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Tax and Defend; Bordering on Confusion; Iced Out; Biden's Miscalculations; Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Interviewd about Trump Tax Returns; A Long Extended Discussion About The Privacy Interest In Tax Returns; The Energy And Commerce Committee This Week Passed Legislation Mowing Toward The Floor To Overturn Trump Administration Actions Weakening The Guarantees Of Preexisting Conditions Protections; Julian Assange Could Face Legal Jeopardy In The U.S. And May Hold Answers To A Key Question In The Mueller Probe; President Trump Makes It Clear He Won't Release His Tax Returns And Hiring Lawyers To Fight A Demand By Democrats. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired April 5, 2019 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @jaketapper. You can tweet the show @theleadcnn. We actually read them. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Have a great weekend. I will see you on Sunday.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Tax and defend. President Trump digs in against Democrats' demands for six years of his tax returns. His lawyers have written to the Department of the Treasury, citing legal arguments why the president should not comply as an administration official warns of a long court battle ahead.

Bordering on confusion. President Trump visiting the border with Mexico and a section of the border barrier, he's backing down on threats to close the border but for claims, and I'm quoting him now, "Our country is full."

Iced out. Hours before he was supposed to accompany the president to the border, the nominee to head Immigration and Customs Enforcement or I.C.E. suddenly finds out he's no longer the nominee. So what's behind the president's sudden move?

And Biden's miscalculations. Former Vice President Joe Biden gives a rousing speech that could set the stage for a 2020 campaign. But then stumbles again when he seemingly makes light of the controversy over his past unwanted contact.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

BLITZER: Breaking news. President Trump's outside lawyers have now written to the Treasury Department, pushing back on the request for six years of the president's tax returns, from the Democratic chairman to the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. White House officials are preparing for battle, warning they'll take the fight to the Supreme Court. The opening skirmish in that fight is playing out as President Trump visits the border with Mexico and warns would-be migrants, and I'm quoting him now, "Our country is full."

After a week of threatening Mexico, then climbing down from those threats, the president then headed to look at a section of the border barrier. He calls it a new wall, but it's more of a fence and a replacement for what already existed there.

I'll speak with Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of the Judiciary Committee. And our correspondents and analysts, they will have full coverage of today's top stories.

Let's begin with our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. Jim, the president place offense at the border as his lawyers play defense back home over his tax returns.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. President Trump is down at the border to promote his call for a wall, and he's using some extremely incendiary language on the issue of immigration saying today, quote, and you just said it a few moments ago, "Our country is full."

The White House is also gearing up for battle over Democratic demands for Mr. Trump's tax returns with one administration official telling me, aides to the president are willing to take this fight all the way to the Supreme Court.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Touting his administration's effort to secure the border, President Trump lobbed new rhetorical hand grenades on immigration.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our country is full, our area is full, the sector is full, can't take anymore, I'm sorry, can't happen. So turn around, that's the way it is.

You know, I look at some of these asylum people, they gang members. They're not afraid of anything.


ACOSTA: Aides to the president are building a different wall around Mr. Trump's most closely guarded secret, his tax returns.


TRUMP: I'm under audit, but that's up to whoever it is. From what I understand, the law is 100 percent on my side.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ACOSTA: One administration official said the White House is willing to take the battle over the president's tax returns all the way to the Supreme Court, telling CNN, "This is a hill and people are willing to die on it."

The battle lines are being drawn as the president is in retreat on immigration, backing down from his threat to close the border, though that's not how Mr. Trump sees it.


TRUMP: I never changed my mind, at all. I may shut it down at some point, but I'd rather do tariffs.


ACOSTA: Despite declaring a national emergency at the border, the president is now giving Mexico one year to crack down on migration into the U.S., as he demands that Congress scraps much of the nation's immigration system that's been in place for decades.


TRUMP: They have to get rid of the whole asylum system, because it doesn't work. And frankly, we should get rid of judges. You can't have a court case every time somebody steps their foot on our ground.


ACOSTA: Just before his trip to the border, the president made a sudden change to his immigration team, pulling the nomination of Ron Vitiello as his pick to run I.C.E. taking aides by surprise. CNN has learned White House domestic policy adviser and immigration hardliner Stephen Miller lobbied the president to make the move.


TRUMP: Going in a little different direction. Ron's a good man, but we're going in a tougher direction.


ACOSTA: The president continues to mislead Americans over what's happening at the border, tweeting, "Heading to the southern border to show a section of the new wall being built!" But so far, only repairs and replacements of border barriers have taken place, as a legal fight looms over the president's plans to divert taxpayer money to build portions of Mr. Trump's wall.

