Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Trump Lands at Tense NATO Summit, Says Talks with Putin Easier; Trump Administration Not Fully Meeting Tonight's Deadline to Reunite Kids; Pence Defends Trump's Supreme Court Pick in New CNN Interview. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired July 10, 2018 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. With friends like Trump. The president ticks off U.S. allies even as he arrives at the NATO summit, adding insult to injury by praising Vladimir Putin. Tonight, one key Republican critic is warning that the president should not be allowed to meet the Kremlin leader alone.

[17:00:22] Firm deadlines. A judge refuses to ease a federal court order for reuniting immigrant families as the Trump administration is falling short of full compliance tonight. CNN is live near the border, tracking the fate of very young children still separated from their parents.

Confirmation battle. The president's new Supreme Court nominee makes the rounds up on Capitol Hill as Democrats warn that Brett Kavanaugh might help make Mr. Trump even more powerful. We'll get reaction tonight from Vice President Mike Pence in a new CNN interview.

And back at the ranch. The president pardons two ranchers who were involved in a high-profile land dispute that led to the takeover of a wildlife refuge. Why them? And why now?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news tonight. President Trump lands in Europe for the NATO summit and gives U.S. allies more reason to question whether he knows who his friends are. The president declaring that his upcoming talks with Vladimir Putin might be, quote, "the easiest of them all" and labeling the Russian strong man as a competitor instead of a foe.

Also breaking, Vice President Mike Pence defends Mr. Trump's new Supreme Court nominee in a brand-new CNN interview. This as Democrats argue that Brett Kavanaugh was chosen to potentially protect the president from the Russia investigation.

I'll get reaction from a key member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democrat Richard Blumenthal. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. He's already in Brussels for us. Jeff, the president took another direct jab at the European allies

just before he landed there. Update our viewers on the latest.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, even as the president was landing here in Brussels, he was escalating that fight against European leaders, saying it's nearly impossible to do business here in Europe. Of course, escalating the fight about how much these countries are contributing to NATO.

This would all be somewhat normal if the president was not poised to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week. Leaders here believe that that is threatening the solidarity that NATO has against Russian aggression.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump arriving in Brussels tonight with sharp words for American allies But a far friendlier posture for old foes like Russia. Before departing the White House, the president suggested his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki would be a bright spot of his whirlwind European visit.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So I have NATO. I have the U.K., which is in somewhat turmoil, and I have Putin. Frankly, Putin may be the easiest of them all. Who would think? Who would think?

ZELENY: Tonight, U.S. allies aren't sure what to think of the president's warm embrace of Putin.

DONALD TUSK, E.U. PRESIDENT: America, appreciate your allies. After all, you don't have that many.

ZELENY: E.U. President Donald Tusk taking President Trump to task for repeatedly suggesting European countries are essentially freeloaders, not paying the fair share on defense.

TUSK: Dear President Trump, America does not have and will not have a better ally than Europe. Today, Europeans spend on defense many times more than Russia and as much as China.

ZELENY: Trump's summit with Putin is casting a shadow here over the NATO meeting. Asked directly whether Russia is a friend or a foe, the president chose another word.

TRUMP: As far as I'm concerned, a competitor. A competitor. I think that, getting along with Russia, getting along with China, getting along with others is a good thing.

ZELENY: What Trump has not said is anything remotely critical of Russia. He rarely, if ever, speaks of their meddling in the 2016 U.S. election. The ongoing cyberattacks, the invasion of Ukraine or the deadly nerve agents in the United Kingdom traced back to Russia. Again today, he saved his criticism for European allies.

TRUMP: We do have a lot of allies, but we cannot be taken advantage of. We're being taken advantage of by the European Union. We spend at least 70 percent for NATO and, frankly, it helps them a lot more than it helps us.

ZELENY: Yet, the only time NATO invoked Article V of its treaty, where an attack on one is an attack on all, was when allies came to the defense of the U.S. after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Trump is hardly the first American president to prod allies to spend more on collective defense, but his scolding has carried a sharper sting, because it comes as he's embracing brutal dictators, far more than loyal allies.

As he left Washington today, Trump had a bounce in his step, the morning after introducing his second nominee to the Supreme Court.

