Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Rep. Ro Khanna (D) California; Democrats Want FBI To Investigate Spa Owner's Ties To Trump; House Judiciary Receives Tens Of Thousands Of Documents After Sending Letters To 81 Targets, Not All Have Cooperated; Aides Defend Trump's Mental Fitness And Deny Racism Charges. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired March 18, 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: High lows. Our exclusive CNN poll shows President Trump's approval number up, thanks to a healthy economy, but it's still near the bottom of polling on modern-day presidents. So what do the numbers tell us about the 2020 campaign?
And Putin's rallying cry. Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a rally marking the fifth anniversary of his annexation of Crimea, holding firm to his land grab, despite international sanctions. Russia says it believes President Trump wants better relations. Is the administration being tough enough on Putin?
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: The breaking news tonight, the top Democrats on the House and Senate intelligence and Judiciary Committees are demanding the FBI investigate ties between President Trump and Florida spa chain founder Cindy Yang.
She's facing allegations of human trafficking, foreign lobbying and possible campaign finance violations, and Democrats are questioning whether she tried to leverage her relationship with the president by selling access to Chinese clients.
Also tonight, an exclusive new CNN poll shows the president's approval rating ticking up to 42 percent, as top aides are facing questions about Mr. Trump's mental fitness and his reluctance to condemn white supremacists after a jaw-dropping and scattershot weekend Twitter storm.
I will talk about that and more with Congressman Ro Khanna of the Oversight and Armed Services Committees. And our correspondents, analysts and specialists are also standing by.
First, let's go to our Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, even by Trump's standards, this was truly an astonishing tweetstorm by the president. JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It certainly was,
The president's Twitter feed is cooling down this evening, after a fiery weekend of Trump tweets aimed at nearly all the president's adversaries, real and imagined. Once again, top White House officials found themselves in the surreal position of cleaning up after the president's social media messes.
Top White House officials had to talk about whether or not the president was suffering from some kind of mental illness today. And over the weekend, one top White House official was asked whether or not the president was a White House supremacist.
ACOSTA (voice-over): It started over the weekend, when the president made a rare trip to church and lasted until his Monday morning executive time, an unholy Tweet storm airing an avalanche of Mr. Trump's grievances.
The president lashed out at the press after the mosque massacre in New Zealand, tweeting: "The fake news media is working overtime to blame me for the horrible attack in New Zealand. So ridiculous."
But it was the New Zealand killer who called attention to the president's rhetoric, describing Mr. Trump in a manifesto as a symbol of white identity. The president is back on his heels after downplaying white nationalism.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't really. I think it's a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. I guess, if you look at what happened in New Zealand, perhaps that's a case. I don't know enough about it yet. They're just learning about the person and the people involved, but it's certainly a terrible thing.
ACOSTA: In response to the barrage of tweets, the husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, prominent D.C. attorney George Conway, suggested the president suffers from some kind of personality disorder, adding, "His condition is getting worse" -- a view not shared by his wife.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: No, I don't share those concerns. And I was getting -- I have four kids, and I was getting them out of the house this morning before I got here, so I could talk to the president about substance. So I may not be up to speed on all of them.
ACOSTA: President also attacked his old nemesis John McCain, accusing the late senator, who died in August, of peddling a dossier of Mr. Trump's alleged misdeeds before the 2016 election, tweeting: "So it was, indeed, John McCain that sent the fake dossier to the FBI and media, hoping to have it printed before the election. He and the Dems working together failed, as usual."
McCain's daughter fired back at the president.
MEGHAN MCCAIN, DAUGHTER OF JOHN MCCAIN: I just thought, your life is spent on your weekends not with your family, not with your friends, but obsessing, obsessing over great men you could never live up to. That tells you everything you need to know about his pathetic life right now.
ACOSTA: In a sign of Republican reluctance to criticize Mr. Trump, McCain's old friend Senator Lindsey Graham only offered a muted response to the president, tweeting: "Nothing about McCain's service will ever be changed or diminished."
The president's poll numbers have ticked up in recent weeks, in part because of the healthy economy, with 71 percent saying the nation is in good fiscal shape, which may explain why the president feels emboldened to call on FOX News to bring back Judge Jeanine Pirro, one of the network's hosts who was suspended after making bigoted comments about Muslims in a rant about Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.
JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS: Think about it. Omar wears a hijab. Is her adherence to this Islamic doctrine indicative of her adherence to Sharia law, which in itself is antithetical to the United States Constitution?
