that are presumptively true and illegal because they are true.

So the whole situation is a huge mess. The president is clearly commenting on things without regard for what that does for his own legal defense and his own political situation.

BLITZER: Yes. He is basing his confirmation on anonymous sources which he says, don't believe in anonymous sources. But he apparently believes those anonymous sources cited by the "Washington Post."

PHILLIP: He apparently believes it.

BLITZER: You used to be --

JOHN KIRBY, FORMER MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: I used to be one of those anonymous resources.

BLITZER: You used to be one of those anonymous sources, you're the spokesman at the Pentagon and the State Department. Now the official spokesman for the White House, they're all referring any questions related to the Russia investigation to the president's private attorney. But the president isn't bound by that. He's reacting --

KIRBY: He should be bound by it. I mean, look, rule number one as a spokesman when you're dealing with the institution that's involved in the investigation, you don't talk about it. You defer to it. You don't say anything that would prejudice or get ahead of the work that investigators are doing. It's incredibly dangerous and it's certainly not helpful to the investigative process. So it's befuddling to me. They seem to have the right discipline and the conduct. They're doing the right thing. They're passing it off to Kasowitz. The president keeps undermining their efforts to manage to discipline and the messaging and quite frankly the investigation itself.

BLITZER: Some sources are telling CNN the president right now is more interested in this political fight than helping his legal battle down the road because, you know, he is a counter punch, if somebody goes after him, he likes to counter.

KIRBY: They're one in the same, though. I think they're one in the same.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But is he understanding his legal strategy?

PEREZ: He is undermining it. And the reason why we're even here and talking about this is because he made these comments to Lester Holt in that interview. His tweets in which he said that he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation. If he hadn't said that, by the way, we wouldn't likely be here right now.

BLITZER: Yes, it's interesting, some of his outside supporters like Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House, they are really supporting the president, defending the president and they are making some very, very strong statements. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: 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 has to do is fire him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: As I remember because I was the White House correspondent for CNN, when Bill Clinton was president of the United States, he was accused of obstruction of justice. The speaker of the House at that time was Newt Gingrich leading the charge.

COLLINS: Exactly. This is not what he said in 1998. But I think we've seen from Newt that he will defend anything Donald Trump does or says. This is a guy who praised Bob Mueller and said he was a remarkable choice for special counsel and now he is saying he has a conflict of interest and he needs to be fired. So I don't think we can really take anything Newt Gingrich says at face value here.

BLITZER: He is a major supporter and his wife Callista, as you know, Abby, she's been nominated, I don't know if officially nominated, but she's been designated as the next U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.

PHILLIP: Right. And Newt has a book out about Trump, about Trump's political rise. But I think Newt Gingrich knows that what he said is not necessarily accurate. What is true, though, is that it is challenging for the special prosecutors to bring an obstruction case against the president. That ends up becoming a political decision that might end up being sucked out in an impeachment proceeding. But, you know, Bob Mueller is going to have a really hard time indicting the president of the United States because of existing DOJ rules that prohibit that sort of thing.

BLITZER: And let's not forget, back in 1998 during impeachment process and all of us remembered that, the president of the United States Bill Clinton was impeached in the House of Representatives. Newt Gingrich was the speaker at time. He was not convicted eventually in the U.S. Senate.

Everybody, stay with us. Much more right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:44:32] BLITZER: A lot happening in the Russia investigation tonight as the president admits he is a focus of the special counsel. Former members of his transition are under orders right now to preserve any records related to the Russia investigation.

Let's get back to our analysts. Evan, how significant is this?

PEREZ: Well, this is part of a routine part of the process, Wolf. This is really -- they are required to preserve these records. I mean, you would think by now, however, they would have already kind of gotten that message.

[18:45:01] I mean, you don't want to destroy records when you know that an investigation is ongoing. So, you get these letters. I think there are some letters sent by the Senate and House investigative committees as well saying essentially preserve records to make sure that when we need them, you can turn them over.

And it's a routine part of the process. But it does indicate though is that, you know, they want to look at everything. Everything related to what the campaign was doing, the transition. This is going to be a methodical process going through everything before they come to a conclusion.

