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Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker Grilled Before Congress; Interview with Rep. Denny Heck (D), Intelligence Committee; Virginia Lt. Governor Denies New Sexual Assault Claim; Did "National Enquirer" Try to Blackmail Jeff Bezos?; At Fiery Hearing, Acting Attorney General Insists He Hasn't Spoken with Trump About Mueller Probe; Feds Investigation Whether National Enquirer Tried to Extort and Blackmail Jeff Bezos, World's Richest Man; Doctor Says Trump "In Very Good Health" After Physical Exam. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 8, 2019 - 17:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Happening now: breaking news. Acting out in a highly confrontational House hearing, a defiant acting attorney general Matt Whitaker testified that he hasn't interfered with the Mueller investigation and hasn't talked about it with President Trump. Tonight the committee chairman says Whitaker was arrogant.

Enquiring trouble: Federal prosecutors are looking at whether the "National Enquirer" tried to blackmail the world's richest man, "The Washington Post" and Amazon owner, Jeff Bezos, in violation of a deal that spared the company from being charge in relation to the Michael Cohen case.

Refusing to respond: the White House is refusing to meet a legal deadline to tell Congress whether it thinks Saudi Arabia's crown prince is personally responsible for the murder of "The Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Is the Trump team flouting the law?

And not very physical: as President Trump undergoes his annual checkup, sources tell CNN they don't believe he set foot in the White House fitness room, despite his doctor's orders to lose weight.

Why does he think working out would be a waste of his energy?

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


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We are following multiple breaking stories, including a very contentious House hearing with the acting attorney general Matt Whitaker in the hot seat, often unresponsive and inconsistent as Democrats grilled him for almost six hours about the Mueller investigation.

Whitaker testified he hasn't talked about it with President Trump or interfered in any way.

Also breaking: federal prosecutors are now looking into allegations by "The Washington Post" owner and Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos that the parent company of the "National Enquirer" tried to blackmail him. That's a possible violation of the nonprosecution deal the company reached in relation to the case of former Trump fixer and lawyer, Michael Cohen. I'll talk about that and more with Congressman dheck of the House Intelligence Committee.

Our correspondents, analysts and specialists, they are also standing by.

First, let's get the latest on the breaking news. Our CNN Justice correspondent, Laura Jarrett, and our CNN senior Justice correspondent, Evan Perez, are here and working their story.

Laura, the acting attorney general's appearance before the House Judiciary Committee was very contentious. Tell us about some of those fiery points.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Wolf, it was a combative hearing in a new Democratic controlled House. Members ready to grill the acting attorney general before a new man likely to take his job next week and Whitaker was ready for a fight.


REP. JERRY NADLER (D), NEW YORK: Is that correct, a simple enough question, yes or no?

MATTHEW WHITAKER, ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Mr. Chairman, again, what is the basis for your question?

You're saying that is your --


NADLER: I'm asking the questions. I only have five minutes. So please answer yes or no.

WHITAKER: No, Mr. Chairman, I'm going to. You were asking me a question. It is your understanding.

Can you tell me where you get the --

NADLER: No, I'm not going to tell you. I don't have time to get into it.

WHITAKER: Mr. Chairman, I see that your five minutes is up. And so --


WHITAKER: I'm -- we -- I'm here voluntarily. We have agreed to five- minute rounds.

REP. DOUG COLLINS (R), RANKING MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: If this is the way we are going to go, then we'll have plenty of stunts. We're going to have plenty of theatrics. Bring your popcorn. I'm thinking about maybe we just set up a popcorn machine in the back because that's what this has become.

WHITAKER: I don't know if your time has been restored or not.


REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS: Mr. Attorney General, we are not joking here. And your humor is not acceptable.

REP. DEBBIE LESKO (R), ARIZONA: It's nothing but character assassination, harassment of our witness.

REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R), TEXAS: I don't know what kind of suicide wish you had or whatever but it's good to see you.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-N.Y.), MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: We are all trying to figure out, who are you?

Where did you come from and how the heck did you become the head of the Department of Justice?

In your final week, keep your hands off the Mueller investigation. I yield back.