[17:05:05] While the Department of Homeland Security mounted this plaque down on the border last year, it's attached to a section of replacement fencing. Just before leaving for his trip, the president defended his needling of Joe Biden over accusations the vice president has engaged in some unwanted touching.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: I think I'm a very good messenger and people got a kick out of it.


ACOSTA: Sounding more like a contender, Biden fired right back.


JOE BIDEN (D), FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it doesn't surprise me. He doesn't have time to do his job. But look, it's -- everybody knows who Donald Trump is.


ACOSTA: Claiming he doesn't see Biden as a threat. The president is selling his performance on the economy and pointing to the latest unemployment numbers that finds nearly 200,000 jobs were created last month.


TRUMP: Our country is doing unbelievably well, economically, most of you don't report that, because it doesn't sound good from your perspective, but the country is doing really, really well.


ACOSTA: Both the White House and the president's outside legal team are pushing back on the request for the president's tax returns from House Democrats, as you mentioned. There's that letter from the president's legal team to the Treasury Department, seeking to block that request from House Democrats. The president's attorneys essentially argued that this would set a bad legal precedent for future occupants over the Oval Office. As one senior administration official put it to me earlier today, if the Democrats can go after the president's tax returns, Republicans can go after Speaker Nancy Pelosi's tax returns.

But Wolf, getting back to this comment that the president made on immigration earlier today, it is hard-pressed to find any other president in recent memory who's ever uttered anything along the lines of "our country is full" when it comes to immigration. It almost sends the message to any newcomer around the world that the U.S. is no longer open to immigrants, whether they be legal or illegal. Wolf?

BLITZER: Pretty stunning statement from the president. Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.

Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM with me. Pamela, the president has hired a law firm to represent him in this fight over his tax returns. Tell our viewers what you're learning.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The fight over the president's tax returns escalated today, Wolf, with this letter from outside lawyers for the president to the general counsel of the Treasury Department. And this letter basically is saying that this request from the House Ways and Means Committee chairman is a gross abuse of power. That it is presidential harassment, and even if there is a legitimate purpose that they claim, the real reason is politics, that they don't like the president, because he's in another party.

Here's what the letter says, "Even when Ways and Means can identify some legitimate committee purpose, it cannot request tax returns and return information to punish taxpayers for their speech or politics." It goes on to reference the audit that the president says his taxes are under by the IRS. Saying, "Chairman Neal's request is especially inappropriate because, as noted above, he is asking for tax returns, administrative files and other information regarding an ongoing IRS examination."

Now, as we know, Wolf, tax returns can still be released to the public, even if they are under audit. But this is our first glimpse into the legal argument that the president's outside attorneys are making, and they ask the Treasury Department to consult with the Justice Department attorneys before making any decision. Because ultimately, Wolf, this is up to the IRS, to figure out how to handle this request. And the law and what it means for the president, this unprecedented request. As you know, Democrats have argued, they have the legal footing to do this, that this is their oversight responsibility. So this is just beginning of the fight, Wolf.

BLITZER: In the law, it says that if the House Ways and Means Committee ask for the tax returns of someone, the secretary of the treasury shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified. So that's what the Democrats' argument is. A White House source, as you just heard in Jim Acosta's report, says they're willing to take this fight all the way to the Supreme Court. So what does that signal about how long this fight could take?

BROWN: I spoke to one source familiar with the matter today, who said, it's going to be a while until anyone sees the president's tax returns. This is going to be a long fight. And this administration official did say they're willing to take it all the way up to the Supreme Court, Wolf. And even, let's just remember, even if the IRS does grant this request from the committee's chairman, that doesn't mean it automatically goes to the public. There is a whole process for that. But what is clear here today is that the president and his team of lawyers are going to fight this tooth and nail, all the way to the Supreme Court.

BLITZER: Very lengthy four-page, single-space letter that they wrote to the Treasury Department. Pamela, thank you very much.

Joining us now, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York, He's a member of the Judiciary Committee, he's also a House Democratic leader, he's the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. Congressman thanks so much for joining us.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Thanks for having me on, Wolf. BLITZER: So an administration official tells CNN they're protecting President Trump's tax returns from being released is a hill they're willing to die on. You heard that in Jim Acosta's report. Is this a hill Democrats are also willing to die on?

[17:10:03] JEFFRIES: We're going to continue to proceed responsibly with our oversight function, which is consistent with the separation of powers in the United States Constitution. Every president since Richard Nixon has disclosed his taxes to the American people. Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama have all disclosed their taxes, Democrats and Republicans, progressives and conservatives, the left and the right. A singular individual, Donald Trump, is refusing to follow this important practice. We, as a separate and co-equal branch of government, are trying to bring him into compliance.

