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THE SITUATION ROOM
Chicago Police Investigating Jussie Smollett; Interview With Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD); Mueller Report Coming Soon?. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired February 20, 2019 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Reasons for firing. Former FBI acting Director Andrew McCabe confirms the president wrote a long, rambling letter to justify ousting FBI Chief James Comey. Does the letter amount to evidence of obstruction?
From victim to suspect. Empire actor Jussie Smollett is now officially a criminal suspect, as Chicago police believe he falsely claimed to have been the target of a racist and homophobic attack that he was involved in orchestrating.
And terror hit list. A U.S. Coast Guardsman has now been arrested, accused of plotting a mass attack targeting Democrats and journalists, including CNN anchors. We're getting new details.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the conclusion of Robert Mueller's historic Trump-Russia investigation.
CNN has learned the Justice Department is preparing to receive Mueller's long-awaited final report and may announce as soon as next week that the special counsel's work is done.
Tonight, President Trump says he will be -- it will be up to his new attorney general to decide if and when Mueller's findings are shared with the American people. The nation eager for answers after two years of questions about Russian interference, possible collusion and obstruction and whether any crimes were committed by the president.
I will get reaction from Senator Ben Cardin. He's a top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's bring in our justice report, Laura Jarrett, and our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz.
Laura, first of all, tell us about the latest preparations we have learned that are now under way.
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, after two years of work, the Justice Department now expected to receive special counsel Mueller's work, confidential report, in the next week, and Attorney General Bill Barr expected to review the findings and say to the public his work is over.
Now, what exactly Bill Barr will say to Congress is the big question to come. We know that the expectation is that he will provide a summary of the findings, but he has said he will not turn over the full report.
Obviously, the bigger question is, what does this mean for the Mueller investigation going forward? We know that Mueller has referred certain cases to the U.S. attorneys across the country -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, Shimon, this seems to be the clearest indication yet that Mueller has basically wrapped up his work.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the fact that he's doing this report. It's complete. It's now pretty much on its way to the attorney general. Every indication that we do not expect any other kind of significant investigative steps, indictments from the Mueller team.
The other thing, you know, our team that's been out at the Mueller office, Sam Fossum and Em Steck, they're like the unsung heroes of our team. They spend a lot of time outside that office. They have seen people leave that office with boxes recently. Just last week, staffers with the Mueller team leaving with carts of boxes.
We have not seen any significant grand jury activity since the Roger Stone indictment. In fact, we haven't even seen the grand jurors at the courthouse since the Roger Stone indictment. And other things that have been going on here, like the fact that some of the parts of this investigation and these cases have now been handed over to the U.S. attorney here in Washington, D.C., another signal that the Mueller team does not expect to be around much longer.
So, yes, all of this definitely pointing to the fact that Mueller is essentially done.
BLITZER: How long will it take, Laura, for the American public to know what Mueller knows?
JARRETT: It could take quite awhile. We expect this to be a battle royal.
Under the regulation, Barr has wide discretion to figure out how much or how little to share with the Congress and by extension the public, of course. And this really came up as it came to a head in his Senate confirmation hearings, where lawmakers were pressing him for answers about, how much will you turn over?
Take a listen for our viewers to remind them what he said on this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: When his report comes to you, will you share it with us, as much as possible?
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Consistent with regulations and the law, yes.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Will you provide Mueller's -- excuse me -- Mueller's report to Congress, not your rewrite or a summary?
BARR: All I can say at this stage, because I have no clue as to what's being planned, is that I am going to try to get the information out there consistent with these regulations. And to the extent I have discretion, I will exercise that discretion to do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JARRETT: As you heard there, senators not interested in his rewrite or his executive summary. So we expect subpoenas will fly on this to the Justice Department and they will try to haul up Robert Mueller up to the hill for testimony.
BLITZER: Once he does release the summary, as it's called, to Congress, what might he hold back?
PROKUPECZ: I think he's going to hold back a lot of information.
Laura certainly is hearing the same thing. Look, I think the biggest concern is releasing any information about people who have not been charged, who have not been indicted, who are not before a court, and in some kind of a public record, a court record.
And the Department of Justice and the FBI took a lot of the heat after what James Comey did in the Clinton investigation, standing, holding a press conference, releasing all sorts of information, taking issue with what she did in that case, in that investigation.
So now the FBI and the Department of Justice are really worried about it. And this is something that Bill Barr even talked about when he was on the Hill. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARR: If you're not going to indict someone, then you don't stand up there and unload negative information about the person. That's not the way the Department of Justice does business.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PROKUPECZ: But that doesn't mean that people aren't going to try. Certainly, we expect people, members of Congress, the public, the media to file all sorts of legal challenges to this to try and obtain as much information as we can.