JARRETT: And when it came to the Mueller investigation Whitaker refused to not say it was a witch hunt, aligning with the president, a stunning statement from the man in charge of the Mueller probe and a radical departure from every other top law enforcement official we have ever heard speak on this issue.

BLITZER: Really, really contentious, extraordinary hearing.

Whitaker did address some of the key questions about the Mueller probe.

What did he say about his conversations he had?

What did we learn about the conversations he had with the president?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: He refused to say what he did tell the president and what kind of things he did tell the president. But he said repeatedly what he did not tell the president. Take a listen to some of that exchange.


NADLER: It's a yes or no question.

Have you communicated anything you learned in that briefing about the investigation --


NADLER: -- to President Trump?

Yes or no?

WHITAKER: Mr. Chairman, as I have said earlier today in my opening remarks, I do not intend to talk about my private conversations with the president of the United States. To answer your question, I have not talked to the President of the United States about the special counsel's investigation.


PEREZ: One of the things he did is he widened that further. He said he hadn't talked to people inside the White House or the White House officials about the Mueller investigation, which is an important thing for him to note.

BLITZER: He said he hasn't interfered in the Mueller investigation at all.

How significant is that?

PEREZ: I think it was significant for him to say that one of the -- his specific comment is, there was no decision, no event that required me to take any action that he has interfered with.

I think what it tells us is in the three months he has overseen that investigation, there hasn't been a subpoena requested by the Mueller investigators to subpoena the president, to get the president to provide testimony, which we know is one of the outstanding things that has been hanging over this investigation.

We know that during the three months here, this subpoena request has not come to Whitaker. And he has not rejected that because we know one has not come to the White House.

BLITZER: He also didn't want to discuss at all of his conversations with the president about Michael Cohen.

What does that signal?

JARRETT: Until he did. He really sort of vacillated and evolved in his answers over the course of that six-hour hearing. It is interesting, depending on which member of Congress, you got a different answer. He was really pressed by Representative Ciccilline to explain what happened.

Our reporting in December was that the president vented to him about prosecutors in New York concerning the Michael Cohen investigation. He didn't like being implicated; he thought it made him look bad. Take a listen to how he answered questions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Sir, answer the question, yes or no. Did he lash out to you about Mr. Cohen's guilty plea?

WHITAKER: No. He did not.

REP. VAL DEMINGS (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I want to know whether you talked to President Trump at all about the Southern District of New York's case involving Michael Cohen?

WHITAKER: Congresswoman, as I mentioned several times today, I'm not going to discuss my private conversations with the president of the United States.


JARRETT: So he appeared to want to dispute the characterization of the president lashing out, latching onto that phrase in particular. But then he wouldn't say I have never discussed the SDNY Michael Cohen at all with the president. On that one, then he wanted to say I'm not willing to go there, to talk about it.

PEREZ: And we know one of the frustrations for senior officials at the Justice Department has been that the Southern District of New York does their own thing. It doesn't really consult them very much on big courses of action. In this case, I think it's a frustration that Matt Whitaker probably went to the White House with and just had to be on the receiving end from the president.

JARRETT: And certainly the president was frustrated by it, felt like it wasn't fair, that these weren't real crimes, sending him op-eds. But all of that he wasn't willing to touch.

BLITZER: More than six hours he appeared before that rather contentious committee. All right. Thanks very much for that.

Let's get more on the breaking news right now. Our senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju is joining us from Capitol Hill.

Manu, what did you hear from the chairman after the hearing and will he subpoena Whitaker to get answers to some of those questions that Whitaker refused to answer today?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is very possible. Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the committee, made clear that Matt Whitaker is not done answering questions. He wants to bring him back for a private interview, a deposition transcribed interview. The transcript would later be released publicly to answer questions even after next week, when Bill Barr is expected to be confirmed as the new attorney general.

Matt Whitaker presumably will become a private citizen. At that point still, he's expected to come in and answer those questions. And Jerry Nadler made very clear that he is prepared to subpoena Whitaker to answer those questions and he expects them to be answered when he comes forward behind closed doors. Among the things Nadler is interested in are conversations he had with

the White House before he joined the Justice Department. In Nadler's view, he believes it's not credible that he did not discuss the special counsel's investigation with the White House or with the president when he acknowledged that he interviewed for a White House attorney job to deal with the Mueller investigation.