TRUMP: Brett Kavanaugh has gotten rave reviews, rave reviews, actually, from both sides.

ZELENY: Judge Kavanaugh's confirmation fight on Capitol Hill is just beginning with Democrats and Republicans, settling in for a summer battle, during an already volatile midterm election season.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Now, as the president begins a whirlwind week of meetings here tomorrow morning in Brussels, of course coming face to face with many of those European leaders he's been in quarrels with.

The question is what happens next? Will he get along with them, escalate the fight? And are they really believing that what he's up to is actually helping Vladimir Putin undermine Democratic-led efforts here at NATO?

Wolf, this is a critical week for the Trump presidency here. He'll be meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel tomorrow. Other leaders, as well, heading to the U.K. on Thursday, meeting with the queen and, of course, that all-important meeting in Helsinki on Monday with Vladimir Putin -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Critical week, indeed. Jeff Zeleny in Brussels, thank you.

Also tonight, the Trump administration is falling short of full compliance with its first deadline to reunite migrant families, and the president doesn't seem to be too concerned. He was asked about the crisis as he was leaving the White House. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Well, I have a solution. Tell people not to come to our country illegally. That's the solution. Don't come to our country illegally.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's bring in CNN's Ed Lavandera. He's joining us from Brownsville, Texas, near the border.

Ed, what are you leaving about the fate of the separated families tonight?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

All right. Well, just a few hours left for the federal government to meet this deadline of reuniting 102 children under the age of 5 who have been separated from their families under the Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy, but it's clear the administration won't fully meet this deadline, and critics are saying that's not fair.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Facing a looming deadline today, immigration officials started the process of reuniting the youngest children under the age of 5 with their parents, who were separated under the Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy.

CNN witnessed children moved in vans to Immigration Customs Enforcement facilities where the reunions took place in Arizona and South Texas. The reunions were mandated by a federal judge, but the Trump administration will not meet the deadline.

In all, the Department of Homeland Security says it can reunite 38 of the 102 children under the age of 5 it's currently holding. But a federal judge says the government should be able to reunite 63 by the end of the day. A Department of Homeland Security official defended the agency's efforts to reunite these families.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Children.

LAVANDERA: -- say the reunions have been delayed by efforts to verify that the detained adults are the biological parents of the children. One example they point to, officials say: three adults facing a DNA test admitted they weren't parents, but immigrant activists say this is a crisis created by the federal government and should be resolved much faster.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All kinds of resources into separating them. Could we double those resources back to reunite them? This is a huge nation with great resources. We could have done this in a flash, and we can. We can still do it.

LAVANDERA: Homeland security officials say the reunited families will be released while they navigate the asylum process in the United States and will be monitored with GPS ankle bracelets.

Immigration attorney Jody Goodwin, who represents 25 separated families, says if the federal government is struggling to reunite this small number of separated children, what's going to happen in a few weeks when roughly 3,000 more children must be reunited?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If the government could not put together a plan to organize only 100 children to be reunited in two weeks, I think that it's incredibly questionable that the government would be able to reunify 2,900 children in the next two weeks. I am very skeptical.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA: So, Wolf, that looming deadline is July 26. The federal government and the ACLU, which has brought on this lawsuit to create this deadline, will reconvene later this week. DHS officials say that this is going slowly, because their top priority is the safety and wellbeing of these children. But the judge reiterated to the federal government today that these deadlines are firm deadlines, that they're not aspirational goals -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Lavandera on the scene for us. Ed, thanks very much.

And coming up, by the way, later in THE SITUATION ROOM, we'll have more on the reunification deadline today. I'll speak live with the Health and Human Services secretary, Alex Azar. That's coming up later.

[17:10:03] Let's get some more on all of this right now.

Senator Richard Blumenthal is joining us. He's the leading Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

Senator, thank you so much for joining us. Why has progress been so slow, and what is Congress going to do about this, making sure these kids are reunited with their mothers and fathers?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Let's be very clear, Wolf. The reason that progress has been so slow is because of total incompetence or worse on the part of federal authorities, and they should be held in contempt of court. Individual federal officials, including possibly the secretary of Health and Human Services for this inhumane contempt for basic principles of law.