BLITZER: There will be other investigations, even if the Mueller investigation is over. The president's got to worry about other investigations that are ongoing.
You have that handy graphic that shows sort of the litany, everything from the Trump Foundation, the Trump inaugural, Southern District. They're all over it. And part of the issue here is that Mueller recognized I think early on to have U.S. attorneys, federal prosecutors across the country to be on the cases, people even outside of the team to insulate it, and because he knows the investigation won't go on forever.
So after he's done, those cases will continue, cases here in D.C. being handled by the D.C.'s U.S. attorney's office, for instance, Roger Stone, the president's longtime confidant, those will continue on, as well as other ones, things we've been following, the mystery grand jury. We still don't know much about what's happened there.
That went to the Supreme Court. That will continue on. Those can be litigated by Justice Department lawyers.
BLITZER: And we have also now heard from Andrew McCabe, the fired former acting director of the FBI. He's been out and about. He says he actually saw a letter that the president wrote personally, four- page letter, a draft letter, outlining why he wanted to fire James Comey.
And, among other things, one of the reasons was because Comey didn't fire McCabe.
PROKUPECZ: Yes, this is really revealing and this is really the first time we're hearing what this letter was really about.
McCabe described it as rambling, several pages long and how the president was rambling in this letter. And for the first time, he revealed that one of the reasons that the president was trying to give for why he wanted Comey fired was because he wouldn't fire -- because Comey wouldn't fire McCabe. And here's how he described it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: I have to be careful in the way that I talk about this. I have seen the letter that the president wrote, purportedly himself, justifying the firing of Jim Comey.
QUESTION: What does it say?
MCCABE: In a rambling four-plus pages, it goes through all the different reasons why he is firing the director of the FBI.
Now, I'm not going to go through all of those with you, but I will tell you that one of them is, he claims to want to fire the director of the FBI because of his failure to fire me.
(END VIDEO CLIP) PROKUPECZ: And obviously the issues that the president has had with McCabe and his wife, you know, a lot of that's been out there already, but, you know, this letter is something that Mueller has certainly had and it's something that he's reviewed as well.
JARRETT: And, to be clear, what he's doing here is trying to set the groundwork to say I wasn't fired because the inspector general found that I misled investigators. I was fired for political reasons.
So he's trying to show even way, way before that investigation the president wanted him out.
All right, guys, thanks very much. We're going to stay on top of this story.
There's other important news we're following involving the president and his reaction to CNN's reporting that Robert Mueller's final report may be imminent.
Let's go to our White House correspondent, Abby Phillip.
Abby, Mueller's report could be explosive. What are we hearing from the president tonight?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, after months of attack on Robert Mueller's special counsel investigation, President Trump gave reporters today in the Oval Office a pretty muted response to the prospect that this probe could be ending soon.
But he saved his attacks for the former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, whose book tour this week seems to have struck a nerve with the president.
PHILLIP (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump leaving the Mueller report in the hands of his new attorney general, Bill Barr.
QUESTION: Should the Mueller report be released when you are abroad next week?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That will be totally up to the new attorney general. He's a tremendous man, a tremendous person who really respects this country and respects the Justice Department, so that will be totally up to him.
PHILLIP: Trump offering a muted response to what would be the end of an investigation that he's railed against for two years. Instead, Trump lashing out at the former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, who played a role in starting the probe.
I think Andrew McCabe has made a fool out of himself over the last couple of days, and he really looks to me as a poor man's J. Edgar Hoover.
PHILLIP: The president's comments coming in the midst of McCabe's bombshell media tour that has raised questions about whether Trump might have been acting on behalf of the Russian government.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Do you still believe the president could be a Russian asset?
MCCABE: I think it's possible. I think that's why we started our investigation. And I'm really anxious to see where Director Mueller concludes that.
PHILLIP: McCabe even hinting that ongoing investigations could involve the president's children.
COOPER: Was the president's family being looked into either before the appointment of Mueller or after?
MCCABE: That's something I don't feel comfortable talking about as it goes to kind of -- could go to ongoing investigative matters.
PHILLIP: And making it clear that a bipartisan group of congressional leaders were in the loop as the Department of Justice opened obstruction of justice and collusion investigations into the president.
MCCABE: At the conclusion of my remarks, there were no objections. There were no protests. There was no -- you know, there was a clear sense in the room that people were resigned to the fact that we had taken a necessary step. That was my impression.
PHILLIP: Trump dodging a question about that revelation, focusing instead on attacking McCabe.
TRUMP: I think he's a disaster. And what he was trying to do was terrible, and he was caught. I'm very proud to say we caught him. So we will see what happens, but he -- he is a disgraced man. He was terminated, not by me. He was terminated by others.