According to Nadler, it is not credible that would he not discuss this, his views, that he was very public about criticizing the Mueller investigation. Of course, there are other things he would not reveal about his conversations with the president, specifically including about the Southern District of New York investigation into Michael Cohen, the fact that the president has been implicated in two federal crimes.

Those were things that he said that he was not going to discuss, his conversations with the president over. But Nadler expects those answers eventually. How Whitaker responds to that remains to be seen.

I did ask, you know, Nadler, that if anything was nefarious, that was found from Whitaker's testimony, if he revealed anything nefarious and he said, no, he didn't reveal anything nefarious that he'd done. But we still don't have answers as to whether he --


RAJU: -- interfered with the investigation, whether he communicated with any people from the White House, whether the investigation, either from or to those, are very key. So expect more pressure on Whitaker. He says that this White House and the administration are not used to this kind of pressure from Democratic chairmen but we're going to l push for these answers. We'll see what Whitaker ultimately does.

BLITZER: Yes, it's a whole new world out there with the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. Manu Raju, thanks very much.

Let's get more on all of this. Democratic Congressman Dheck of Washington State is joining us. He's a member of the Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for coming in.


BLITZER: What did you think of Matt Whitaker's testimony?

Six hours.

HECK: I had a lot of reactions. I was able to catch quite a bit of it in between committee hearings.

First, I think Congressman Nadler accurately described it. He was arrogant in his approach but being arrogant isn't a crime. Lying to Congress is. In fact, it's a felony. As Roger Stone and Michael Cohen can attest. And whether or not he was completely truthful, only time will tell.

BLITZER: You think he is?

HECK: Well, I think he gave his testimony very cognizant of the fact that there are already two people going to prison for lying. But whether or not, again, that proves up over time.


BLITZER: Did you hear anything?

And you obviously have followed all of this for a long time as member of the Intelligence Committee.

Did you hear anything that you suspect may have been a lie?

HECK: No. I really didn't. But then again, withholding information is not the same thing as lying. And in certain instances, as has been pointed out --

BLITZER: You think he did a sufficient job defending the Mueller investigation?

HECK: No. I don't think this administration has done anything but try to take it down. Otherwise, they would have supported our repeated attempts to provide legal protection to the Mueller investigation. And they've refused to do that at every turn.

My advice, by the way, Wolf, to Mr. Whitaker is that if he ever has any hope at some point in his future of federal service again, then he's going to have to significantly improve his bedside manner because how he approached that today just won't cut it in the United States Senate.

BLITZER: Have you ever seen a witness tell a committee chairman, your time is up?

HECK: It was shocking. No, of course, not. And it's -- that's Exhibit A in which it is I think he needs to significantly change his approach if he is ever going to come before the Senate for confirmation.

BLITZER: I have been around Washington for a long time. I've covered a lot of congressional hearings. I haven't heard that. That was a new one for me as well.

HECK: As you can tell from the collective gasp in the audience --

BLITZER: -- including from Jerry Nadler, the committee chairman -- he actually smiled a little bit when he was told his five minutes were up.

Do you believe his claims that he was never instructed or directed to interfere in the Mueller investigation are true?

HECK: Whether I believe his claims or not, there are significant reasons to be suspicious of this administration from day one of trying to obfuscate. And in fact, there are credible allegations of obstruction of justice here, which yet remain to be proved.

But nonetheless are credible. So it's almost irrelevant whether he was. You have to take the body of evidence as a whole. The body of evidence as a whole is not favorably reflecting upon the Trump administration.

BLITZER: The chairman of the committee, Jerry Nadler, he had threatened to subpoena Matt Whitaker if he didn't answer the questions. They had a back and forth all day yesterday. Eventually he appeared and he may subpoena him to come back as a private citizen because there will be a new attorney general in about a week or so.

Should Democrats -- and you're on the House Intelligence Committee -- use their new majority, their power to go ahead and subpoena all of these officials or potentially could that backfire?