BLITZER: And people are lawyering up, Abby. You cover the White House. The vice president now has a well-known lawyer that he has retained to deal with all this. Michael Cohen, one of the president's long time private lawyers in New York, he has retained an experienced Washington lawyer. The president is beefing up his own legal staff right now.

It sounds like a siege mentality seems to be developing over at the White House.

PHILLIP: It is not entirely imprudent. I mean, we're in a stage now where there are three investigations. One from the special counsel, two in the House and the Senate. So, at a very minimum, the president needs to have a legal team. Vice President Pence, folks like Cohen who has ties to both the campaign and to the Trump Organization and to some of these other sort of hangers on, folks like Roger Stone.

So, you have people on the sort of outer perimeter who needs to lawyer up. And I think a lot of people are also expecting the White House staffers are going to increasingly need to obtain personal lawyers to protect themselves from an ongoing investigation. That's going to require every single piece of documentation that's physical, that's digital. It's something that, you know, I talked to former Bush administration official recently and they told me, you know, even in some of the more -- the less sort of intense investigations in that era, folks have to lawyer up and ended up with six figure legal bills.

PEREZ: Especially if what we are talking about, Mueller eventually does expand this to look at obstruction and look at whether the president was interfering. I mean, obviously, people in the White House are going to be witnesses in all that. So, they're going to need to --

BLTIZER: It is a nightmare for staffers, because I covered earlier investigations by special counsels. For all the staffers, they first of all have to retain attorneys and it is very expensive to retain a good attorney.

What are you hearing, Kaitlin? Because you cover the White House as well.

COLLINS: Yes, the White House has taken on this like bunker mentality. Even the press shop especially has not answered a lot of questions about this. They are referring them to outside counsel who doesn't return phone calls or meet with reporters or anything like that. Especially given the president's tweets, they speak for themselves until all of a sudden they don't.

And as the president tweets nonstop about the Russia investigation his press team will not answer questions about the tweets. So, he can say whatever he wants and they refer to outside counsel who doesn't return reporters' phone calls.

The president made this all a bigger problem for himself. This investigation has gone on for nearly a year now and now those about Russian interference in the election turned into, has the president obstructed justice here?

BLITZER: Yes. It's a serious, serious development.

Other serious development that happened today, John Kirby, the president announced that he was, quote, canceling the Obama administration's deal that normalized relations with Cuba. That's not exactly what's going on. Full diplomatic relations will continue. Ambassadors will be in Havana and Washington.

But he is scaling back the opportunity for travel and trade.

KIRBY: He is rolling back a couple elements of it. He clearly did not cancel. All they did was replace the presidential policy directive that President Obama signed and he is signing a if you one. He is making it harder to travel there on an individual basis, which is unfortunate.

And he said today that he wants to improve the lives of the Cuban people. There's no better way to do that than to have them exposed to individual Americans that are going down there for tourist purposes, for business purposes. And, you know, he's going to limit military transactions -- excuse me -- business transactions with Cuban military, which, you know, there is some logic there. I think there is some logic there.

But, look, what's really important is what he didn't do. You mentioned one of them. He didn't suspend or end diplomatic relations. He didn't take Cuba off the list of state sponsors -- or sorry, he didn't return them to the list of state sponsors of terrorism and he didn't roll back or change wet foot/dry foot termination that President Obama did. Those are three really big parts. BLITZER: Tell our viewers about the wet foot/dry foot --

KIRBY: Well, that is basically when a Cuban --

BLITZER: Refugee.

KIRBY: -- refugee comes here and steps foot and becomes basically, you know, in a parolee status.

BLITZER: They can't be removed. Once they step foot on U.S. soil, the only country in the world that had that -- Obama rejected that.

KIRBY: Right. It puts them in a parolee status which is very difficult. So, no, he didn't reinstate that, which I think is really important.

PEREZ: We heard though from people -- there were some people in Miami certainly who are Cuban Americans who wanted a much tougher policy from the president and are very disappointed to that.

[18:50:03] BLITZER: He sounded like he was very, very tough. But in reality, it's sort of more modest.

