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Police Issue Alert After Deadly Package Bombings in Austin; Trump Backs Off Proposal on Age Limits for Guns; Stormy Daniels Offers to Return Money for Freedom to Speak Out; British Prime Minister: Highly Likely Russia Behind Poisoning of Former Spy; House Intelligence Committee Wrapping Up Russian Meddling Investigation. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 12, 2018 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Deadly bombings. Police warn residents of Austin, Texas, to be alert as the city is rocked by a deadly series of packet bombings. Two people are dead and an elderly woman was critically hurt in today's latest bombing. Police say the attacks are related.

[17:00:24] Backing down. After weeks of talk, President Trump is offering only modest proposals to address gun violence. Is he backing away from his own ideas on background checks and age limits under pressure from the NRA?

Stormy's last stand. Porn star Stormy Daniels offers to send $130,000 directly to President Trump to get out of the confidentiality agreement. Will that bold move let her speak openly and share evidence about their past relationship?

And from Moscow with poison. Britain's prime minister says it's highly likely Russia is behind the attack on a former spy using a nerve agent developed in the former Soviet Union. The White House condemns the attack but why won't it blame Russia?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following several breaking stories tonight out of the White House and up on Capitol Hill and deadly bombings in Texas, as well. I'll speak with Senator Ben Cardin. And our correspondents and specialists, they are all standing by with full coverage.

But let's begin a deadly series of package bombings in Austin, Texas. Two people were killed in the first two bombings, and an elderly woman was critically injured today in the third and latest attack when a package exploded at a home. Police say the bombings appear to be connected, and they're sending out urgent warnings to residents.

Let's go straight to CNN crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, who's watching all of this unfold.

Shimon, what are you learning? SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's

right, Wolf. Serious concerns in Austin, Texas, tonight, where there appears to be three bombings that are now all connected.

Police are snow standing up a task force, putting in more resources, calling on more resources from the FBI and the ATF to investigate these three package bombs that are are being left overnight at the door step of homes, of people that opening these boxes in the morning, and that's when they're exploding.

Three people have been seriously injured. There are least two deaths now connected with this. A 17-year-old was killed this morning. And as you said, an elderly woman was seriously injured this afternoon.

Police now saying that they're going to call in additional resources. That is the FBI and the ATF. And just moments ago, police described this latest incident that occurred this morning.


CHIEF BRIAN MANLEY, AUSTIN POLICE: This incident, similar to the other two incidents, the one, both from this morning and the one that occurred back on March 2, is that the victim in this incident came outside of her residence and found a package out front. And she picked up that package, and at that point the explosion, the box detonated.

Based on evidence that we have at this scene as well as at the other two scenes where we've had these explosions, this evidence makes us believe that these incidents are related.

We do not have a specific victimology or ideology that we have identified. So assigning a motive to this, at this point, is not -- we're not possible to do that based on the stage that we're at in the investigation.


PROKUPECZ: That's right, Wolf. One of the things that they're looking at as a possibility, Wolf, is that a hate crime. Early on, they were thinking this might be a hate crime, because two of the victims here are African-American. The latest one this morning was an Hispanic woman, but police are not ruling that out. Yet they're also working to try and see if there's any connections with any of these victims. So really, motive right now appears to be the key here for investigators.

BLITZER: Yes. I'm going to be speaking later here in THE SITUATION ROOM with the Austin police chief, Brian Manley. So we'll get more from him. I know you're working your sources. Shimon, thank you very much.

Now to the White House, where President Trump is shying away from any bold measures to address gun violence here in the United States, while the porn star, Stormy Daniels, makes a bold move to break her hush agreement about a past relationship with the president. Let's go live to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, is the president now backing down on gun violence and some of the earlier steps he said he supported?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, certainly, the president said, just as a few weeks ago when he had those survivors and family members in the White House here, that he would do what other presidents have been unable to do and try and find a solution to school shootings in America. But the proposal he released today stopped far short of that. The White House tonight defensive about his promise to lead the charge.


ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump retreating on guns tonight nearly a month after the school massacre in Florida stirred new cries for action. The president significantly softening his stance and putting on the back burner his call to raise the age from 18 to 21 for buying assault-style weapons.

[17:05:12] SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is pushing forward on things that we know have broad based support, and that we can immediately get done.

ZELENY: After the Parkland school shooting nearly a month ago, the president vowed to stand up to the NRA. He said he was committed to find solutions to the string of school shootings in America.

TRUMP: Half of you are so afraid of the NRA. There's nothing to be afraid of. And you know what? If they're not with you, we have to fight them every once in a while. That's OK.

ZELENY: Last month he said 18-year-olds should not be able to buy weapons like the AR-15 used in Florida.

TRUMP: Talking about changing an age from 18 to 21. I mean, so they buy a revolver, a handgun. They buy at the age of 21. And yet, these other weapons that we talk about, that some people don't like, they're allowed to buy them at 18. So how does that make sense? How does that make sense?

ZELENY: But that was not part of the president's plan announced today.

On Twitter he called for the strengthening of background checks, with highly-trained expert teachers allowed to carry weapons. On age limits, the president said he was "watching court cases and rulings before acting. States are making this decision."

The White House insisted the president hadn't abandoned his far tougher talk on guns. It was simply being practical.

SANDERS: He hasn't backed away from these things at all. As I just said, they're still outlined in the plan, but he can't make them happen with a broad stroke of the pen. ZELENY: The president did not publicly present his school safety

plan. The only event on his public schedule was to welcome the world champion Houston Astros to the White House.

The administration did create a federal commission on school safety, led by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. The president blasted such blue-ribbon committees as ineffective during a weekend rally.

TRUMP: We can't just keep setting up blue-ribbon committees with your wife and your wife and your husband; and they meet and they have a meal. And they talk, talk, talk. Two hours later. Then they write a report.

ZELENY: Meanwhile tonight, the Stormy Daniels controversy is intensifying for the White House, with the porn star offering to return hush money so she can talk freely about her alleged affair with President Trump. The adult actress, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, said she would be willing to send $130,000 to the president by Friday.

She asked to be released from a confidentiality agreement to speak openly and freely about her prior relationship with the president and the attempts to silence her. She's also asking to use and publish any text messages, photos and/or videos relating to the president that she may have had in her possession.

The White House did not respond to her offer today.

All this as the White House expresses anger at more members of the Trump cabinet. CNN has learned White House officials were dismayed by DeVos struggling to answer basic questions that the nation's schools during a "60 Minutes" interview.

BETSY DEVOS, U.S. EDUCATION SECRETARY: I hesitate to talk about all schools in general. Because schools are made up of individual students attending them.

LESLIE STAHL, "60 MINUTES": Have you seen the really bad excuse? Maybe tried to figure out what they're doing?

DEVOS: I have not. I have not -- I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming.

STAHL: Maybe you should.

DEVOS: Maybe I should. Yes.

ZELENY: This comes on the heels of the White House scolding four cabinet-level officials for embarrassing stories about expensive travel, pricey office furniture, and questionable ethical behavior.

CNN has learned Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, HUD Secretary Ben Carson, Veteran Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt were summoned to the White House to provide a clear message that optics matter. Despite multiple clouds of controversy hanging over the White House,

the president made clear he's also looking ahead to his re-election campaign, offering a preview during a weekend rally in Pennsylvania.

TRUMP: But our new slogan, when we start running in -- can you believe it, two years from now? Is going to be, "Keep America Great!" Exclamation point. "Keep America Great!"


ZELENY: So the president looking ahead to that. But it is questions about the gun proposal that is still raising some eyebrows here, Wolf. After all those meetings the president had, simply he is not following through on what he said he would do leading the charge.

Now, the White House insists that he wants to do steps instantly, administratively. And he's still committed to try and passing laws here. But Wolf, there was no sense of the president talking about this out loud today. Of course, his megaphone, his bully pulpit is the most important thing a president has. Today, he didn't talk about this, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeff, thank you. Jeff Zeleny reporting.