The reason that progress has been so slow? There's no plan, no system, no path to reunification. I visited the border. I've seen some of these facilities. I've talked to the officials responsible for this non-policy, including the secretary. And the current chaos is self-inflicted. It's the result of using intentional harm as a means of supposedly deterring people from coming to this country.

And you heard it just moments ago in your replay of the president's speech. Tell them to stop coming to this country. They're using this inflicted pain as a deterrent.

BLITZER: Senator, the courts, the federal courts, they can issue orders, of course, but they obviously rely on the executive branch to carry out those orders. You're the former state attorney general of the state of Connecticut.

Is there any recourse if the Trump administration fails to follow through?

BLUMENTHAL: There is recourse in the courts and in the orders they can issue. And if the executive branch fails to comply with those orders or fails to enforce them, then it can be held in contempt. It can hold accountable specific individuals under the civil contempt powers of the federal courts and the Department of Justice doing its job or individuals can move for that kind of contempt sanction. And it can be monetary. It can also be potentially confinement.

BLITZER: Let's turn to the president's new nominee to replace Justice Kennedy on the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh.

You sit on the Judiciary Committee. You've already released a statement, Senator, laying out the reasons you're going to vote against his nomination, his confirmation. Why not hear him out first during the lengthy confirmation process, ask him a lot of questions and then decide whether to vote "yay" or "nay"?

BLUMENTHAL: Wolf, I've reviewed Judge Kavanaugh's record, at least in major part, and I will tell you I'm increasingly troubled the more I learn and see. I decided to oppose this nomination, because the process itself was so really corrupt. The president, in effect, made himself a puppet of the Federalist Society and other outside right- wing fringe groups. And never before in the history of our country has a president, in effect, delegated or outsourced this decision.

But equally important, the president imposed a litmus test, which was that this nominee automatically overturned Roe v. Wade and the protections of the Affordable Care Act like protections for millions of Americans who suffer from sickness, including diabetes, heart, stroke, pregnancy, obesity. These kind of pre-existing conditions are real and present.

And finally, very, very importantly to me, this nominee will be the swing vote in deciding whether or not the president can pardon himself or his cronies, whether he can be forced to come to obey a subpoena, to testify before a grand jury.

These kinds of decisions require him, if he is confirmed, to recuse himself, in my view. And I think this nominee has shown exceedingly excess deference to the president of the United States, to his powers saying, for example, the president should be able to fire the special counsel. That is all deeply troubling to me.

BLITZER: Well, do you believe, Senator, that the president nominated Kavanaugh specifically to try to isolate himself from the Russia probe, citing some of the reasons you're putting forward?

BLUMENTHAL: The appearance is certainly there, Wolf. And the appearance is important, because the credibility and legitimacy of the United States Supreme Court depend on the trust of the American people in its complete independence.

And what the president's done here is not only outsource this decision to right-wing fringe groups, but he's also, in effect, put loyalty to himself, once again, above the merits. And here the apparent deference that this nominee would show to the president in enabling him to fire the special counsel or to hold unconstitutional, as he did, the CFPB, the Consumer Financial Protection Board, or other kinds of measures of presidential authority. He would enlarge that power at a time when the American people are deeply concerned about an unchecked executive branch and president, in essence out of control, declaring himself above the law.

BLITZER: Senator, before I let you go, as you know, the president's now in Brussels for his meetings this week with all the NATO allies and visits the U.K. before he heads off to his meeting with Putin in Helsinki next Monday. He says the Putin meeting may be the easiest of them all.

Does that kind of rhetoric make you worry about the very survival of NATO?

BLUMENTHAL: I'm really alarmed by that kind of rhetoric. To say that Russia is a competitor, not a foe, in fact, they're an enemy and an adversary. Putin is a KGB thug. He's attacked this country.

He continues to attack this country in the domains of cyber and social media. And will continue to do so unless he's forced to pay a price. And instead, the president is talking about rolling back sanctions on the Russians, following the Ukraine attack. He is, in effect, making our allies our adversaries, and that is deeply alarming to me.

This kind of rhetoric is undermining one of our strongest alliances in the world that goes back to world wars and the Afghanistan conflict when these allies have shed blood and incurred costs and made sacrifices at our side. And the president is just really disgracing the proud traditions of our NATO alliance.