ACOSTA: The president defended Pirro on the same weekend as people in New Zealand were reeling from a terror attack on Muslims. White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney insisted Mr. Trump is not a racist.
MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The president is not a white supremacist. I'm not sure how many times we have to say that.
ACOSTA: As the president attended church on Sunday, he was exposed to a message of tolerance at the service, as the reverend called on Americans to reject hatred.
REV. BRUCE MCPHERSON, ST. JOHN'S EPISCOPAL CHURCH: We're called whenever we overhear or oversee hateful slurs against other people, perhaps we need the holy courage to call them out, and say that's just not -- that's just not us.
ACOSTA: The president will soon find himself in the company of a like-minded foreign leader when Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro visits the White House tomorrow. Bolsonaro has been described as the -- quote -- "Trump of the Tropics," once saying that immigrants coming to Brazil are -- quote -- "the scum of the earth," Wolf.
I suspect at this joint press conference tomorrow between the president and Bolsonaro featuring both of those leaders that the president will be asked about these tweets that we have been seeing over the last 24 to 48 hours that have really been lighting up social media and putting his top officials over here at the White House back on their heels -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, I suspect you're absolutely right. Jim Acosta, thank you very much.
There's breaking news right now up on Capitol Hill, where top Democrats just put out an update on their request for documents from 81 individuals and organizations.
Our Senior Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju, is joining us.
So, Manu, how many responded?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, according to the House Judiciary Committee, they say -- quote -- "A large number of recipients have responded" and provided tens of thousands of documents to the committee.
Now, they don't specify who has responded, who has not responded, exactly the number of responses. Pretty vague in that regard, but they do say that they are encouraged by the early responses to today's deadline that they set two weeks ago as part of Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the committee's investigation into what he believes are abuse of power by President Trump, obstruction of justice, and an investigation that's expected to go into all aspects of President Trump's business life, into what he's done at the White House and beyond.
Now, according to Nadler, some of these individuals have said that they will only comply if they get a subpoena. So expect some subpoenas going forward. Others, he told me last week, have been defiant. It appears that some are still being defiant.
And he says this in a statement: "It's my hope that we will receive cooperation from the remainder on the list and we will be working to find an appropriate accommodation with any individual who may be reluctant to cooperate with our investigation."
So a back and forth expected in the coming days and weeks, subpoenas, more documents. They're going to go through those documents and expect eventually a public hearing as part of this investigation, which is only just beginning in this committee.
BLITZER: So they weren't specific in saying who responded, who didn't respond, is that right?
RAJU: That's correct.
And last week when I asked Nadler specifically, do you expect responses from the White House, do you expect responses from President Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., he would not say. He said, I don't want to talk about any individuals.. And they're very careful not to single out individuals.
We will have to see in the days and weeks who does not respond, who gets subpoenas, because this is probably going to be a fight that's going to play out, a document fight that's going to play out among a number of key recipients, people who may not want to give this information about what the Democrats believe is wrongdoing in the Trump Organization and the White House, Wolf.
BLITZER: See what these Judiciary Committee investigators do. They're going to have a lot of work going through those thousands and thousands of documents.
There's more breaking news, Manu. Top Democrats are demanding a new probe into the president's ties to the founder of a chain of Florida day spas. What do these Democrats want the FBI specifically to investigate?
RAJU: Yes, these four Democrats are asking for an FBI counterintelligence and criminal investigation into Cindy Yang, who's the former owner of a number of Florida spas and massage parlors.
Of course, she came under the spotlight after last month, with the charging of the Patriots owner, Robert Kraft, who was charged with the solicitation of prostitution at a massage parlor that she had owned.
She no longer has interests there, but, afterwards, her role had come into the spotlight, the reports about her ties to the president, her being at Mar-a-Lago and, including on her Web site, it said that she would offer access to her clients to the president, other high-profile individuals.
So these Democrats are concerned that she may be selling access by leveraging her relationship to the president, and selling access to Chinese clients and they say this: "Although Ms. Yang's activities may only be those of an unscrupulous act or allegedly selling access to politicians for profit, her activities also could permit adversary governments or their agents access to these same politicians to acquire potential material for blackmail or other even more nefarious purposes."
But, Wolf, Yang's attorney tonight pushing back, saying this is all a -- quote -- "politically driven expedition," calling it a Democratic partisan letter and allegations, but we will see how the FBI responds, because the Democrats want answers by this Thursday -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, you will let us know what happens. Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill, thank you.