More now on the move by Stormy Daniels to get out of that confidentiality deal orchestrated by the president's personal lawyers. She's offering to repay the hush money directly to President Trump.

Let's to go our senior investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin. Drew, this is a real in-your-face maneuver. What's behind it?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's tough lawyering, Wolf. Stormy Daniels wants to cut a deal with the president. She returns the money; he frees her from any nondisclosure agreement. That's the deal. The president promises not to interfere with "60 Minutes" airing Stormy Daniels's interview with our Anderson Cooper.

[17:10:14] The letter was sent this morning. It also seeks to allow, as Jeff said, Daniels to use and publish any text messages, photos, and/or videos relating to the president that she may have in her possession.

And in a further attempt, Wolf, to drag the president directly into this, attorney Michael Avenatti says Daniels would send the money directly to President Trump by wire transfer. Not to Michael Cohen, who claims he is the one who made the payment. It was part of a continuing effort today by Daniels' attorney to keep this story alive and keep the pressure focused on the president.


MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: I don't understand why the president cannot come out and state unequivocally did he know about the agreement, did he know about the payment and did he have anything to do with the payment being made? Three very simple questions. You don't need 140 characters on Twitter in order to answer those three questions.


GRIFFIN: And Wolf, no response from anyone on President Trump's legal team today. Daniels wants an answer on her offer by tomorrow at noon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll see what they say. Drew, thank you very much.

Joining us now, Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. He's a key member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator, thanks for joining us.

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Wolf, it's always good to be with you.

BLITZER: We've got a lot of issues I want to go through quickly. Do you agree, first of all, with some of your Democratic colleagues that the FBI should investigate this matter involving Stormy Daniels and her alleged relationship with the president?

CARDIN: Well, clearly there could be some legal issues here. No one is above the law, including the president of the United States. There's certainly a lot of questions here that I think Americans would like to have the answers to.

BLITZER: Like what legal questions are you interested in?

CARDIN: Well, there are some issues about whether campaign laws were violated or not by the payment made by Mr. Trump's lawyer. Those issues deserve to be answered.

BLITZER: Let's get to some other issues right now. You sit on the Foreign Relations Committee. What's your reaction to the very strong statement given today by the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, in response to the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in the English town of Salisbury? Listen to this.


THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: It is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal. Mr. Speaker, there are therefore only two plausible explanations for what happened in Salisbury on the Fourth of March. Either this was a direct attack by the Russian state against our country, or the Russian government lost control of its potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.


BLITZER: Senator, your reaction.

CARDIN: Well, Prime Minister May is doing exactly the right thing. She's standing up for her country, the sovereignty of her country, and the protection of her citizens. Contrast that to what President Trump has not done about Russia's

interference in our 2016 elections; certainly, never giving a clear statement that that's unacceptable and that Mr. Putin will be held accountable.

Prime Minister May did what is required of leadership, to say this is inexcusable. It appears to be a direct attack against her country or, she points, out some really careless, reckless conduct by Mr. Putin.

BLITZER: The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, today called the attack an outrage and offered words of support to the British government, but she pointedly stopped short of blaming Russia.

Is there anything the administration should be doing right now specifically to support the British government, beyond words?

CARDIN: Well, you know, the report that I authored in January, talking about what Mr. Putin uses in order to attack other countries, this comes right out of that playbook. Poisoning people that disagree with Mr. Putin has been done. We know about. We've traced that to Mr. Putin.

So it's clear that he has accountability with what's happening in other countries, including U.K. It's disappointing that the president of the United States has not made it clear to Mr. Putin that that type of conduct can never be tolerated, and there will be repercussions if Mr. Putin does not change his course.

BLITZER: Do you worry, Senator, that something similar could actually happen here on American soil?

CARDIN: Absolutely. Mr. Putin refines his tactics and what he does in other countries. He clearly could attempt those type of tactics here in the United States.