HECK: We should use our authority in our newfound majority to get at the truth, Wolf. Because the stakes here are pretty significant. Adversarial foreign government interfered in our presidential election. And all of the truth is not yet out.

And so we should proceed judiciously and strategically but, in earnestness and frankly with a clear eye on the fact that we have to get at the truth. We are 633 days away from the next presidential election. We are less than a year away from the first presidential primary. If we want to avoid what we experienced in 2016, we have to get at the truth.

BLITZER: Your committee chairman, Adam Schiff, he's unleashed a whole bunch of questions he wants your committee, the House Intelligence Committee, to investigate.

Did you see any reason to call Whitaker to come back and appear before the House Intelligence Committee?

HECK: There are a whole host of people that we need to see. Matt Whitaker may or may not fall into the constellation of the top tier of that. It remains to be seen. But we have a lot of work to do and we have a limited amount of time iniwhich to do it. And it'll have to be evaluated within that --

BLITZER: -- look at the screen. We're going to show our viewers all of the House investigations that are either beginning or about to begin with this new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, they are -- there's clearly a lot of them there. I'm sure the people at the White House, including the president, get heartburn when they see that.

HECK: Sure. Well, I brought this, Wolf. This is a pocket copy of the United States Constitution. And in it --


HECK: -- citizens will remember Article I deals with the United States Congress and sets forth our oversight responsibility. We are living up to our constitutional oath of office by providing oversight over the executive branch.

BLITZER: Do you carry that Constitution with you at all times?

HECK: Often.

BLITZER: I know a lot of members do. Hey, Congressman, thanks so much for coming in.

HECK: You're welcome, sir.

BLITZER: Breaking news continues. Next: Virginia's lieutenant governor just now strongly denied a new claim of sexual assault. Stand by for new details.

We also have more on the alleged attempt by the "National Enquirer" to blackmail the billionaire, Jeff Bezos, the world's richest man. Tonight federal prosecutors, they are investigating.





BLITZER: We've got breaking news coming in from Virginia, where the state's Lt. Governor just denied a second woman's claim of sexual assault. Let's go to CNN's Ryan Nobles working the story for us. He's joining us live from Richmond.

What's the latest, Ryan, what are you learning?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. This second woman, Meredith Watson, put out a statement through her attorney about a half an hour ago. She accused the Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax of rape when they were both college students at duniv in 2000.

This is what Watson said through her attorney, she said, quote, "Mr. Fairfax's attack was premeditated and aggressive. The two were friends but never dated or had any romantic relationship.

"Ms. Watson shared her account of the rape with friends in a series of emails and Facebook messages that are now in our possession. Additionally, we have statements from former classmates corroborating that Ms. Watson immediately told friends that Mr. Fairfax had raped her."

Of course, Wolf, this second accusation comes just days after Dr. Vanessa Tyson, another woman claimed that she had been sexual assaulted by the Lt. Governor back in 2004 during the dnconv. At that time, the lieutenant governor had forcefully denied the accusations. And he's forcefully denying these accusations that as well.

This is what he says in a statement.

He says, quote, "I deny this latest unsubstantiated allegation. It is demonstrably false. I have never forced myself on anyone ever. I demand a full investigation into these unsubstantiated and false allegations. Such an investigation will confirm my account because I am telling the truth.

"I will clear my good name and I have nothing to hide. I have passed two full field background checks by the FBI and run for office in two highly contested elections with nothing like this being raised before.

"It is obvious that a vicious and coordinated smear campaign is being orchestrated against me."

And Wolf, this perhaps the most important thing. He says in this statement, "I will not resign."

Despite the fact that the Lt. Governor seems insistent that he will not leave office despite this flood of controversy that is surrounding him right now, the calls for his resignation have already begun and they've come from the highest levels, the former governor of Virginia, someone still very influential here in the commonwealth, tmcau, tweeting just a few moments ago, quote, "The allegations against Justin Fairfax are serious and credible.

"It is clear to me that he can no longer efficiently serve the people of Virginia as Lt. Governor. I call for his immediate resignation."