PHILLIP: And despite publicly supporting the director of national intelligence today...
QUESTION: Are you considering replacing Dan Coats as your director of national intelligence?
TRUMP: I haven't even thought about it.
PHILLIP: CNN has learned that Trump is privately telling associates Dan Coats may soon be out of a job.
DAN COATS, U.S. DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its WMD capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons.
PHILLIP: Sources tell CNN Trump is still angry about Coats' congressional testimony that he believes undercuts his own rosy portrayal of the nuclear threat posed by North Korea.
PHILLIP: And President Trump also told reporters today that this summit with North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, is unlikely to be his last.
And he expressed some optimism that the North Korean leader would choose to follow through with total denuclearization, but he did add that he would not lift sanctions until there were more meaningful steps taken towards that goal -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Abby, thank you, Abby Phillip at the White House.
Joining us now, Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
Let's get right to this latest development. There is no requirement for the attorney general to actually submit a formal report to Congress on the Mueller investigation. But Bill Barr, the new attorney general, has said he will provide as much transparency as he can.
How will you judge the information he provides to Congress?
SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Wolf, first, it's good to be with you.
It's absolutely essential that there be transparency in this report. Congress must see the sourced information, not how it is presented to it by Mr. Barr. It's got to be the information that Mr. Mueller provided to the attorney general. We need to review that.
We obviously have important constitutional responsibilities. So I think Congress is going to insist upon seeing the basic report. We also believe there has to be as much transparency with the public. As much information as possible needs to be released to the public. They have a right to know.
BLITZER: If you determine that Barr's report is not sufficient, what he delivers to Congress, will you go ahead and subpoena Robert Mueller? Will you subpoena Mueller's confidential report as well?
CARDIN: I think the Congress has a really critical constitutional responsibility here.
We need to get the Mueller report. We need to know what that investigation showed. So hopefully that will be made available through the attorney general, but we will use every means we need to in order to get access to the report.
BLITZER: You heard President Trump say today that it's totally up to the new attorney general to decide whether the report should become public. Do you believe him, or do you expect him to invoke what's called executive privilege or take other steps to conceal the results of this nearly two-year investigation?
CARDIN: Well, President Trump is totally unpredictable. We know that he's tried to compromise this investigation. He discredited it from the beginning.
We expect that he will continue those efforts. So, yes, we are concerned as to how much the president himself will get involved in trying to cover up as much of this information from becoming public as possible.
BLITZER: But you understand the rules at the Justice Department. Comey, the fired FBI director, didn't obey those rules. But if you don't charge someone with a crime, you shouldn't go ahead and make public all sorts of other, you know, negative features or dirt about that individual.
I assume you agree with that longstanding Justice Department regulation?
CARDIN: I do.
And I think the report needs to be redacted in order to protect people, innocent people. It also needs to be redacted from the point of view of protecting sensitive sources.
So there is a reason why a part of this report needs to be kept confidential. But, clearly, there has been a lot of information that Mr. Mueller has been investigating concerning the president, concerning his campaign. There's also ongoing investigations.
We need to let them be completed, regardless of the timing of the Mueller investigation. There are still going to be ongoing investigations. So there are sensitivities here that we have to adhere to.
But the big news what we need to know is, what did Mr. Mueller find? What is the involvement of the president? What is the involvement of people close to the president, the campaign, et cetera? We need to have that information. The public needs to have that information.
BLITZER: Just a little while ago, the former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, he was fired, as you know, he confirmed the existence of what he described as a rambling four-page letter that the president wrote just before firing FBI Director Comey.
This letter was not the one used to fire Comey, but it does contain the real reasons behind the president's decision. How important is it, is that letter to the Mueller investigation?
CARDIN: Well, we want the Mueller investigation to be completed without any intimidation or outside influence.
I will be interested to see Mr. Mueller's findings as it relates to some of the things that Mr. McCabe has been talking about. I think that's going to be critically important. Mr. Mueller has a great deal of credibility. He is a professional investigator.
He's had access to all different types of information, not just one source, so it will be important to see the background as to how Mr. Comey was fired and what impact that had on any investigations.
BLITZER: Even when Mueller concludes his work, and it might be as early as next week, other investigations into President Trump will continue.
"The New York Times," as you know, is reporting that the president asked if the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York could unrecuse himself to take control of the investigation into Michael Cohen, the president's longtime personal lawyer.
Do you view that potentially as obstruction of justice?
CARDIN: Wolf, the investigation in the Southern District of New York, there's already mention of Mr. Trump, not by direct name, but it's clear that they're very interested in his involvement in regards to criminal cases involving other people.
So, yes, we want to make sure that those investigations go unimpeded by the president or anyone else, and that whatever the conclusions there are also made available, certainly to Congress, but also to the American people.