We're also learning new details of the FBI raids on Michael Cohen, President Trump's former fixer and personal attorney who's facing three years in prison for tax evasion, campaign finance violations, and lying to Congress.
Our Crime and Justice Reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, is working the story for us.
So, Shimon, what can we learn about these raids?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. So the big question has always been, what led the FBI to do these
raids, to conduct these raids on a lawyer, on the personal lawyer of the president? A very big deal. When the FBI decided to do this, they had to get all sorts of permission.
So, hopefully, tomorrow, we will learn what some of the information they had that caused them to feel the need to go ahead and go in the way that they went in.
We already know a lot of what the FBI removed from Michael Cohen's office and his home. He's testified on Congress about it. A lot of the information, a lot of the documents were given already back to Michael Cohen. So the big question is going to be, well, what happened? Why did the FBI go in the way they went in?
Then you will recall, even the president had a reaction at the time from the White House when he spoke, and here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: So I just heard that they broke into the office of one of my personal attorneys, good man, and it's a disgraceful situation. It's a total witch-hunt.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PROKUPECZ: And so there you go. There was the president reacting to the time. It was huge news at the time. Certainly, as the investigation unfolded, we kept learning more and more.
But it's always been this question of, what led the FBI to go in the way they went in? There was a lot of talk that they were afraid that documents were about, evidence was about to be destroyed.
So perhaps tomorrow in this affidavit that will hopefully be released, we will learn exactly what they felt was going to be destroyed and how. And the other thing is going to be whether or not it indicates to us other part of this investigation, whether or not there are things still ongoing.
BLITZER: We know Michael Cohen begins a three-year prison sentence May 6 in an upstate federal penitentiary, but he's still cooperating with federal authorities, and where is he being most helpful right now?
PROKUPECZ: Well, that's a very interesting question, Wolf.
It's not entirely clear if he is volunteering information or if they're coming to him and asking for information. He's saying, well, I'm always open to anyone who's asking me questions on the investigative side.
We have seen some activity from investigators in New York at the attorney general's office. They have subpoenaed information from Deutsche Bank as a result of his congressional testimony. We have seen follow-ups from the U.S. attorney's office when they
issued a subpoena for the inaugural committee. It was the finances and it was specifically one person. That information, we believe, may have come from Michael Cohen.
So he's continuing to cooperate in many different ways, not just on the federal level, but also on the state level with the attorney general in New York, and who knows where else. And when you look at all the different investigations that are ongoing, it seems like almost every investigative body in New York right now is investigating the Trump Organization, and that is where Michael Cohen, it seems, would be most helpful.
BLITZER: And he's clearly cooperating in all sorts of areas, hoping to see that three-year prison sentence potentially reduced. We will see what happens on that front as well.
PROKUPECZ: That's the key for him.
BLITZER: Shimon, thank you very much.
Let's talk about this and more with Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna of California. He's a member of both the Oversight and the Armed Services Committees.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
And we're going to get to the investigations in a moment, but, first, what's your reaction to the president's tweets over the weekend?
REP. RO KHANNA (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, it's completely unpresidential.
Instead of assuring the nation about what happened in New Zealand and saying we condemn those kind of hate crimes, he's tweeting out, defending anchors on FOX News. He's yelling at GM's CEO, as if that's going to bring jobs here.
So it just was totally what you wouldn't expect from any president of the United States.
BLITZER: What message does it send when the president is so outspoken, so upset over the -- for example, the FOX News lineup or "Saturday Night Live," but not, as you point out, the hate that fueled Friday's attack on Muslim worshipers?
KHANNA: And it's unprecedented.
Look, when George W. Bush was president after 9/11, one of the things I admired about him is, he said, this kind of hate against Muslim Americans has no place in America. Rudy Giuliani did this.
When our nation has crisis or there's international crisis, you will always have the president speaking about American values. And this president was silent about that. And it was noticed by people across this country, Republicans and Democrats.
BLITZER: The president's defenders refute the idea that his rhetoric plays any role in stoking white supremacy. How do you see it?
KHANNA: Well, he's encouraged violence.
I mean, he's openly speculated saying that he doesn't know what will happen if his supporters get more rough. Words have consequences. Certainly, the words of the president of the United States has consequence.
The president criticizes members of Congress for speech and says that has consequence. Under that own standard, he should accept responsibility for his words. And he hasn't grown in office. I had hoped he would have a different demeanor as president than on the campaign.