Of course, Wolf, this would be a very damaging scandal under any circumstances. But when you take it in the context of the fact that the governor is currently embattled after he appeared or there was a racist photo that appeared in his medical school yearbook and the attorney general is also facing a scandal when he admitted just a few days ago that he appeared in blackface while in college and this is a state of turmoil for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

There have already been calls across the board for the governor to step down. He has said that he is not going anywhere. Those calls were renewed in many respects yesterday. Now we have the lieutenant governor facing an increasingly difficult controversy.

Wolf, frankly, there is no clue specifically how this will resolve itself and the people of Virginia remain in a state of turmoil here as these controversies continue to mount.

BLITZER: Yes, turmoil clearly continues. Ryan Nobles for us in Virginia, thanks very much.

There's more breaking news we're following right now. Federal prosecutors in New York are looking at whether the "National Enquirer's" parent company violated an agreement that spared it from prosecution related to the case against former Trump fixer Michael Cohen. The possible violation and alleged effort to blackmail Amazon founder and "The Washington Post" owner Jeff Bezos. CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us.

Brian, what is the very latest?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, learning tonight federal prosecutors in New York are reviewing claims that the "National Enquirer" attempted to extort and blackmail Jeff Bezos. He is the billionaire founder and CEO of Amazon and the owner of "The Washington Post."

Overnight Bezos accused the "Enquirer," its parent company American Media Incorporated and its CEO, David Pecker, of trying to blackmail him. Bezos claimed the tabloid told him it would not publish salacious and embarrassing pictures of Bezos and a woman named Lauren Sanchez with whom bezos had an affair but said they wouldn't publish those photos only if Bezos would agree to stop investigating the tabloid.

Bezos had hired investigators to find out how the "Enquirer" got some text messages between Bezos and Lauren Sanchez. Details of Bezos' affair with Sanchez were published by the "Enquirer" one day after Jeff Bezos announced he was divorcing his wife.

Bezos is also tonight questioning whether AMI went after him because of AMI's relationship with President Trump and with the government of Saudi Arabia. In his --


TODD: -- blog posted last night, Bezos posted a quote from a "New York Times" piece saying, quote, "After Mr. Trump became president, he rewarded Mr. Pecker's loyalty with a White House dinner, to which the media executive brought a guest with important ties to the royals in Saudi Arabia.

"At the time, Mr. Pecker was pursuing business there while also hunting for financing for acquisitions."

Today the Saudi foreign minister told CNN he doubts his government had anything to do with AMI's reporting on Jeff Bezos. The White House claims President Trump is likely not even aware of all of this reporting on Jeff Bezos.

And here is what AMI is saying tonight.

Quote, "American Media believes fervently that it acted lawfully in the reporting of the story of Mr. Bezos. Further, at the time of the recent allegations made by Mr. Bezos, it was in good faith negotiations to resolve all matters with him.

"Nonetheless, in light of the nature of the allegations published by Mr. Bezos, the board has convened and determined that it should promptly and thoroughly investigate the claims.

"Upon completion of that investigation, the board will take whatever appropriate action is necessary." So it is going back and forth tonight between Bezos and AMI and now prosecutors in New York, reviewing whether AMI might have violated a deal that they made with them regarding hush money payments and President Trump.

BLITZER: And I know you've spoken with Jim Ruttenberger at "The New York Times," who wrote that piece.

TODD: Yes.

BLITZER: You spoke with others about this alleged Saudi connection as well and I know in the next hour you'll have a lot more on the Saudi connection, the Saudi part of the story, which potentially is very, very explosive.

Brian, thank you very much for that report.

There's more breaking news just ahead. The acting attorney general mwhita defiant as Democrats grill him about the Mueller investigation. At one point, even cutting off the chairman of the committee. He says he hasn't talked to President Trump about the probe.

Why won't he reveal what else they have talked about?





BLITZER: We are following multiple breaking stories. During a long contentious hearing today, the acting attorney general Matt Whitaker told the House Judiciary Committee he has not interfered with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, quote, "in any way."

Let's discuss what we saw and heard with our legal and political experts.

Laura Jarrett, you spent more than six hours listening to every word. The Democrats are threatening more subpoenas.

Are we any closer right now to getting answers to some of these really sensitive questions?