BLITZER: The Republicans heading the Russia probe in the House Intelligence Committee, they're expected to announce fairly soon a conclusion to the interview portion of their investigation. The Democrats on the committee are clearly very upset about that. Is what the Republicans are planning on doing premature?

CARDIN: Well, you know, clearly, we need to have an independent investigation about what Russia was doing here in the United States. What's being done in the House on partisan lines will not have the credibility it needs in order for its recommendations to have weight.

We have a better effort in the United States Senate and in our Intelligence Committee. We believe that they're working in a much closer bipartisan way. It would have been, I think, preferred for us to have an independent investigation, as we did after on 9/11 on our country. But we really do need to take steps to protect America against future aggression from Mr. Putin in Russia.

BLITZER: Senator Cardin, thanks for joining us.

CARDIN: Thank you. Appreciate it. BLITZER: Up next, the House Intelligence Committee, they're moving,

clearly, to wrap up their investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election. Is there anything at this stage that Democrats can do about it?

And troubling new revelations about the murders of O.J. Simpson's ex- wife and her friend. In an interview that's finally being made public, does O.J. Simpson confess to the killings?


[17:20:30] BLITZER: Our breaking news now. The Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee has decided to end its Russia probe interviews, according to a source. But minority Democrats say there are still many witnesses that should be called before the committee.

Let's go live to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.

Manu, Republicans are moving to wrap things up. There's not much, apparently, that Democrats can do about it. Right?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. We expect that the witness part of this investigation is done. Republicans do not plan to call any more witnesses before this committee. They plan to release a draft report, a report about their findings, present that to Democrats. Tomorrow, we'll see if the Democrats actually will agree with any of their findings.

But what I'm told, that the Democrats were actually caught off-guard by the decision by the Republicans to end the witness interviews. In fact, Mike Conaway, the Republican running the Russia probe, has yet to discuss this matter with Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. Another sign the partisan tensions that have really engulfed this committee for more than a year, the two sides disagreeing on a wide range of issues.

But perhaps the most central issue that they've disagreed on about whether or not there's been collusion between Trump associates and Russian officials, a number of Republicans on this committee have said that there's absolutely no evidence of collusion.

But Democrats said there has been a number of things that raised concerns about the prospects of collusion. And they say there are a number of areas, Wolf, that need to be fully investigated by the committee. They need to issue a range of subpoenas for witnesses who did not provide a number of documents, including financial documents related to the Trump family finances. Something the Republicans on the committee have yet to agree to do.

But Republicans see this as the end of the road. They plan to announce that this investigation is essentially done, and now they'll move to the actual portion of the investigation where they release that report. And there will be a fight over public opinion about which side is right about whether or not there was collusion with the Trump campaign and what exactly happened in the 2016 elections. But one thing we do know, Wolf. There will not be a bipartisan consensus on this committee. We'll see if the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is continuing its investigation, will ultimately come to a different result, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. A lot more bipartisan cooperation on the Senate side than the House side. The House side, Manu, it's completely collapsed. The bitter, angry partisanship.

RAJU: Yes, that's right. And this has been going on for more than a year now. All -- Democrats point a finger in large part over Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the committee, who was forced to initially step aside temporarily because of his briefing with the president over some findings that he found that he believed were nefarious.

Republicans believe the Democrats are on a fishing expedition, so they want to end this investigation rather quickly. And of course, we saw this devolve into a partisan infighting when they traded these memos earlier this year about exactly whether or not there was any abuse of the surveillance process while monitoring the Trump associate Carter Page. Really a sign that this committee has really got -- hit gridlock. It's the end of the road. They are not going to reach any sort of bipartisan consensus, as finger pointing will ensue ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Manu. Thanks very much. Manu Raju reporting.

Coming up, police warn residents of Austin, Texas, to be on alert as the city is rocked by a deadly series of package bombings. Two people are dead. An elderly woman was critically hurt in today's latest bombing. Police say the attacks are related.