And, hopefully -- I still hope he will learn the gravity of what he says matters.
BLITZER: So how do you explain the president's latest approval rating in our brand-new CNN poll? Now he's -- it's gone up, edged up a bit. He's at 42 percent job approval; 89 percent, though -- look at this -- 89 percent of Republicans approve of the job he's doing.
KHANNA: Well, I say two things.
I looked at that poll; 56 percent of people still think they're not better off than they were three years ago. And that is, of course, the famous question. Are you better off? So, while some people may think that the economy is doing well for places in this country like Wall Street, it hasn't helped ordinary folks.
It hasn't helped the forgotten Americans. And I also think it's a concern that a lot of Republicans haven't called the president to account for ongoing crimes or abuses of office. And that's a concern to our democracy. I hope more Republicans will speak out about that.
BLITZER: Let's turn to the oversight work that House Democrats are conducting, including yourself.
Your colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee set today as the deadline for their sweeping document -- documents request, 81 people and entities. Now the chairman, Jerry Nadler, says many have, in fact, complied.
What are the consequences, though, for those who are refusing to comply?
KHANNA: Well, the consequences is a potential subpoena and a far more hostile environment.
My hope is, people will realize their constitutional duty, their duty as patriots to come back and offer the information they have. They're not sharing it with some partisan committee. They're sharing it with the American people. And I'm heartened that so many people have complied. And I think we're going to find out a lot in the documents that the committee has.
BLITZER: Your committee, the House Oversight Committee, has clashed with the White House over request to interview former Trump administration officials, including the White House -- former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.
The chairman of the committee, Elijah Cummings, says the White House is stonewalling. How does your committee plan to respond?
KHANNA: Well, I spoke to Elijah Cummings just last week. He doesn't want to issue subpoenas. We have tried to get the documents about these security clearances. But the White House just isn't cooperating.
So we are going to have to issue a subpoena if that's the case. And this is an issue that should matter to the American public. I mean, you have a case of people at the White House handing over possible information about Saudi dissidents to MBS, compromising national security.
We need to know who has these clearances, why they have them, why they were given.
BLITZER: Who do you plan on subpoenaing?
KHANNA: Well, I think we can subpoena John Kelly, who wrote a contemporaneous memo opposing the security decision, the decision to grant these clearances.
Why did he oppose those? Why were those clearances given over career officials? And I think we have to understand, from Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, why they got those security clearances. That's not partisan. I have worked with Jared Kushner on issues at the White House Innovation Office, and I have praised the White House Innovation Office.
What I don't understand is why he has access to the president's daily brief and why he's being able to get that kind of top-secret information when our security officers and career officials didn't want him to.
BLITZER: Why haven't those subpoenas been issued, at least not yet, because, as you know, some of your critics are already suggesting it's simply an empty threat?
KHANNA: Well, you know, anyone who knows Chairman Cummings -- and Mark Meadows or Jim Jordan would tell you this -- he's one of the fairest people. He wants to do things cooperatively. That's his modus operandi. He does not want to issue subpoenas unless he absolutely wants to.
But he's also one of the toughest people. And so if they continue to take advantage of the situation, when he's bending over backwards to be fair, we will issue subpoenas. But he's giving the White House every possible chance to comply.
BLITZER: Are you worried, though, about a court challenge potentially if these subpoenas are issued?
KHANNA: I do think it will go to the courts, but I think the courts will clearly rule in our favor, because there's no executive privilege here. There's not some top-secret national security issue about why random people were given security clearances.
If anything, what we ought to do is get this information so that we can strengthen the laws in Congress, so that the president of the United States isn't allowed to just arbitrarily give security clearances with our most sensitive information to whoever he or she chooses.
And that's the real oversight function. So I'm confident that the courts would rule for us.
BLITZER: Congressman Ro Khanna, thanks so much for joining us.
KHANNA: Thanks, Wolf, for having me on.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we will have more on the breaking news. A top Democrat says his committee has now received tens of thousands of documents before tonight's deadline for responses from 81 individuals and organizations connected with the president.
Also, one theory about President Trump's latest Twitter tirade, it's tied to pending developments in the special counsel, Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.
BLITZER: The breaking news up on Capitol Hill, the House Judiciary Committee has just put an update on its request for documents for its sweeping new probe of President Trump.
Let's dig deeper with our commentators, our analysts, our specialists.