JARRETT: It doesn't seem so. I'm hard pressed to see what we learned today that we didn't already know. Obviously it was interesting to see the dynamic. It was interesting to see his tone, how combative he was with the members.

He already has a jocular attitude. To see him go at it with Nadler, we were waiting to see the fireworks. But Nadler now says, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, says he wants to press him to get a deposition and he will then make the transcript public.

But what incentive does Whitaker have to sit down for that?

He will be out of a job when Bill Barr gets confirmed as next attorney general on Thursday, as we expect that he will.

So is Nadler really going press this point when he has other people he wants to interview and he wants to get in these seats for oversight hearings?

BLITZER: It is just a taste of what we can see now that the Democrats are a majority in the House of Representatives. We got a flavor of what we can expect in the weeks and months ahead. Let me play a clip.



NADLER: Is that correct, a simple enough question, yes or no?

WHITAKER: Mr. Chairman, again, what is the basis for your question?


NADLER: I'm asking the questions. I only have five minutes. So please answer yes or no.

WHITAKER: No, Mr. Chairman, I'm going to -- you were asking me a question, it is your understanding.

Can you tell me where you get the --

NADLER: No, I'm not going to tell you that. I don't have time to get into it.

WHITAKER: Mr. Chairman, I see that your five minutes is up. And so --


WHITAKER: I'm -- we -- I'm here -- I'm here voluntarily. We have agreed to five-minute rounds.

COLLINS: If this is the way we are going to go, then we'll have plenty of stunts. We're going to have plenty of theatrics. Bring your popcorn. I'm thinking about maybe we just set up a popcorn machine in the back because that's what this has become.

WHITAKER: I don't know if your time has been restored or not.


JACKSON: Mr. Attorney General, we are not joking here. And your humor is not acceptable.

LESKO: It's nothing but character assassination, harassment of our witness.

GOHMERT: I don't know what kind of suicide wish you had or whatever but it's good to see you.

JEFFRIES: We are all trying to figure out, who are you?

Where did you come from and how the heck did you become the head of the Department of Justice?

In your final week, keep your hands off the Mueller investigation. I yield back.


BLITZER: You think this is a preview of what we can expect in the weeks and months ahead?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And it was pretty predictable, I think you'd have to say. We learned that he said the president never discussed -- he never discussed Mueller investigation with the president or with any officials at the White House.

But we do know he interviewed for a job at the White House which was to be the person who deals with the press on the Mueller investigation, Ty Cobb's old job. So sort of interesting to me to hear that from him, that the Mueller investigation was never discussed, since the job he wanted was --


BORGER: -- actually about the Mueller investigation. But yes. I think it is a preview of things to come. I think the Democrats are serious that they want to get answers out of people.

When you look at him, it was hard to tell how seriously he took this. He was pretty arrogant. The Democrats were sort of like, we are not kidding around here. We need some answers from you. And he wasn't forthcoming a lot of the time.

BLITZER: You think the president was pleased with what he saw?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He probably was. This the kind of combativeness he likes to see in his people. It brings me back to past nomination hearings for Supreme Court justice, facing all of these questions about sexual assault allegations.

And he came in guns blazing. That is exactly what President Trump wanted to see from him. Whitaker, even though he's roughly out of a job, was still playing to an audience of one. This is what you do when you're a Trump cabinet official or acting cabinet official.

You don't let Democrats on a committee sort of push you around. You fight back. Even that moment, where he seemed to not understand that the chairman could ask whatever questions he wanted to ask, was a moment that would make the president feel pretty good because it was sort of not deferential at all to an institution that is more used to people coming before them and having their I's dotted and their T's crossed.

BLITZER: Samantha, how did you see it?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think we learned something very important today, which is why we should not have acting cabinet secretaries.

Matt Whitaker, during this hearing, could not even answer how many people have been indicted under the special counsel investigation, how many people have pled guilty and what kind of plea agreements have been reached.

This is arguably the most important investigation that the Department of Justice has underway right now from a national security perspective and he is not briefed on basic facts?

This is exactly why we need fully confirmed cabinet secretaries leading agencies that are doing things like leading a counterintelligence attack against our country.


JARRETT: -- fully briefed.