BLITZER: On a different subject, Senator, CNN has learned that the White House has now begun preliminary talks on replacing the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats. This comes after President Trump was angered by Coats' public testimony before Congress that North Korea's unlikely to completely denuclearize.
What's your reaction to this late-breaking development?
CARDIN: The director of national intelligence needs to be -- has the credibility. He needs to tell it the way it is. There is a very careful process they go through before making an assessment.
They tell you the guardrails that are used on that national assessment. And, clearly, to no one's surprise, that North Korea does not intend to give up their nuclear weapons. President Trump's highly visible summit meeting with Kim Jong-un did not produce a pathway to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.
Now he's talking about having a second meeting. It's critically important that we get direct information, national intelligence, as to where North Korea is. So the president trying to say, look, he didn't like what Mr. Coats said because it didn't jibe with what he was saying about Kim Jong-un, that's just too bad.
The national intelligence assessment is critically important for this country and it's critically important that Congress get that information, unimpeded by the president of the United States.
BLITZER: Senator Cardin, thanks so much for joining us.
CARDIN: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following right now.
Chicago police have just officially classified "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett as a suspect in a criminal investigation in what they now believe was a false report of a hate crime.
Let's go to our national correspondent, Ryan Young. He's working the story for us in Chicago.
What's the latest, Ryan? What are you picking up?
RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, right now, there's a grand jury going on upstairs.
There are at least seven detectives up there telling them exactly what they believe happened in this case. But also at the center of this is two men who they now classify now as witnesses to this.
We believe they're going to get immunity today after all this is said and done. These are the two men who were seen as persons of interest, who were then arrested after this incident.
What we're told is, they're telling police a whole sordid bit of story. But to take our viewers back to this, January 29, there came in a report that Jussie Smollett was attacked. He told police that men jumped him, yelled racial epithets at him, and put a noose around his neck while pouring a chemical on him.
Well, detectives were sort of wary about that for the entire time, because they started checking surveillance video and they started going back through logs to try to see exactly what happened.
And they will be able to break this case down in the coming days, because what we know is 12 detectives worked this overtime. They were able to figure out who the two men were, they were able to bring them in and start getting information.
They also started dumping the information from their cell phone and they all started pointing back the finger to Jussie Smollett. This morning, they believed, investigators, that the actor was going to come in and talk to them, but that did not happen.
And when that didn't happen, they decided to come down here to the grand jury and start sharing the information. We do believe there could be more charges at some point because they're obviously discussing the variety of parts of this case and how it all broke down.
And let's not forget there was a letter sent to the "Empire" set a week before this happened, and there was a white powder in there. A hazmat team had to show up. They figured out that was aspirin.
So, there's a sordid piece of the here, as the grand jury still meets here. There could be more charges. And, of course, detectives will be looking into this. They still want to talk to the actor. Wolf, this is a case that has captivated the country. They have been people on both sides who have been calling out the actor and asking for him to step in. But that hasn't happened just yet.
BLITZER: We're going to keep following these late-breaking developments. We're going to get back to you.
I know you're working the story for us, Ryan Young in Chicago. Thank you.
Just ahead, we're going to have more on the finale of the Mueller investigation, as the special counsel prepares to deliver his final report as soon as next week. The former U.S. attorney, Preet Bharara, he's standing by live. He will share his insights into what happens next.
And a stunning terror plot revealed, as a U.S. Coast Guardsman is arrested, accused of planning attacks on political and media figures.
BLITZER: We're back with breaking news on the Justice Department preparing to announce the end of Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.
CNN has learned that Mueller's final report could be in the attorney general's hands as early as next week. It's worth noting that other investigations related to President Trump are still unfolding, including in the Southern District of New York.
Right now, we're joined by Preet Bharara, who was the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York until he was fired by Mr. Trump. He's now a CNN senior legal analyst.
Preet, thanks so much for joining us.
PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Sure.
BLITZER: As you know, the new attorney general, Bill Barr, he will decide how much Congress will see of Robert Mueller's report once he gets it. What will go into that decision?
BHARARA: You know, Wolf, probably a lot of different considerations.
As people need to remember, the disclosure of any report or any findings by or prosecuted decisions by Robert Mueller is a two-step process. First, he is required under the guidelines and regulations to submit a confidential report to whoever his supervisor is.
It used to be Rod Rosenstein, but now, since Bill Barr is in office, it's Bill Barr. And then he has, as you said, the discretion to determine what goes to Congress. Among the considerations would be legal, ethical, I think in some ways political and also optics considerations.
On the one hand, there is obviously the public interest in finding out what the Mueller folks have been up to for the year and almost 10 months. On the other hand, as a lot of folks have been commenting on -- and I agree with them -- you have to be very careful that an unredacted report that might make allegations about or spill dirt about people who have not been charged and who have not been indicted and against whom there is not sufficient evidence to proceed criminally, that you don't sort of slander them in a report that becomes public.