BLITZER: Senator Blumenthal, thanks so much for joining us.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, the question Vice President Mike Pence refused to answer as CNN pressed him on the president's new Supreme Court nominee. And Pence insists the administration has a clear plan to reunite immigrant families. Why is tonight's deadline being missed? Stand by for that brand-new interview.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:21:42] BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories, including Vice President Mike Pence, defending the president's U.S. Supreme Court nominee in a brand-new CNN interview while skirting very sensitive questions about the fate of Roe v. Wade.

Our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, sat down with the vice president in his office up on Capitol Hill.

Dana, the vice president was there to escort Kavanaugh around as he started getting some briefings up there, meeting with senators. What happened?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he was. He was talking to senators and also through the media with interviews like ours, their constituents. And I started the interview by asking the vice president for his response to some disappointment from some anti- establishment Trump supporters that Brett Kavanaugh is another Ivy League nominee, and he is also the ultimate Washington insider.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My response is that President Trump set out to keep his word to the American people that he would nominate, once again, a justice to the Supreme Court who would faithfully interpret the Constitution as written.

And when you look at the extraordinary body of work, more than 300 opinions of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, you can see the kind of principled jurist who fits right in the model of a Justice Neil Gorsuch, a Justice Antonin Scalia. And I think as people across the country who share the president's vision for the court come to see this good man and see that strong record, that they'll come to the same conclusion.

BASH: In 2006, Brett Kavanaugh testified that Roe v. Wade is settled law. You campaigned extensively on the notion that Roe v. Wade should be consigned to the ash heap of history. Are you worried that he's not going to follow what you want to do?

PENCE: Well, Dana, as you know, I'm pro-life. I don't apologize for it. And I'm proud to be part of a pro-life administration that advanced pro-life policies.

But what I can assure you is that what the president was looking for here was a nominee who will respect the Constitution as written, who will faithfully uphold the Constitution in all of his interpretations of the law.

BASH: Do you still want Roe v. Wade to be overturned?

PENCE: Well, I do. But I haven't been nominated to the Supreme Court.

BASH: Right, but you're part of the administration.

PENCE: Judge Kavanaugh has.

BASH: You campaigned -- you and the president campaigned, saying you will find nominees to overturn Roe v. Wade. Will you be disappointed if he is given that opportunity and he doesn't? Will you be disappointed?

PENCE: Well, let me say, as I said, I stand for the sanctity of life. This administration, this president are pro-life.

But, you know, what the American people ought to know is that, as the president said today, this is not an issue that he discussed with Judge Kavanaugh. I didn't discuss it with him either. What we really focused on was the character, the background, the credentials and the judicial philosophy.

BASH: But, again, you campaigned so aggressively on finding a nominee who would overturn Roe v. Wade. Do you feel confident, can you assure the people that voted for you on that notion that this is the man who will do that?

[17:25:06] PENCE: Well, what I can assure people that voted for us is that this will continue to be a pro-life administration.

From early in this administration, President Trump has taken decisive steps to advance pro-life values at home and, frankly, in foreign aid around the world. But what I can also assure people is that the president believes that the proper consideration for a nominee to the court is not about litmus tests.

I mean, frankly, we've seen enough of litmus tests over the decades. What we don't want is to have people go to the courts with a specific objective or policy criteria. We want people to go that respect the Constitution, respect the Constitution as written, will not legislate from the bench.

BASH: Right.

PENCE: And President Trump and I are absolutely convinced --

BASH: The president did say that --

PENCE: -- that Judge Kavanaugh is exactly the kind of jurist that the American people in the majority want to see on the court.

BASH: The president did say that he wanted a litmus test. But let's move on to something else that's going on, and that is at the southern border.

It looks like your administration is probably going to miss a court deadline of today to reunite all children under the age of 5 with their parents. If you are going to separate families, isn't it your responsibility as the leader of the government, isn't it the administration's responsibility to figure out how to get them back together?

PENCE: Yes. And we've been working very diligently in that regard. I think 102 children that were separated from adults of that number. As of today's deadline, I believe we will have reunited 54 of those children.