JARRETT: He wants to say in the same breath, I've been fully briefed. I know exactly what's going on. It's close to completion while also saying, well, I can't really say --

VINOGRAD: I don't have the facts in front of me on all --

JARRETT: -- and not even willing to say it's not a witch hunt. This is the acting attorney general. This man is in charge of the Justice Department. He oversees Mueller and he is not willing to go on the record and say that.

BORGER: Well, Eric Swalwell got him to say that Bob Mueller, that he respects Bob Mueller, that he thinks Bob Mueller doesn't have conflicts and that he is an honest guy.


JARRETT: -- there's no reason to think he is not an honest guy. That's not a full-throated defense.

BORGER: Exactly. He wasn't going to do what Barr did, which said it's not a witch hunt. And I bet Barr got in some trouble for saying that with the president. So he's playing to the president. He's thinking of his next job.


BLITZER: Barr will be the attorney general next week and Whitaker's going to be out of a job this week.

Everybody stick around. Much more on the breaking news right after this. (MUSIC PLAYING)




BLITZER: We're back with our political and legal experts.

And Laura, as you know, the prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, the U.S. attorney's office there, are now looking into whether or not the top officials over at the "National Enquirer," American Media, the parent company, handled all of the controversy with the Amazon founder, "The Washington Post" owner, Jeff Bezos, legally.

He's accusing them of blackmail, which could be a violation of the plea agreement, the compliant agreement that they signed to cooperate with the investigation in exchange for not having to worry about being charged with any crime.

JARRETT: That's exactly right. So the "National Enquirer," their parent company, AMI, has this immunity deal, this nonprosecution agreement. It says you cannot commit any other crimes whatsoever. So not saying this has been decided that it is a crime but certainly that's Bezos' allegations. It'll be up to the prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.

But the fact that they are queued in on it really matters here. And our colleagues confirm that today, that they are interested there it. They want to question people. They want to figure out what happened here.

When we saw the reporting last night and we saw Bezos' post, it had to trigger something. If they didn't already know about it, you had to imagine they looked at that and said, we want to know everything about the situation.

BLITZER: And I'm sure they are looking into it.

The Bezos blog, Bezos clearly thinks the president may have something to do with all of this. Let me read a line for you.

"Here is a piece of context: my ownership of 'The Washington Post' is a complexifier for me. It is unavoidable that certain powerful people who experience 'The Washington Post' news coverage will wrongly conclude I am their enemy.

"President Trump is one of those people, obvious by his many tweets."

Your analysis.

BORGER: Well, he also clearly mentions the Saudis. "The Post's" unrelenting coverage of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi has been something that the Saudis have not particularly loved. And he mentioned that kind of coverage. And then he seemed to link

the two by quoting a "New York Times," story in which it said that Mr. Pecker's loyalty was rewarded with a White House dinner, to which the media executive brought a guest with important ties to the royals in Saudi Arabia.

What Bezos did during this extraordinary post is drop all of these bread crumbs around asking people to kind of connect the -- connect them. And he said, for reasons still to be better understood the Saudi angle seems to have hit a particularly sensitive nerve saying that AMI had been apoplectic about a Washington Post investigation into Khashoggi.

BLITZER: What do you think that the Saudi connection?

VINOGRAD: Well, we know what the Saudis do when there's negative coverage of them. They literally murder Jamal Khashoggi with the bone saw in a Consulate in Turkey. So, it is not stretch to the imagination to think that they may take steps against somebody else who has negative coverage of them. And the problem is that the administration is really giving them Saudis an open-door policy.

Earlier today, the president is knowingly failing to uphold U.S. Law, by failing to deliver a report to Congress on who is responsible for Khashoggi's murder. So, it may be a very cute coincidence that AMI, the president, and the Saudis have all of these different bread crumbs linking them together, but unfortunately, we know that the president continues to act as the Saudi's defense lawyer and Saudis unfortunately take direct action against those who criticize them.

BLITZER: The president clearly has gone after Jeff Bezos on many occasions; at one point, calling him "Jeff Bozo" in a tweet. No love there.