And disturbing new details emerging right now about the murders of O.J. Simpson's ex-wife and her friend. Does O.J. Simpson confess to the killings in an interview that's finally being made public? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


[17:28:41] BLITZER: Among the breaking stories we're covering this hour, a new proposal by an attorney for the porn star Stormy Daniels, who's offered to pay back $130,000 in hush money in return for the freedom to speak and publish text messages, pictures, videos about her alleged affair with Donald Trump.

Let's bring in our analysts and our reporters. And Jeffrey Toobin, explain the legal predicament the president finds himself in right now as a result of this latest legal maneuver by her and her attorney.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's really very simple. If he does nothing, she talks and tells her story, which is the one that Michael Cohen paid $130,000 to keep secret.

But if he engages legally, if he becomes a party to this lawsuit, he more or less admits that he knew about and approved the $130,000 settlement, which so far, at least through Michael Cohen, he's denied. So he's really in a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. BLITZER: Does it sound like she has evidence of an affair with the

then private citizen Donald Trump back in 2006?

TOOBIN: Well, I -- you mean independent corroborative evidence --


TOOBIN: -- like photos or texts or e-mails. You know, she certainly has raised that possibility, and there is the single photograph of them together, which itself doesn't prove anything, except that they were once in -- you know, in close proximity.

I don't know. I mean, it's certainly a tantalizing fact that she and her lawyer are throwing out there. But they're very good at media spin, and we'll -- we'll have to see if there's anything more to it than spin.

BLITZER: Nia, it's not just a legal predicament. He's in a political bind, the president, as well, as a result of these late maneuvers.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. I mean, part of it is did -- were any kind of campaign finance laws violated, and you have some Democrats who are wanting officials to look more closely into that.

More broadly, it is a political and P.R. bind. As Jeffrey mentioned, they are a very savvy team in terms of media. The lawyer there is very telegenic. Obviously, Stormy Daniels is all over Twitter. She's doing shows every place. So this story has legs, because she's a porn star; because her name is Stormy Daniels.

And it's difficult, I think, for the president because of this agreement to do what he normally does. Right? Which is to go after people by name and attack them. He has been and has to be silent on this front.

BLITZER: How does the president find his way out of this?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: Normally, what he does is just sort of ignore, deny, ignore, deny, and then do something that changes the subject.

The issue -- Nia touched on this. The problem for him is the $130,000 payment and Michael Cohen. Michael Cohen paid $130,000 for something. I mean, he could be infinitely wealthy, and there's not a lot of times you see six figures paid to a porn star who alleges an affair with the president of the United States, just cause.

So that's the thing that's not just "he said, she said," which a lot of these allegations that came up in the 2016 campaign were that women made against him. She said this, he denies it. Well, where do we go from here? That's what we have.

But we also have this guy, who had been Donald Trump's longtime fixer, in addition to his personal lawyer, who paid $130,000 out of a shell company in Delaware out of his own money that he -- and that, to me, is the rub. That's the part that it's not just your standard issue story. It makes me -- you have to address that somehow. You have to explain that in some way, shape or form in order to get past it.

TOOBIN: Well --

BLITZER: You know, Rebecca, there are a lot of questions -- hold on one second, Jeff. A lot of questions the White House needs to answer, but they're not answering those questions.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. So Chris just raised one of them. What is the deal with this payment from Michael Cohen to Stormy Daniels? Did the president know about it? Did he directly authorize it? Did he reimburse Michael Cohen, as some reports have suggested Michael Cohen expected at the time that he made the payment. And of course, you know, were there other women who received these types of payments?

It really is a little bit incredible that this would be a one-time thing when you think about Donald Trump and his personality and all the other allegations from other women that we heard during the course of the campaign.

BLITZER: All right, Jeffrey, go ahead. I know you want to make a point.

TOOBIN: I just wanted to raise a similar point to Rebecca, which is if you look at the agreement that was signed, it looks like a form. It looks like something that has been used more than once.