Jeffrey Toobin, Jerry Nadler, who is the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, he says, in fact, now that most of the 81 people or entities on their list have complied with their requests for all these documents. Tens of thousands of documents have now come in. They're beginning the process of going through the documents. Some people have not complied.
How useful, though, will all of this be for this investigation?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it may well be useful.
There are a lot of people there, but the White House is taking the Michael Corleone approach. You remember in "Godfather II" where the senator comes and he's asking for money. And Michael Corleone says to him, "My offer is this, nothing."
They are going to give Jerry Nadler and the Judiciary Committee nothing. They are going to dare them to issue a subpoena, find them in contempt, go to court. By the time the legal process is through, Kamala Harris will be the nominee or someone else will be the nominee and this whole thing will just sort of fade away.
They're just going to run out the clock here, and it's all going to be -- I mean, the White House is just giving them nothing ever for the rest of these two years.
BLITZER: What do you think, Gloria?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No, I agree. I agree with Jeffrey.
Look, I think the White House doesn't want to cooperate with this. I think other people feel like they have no choice. They will issue subpoenas. And I don't think it's only the Judiciary Committee that will issue subpoenas. I think it's the Oversight Committee, for example. And I think the White House is going to try and stonewall this as long as they can.
BLITZER: Amidst all of this, top Democrats are now calling on the FBI to open a full-scale counterintelligence and criminal investigation into Cindy Yang. This is the woman who founded some spas, massage parlors in South Florida.
She sold those massage parlors, those spas, but she's now being -- they want her to be investigated for using her contacts with Donald Trump and others close to the president potentially to get Chinese clients.
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE GUARDIAN": Yes, so Cindy Yang was not actually charged or directly implicated in connection to the investigation of the human trafficking and prostitution probe.
But her relationship with the president has come under scrutiny, one, because she is a frequent guest at Mar-a-Lago, the president's resort in West Palm Beach, and was also photographed attending a Super Bowl party with the president.
And the key question that Democrats in Congress are asking is, one, did the foreign government contacts that she had seek to exploit that relationship and in some ways buy access to the president and others in the administration? Did they use those relationships or that access for nefarious purposes?
As well as another question they're asking in tandem and somewhat related to this is, what steps has the Trump campaign taken to ensure that it is not taking foreign donations -- or donations, I should say, from foreign governments, which, of course, would be illegal?
BLITZER: It certainly would be.
You know, one person who approves of all this Democratic strategy, the majority in the House, having all these sweeping investigations is the president's former chief strategist, Steve Bannon.
Listen to what he said on "The Circus" on Showtime.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: How would you grade Nancy Pelosi the last couple of months?
STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: A 10.
QUESTION: A 10?
BANNON: A 10, a 10. She's a warhorse. And I think she's done -- from what she's trying to accomplish, I think Pelosi has done a good job.
QUESTION: One thing she did this week was, she said we're not going to call for impeachment.
QUESTION: Smart move?
BANNON: The move, you say, if the facts are there, and the American people come along, I will reconsider it, but we have the people's work to do. It's a perfect message.
But I think the investigations, the next five or six months are going to be close to insanity. I think every day, they're going to be pounding the president. They will be pounding with subpoenas. They will be pounding with information requests.
The House is just going to be a bear pit. While the Democratic candidates running for president run downfield, right, they're there to stop Trump.
BANNON: If they can wound him enough that he's not competitive in 2020, they will consider that a good two years...
QUESTION: Isn't that exactly what Steve Bannon would do?
BANNON: A hundred percent.
BANNON: It's not even a question. I kind of admire it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You think the president is happy, what he hears from Steve Bannon right now?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN COMMENTATOR: Wolf, I'm not sure if the president is happy.
I think Steve Bannon is very happy with what he said there. It's perfect for the Steve Bannon brand. He fancies himself sort of a truth-teller, someone who tells it like it is, someone who's going to give praise to the other side.
So, he gets, to, A, say, look, yes, I recognize Nancy Pelosi as a worthy adversary. And, at the same time, he gets to essentially warn the Trump base, look, they're coming for you, they're, meaning the Democrats, are coming for us. And it's going to be nonstop until Election Day.
BLITZER: Jeffrey, what do you think of Steve Bannon giving Nancy Pelosi a ten out of ten?
TOOBIN: Well, I was so distracted by Mark McKinnon's hat. I couldn't pay any attention to -- no. I mean, I think Pelosi is walking a very fine line here and she's doing a very good job. She's saying, you know, the evidence is there for impeachment and this is a corrupt terrible President but we're not going to do that.