PEREZ: It was a lot more modest --

(CROSSTALK)

PHILLIP: On the other side of that, you're hearing from the business world. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce put out a statement. They're usually a pretty strong supporter of President Trump and they were opposed to this move because you have businesses, in particular some of the sort of hotel competitors of the Trump Organization who are trying to establish businesses in Cuba and will have a much harder time doing that now that these new rules are in effect.

BLITZER: Yes, Marriott and Sheraton, for example, among others.

What are you hearing?

COLLINS: I think it has a lot to do with politics. Donald Trump did not win Florida because of the Cuban-American vote in the last election. He won it for the reason he won a lot of other states, because of rural white voters. And I think that politics in 2018 and 2020 played a major role in this event today where he seemed to take a really hard stance against this. But when you look at the bare bones of it, not much is changing from the Obama policy.

BLITZER: When he says I am canceling the Obama deal. It's --

COLLINS: A little asterisk.

BLITZER: Very dramatic, but then, you know, he went and signed the document, not exactly a complete --

KIRBY: And again, pretty disingenuous on human rights. If you really care about human rights in Cuba, rolling back some of these interactions is not the right to do that. And he was actually lecturing about --

COLLINS: What about human rights in Turkey and Egypt?

KIRBY: Exactly.

PHILLIPS: Saudi Arabia --

KIRBY: Exactly.

BLITZER: Those are all excellent questions. Everybody, stay with us.

Coming up, the verdict in the trial of the police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile. You remember the victim's distraught girlfriend broadcast the shooting's aftermath live on Facebook.

And we also have an update on the condition of Congressman Steve Scalise. Doctors revealing just how close the Republican came to dying right after he was shot in that attack on Republican lawmakers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:56:18] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We have breaking news just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from the investigation into the shooting of Republican Congressman Steve Scalise and others.

Let's go right to CNN's Ryan Nobles. He's at the hospital where the congressman is being treated.

First of all, what are you learning, Ryan?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. This is a chilling update to this situation involving Congressman Steve Scalise and it comes to us from Dana Bash and Shimon Prokupecz.

We're learning that a list of names including at least one member of Congress who was present but unharmed at the scene -- at the shooting I should say -- was found with the Alexandria shooter, according to a law enforcement source and Congressman Mo Brooks. Now, the law enforcement source tells CNN that they're not quite ready to describe this as an assassination list and none of the actual victims of the attack were on this list.

But as we mentioned, Congressman Mo Brooks was among those being informed about the list. His name and his office's phone number was on this list that was found on the shooter, James Hodgkinson. Now, Brooks says that CNN -- he tells CNN, I should say, that he was contacted by capitol police about this development and he has now informed his staff to take extra precautions as a result.

And, Wolf, this comes on the day that we learned significant new information about just how serious the situation was here for Congressman Steve Scalise. Of course, he was shot on Wednesday at that baseball field. He was shot in the hip and airlifted here to Washington MedStar hospital. And we got a detailed brief today by the head of trauma, Dr. Jack

Sava, who described what the situation was like on Wednesday. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. JACK SAVA, DIRECTOR OF TRAUMA, MEDSTAR WASHINGTON HOSPITAL CENTER: 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)

NOBLES: He is still in critical condition today, but Dr. Sava told us that his prognosis is good. He certainly could have setbacks and definitely a long road to recovery. But, Wolf, just to recap again, before we go back to you, we are learning now that a list of names was found on the gunman, James Hodgkinson, at the scene in Alexandria. Among them, Congressman Mo Brooks, on that list as this investigation into the shooting continues -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, truly, a chilling, chilling development indeed. That investigation continuing indeed.

All right. Ryan, thank you. Ryan Nobles reporting.

There's more breaking news tonight. A verdict of the police shooting of an African-American man that got national attention. The Minnesota officer who fatally shot Philando Castile during a traffic stop last year found not guilty of second degree manslaughter. Jeronimo Yanez also acquitted of two lesser firearm charges.

The shooting sparked protest after Castile's girlfriend live streamed the aftermath on Facebook. She said Castile was reaching for his ID in his back pocket when he was shot. Police said they thought he was going for a gun.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.