And one reason Michael Cohen may be fighting so hard to keep Stormy Daniels silent is that he's worried about the flood gates opening. That if there are other people who have received compensation in return for their silence, if Stormy Daniels can break that agreement with impunity, perhaps they feel they can, too. So she has -- so they have to take a hard line here.

Let me just label that as the speculation that it is. I don't know that there are other agreements. But it certainly raises that possibility.

CILLIZZA: And just to add to Jeff, remember that Michael Cohen as recently as February 27 was seeking to keep Stormy Daniels quiet through other means that weren't just this. The restraining order over arbitration she didn't know about.

So it's not as though -- I think Stormy Daniels and her lawyer are absolutely playing the media game. But that doesn't mean that what they're saying is false. Right? It means we don't know.

You do -- another question you have to ask, why is Michael Cohen, maybe is to Jeff's point, it's the flood waters breaking. But why is Michael Cohen so dead set on making sure she doesn't tell any of her story? In addition to this nondisclosure, then also the restraining order and all these other -- and Stormy Daniels has alleged he has done other things to try to keep her quiet. Why? BLITZER: To switch gears, Nia, for a moment, the White House is struggling to try to explain why the president has backed away from his earlier position that, to purchase certain kinds of rifles, you've got to be 21 years old. He's no longer saying that hard and fast. Listen to what he said only a few weeks ago.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It doesn't make sense that I have to wait until I'm 21 to get a handgun but I can get this weapon at 18. I don't know. So I'm just curious as to what you did in your bill.

SEN. PATRICK TOOMEY (R), PENNSYLVANIA: We didn't address it, Mr. President. But I think the --

TRUMP: Do you know why? Because you're afraid of the NRA, right?


BLITZER: He's not addressed -- he wants to study this now. He's backed away from his earlier position, as well.

[17:35:02] HENDERSON: Yes, yes. I mean, he's -- they have formed a blue-ribbon commission, which is really a kick the can down the road commission. I mean, we've all, you know, covered local politics. And when there are complicated issues, that's what you do. He himself talked about how useless commissions were.

What we do know is that shortly after that meeting, at some point Donald Trump talked to the NRA. Right? The leaders of the NRA. And so that's where he's come down. He's come down wholesale on the side of the NRA, and it's really no surprise, because all along, much of the energy of what he was talking about in terms of gun reform was about arming teachers. That is, you know, the approach that he is --

BLITZER: Because he's told Senator Toomey, "Because you're afraid of the NRA, right?" And it looks now like he's afraid of the NRA.

BERG: It does look that way. And even if he's not afraid of the NRA, the White House can make the argument that Congress isn't behind this. There aren't the votes for this sort of proposal.

But this shows that Donald Trump, at the very least, does not feels like he need to exert his political capital on this issue. He doesn't want to push hard on this and doesn't want to take that political risk.

BLITZER: Jeff, why did the president cave?

TOOBIN: Because the NRA is the most important constituency group of the Republican Party.

Now for a long time, you know, the NRA was sort of bipartisan. They would support Democrats now and then. They have completely given up on the Democratic Party. And their ratings of members of Congress and their money to a presidential campaign is so important that they call the shots.

And if you look at the president's proposal, there is nothing there that the NRA is going to fight about, which is even different from Florida, where they are upset about raising the purchase age for larger weapons.

I mean, you know, the NRA runs the Republican Party now. It's as simple as that. And Donald Trump for all his bravado is marching to their tune.

BLITZER: Yes, Florida Governor Rick Scott did not cave to the NRA in this age limit issue.

All right. There's more news we're following. An alarming new assessment of the infighting at the highest levels of the Departments -- Department of Veterans Affairs, where the secretary, David Shulkin, is described as increasingly isolated.

Plus, a supposedly lost interview in which O.J. Simpson actually discusses the murders of his ex-wife and her friend Ron Goldman. Is it tantamount to a confession?


[17:42:00] BLITZER: Tonight we have alarming details about increasing paranoia and infighting at the highest levels of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The agency, headed by Secretary David Shulkin, oversees care for millions of the nation's military veteran. But Secretary Shulkin right now appears to be on increasingly shaky ground.