We're just going to investigate because they are haunted by 1998 and what the republicans did. They went ahead with impeachment with knowing they couldn't get an eviction from office through the Senate. So Pelosi is playing both sides and I think Bannon is right, She's been very effective so far.
BORGER: You know, Bannon is a political strategist and he understands exactly what she's doing. She knows that unless the public is with the democrats on impeachment, they're going to look like they just want to throw Donald Trump out of office for anything, and she doesn't want to do that.
I think Bannon understands that. He understands base politics. And Nancy Pelosi kind of laid down the law. And I think people have to listen to her. She's really smart and he knows it and she's a worthy adversary and Donald Trump ought to know that too.
BLITZER: Yes. They're going to go after him step by step by step as democratic majority of the House.
BORGER: Yes. Well, the candidates are out there campaigning on issues, let's say, and not talking about impeachment, the presidential candidates. Nancy Pelosi will take care of the House and what it's doing to kind of bolster the candidates and hurt Donald Trump.
BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. There's a lot more we need to discuss. And we'll do so right after this.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:35:00]
[18:36:25] BLITZER: We're back with our commentators and analysts and we're following breaking news right now. You know, Gloria, the President, he didn't stop Tweeting all weekend on all sorts of stuff, old favorites like Robert Mueller, Joe Biden, John McCain, he's Tweeting, even though John McCain passed away months ago, Saturday Night Live, the news media, new Tweets, Meghan McCain, General Motors, in Ohio union leader, Shepard Smith of Fox and others. What impression did you get from his nonstop Tweeting and re-Tweeting over the weekend?
BORGER: All I can say is be best, right? This is presidential troll, okay? He's trolling people who are alive, people who have passed away. I think what he was doing was sitting somewhere in the White House and watching television nonstop. And he is so full of grievance, he can't let anything go.
And not even to someone like an American hero like John McCain. I think it's disgraceful and I think that it's immature and I think he just -- somebody needs to tell him to stop. Maybe Melania should tell him to be best.
TOOBIN: How's that going?
BORGER: Not too well.
TOOBIN: What do you think the odds of that are?
BORGER: Zero. OK, zero.
TOOBIN: But, I mean, think about it, 50 people died in New Zealand in this horrible terrorist attack. But how does that compare to the tragedy that befell Jeanine Pirro, who had her show put off for one week, which caused an explosion -- there were like four Tweets just about Jeanine Pirro.
BORGER: But he didn't Tweet against white supremacy, you will notice.
TOOBIN: Right, of course.
BORGER: He didn't say. Yes.
BLITZER: And he also tweeted against Saturday Night Live, which happened to be a replay, a repeat, this past Saturday and wants the FCC to investigate the Saturday Night Live and NBC.
And, Sabrina, it is pretty shocking when you think about it. But let's get your thoughts.
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, here's the thing. When you look at the President Tweeting his support for Jeanine Pirro, you can't help but focus on the timing. This is two days after terrorist attacks on a Muslim community in New Zealand, left 50 people dead, 50 others wounded. And the President's advisers are out there in public saying that this President is not anti-Muslim, there is nothing to suggest he is anti-Muslim, even though there are a litany of comments that he has made, which have trafficked in Islamophobia.
Of course, he campaigned infamously to ban all Muslims from coming to the U.S. He made statements such as Islam hates us. And now, he's saying, bring back Judge Jeanine, who questioned the patriotism of Ilhan Omar citing her hijab, her head scarf, one of the first Muslim women to serve in the U.S. Congress.
So these are precisely the kinds of moments that do call into question the President's feelings toward the Muslim community and the animus he appears to hold and continue to perpetuate even when this is a community that is under attack and victim to an increasing number of hate crimes both here and home and around the world.
BLITZER: Yes, well said. You know, he went to church yesterday with the first lady and he heard this from the minister. I'll play the little clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REV. W. BRUCE MCPHERSON, SAINT JOHN'S CHURCH: One more gratuitous attack on innocent people at worship. Happens too often, doesn't it? It brought back memories of a synagogue in Pittsburgh or an AME church in Charleston or for that matter, attacks on faithful people around the world. What can we do?
Well, perhaps we're called whenever we overhear or oversee hateful slurs against other people, perhaps we need the holy courage to call them out.
We need to stop that stuff because it's a sin against the gospel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Yes, well said, the Reverend W. Bruce McPherson of the Saint John's Episcopal Church the street from the White House.