BLITZER: The president's attorney in this letter says that this effort by Democrats, in the attorney's word, is a transparent effort by one political party to harass an official from the other party. Your response to that?

JEFFRIES: Well, Chairman Richard Neal of the Ways and Means Committee is incredibly well respected. He's a thoughtful individual. He's an institutionalist who cares about the House and our role as a separate and co-call branch of government. We don't work for Donald Trump. We work for the American people. We have a constitutional responsibility to serve as a check and balance on a potentially out of control executive branch. And that is what we are doing. That's not the Richard Neal playbook. That's not the Nancy Pelosi playbook. That's the James Madison playbook.

BLITZER: Are you completely confident that the courts will side with Congress?

JEFFRIES: I think that the law is pretty clear, as you indicated, Wolf, that the statute says the secretary of the Treasury shall provide these tax returns upon request from the chair of the Ways and Means Committee. That's not discretionary language. That is mandatory language. No singular individual in this country is above the law. Donald Trump is not above the law. We're hopeful that the Article 3 federal courts will see it our way, as well.

BLITZER: What exactly do Democrats hope to learn from these six years of these tax returns?

JEFFRIES: Well, I think the tax returns that we seek, again, are consistent with the fact that the president of the United States, in the past, has consistently disclosed these tax returns to the American people. So that there can be disclosure. So that there can be some understanding as to whether there are financial interests that would lead someone seeking the office of the presidency or serving in the office of the presidency to be distracted by other interests that don't clearly relate to the well-being of the American people. And that's what this is all about. We're going to continue to focus on the kitchen table, pocketbook issues, of importance to the American people, Richard Neal has led the effort to help protect the Affordable Care Act and people with pre-existing conditions. At the same time, we have a separate oversight lane, and that's what we're doing.

BLITZER: Should all presidential candidates be required by law, a new law, obviously, to release their tax returns?

JEFFRIES: Certainly, that is the case, and as part of H.R. 1, our for the people act, which is designed to help clean up corruption and the mess in Washington, D.C. and bring our Democracy to life on a moving forward basis, whether it's a Democrat or Republican, that absolutely should be a requirement. There would be no need for this law if, in fact, Donald Trump would simply make the decision to adhere to the precedent set by Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. He refuses to do so.

BLITZER: Let's get to the president and the border with Mexico. His message just moments ago, and I'm quoting the president now, our economy - our country -- he said - "our country is full." Full. What's your reaction to that?

JEFFRIES: Well, the president, unfortunately, continues to peddle xenophobia as part of a well-calculated political strategy, apparently to get elected. It's clear that we have a broken immigration system. It's clear that we need comprehensive immigration reform. But we should do it in a bipartisan way, in a responsible fashion, Democrats and Republicans, coming together to fix our broken system, consistent with the notion that we are a nation of immigrants, a gorgeous mosaic of people from across the world. That's what makes America a great country. We are also a country anchored in the premise of the rule of law. And we can do this together without the irresponsible rhetoric and conduct and behavior that far too often come out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, if the president would only get out of the way.

[17:15:00] BLITZER: On another issue, Congressman, how do you think the former Vice President Joe Biden has handled these stories from these women coming forward, talking about how they felt uncomfortable during their interactions with him?

JEFFRIES: Well, these are serious allegations that have been made by serious individuals. And I think that moving forward Joe Biden is going to have to take them seriously, as he appears to have done in terms of at least his initial video response, acknowledging that he is going no respect the personal space of individuals and refrain from behavior that makes people uncomfortable. That's the right thing to do. And now he has to carry it out, as he moves forward, either as a candidate or as a former vice president.

BLITZER: Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York, thank you so much for joining us.

JEFFRIES: Thank you very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, we'll have much more about the former Vice President Joe Biden's signal that he's growing closer to a 2020 campaign, but yet once again he stumbled when he seemingly made light of the controversy over his overly affectionate manner.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [17:20:23] BLITZER: We're following important developments in the 2020 presidential race. Former Vice President Joe Biden today gave an impassioned speech previewing many of his likely campaign themes. But everything he said is seemingly being overshadowed by his attempts to diffuse the controversy over women's complaints about his inappropriate physical contact.

CNN's Arlette Saenz was at the speech. She was among the reporters who questioned the former vice president. How did he do it? How did he handle himself? It's a sensitive issue.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Wolf, if Joe Biden had hoped this story line would die down, he didn't do himself any favors today. And his speech that he gave certainly sounded like a campaign rally, as he went after President Trump and talked about restoring the middle class, but Biden then brought the attention right back to those allegations that surfaced a week ago today.