BASH: But that means that over 50 children under the age of 5 -- you have children, I have a child -- are not with their parents. Is that acceptable?

PENCE: Well, it's not necessarily the case.

BASH: But should even one child under the 5?

PENCE: Well, what we don't ever want to do is return a vulnerable child age 3, age 4 to someone who may be a threat to them, who may be a human trafficker, who is not their parent.

And frankly, the number has winnowed down from 102 to somewhere in the 70s through our vetting process. We've actually, in this process, found that people who represented themselves as parents turned out not to be the parents. We've found out that there were individuals with -- with strong criminal backgrounds that had children with them as they crossed the border.

BASH: But Ron Johnson, the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee in the Senate, a fellow Republican, he is very upset at your administration. He said, "If they've got a process, they're not revealing it to me. These are human beings."

PENCE: Well, I spoke to Senator Johnson today, and we're going to continue to work with members of Congress in both parties.

BASH: Was there a plan?

PENCE: Of course there's a plan. Look, we've got a crisis at our southern border, and when people come into this country illegally, as was the case under the Obama administration, at times when we prosecute people for entering our country illegally, they're separated from their children for a period of time. Those children are dispatched to relatives or to foster care, and we know where they are.

And there's a plan to reunite them, but we want to do it in a way that's very careful and very thoughtful. But again, let's not forget, I was in Central America last week meeting with the presidents of El Salvador and Guatemala and Honduras, and I said to them, "This exodus must end."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: A judge told the administration today it should reunite 63 separated children under 5 by today. Twelve others will take longer, because the government says the location of their parents are not known, Wolf, because they were deported.

BLITZER: Hard to believe this is still going on. Dana Bash, thank you.

Coming up, we're going to give much more from the vice president in his interview with our Dana Bash. Does he agree with the president that Vladimir Putin is a competitor, not a foe?

And full court press. Republicans pull out the stops to promote the president's new nominee. Do Democrats have any chance at all of keeping him off the U.S. Supreme Court?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're following multiple breaking stories right now.

[17:34:04] The president arrived in Europe just a little while ago. He'll meet with leaders of the NATO allies as well as talk with British officials. He'll also speak with Vladimir Putin who the president calls a competitor rather than a friend or a foe. Let's bring in our analysts to discuss.

And Gloria Borger, I want you to listen and all of our viewers to listen, first of all, to some of the comments President Trump has made over the past couple of years or so about the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Donald Trump is a friend to Putin.

Well, actually, Putin did call me a genius, and he said I'm the future of the Republican Party.

I think Putin has been a very strong leader for Russia.

Putin is the leader of Russia. Russia's a strong country.

If he says great things about me, I'm going to say great things about him. I've already said, he is very much of a leader.

Very smart cookie. Much smarter, much more cunning than our president.

Putin is a nicer person than I am.

Putin's fine. He's fine. We're all fine. We're people.

Wouldn't it be nice if we actually got along, as an example, with Russia? I'm all for it.

BILL O'REILLY, FORMER FOX NEWS HOST: Putin's a killer.

TRUMP: A lot of killers. We've got a lot of killers. Well, you think our country's so innocent?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think Vladimir Putin is a friend or a foe?

TRUMP: I really can't say right now. As far as I'm concerned, a competitor. A competitor.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: From today, calling him a competitor rather than a friend or foe.

Gloria, if the president doesn't see Putin as a foe, what can we expect from his meeting next Monday in Helsinki with the Russian leader?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's hard to know, Wolf. I think that's what the NATO allies are worried about. I think that's what a lot of conservatives are worried about, Wolf.

The Heritage Foundation tweeted a note to the president saying, "Russia is an aggressor. Ukraine is a victim." And pointing out to the president that he ought to keep that in mind. And these are from people who are conservative, anti-Putin, and want to remind the president that, just because he likes authoritarians doesn't mean that he ought to try to cut deals with them without the rest of his team around him.

I think one concern, quite honestly, is Trump going to want to meet one-on-one with Vladimir Putin? Will he have his advisers with him? Will we have transcription of the meeting? I mean, these are questions that all remain to be answered.

BLITZER: Yes, and they're important questions.