CNN correspondent Sara Ganim has been working her sources.

Sara, what are you learning?

SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a pretty bizarre situation, where you've got a cabinet secretary running an agency while there are officials inside the agency, not just trying to undermine him but actively lobbying to replace him.


GANIM (voice-over): They were the unlikeliest of allies.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You're doing a great job. We appreciate it.

SHULKIN: Thank you.

TRUMP: Thank you very much.

GANIM: The cabinet member who was first picked by Barack Obama but then openly embraced by Donald Trump.

TRUMP: I'll tell you about David. He's fantastic. He's fantastic.

GANIM: But tonight, the bromance between the president and his Veterans Affairs secretary, David Shulkin, appears to have cooled. After a series of scandalous headlines about Shulkin and his wife traveling to Europe on the taxpayer's dime and going to Wimbledon.

The inspector general says there were a number of serious derelictions about the trip. Shulkin has denied wrongdoing, and publicly, the president has said he has the president's full support.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, Secretary Shulkin has done a great job. The president is glad for the job that he's been doing in reforming the V.A. and modernizing the V.A.

GANIM: But behind the scenes, the president is reportedly not happy. The 58-year-old former hospital executive was called out on the Oval Office carpet by White House chief of staff John Kelly for causing drama.

Axios reports President Trump then met with Shulkin, putting him on an awkward phone call with FOX News anchor Pete Hegseth, who once pushed for Shulkin's job.

In the meantime, inside the V.A. headquarters, sources say Shulkin is increasingly isolated, at odds with members of his senior staff management team, who he says are lobbying the White House for his ouster.

Sources say Shulkin has revoked access to his tenth-floor office for certain staffers, going as far as to put an armed security officer outside his door. And sources say he hasn't spoken to some staffers for weeks.

TRUMP: We are going to ensure every veteran in America has the choice to seek care at the Veterans Administration, or to seek private medical care, paid for by our government.

GANIM: CNN has learned things have been unraveling for months, starting with a rift between the president and Shulkin over Mr. Trump's push to privatize the V.A. --

SHULKIN: The Department of Veteran Affairs will not be privatized under my watch.

GANIM: -- something Shulkin has rallied against.

PHILLIP CARTER, FELLOW, CENTER FOR A NEW AMERICAN SECURITY: The striking thing about Shulkin's situation, is that he's doing really well for the Trump administration, but he's being attacked by the president's allies.

What gets lost in all this is the president's agenda and also the agency's ability to respond to a crisis.

GANIM: Multiple sources say tensions increased after Trump installed political appointees, and now the turmoil has spilled out publicly, with Shulkin telling the press that he wants to purge his team. Even telling "The New York Times" that he had the president's support for the "removal of any staff members who didn't support him," which "The Times" reports angered the White House.

Now, with no end in sight, tonight, the leader of the department tasked with caring for those who have borne America's battles finds himself fighting a war inside the Trump administration to keep his job.


GANIM: Speaking at a press event last week, Shulkin called all of this an unfortunate distraction. But one sign of just how broken things really are, Shulkin has become a one-man P.R. campaign on behalf of himself, using his personal cellphone to talk to the press.

And you can't forget that, in the end, the real impact here could be on the veterans, Wolf, who rely on this agency in times of great need.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, there are certainly lots at stake right now. Sara, thank you for that. Sara Ganim reporting.

Coming up, disturbing revelations in a newly revealed interview in which O.J. Simpson discusses the murders of his ex-wife and her friend. Is it all for a confession?


[17:50:48] BLITZER: Tonight, we have some disturbing new revelations about the notorious murder of O.J. Simpson's ex-wife, Nicole, and her friend, Ron Goldman.

Brian Todd is here.

Brian, this comes from a newly released interview with O.J. Simpson himself.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The only time Simpson has ever given an interview about the murders. To say it's bizarre is an understatement.