The worry that I have, and I think people should be thinking about, is the use of legitimate principles, like not harming people's reputations unnecessarily or executive privilege or some other kind of consideration that is essentially legitimate, but worrying that people might use a pretext of those principles to hide information that's damaging or otherwise.
So I think that Bill Barr also has to be thinking about public trust in the Justice Department, public trust in the office of special counsel and, depending on what the report says and how voluminous it is, the one he gets from Bob Mueller, I think there is going to be tremendous pressure to give as much as possible to Congress, which, by the way, Bill Barr said repeatedly at his hearing that he intends to be as transparent as possible.
But then he always qualified it, you know, in a lawyerly way, which is understandable, to the extent it's consistent with regulations and guidelines. So that gives him a fairly wide berth.
BLITZER: Yes, he's also got to be sensitive to potential security considerations. If there is classified information that could undermine what they call sources and methods, that's going to redacted for sure, right?
BHARARA: Absolutely, yes.
BLITZER: So, if members of Congress aren't satisfied with the final result of what they see from the new attorney general, they could subpoena Mueller's report. They could subpoena Mueller to actually come before Congress and testify. How would that play out?
BHARARA: It would play out the way all of these fights tend to play out, with a lot of Sturm und Drang politically, rhetorically, and also potentially legally.
One of the things that we haven't talked about yet that is a consideration in deciding what to reveal is the extent to which the White House might claim executive privilege as to some of the matters.
Now, for some people, it might seem odd to claim executive privilege if Bob Mueller himself and his team came in to a receipt of information that implicated the privilege because you would assume that the executive privilege would have been asserted at that time and the information would not have been given. And so that - you know, the privilege as to that material, you might suspect had been waived.
But there has been reporting to suggest that it was, you know, a waiver just for the purpose of providing information to Bob Mueller and that they would reserve all their rights to assert executive privilege in the future. So you could end up having a battle that implicates the courts because there is some claim, legitimate or not, that there is executive privilege that's involved in the disclosure of some of these materials.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: If Mueller did find some wrongdoing on the part of the President, he could also use a grand jury to reveal some of that information. What would that look like?
BHARARA: I mean, that's very unusual. I know there are historical examples of that going back in time 20 or 30 years. It's not something that traditional prosecutors use to disclose information about an investigation that has concluded. So I guess anything is possible because this is a unique investigation in the annals of American history. But I would tend to doubt that something like that would be a process that will be followed.
BLITZER: You know, that process, though, was used. We did go back and check by Watergate prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, that was during the Nixon Administration. So it has been used before. But as you're absolutely right, it is an extraordinary move.
Let's talk about this New York Times report that President Trump asked if the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey BErman, could unrecuse himself to take over - oversee the Michael Cohen investigation. You previously served in that role. Is that obstruction of justice from your perspective?
BHARARA: I wouldn't go far as to say it's obstruction of justice. There's a lot you need to prove to show that an individual act or a question that was asked is obstruction of justice. It seems from the reporting in the article that you've described that Matthew Whitaker didn't take any action, that nobody did unrecuse himself and that it's possible that the question was phrased innocuously, although I tend to have my doubts about that.
And it is not obstruction for someone to ask the question in an inquiry, you know, what are the rules about recusal and would it be possible for someone who he might think is more favorable to him to not be recused any longer? I think you need a bit more to show that something is obstruction.
But you don't need much more to draw a sort of common sense conclusion if you're a citizen of the country that it is another example of the President of the United States, who may not meet the standard for criminal obstruction of justice, certainly meets the standard for improper abuse of power and interference with proceedings time and time again, if you believe the reporting, that impinge on what he thinks his assets are or his family members or his businesses or people who are close to him. And he should know better than that at this point, given all, I think, the complaining and the criticism that he's garnered for it. BLITZER: An important point, Preet. Thanks so much for joining us, Preet Bharara. I appreciate it.
BHARARA: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Now to another breaking story we're following, a very disturbing story. A U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant has just been arrested and accused of planning a terror attack targeting democratic politicians and journalists, prominent journalists, here in the United States. Our Justice Correspondent, Jessica Schneider, is here in The Situation Room. Jessica, what are you learning?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, right now, the charges are just for drug and gun possession. But prosecutors really putting it starkly, telling the judge that this Coast Guard Lieutenant, who is assigned to headquarters in Washington, D.C., they say he is a domestic terrorist plotting a full-scale attack. So prosecutors put it this way in their detention memo saying, quote, the defendant intends to murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country.