Mark Preston, there's a pattern we've seen of the president praising adversaries while alienating key allies, whether Europe or Canada. How do you explain that?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, the short answer is that there is no explanation, because it absolutely makes no sense. Not only do we have President Trump criticizing our NATO allies, attacking the E.U., just criticizing anybody who has been an erstwhile, loyal, dependent ally of the United States.

But at the same time, then he turns and then he says all these great things, as we just showed there a moment ago, of him praising Putin. So that in itself is perplexing. And you have to wonder what is really the long-term lasting damage?

We're living in a moment right now, you know, we're a society that oftentimes can't look that far ahead, and you've got to wonder what the lasting, lasting problems are going to be because of this.

And Wolf, just imagine this. Could you imagine if an American citizen died here in the U.S. because of a Russian nerve agent, and the prime minister of the U.K., Theresa May, went and sat down and had a meeting with him? Can you imagine that? Our No. 1 ally deciding to do that. That's in itself is just insane.

BLITZER: Sabrina Siddiqui, the president continues to take issue with the NATO allies, saying the U.S. is being treated very, very unfairly. It has been treated unfairly, he says for decades. What are the implications of these comments on the eve of this NATO summit?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Well, the president has latched onto the issue of commitment to defense spending. And it's fair to say that Trump administration is not the first to complain that some NATO countries are not paying their fair share.

But what is distinct about President Trump is he's actually willing to weaponize his position in a way that threatens to upend America's relationships with some of its closest and most longstanding allies.

And this fixation on the 2 percent number, that NATO countries should pay at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product toward the military, military planners actually tell you that there's no magic number. And so for the president to singularly focus on that issue, it not only threatens to alienate close U.S. partners when it comes to national security, but it also distracts from the very substantive concerns facing NATO when it comes to discussion about reforms that do need to be made on the national security front.

BLITZER: Susan Hennessey, on another sensitive subject, there's a growing chorus of people, as you know, on the left who are arguing that, if confirmed, President Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, should recuse himself from decisions related to the special counsel, Robert Mueller's, investigation.

What's the basis of that argument? And do you believe there's any chance Kavanaugh would sit those decisions out?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think the basis of that argument is a perception that Donald Trump selected Kavanaugh because of prior statements that Kavanaugh has made, that Trump might think -- that he would rule favorably to him in this Russia investigation.

I actually think those law review articles are being misread, that Kavanaugh probably takes positions that are adverse to the president. You know, but the question is whether, in confirmation hearings, if there is an appearance that the president has made the selection in order to benefit himself on these questions, will Kavanaugh commit to essentially recusing himself in order to remove the appearance?

I think it's incredibly unlikely that that happens. The recusal rules are not binding on the Supreme Court. That's, in part, because unlike the lower courts, there's not another justice that can step in and rule on a particular case.

[17:40:04] So this might be an issue that the Senate Democrats decide to push very hard on, but it's unlikely that Kavanaugh is going to agree.

BLITZER: Yes. An important point.

Guys, I want you to stand by. We're getting some new details right now about Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's recent meeting with North Korean officials in Pyongyang. Our senior diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski, has learned the talks went even worse than things appeared.

What are your sources, Michelle, telling you?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

Well, this is according to a source with familiarity with the discussions, saying that the sense in the White House is that this trip of Pompeo back to North Korea to meet with, at the very least Kim Jong-un's right-hand guy, went about as badly as it could have gone. That ultimately, the North Korean side seemed to be, in the words of this source, messing around and not really serious at that point about moving things forward.

Also, Pompeo was apparently promised at some point this -- another meeting with Kim Jong-un himself. And that never happened. So that sent a very bad message that things are, at the very least, not going the way the U.S. would like them to go.

Pompeo also had gifts to bring to Kim Jong-un that he wanted to hand deliver. One was, yes, this CD of Elton John's famous song "Rocket Man," and there was some other gift. Because he never got did meeting with Kim Jong-un, he wasn't able to give those gifts. So he just took them with him onward on his trip. And we heard the president today confirm that that CD was part of this little package that he was going to bring.

So where does that come from? According to a source who has familiarity with these matters, when President Trump met with Kim Jong-un at their summit, President Trump, according to this source, asked Kim Jong-un, "Do you know where I got the nickname for you? Little Rocket Man."