Simpson seems to play off those strange theories on the Internet about a possible accomplice. And in several instances, he seems to not take the two murders very seriously.


TODD (voice-over): O.J. Simpson laughs repeatedly. He laughs when he says how hard it is to talk about his ex-wife's horrific murder. He laughs when he mentions Charlie.


TODD (voice-over): A mysterious friend who has not been matched to any real person who Simpson says came with him to the murder scene.

Here's how he describes the crucial moments of June 12, 1994, an account which he repeatedly insists is hypothetical.

SIMPSON: As things got heated, I just remember Nicole fell and hurt herself. And this guy kind of got into a karate thing. And I said, well, you think you can kick my ass? And I remember I grabbed the knife.

I do remember that portion, taking the knife, and Charlie. And to be honest, after that, I don't remember, except I'm standing there and it's --

TODD (voice-over): Simpson infers he blacked out and laughs bizarrely.

SIMPSON: I hate to say this. I'm sorry about that. I'm sorry.


REGAN: Right, right.

SIMPSON: I know we got to back up again.

REGAN: Right.

TODD (voice-over): And says he was standing in blood.

SIMPSON: I don't think any two people could be murdered the way they were without everybody being covered in blood.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: The idea that O.J. Simpson is still toying with people, spinning out theories, including incriminating ones, is so repulsive and is so horrible to the victims' families.

TODD (voice-over): It's all part of Fox's show called "The Lost Confession," the only interview Simpson has ever given about the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole, and Ron Goldman. It may never have really been lost, although Fox claims to have recently discovered it.

Fox shelved that 2006 interview following a public outcry. It was originally supposed to be part of a promotion for Simpson's book, "If I Did It."

Christopher Darden, the former prosecutor who was part of the team which infamously lost the Simpson murder case, was part of Fox's panel.

CHRISTOPHER DARDEN, FORMER PROSECUTOR, LOS ANGELES COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE: I think he has confessed to murder. He may try to describe it as a hypothetical, but, of course, it becomes "I." I did this. I felt this. I saw this.

I think Charlie is O.J. This is no hypothetical. This is reality.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Orenthal James Simpson not guilty of the crime murder.

TODD (voice-over): But is there any legal action Simpson could still face?

TOOBIN: There is absolutely no legal recourse against O.J. Simpson at this point. Double jeopardy prevents another criminal trial. There already is a multimillion-dollar civil judgment against him which he has avoided, to a great extent, paying.

TODD (voice-over): Fox says Simpson didn't get paid for this interview, but the fascination with this case endures. Fox's interview follows widely viewed airings of the Oscar-winning documentary, "O.J., Made in America" and the Emmy-winning drama series, "The People Versus O.J. Simpson."

STERLING BROWN, ACTOR: This case is a circus.

TODD (voice-over): In the interview, Simpson, as always, shows no lack of self-pity.

SIMPSON: And it's almost like they killed me. Who I was was attacked and murdered.


TODD: The Goldman and Brown families had opposed the airing of this interview when it was first scheduled to air in 2006 because they didn't want O.J. Simpson making money off the murders.

But in a statement just obtained by CNN, an attorney for Fred Goldman said the family now welcomes the airing of the interview because everyone can now make their own judgments, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, in the interview, Simpson also reverts to his tactic of criticizing his ex-wife, Nicole, right?

TODD: That's right, Wolf. He refers to Nicole being physical and violent with him during their marriage.

He often talks about how, after they split up, she was associating with some unsavory characters, having wild parties and that the only reason he kept coming to her house was to stop that behavior and protect his children. That's the theme throughout this.

[17:55:01] BLITZER: Brian Todd, reporting. Brian, thanks.

Coming up, breaking news. Police warn residents of Austin, Texas to be alert as the city is rocked by a deadly series of package bombings. Two people are dead, an elderly woman was critically injured in today's latest bombing. Police say the attacks are related.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Shutting it down.

CNN has learned that Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee say they have found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and are going to put out a report without consulting with Democrats. Is it the end of the Committee's contentious investigation?