Prosecutors say that the 49-year-old lieutenant, his name is Christopher Paul Hasson, they say he's been stockpiling weapons for at least two years. This is the picture they showed in their detention memo. He's amassed at least 15 guns, 1,000 rounds of ammunition, all stockpiled in his basement apartment in Silver Spring, Maryland, just a few miles from Washington, D.C.
Prosecutors disturbingly say his inspiration was a Norwegian far-right domestic terrorist who launched two coordinated terrorist attacks in July 2011, just eight years ago, killing 77 Norwegian citizens. And Lieutenant Hasson also allegedly wrote this in a draft email, saying, "I am dreaming of a way to kill almost every last person on the earth. I think a plague would be most successful but how do I acquire the needed, Spanish flu, botulism, anthrax? Not sure yet but we'll find something. Interesting idea the other day, start with biological attacks followed by attack on the food supply."
And, Wolf, the Coast Guard now says that it led this investigation along with partnering up with the FBI and the Department of Justice. So really indicating there that maybe some of his colleagues at the Coast Guard maybe saw some of these red flags and put out this alert to Coast Guard officials.
BLITZER: This guy was a neo-Nazi, a white supremacist. He made that clear in all of his draft statements. What other details are you learning about the targets, democratic politicians and prominent journalists?
SCHNEIDER: Prosecutors laid it all out here. They say that the suspect here was targeting specific people through online searches, including prominent politicians as well as media personalities, both here at CNN and MSNBC. This suspect, this lieutenant in the Coast Guard, he allegedly searched out addresses, even searched out how to find certain members of Congress right here in Washington, D.C. So a lot of detailed searches about a lot of detailed names, media personalities, democratic members of Congress, really indicating that he was ready to stage this attack.
BLITZER: Really scary stuff, indeed. All right, Jessica, thanks very much for that update. We're going to stay on top of this story as well.
There's other breaking news we're following. With more on the imminent conclusion of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia Investigation, how much discretion does the Attorney General William Barr have in making any of it public?
Plus, a new bombshell by the former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe confirming a letter President Trump wrote himself justifying the firing of James Comey.
[18:41:15] BLITZER: We are following multiple breaking stories in the Russia investigation right now, including CNN's new reporting that Robert Mueller's final report may be imminent. The Justice Department could make the big announcement as early as next week, still unclear how much if any of the Special Counsel's findings will be made public.
Let's bring in our legal and political experts. And, Gloria, under the notification requirements to Congress, he's got a lot of flexibility upon conclusion of the Special Counsel's investigation. He may determine that the public release of these reports would be in the public interest, but he can decide what to do, Bill Barr, the new Attorney General.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, he has an awful lot of discretion, and all of this was in reaction to Ken Starr. And Ken Starr being the independent counsel who was required to write a report to Congress, and we all remember the Ken Starr report. And it was very detailed, as we'll recall.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Oh, boy.
BORGER: It was.
TOOBIN: Oh, boy.
BORGER: And so when they decided that didn't work, they decided to establish a Special Counsel, not an independent counsel, and the Special Counsel operates much like a federal prosecutor, which is to say you don't say very much.
And so there is going to be some kind of showdown if Barr decides to say, issue a summary. I'm presuming the gang of eight would be briefed. But the American public wants to know a lot. So he's got a balance that he's got to hit and it's going to be very difficult. Of course, Congress can always subpoena Bob Mueller. I think Bob Mueller would like to do a mic drop and walk out the back door and never hear from him again. They can go to the Supreme Court if they want and have an argument with the White House over privilege if things are redacted. So this could play out in many ways. But we know one thing for certain, it's not going to be easy.
BLITZER: Yes, it won't be easy at all. The gang of eight is the top democrat and republican leaders in the House and the Senate, including the top leaders of the Senate, the House Senate Intelligence Committees.
So, David, once the Attorney General gets the report, announces that the Mueller investigation is over, they've got to go ahead and decide what to include in this summary to give to Congress. How long will that take?
DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right. And we've been waiting years and months, and now, maybe we're only waiting weeks. But there's going to have to be the Attorney General's review. And what's more important to remember is that what we in the press should want and what the public should want is that they get it right and that we find out what happened, whether it takes two weeks or two months is less important than that.
To the point Gloria just made, I do think that, yes, there is a question about what Barr will release because the Special Counsel has less discretion than the former independent counsel. But to the point that I've heard Jeffrey make many times on this set, is the idea that after all this, we would not know everything other than the most highly classified information, we, meaning the people and the media, really seems like an absurdity to me.
TOOBIN: But I would disagree with one thing you said.
TOOBIN: You said, I want them to get it right. I don't want them to get it right. I want them to get it out.
SWERDLICK: Okay, fair.