That Kim Jong-un said, no, he did not.

President Trump said, "It was from the Elton John song." Asked him had he heard of it?

That Kim Jong-un said, no, he in fact, had never heard of Elton John.

The source said Trump then told him, "Well, he's really good. I'm going to get you the song. I'll send it to you." And that Trump also asked Kim Jong-un, according to this source, "Did you mind when I called you Little Rocket Man?"

And we're told that Kim Jong-un said, no, he did not mind.

Where does this all leave us? Well, clearly, Pompeo did not get any furthering, that they would have liked to have seen, maybe a time line of denuclearization. And there's still a pretty big gap in perception there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it's underscored by the fact that Kim Jong-un snubbed the visiting secretary of state, even refused to meet with him on this third visit to Pyongyang.

Michelle Kosinski, thanks very much. Excellent reporting.

Also breaking right now, President Trump arriving just a little while ago in Belgium for a very important NATO summit. As he left the White House and via Twitter during his flight across the Atlantic, the president complained that NATO allies aren't paying their fair share. NATO leaders have made it clear they aren't very happy about the president's criticism, but it's getting an enthusiastic reception. Guess where? In Russia.

Let's go there. Our senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen is in Moscow for us. Tell us more about what the Russians are saying about this.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Certainly, the Russians not unhappy, Wolf. And even the U.S.'s permanent representative to NATO acknowledging that what was going on in currently in NATO, the rift in that alliance is, quote, "music to Vladimir Putin's ears."

Now, she also says that she believes that President Trump actually values the NATO alliance and that he's going to be very tough on Vladimir Putin when they meet in Helsinki at the beginning of next week.

But, of course, America's allies aren't so sure, and the Russians certainly are hoping that there's a good chemistry between the two men. Here's what we heard.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN (voice-over): President Trump in Europe for three tough meetings with American allies and adversaries. Clear on which meeting he's most comfortable with.

TRUMP: I have NATO. I have the U.K., which is in somewhat turmoil. And I have Putin. Frankly, Putin may be the easiest of them all. Who would think?

PLEITGEN: President Trump has ripped into America's NATO partners, saying they don't spend enough on defense while the U.S. shoulders the bulk of the alliance's costs. European politicians calling on Trump not to forget who his friends are.

DONALD TUSK, EUROPEAN COUNCIL PRESIDENT: Dear America, appreciate your allies. After all, you don't have that many. Dear Mr. President, please remember about this tomorrow when we meet at the NATO summit.

PLEITGEN: NATO's loss might be the Kremlin's gain. Vladimir Putin's spokesman says the Russians have nothing to do with the turmoil between America and its allies but clearly not unhappy about the weakened alliance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator) (via phone): This is an alliance that was constructed to serve the purpose of confrontation, and our attitude is based on this belief. What the alliance is doing long-term, I mean them getting closer to our border and expanding military infrastructure towards our borders just proves the essence of the alliance.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Russian pundits and politicians feel President Trump might be moving America away from its European allies and closer to Russia.

State T.V. even joking that the Brits may have staged the recent poisoning of two people with novichok, the same military-grade nerve agent used to poison a former Russian spy in England earlier this year, to derail the upcoming Trump-Putin summit.

EVGENY POPOV, HOST, "60 MINUTES" (through translator): There is a vast field for conspiracy theories given that Trump is coming the U.K. And with the NATO summit coming up, they're gearing up to place blame on us and prepare Trump ahead of his meeting with Putin.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): The U.S. allies will be closely watching both the NATO summit and the Trump-Putin meeting, looking to see whether America's president really will have an easier time with the Russian leader than with longstanding partners.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN: And, Wolf, we've been following some of the past couple of days and the Kremlin really has been very careful with the statements that it has been giving, saying, look, we don't want to expect too much from the summit right now. It's good that these two men are talking to one another.

However, if you listen to pundits here in Russia, if you listen to some politicians, as well, they do believe that this could be the steppingstone for a very good relationship between Vladimir Putin and President Trump, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, lots at stake in that meeting on Monday. Fred, thank you. Fred Pleitgen in Moscow.