SWERDLICK: Yes. I think it's fair to say that the reverend there was speaking at least in part that to this idea that President Trump has such difficulty giving a full-throated denunciation of racism, anti- Semitism, bigotry in all forms. There is a debate that goes on and on on social media about whether he has hate in his heart or whether he's a racist or whether he cuddles white supremacists.
Putting that debate aside at a minimum when it serves the President's purposes, he attacks people. He race baits. But in these situations, he had struggles to make a full-throated case against hate. Contrast his behavior, you know, adding to what everybody else said to the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern from New Zealand who clearly, we all saw over the weekend, embrace the people in her country, Muslims and non- Muslims and made the point that people have to come together.
BORGER: You know, and while we see the President's approval rating ticking up, the most reservations people have about him, including people who voted for him, is this kind of behavior on Twitter. They think it's not Presidential. And it's harder and harder to ignore when a president Tweets how many times on a weekend, I mean, it's obsessive. And it's -- you know, people, even voters who voted for him say, we do not like this.
TOOBIN: Well, I might draw the opposite conclusion, which is that people like this.
BORGER: Well, that's not what the poll --
TOOBIN: Well, you know, the polls maybe. I mean, but who -- do you think that people voted for Donald Trump in 2016 thinking he was different, thinking that he was -- I'm sorry, go ahead.
BORGER: But the reservations about him, Jeffrey, that voters have including voters who voted for him are this kind of personal behavior, which they don't like. You're right, there are some people who say good for him. Maybe John McCain wasn't a hero, which is absurd and ridiculous. But I think the more it goes on, the more people say this is just not presidential behavior. And maybe he'll listen to that when it comes from his base. I don't know the answer.
BLITZER: And, you know, Sabrina, let me just put a few numbers up. Our new CNN poll just out. Do you approve or disapprove of the way the President is handling his job? Among all Americans 42 percent, a slight uptick, approve, 51 percent disapprove. Among republicans though, 89 percent approve of the job he's doing, only 7 percent disapprove.
SIDDIQUI: And he is appealing to those republicans because what we learned from the midterms is the President has a base but he doesn't have a coalition. And so the people to watch are independents who helped put democrats back in control of the House of Representatives and suburban women who also swung heavily in favor of democrats. They can make all the difference in 2020.
BLITZER: Good news to announce. Sabrina Siddiqui is now the newest member of the CNN political team. You've been a part of our team for a while but you are now formally a political analyst.
SIDDIQUI: Thank you so much.
BLITZER: In addition to your own --
BORGER: How does it feel?
SIDDIQUI: I'm very excited to officially be part of this.
BLITZER: We're excited to have you as well. Congratulations. Welcome.
SIDDIQUI: Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead, former Vice President Joe Biden's possible plan to pull ahead of the pack ahead of his anticipated presidential campaign announcement.
[18:48:01] BLITZER: Beto O'Rourke's presidential campaign is reporting an impressive fund-raising haul as the former Texas congressman leaves the 2020 starting gate.
CNN's Jessica Dean is joining us from Cleveland right now where O'Rourke is campaigning.
Jessica, Ohio, of course, is a critical state for all the candidates.
JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right, Wolf. And Beto O'Rourke made sure to make a stop here. He started his morning Detroit, Michigan, before coming here to Cleveland, Ohio, and telling the crowd he was very excited to hear what was on their minds.
DEAN (voice-over): Beto O'Rourke breaking a fund-raising record in the early moments of his presidential run.
BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you for welcoming us to Ohio.
DEAN: Stopping in Ohio today after his campaign announced it raised a staggering $6.1 million with donations coming from all 50 states in just the first 24 hours. That makes it the largest first day fund- raising haul of any other candidate so far.
O'ROURKE: I think this is a great sign that in the first 24 hours this many people were able to come together.
DEAN: His fund-raising numbers, the first proof that O'Rourke's campaign strategy that made him a viral hit in Texas --
O'ROURKE: Thank you, Iowa, for a tremendous first day of this campaign.
DEAN: -- could work on a national stage too. But O'Rourke's performance as a candidate did suffer some early stumbles, apologizing for comments about his wife raising their three kids, quote, sometimes with my help.
O'ROURKE: I think the criticism is right on, and my ham-handed attempt to try to highlight the fact that Amy has the lion's share of the burden in our family. It should have also been a moment for me to acknowledge that that is far too often the case. Not just in politics but just in life in general.
DEAN: And for being part of an early computer hacking group as a teenager.