PHILIP: Yes, not at all. But it's also problematic for the president that he's implied that he was willing to use the levels of the U.S. government to kind of rein Jeff Bezos in; talking about how Amazon has taken advantage of the U.S. Postal Service, wanting to re-evaluate that relationship which was based ton president's belief that he was directing negative coverage of him through the Washington Post, which is obviously incorrect.

But the problem for President Trump is that he's demonstrated the willingness to act against Bezos because of his coverage which makes this implication by Jeff Bezos in the medium, so much more powerful -- not to mention the Saudi angle which is like an onion, where the layers unfolding day after day.

[17:47:14] BLITZER: We're getting some more information on that. Everybody, standby. We're going to have a lot more of the breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. President Trump just got back to the White House after undergoing his annual physical check-up. So, what did that doctors find this year?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [17:52:07] BLITZER: President Trump had just arrived back over at the White House after spending much of the afternoon over at the Walter Reed Medical Center for his annual physical checkup, and the White House has released a memo from the president's doctor saying the president is in very good health. Let's discuss with Dr. Sanjay Gupta our Chief Medical Correspondent. Sanjay, you've got the statement from the White House. This is the statement from Sean Connolly, the physician to the president.

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he's basically saying this afternoon that President Trump had a second periodic physical examination, took four hours. Dr. Connolly oversaw that. There were 11 different specialists involved. Takes a lot of specialist, I guess, to perform this exam. And he hays that he's happy to announce that the president of the United States is in very good health and anticipate he will remain so for the duration of his presidency and beyond. Let's make some one other point here that's worth noting. The president did not undergo any procedures requiring sedation or anesthesia.

You may remember, Wolf, President Bush, George W. Bush, when he had a colonoscopy back in 2007, he had sedation, had to invoke the 25th Amendment. And I think that's probably why they put that specific line in there: no sedation. There's going to be more result, certainly that come out over the, I'm sure the next several days in terms of the specific blood results and diagnostic tests. But that last line, he's happy to announce the president is in very good health and anticipates he will remain so.

BLITZER: For the duration of his presidency. Normally, after the president goes for a physical checkup at Walter Reed, there's a full briefing over at the White House, the physician who was responsible and tells us about the blood pressure and the cholesterol count and all of that. None of that is included in this statement. And maybe, we'll get it. I hopefully we will. But right now, there's not much we can assess from this.

GUPTA: No, I think this could have almost been written even before the exam started, Wolf. I think that that's sort of -- we probably will get some further details. It's interesting, last year's press briefing was pretty remarkable. And you saw it, I saw it. I have never seen anything like it before. Dr. Ronny Jackson was pretty enthusiastic about how President Trump was doing at that time. Here's a little bit of what we saw then.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you explain to me how a guy who eats McDonald's and all of those diet cokes and never exercises, is in as good a shape as you say he's in?

RONNY JACKSON, PHYSICIAN: It's called genetics. I don't know. It says, some people have you know just great genes. You know, I told the president that if he had a healthier diet over the last 20 years, he might live to be 200 years old. I don't know.

GUPTA: He does have heart disease, is that what you're saying.

JACKSON: He does not have heart disease.

GUPTA: Because he had a C.T. scan before that showed calcium in his coronary blood vessels.

JACKSON: He does. He did. He had -- so, I think -- so, technically, he has nonclinical atherosclerotic coronary atherosclerosis.


GUPTA: Interesting, Wolf, that response. You know, he did not divulge that President Trump had had this C.T. scan, this coronary calcium scan of his heart and, in fact, had an abnormal result. I'll show you quickly, I think, if we have this. The numbers on these scans --

BLITZER: We don't have it now. But you know, what we really need to do and I want you to come back, maybe we'll get it within the hour is to compare the numbers this year as opposed to last year to see if there's been an improvement or deterioration. Let's see if we get those number soon, but don't go too far away.

GUPTA: You got it.

BLITZER: We're going to need your expertise.


[17:55:25] BLITZER: Dr. Sanjay Gupta is with us. There's more breaking news just ahead, hours of contentious clashes with Democrats says the Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, gets grilled about the Mueller investigation, insisting he hasn't talked about it with President Trump.


[18:00:03] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, contentious hearing.