Coming up, Democrats accuse President Trump of picking Brett Kavanaugh for the U.S. Supreme Court in order to foil Robert Mueller's investigation. Should Kavanaugh take part if Mueller brings a case that makes it all the way to the highest court?

And we're also awaiting word on how many immigrant parents and their very small children are actually being reunited before the government misses its deadline today. I'll speak live with the Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:51:31] BLITZER: As Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh makes the rounds up on Capitol Hill, one of the biggest question marks is whether he would take part in a blockbuster legal case that might be just over the horizon.

CNN's Brian Todd has been consulting with legal experts.

Brian, tell us more about that possible case and what you're hearing.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there could be a massive legal battle brewing if Robert Mueller wants to call President Trump before a grand jury in the Russia probe and if the President and his team resist that.

This could go all the way to the Supreme Court. And if it does, Democrats are already saying Brett Kavanaugh is not going to be impartial.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRETT KAVANAUGH, NOMINEE FOR SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am grateful to you, and I am humbled by your confidence in me. TODD (voice-over): If and when Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed off to

the Supreme Court, he could soon be immersed in the hottest legal battle in Washington in decades, the Mueller probe into possible Trump collusion with Russia and a looming showdown.

Will Special Counsel Robert Mueller try to subpoena President Trump to testify before a grand jury?

STEPHEN VLADECK, A. DALTON CROSS PROFESSOR IN LAW, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS SCHOOL OF LAW: If the Special Counsel does issue a grand jury subpoena to President Trump, I think we're going to see a titanic legal battle from the Trump camp.

TODD (voice-over): A battle from Trump's team to block the President from going before a grand jury. A battle the President's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has been waging in the media.

RUDY GIULIANI, PERSONAL ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We could have the subpoena quashed.

TODD (voice-over): It could go all the way to the Supreme Court. If it does and Brett Kavanaugh is on the bench, would Kavanaugh have to recuse himself from the case?

Kavanaugh wrote in a law review in 2009, quote, Congress might consider a law exempting a president while in office from criminal prosecution and investigation, including from questioning by criminal prosecutors or defense counsel.

Tonight, Democrats are pouncing on that.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER OF THE SENATE: He has even argued that sitting presidents shouldn't face criminal investigation. No investigation of a president. Is it any wonder that President Trump chose Kavanaugh from the list of 25 when we know he is obsessed with this investigation?

TODD (voice-over): But legal experts say just writing that opinion doesn't mean Kavanaugh would have to recuse himself.

VLADECK: The question is whether there is some reason why his impartiality might fairly be questioned. And I think that turns much more on his personal relationships with the Trump administration, with the President who nominated him.

TODD (voice-over): There is, so far, nothing indicating a personal issue with President Trump would affect Kavanaugh's opinions on the high court. But more broadly, can Robert Mueller force the President to testify?

President Nixon fought a subpoena for his Watergate tapes all the way to the Supreme Court and lost. President Clinton tried to fight a subpoena in the Lewinsky investigation. He eventually agreed on his own to appear before a grand jury.

Giuliani agues President Trump should be immune from testimony because it would be too much of a distraction from the President's job. Legal scholars are split.

JONATHAN TURLEY, J.B. AND MAURICE C. SHAPIRO PROFESSOR OF PUBLIC INTEREST LAW, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL: There is not a lot of case law in this area, but what exists favors Mueller, not Trump in this fight.

And presidents have been compelled to appear, have been compelled to produce documents. Unless the court reverses the precedent, the President would have to appear.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, another big legal battle potentially brewing is whether President Trump could be indicted while in office if it came to that.

The Justice Department has long had guidelines saying a sitting president cannot be indicted, but that has never been tested in court.

If it does get to the Supreme Court, legal analysts say don't expect Brett Kavanaugh to automatically weigh in in President Trump's favor.

[17:55:03] Kavanaugh, they say, has voiced many legal opinions very similar to those of Chief Justice John Roberts, who Trump once called in a debate, quote, a disaster in terms of everything we stand for -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we'll see what happens, Brian. Thank you. Good report.

Coming up, the looming deadline for the Trump administration to reunite immigrant families. How many children still won't be with their parents?

We'll ask the Health and Human Services Secretary, Alex Azar. He joins us live here in the SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)