O'ROURKE: Some of the things, you know, connected to that that I did I'm embarrassed about, not proud of.
DEAN: But he also left audiences wanting more specifics on the policy front. [18:50:03] O'ROURKE: And also I'm listening to the suggestions and
that solutions that are brought forward from the communities that I'm visiting. I mean, if you have all the answers, why show up?
DEAN: O'Rourke has not yet hired a campaign manager but he is in talks with Obama's former campaign deputy manager in 2012, Jean O'Malley Dillon.
Meanwhile, in Delaware, Joe Biden might have let his 2020 intentions slip during a weekend speech to Democrats.
JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: I have the most progressive record of anybody running for the -- anybody who would run.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
I didn't mean --
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
Of anybody who would run.
DEAN: President Trump tweeting about the moment today, writing: Joe Biden got tongue tied over the weekend when he was unable to properly deliver a simple line about his decision to run for president.
Sources tell CNN, Biden is preparing for an announcement in April and is hoping to seize command of the Democratic primary through major endorsement endorsements, and a message as the party's most urgent task in this election should be defeating Trump.
DEAN: Another 2020 Democratic candidate in the spotlight today, Senator Elizabeth Warren. She will be featured at a CNN town hall in Jackson, Mississippi, tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. That's being moderated by our own Jake Tapper.
And, Wolf, what we're expecting to hear from Elizabeth Warren, she has put forward a lot of policies that are pretty meaty in terms of breaking them down. Things like universal child care, also breaking up big tech companies.
So, expect to hear more about those policies on that CNN town hall with Senator Elizabeth Warren tonight.
BLITZER: Jessica Dean in Cleveland for us -- Jessica, thanks very much.
And as Jessica just mentioned, join Jake Tapper later tonight for CNN's town hall with Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Elizabeth Warren, live from Jackson, Mississippi, tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.
Just ahead, it was a move that brought international condemnation. So why is Russian President Vladimir Putin commemorating it with rally. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
[18:56:57] BLITZER: It was one of his boldest and most aggressive moves ever and Russian Vladimir Putin celebrated this anniversary with a rally.
CNN Senior International Correspondent, Fred Pleitgen is joining us live from Moscow right now.
Fred, Putin was marking the annexation of Crimea five years ago.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he certainly was, Wolf. And it was a huge celebration that was put on to commemorate that in inquiry. And that at celebration, Vladimir Putin says he still firmly believes that taking Crimea away from Ukraine was the right thing to do and that Russia certainly isn't going to yield to pressure from the United States.
Here's what we're learning.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): Tonight, Vladimir Putin leading chants at a rally in Crimea which Russia invaded and annexed from Ukraine exactly five years ago. Putin asserting that it's what people there wanted.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): You, who for decades have an outside the Russian state, kept in your hearts and carried through the years, this love for the motherland, for Russia.
PLEITGEN: The Kremlin has long said it will never give Crimea back despite U.S. and European sanctions targeting Moscow for the aggressive take over. While the Trump administration claims it's being tough on Russia, Moscow clearly doesn't feel the heat.
The Russians often stating they believe President Trump is still keen to improve relations with Moscow but his adversaries in Congress and the Mueller probe are undermining his effort.
In a radio interview, U.S. national security adviser John Bolton essentially repeating the Kremlin's line.
JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I think it's hard to make progress in a better bilateral relationship with Russia when anything that is done is used as evidence by the president's political opponents to show some evidence of Russian collusion. The political atmosphere in Washington makes it very difficult. There's no question about it.
PLEITGEN: A main focus of the Mueller investigation, possible ties between Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Russian oligarch and Putin ally, Oleg Deripaska.
Manafort allegedly offered Deripaska private briefings from the campaign. In an interview with NBC, Deripaska denying the allegations. OLEG DERIPASKA, RUSSIAN BUSINESSMAN: I haven't seen Manafort since
2010 or '11. The only purpose for me or my people to have any interest in his, you know, dealing future, was to get money back which was borrowed from my companies.
PLEITGEN: Russia continues to claim it did not interfere in the 2016 election and basking in the chants of his supporters, Vladimir Putin said the annexation of Crimea shows a new, more powerful Russia willing to enforce its interests.
PLEITGEN: And, Wolf, Putin also clamping down on free speech here in Russia, signing a bill that criminalizes anything the Russian government deems to be fake news or insulting to the state -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Fred Pleitgen in Moscow for us, thanks very much.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.