TOOBIN: I mean, you know, lawyers are really good at coming up with reasons to keep things secret. And Bill Barr has an abundance of choices if he wants. I mean, start with classified information, which I think everybody agrees can't be disclosed, but, you know, what's covered by executive privilege? What's covered by grand jury secrecy? What's covered by, you know, incriminating evidence about people who were not charged? You could turn a 500-page report into a 20-page summary easily if that's the approach you want to take.
And that's - there will be people who are encouraging that. There will be other voices, too, I suspect. But, I mean, we just don't know how he's going to do this.
BORGER: Right. BLITZER: It's going to be very significant once he decides what to do. You know, Kaitlan, you were in the Oval Office with the President today and you had this exchange with him.
I'm going to play the clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Mr. President, should the Mueller report be released while you're abroad next week?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That will be up to the new attorney general. He's a tremendous man, a tremendous person who really respects this country and respects the Justice Department. So that will be totally up to him, the new attorney -- the new attorney general, yes.
TRUMP: I guess from what I understand that will be totally up to the attorney general.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: I wonder how he's -- is he worried about what those options are right now?
COLLINS: Well, clearly, the president is worried about the Mueller report. That's why we see him tweeting so much about the investigation. And the same feeling is echoed throughout the West Wing. Aides know that there is a chance it could be politically damaging to the president, depending on what comes out and how it comes out.
But it's interesting that the president relied on Bill Barr, saying it's totally up to him. We're going to see what he says. We know at his confirmation hearing, Bill Barr said he wants to get out as much to the public as possible, while also emphasizing and giving that caveat that he's constrained by certain DOJ rules. So, there is a chance not a lot of it could come out.
BLITZER: You know, the -- it's interesting because the Justice Department, the regulations are if you're not going to charge someone but you do have some derogatory information, you don't make that derogatory information available.
Listen to Barr when he was testifying during his confirmation hearing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: If you're not going to indict someone, then you don't stand up there and unload negative information about the person. That's not the way the Department of Justice does business. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: But given the public interest, which is huge right now --
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Can you say --
BLITZER: They can make an exemption.
BORGER: Well, can you say Jim Comey?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Exactly right.
BORGER: That is exactly what he's referring to. Because remember when he declined to prosecute Hillary Clinton over the e-mails, he then went out and did precisely what Barr said you shouldn't do, which is -- he described her as I think being reckless with her e-mails or something to that effect.
He is not going to do that. Mueller would never, ever, ever do that. I mean, Mueller's inclination, I would presume, is to do less rather than more, but we know where Barr is on that. What we don't know where he is on this notion of the public's need to know after this saga has played out for the last two years. And how much information he wants to -- he wants to put out there.
We do know, though, what we will learn, which will be interesting, I think, is if Mueller went to the attorney general and say he asks for a subpoena for the president to -- to testify and Mueller said, no, I want him to -- I want him to talk to us and he won't.
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.
BORGER: And Mueller -- and the -- and the Justice Department said, no, Rosenstein said, no, we will learn that. So we will learn if Mueller made requests that were turned down by the justice department. He may have. That will be interesting.
TOOBIN: It will certainly -- that will be interesting. Think about another level of complexity here. The Attorney General Barr says, well, you can't put out derogatory information about people who are not indicted. Well, now there is a Department of Justice policy that says you can't indict a sitting president.
TOOBIN: So is the situation that you can't indict him and you can't say anything derogatory about him? Is that -- does that make any sense at all? I don't think so.
BORGER: That's a good question.
TOOBIN: That's a big dilemma --
BORGER: That's a good question.
TOOBIN: -- that I think, you know, you got to address. COLLINS: I think it's also important to keep in mind that just
because the Mueller investigation is coming to an end based on reporting from our justice team today, there are still other criminal investigations that are going to be ongoing. Some of them we learned a lot more than the Mueller probe so far, including the -- look at all of those right there. There are so many tied to the president.
That's why that report in "The New York Times" yesterday was such a big deal, noting that the president had asked Matt Whitaker to change who was in charge of the investigation into Michael Cohen in New York because it shows just how worried the president is, not just about this investigation, but all of these others, as you just showed there, that are tied to him.
BLITZER: Because there are -- even if the Mueller report is complete and could be complete next week, all these other investigations, some of them are only just beginning. We're talking about the congressional investigations, but also the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. They farmed out, the Mueller team, a lot of this stuff to local U.S. attorneys.
SWERDLICK: Right. Some of them are just beginning and some of the information that Mueller has found out might affect some of these other investigations and obviously that would be another thing that you would not want to disclose prematurely. I think everyone has to take a breath and realize that, you know, if you're on the side of people who want this to completely exonerate everybody involved, you may not get what you want. If you want this to be a slam dunk, that's going to just have everybody convicted of a federal crime, you may not get what you want either.
TOOBIN: I'm also against taking a breath. I am also in favor of just getting it out there --
SWERDLICK: That's fine.
TOOBIN: -- and let people decide what they, you know, what they may.
SWERDLICK: Fair enough.
BORGER: And now that the Democrats control the House, the congressional arena may be the place where the public gets the unspooling of all of this. We know that Michael Cohen is supposed to testify publicly next week, we think.
TOOBIN: TBD (ph).
BORGER: And like in Iran-Contra, it was the testimony, the public testimony that gave the sense of actually what was occurring in the Reagan administration. So, I just think the venue is going to move here.
BLITZER: Yes. Just remember, the independent counsel statute expired, this is not an independent counsel. The rules are different for Ken Starr as opposed to right now for Robert Mueller who's a special counsel.
All right, guys, stick around. There's more news we're following.
Just ahead, the hunt for the head of ISIS. CNN is on the ground in Iraq with an exclusive look at the terrorist leader's likely hideouts.
[18:55:18] BLITZER: Tonight, CNN is on the trail of the world's most wanted man, the elusive leader of ISIS. U.S. and Iraqi forces have been trying for years to capture or kill Abu Bakr al Baghdadi without success.
Our senior international correspondent Arwa Damon is joining us right now live from northern Iraq.
Arwa, you've been getting an exclusive look at places al Baghdadi may have been hiding. Update our viewers.
ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
And in our efforts to look into that, we also managed to get a better understanding of why it is that al Baghdadi has managed to at least so far successfully go to ground.
DAMON (voice-over): Reverberating through the streets of the old city during this Friday's sermon are words about the true meaning of freedom in Islam, but it was also on a Friday in July of 2014 when Mahmoud Dawoud, an imam, says his cellphone suddenly lost reception.
I saw masked men all over the neighborhood and on rooftops, he tells us. The cars came, it's the first time I see them, more than 200 with tinted windows.
And then, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi showed up, declared the caliphate, himself its leader, and ordered all Muslims to obey him.
(on camera): And that's exactly where al Baghdadi gave his address.
(voice-over): Mahmoud says he knew in that moment that Iraq would be demolished. It's the only one of al Baghdadi's locations that is fully confirmed. Since then, despite being hunted by the best intelligence agencies, there has been little more than brief sightings, spotty intelligence, and conflicting information.
Saddam Al-Jamal, a mid-level Syrian ISIS prisoner on death row in the Iraqi capital, says he never saw al Baghdadi but was close to those who did.
About a year and a half ago, he tells us, there were attempts by foreign fighters to overthrow Baghdadi, but he had them all killed.
The descent within is leadership ranks has even further shrunk the entourage around Baghdadi. This sprawling town of Shirgat is one of the areas where an intelligence source says Baghdadi moved through in 2015, holding meetings with senior commanders in safe houses.
(on camera): We've been talking to residents here, none of whom will appear on camera. But they were telling us that they saw ISIS' top military commander coming if and out of this house, and numerous sources say this is where he was killed in 2015.
And then Iraqi intelligence source tells us that this house is one of the places where he would meet with Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.
There are also reports we could not confirm that Baghdadi was wounded in that same air strike. A senior Iraqi intelligence officer says that on at least three occasions, two in Iraq and one in Syria, they called in strikes that came close to taking him out.
For insight into how the ISIS leader may be moving around, we head from Shirgat to the edge of Baghdadi's former hideout, the foothills of the mountains. To the west of here lies a vast stretch of desert that leads into Syria.
Exclusive images obtained by CNN show what we are told are ISIS spotter hideouts masquerading as nomad tents. Photographs of the tunnels inside the mountains. How their entrance is hidden. Life inside the caves and a brief video where one fighter discusses his injury and they all crack jokes.
This is where ISIS is training its strike force and still carries out sporadic attacks.
(on camera): If you look at the landscape, this is actually a very good illustration of how ISIS is now being forced to move around. They take advantage of these gorges that exist throughout this entire area, and in fact, at one point, they were actually able to while moving through these gorges come up and attempt to plant an IED right here on the road.
(voice-over): Out here, ISIS still rules the night. Coming down in small groups to murder, plant bombs, and steal. The Iraqis believe they are closing in on Baghdadi, but he has eluded them more than once, disappearing into the shadows of these lawless lands.
And, Wolf, ISIS is the sort of organization that has a plan for every single eventuality, so even if al Baghdadi is killed or captured, even if it loses all of its territory in both Syria and what little it still controls in Iraq, it still has a vast network and a financial one that spans across Europe, North Africa, and Southeast Asia, Wolf.
BLITZER: Arwa Damon reporting live from Erbil in Iraq. Be careful over there, Arwa. Thanks for that report.
And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.