SAENZ (voice-over): Tonight, a partial apology from Joe Biden.


BIDEN: I'm sorry I didn't understand more. I'm not sorry for any of my intentions. I'm not sorry for anything that I have ever done. I've never been disrespectful, intentionally, to a man or a woman.


SAENZ: The former vice president still grappling with how to respond to claims he made women feel uncomfortable in their interactions and acknowledging more people could come forward.


BIDEN: I wouldn't be surprised, but I've had hundreds and hundreds of people contact me, who I don't know, and you know, say the exact opposite.



SAENZ: As he took the stage at his first public appearance since the allegations, Biden gave out a hug and made this joke.


BIDEN: I had permission to hug Lonnie (ph).


SAENZ: And then did it a second time after calling a group of children up to the stage.


BIDEN: By the way, he gave me permission to touch him.


SAENZ: But shortly after, Biden scrambled into cleanup mode, telling reporters he wasn't making light of people's feelings.


BIDEN: I hope it wasn't taken that way.


SAENZ: Biden also appearing to inch closer to that 2020 bid. Hinting, it's not a matter of "if," but "when."


BIDEN: I'm told by the lawyer that I've got to be careful what I say, so that I don't start a clock ticking. And change my status.

Give everybody else their day. Then I get a shot, and then we're off to the races.


SAENZ: With a large and historically diverse field of candidates already taking shape, Biden shared how he would brand himself.


BIDEN: I'm an Obama/Biden Democrat, man. And I'm proud of it.


SAENZ: Biden's already drawn the attention of President Trump.


TRUMP: No, I don't see Joe Biden as a threat, no. No, I don't see him as a threat. I think he's only a threat to himself.


SAENZ: He's hitting back.


BIDEN: He doesn't have time to do his job, but, look, it's -- everybody knows who Donald Trump is.


SAENZ: With his White House run just around the corner, Biden says these allegations make it clear something has to be different. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: I think it's going to have to change somewhat how I campaign. It's not a bad thing. It's a new thing, it's important.



SAENZ: Lucy Flores, the woman who first made the accusations last week that Biden made her feel uncomfortable, she responded on Twitter saying that it's clear Biden hasn't reflected enough since these incidents. The question is will Biden have to further address this? He told me, Wolf, he'll be announcing his decision very soon.

BLITZER: You had a very good Q&A with him. Arlette thank you very much. Arlette Saenz reporting.

Coming up, more on the breaking news, President Trump hiring lawyers right now to fight Democratic demands to turn over his tax returns, and if necessary, go all the way to the Supreme Court.


[17:28:40] BLITZER: Some breaking news. President Trump is wrapping up a visit to the Mexican border out in California, back here in Washington. The president has hired a law firm to fight Congressional Democrats' new requests to see his tax returns. Let's bring in our political and our legal experts to discuss this and more.

Abby, you cover the White House for us. What do you make of this extraordinary effort, this letter to the Department of the Treasury, saying, you know what, the law does not require the president to release his tax returns.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's no surprise that the president and his lawyers and his allies are trying to fight this tooth and nail. You know, in some ways, it's not clear to me that a lot of people even know why the president doesn't want his tax returns released, but they know that he clearly doesn't want them released and he has fought it since going back to his days as a candidate.

And so this letter basically lays out what I think is the political argument from the president and from his allies, which is that these Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee and on Capitol Hill are trying to politicize and weaponize their oversight authority and trying to use it against the president just because they don't like him. That, to me, is the core of the president's political argument that his lawyers are making in this letter.

But of course, I think that it's not clear to me that they feel that they are actually on strong legal footing. I think they just want to fight this as long as they can, because I think it buys them time for the president's taxes to remain private and under seal. BLITZER: Let's ask one of our legal analysts. You know, Susan, the president and his legal team, as serious constitutional staturtory issues involved with this request to get six years of his tax returns. Do they have a case?


SUSAN HENNESSEY, NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST, CNN: Well it's a - it's a really pretty incredibly weak legal argument, so there's a long extended discussion about the privacy interest in tax returns and the Supreme Court affirming that privacy interest.

Sure, that's - that's a compelling, interesting argument, if we were talking about publicly disclosing the president's tax returns. We're not. This is about turning tax returns over to Congress in closed executive session.

You know, so there's a lot in here that's just - that's basically irrelevant. The Ways and Means Committee, their letter states a narrowly tailored legislative purpose. What they're saying is essentially hey, we don't know exactly how the IRS handles presidential tax returns, what they do for auditing, we're considering passing laws about changing those rules and in order for us to understand what's going on, we need to see the president's entire tax returns because we need to know whether or not everything that they're doing is really sufficient or if something is falling through the cracks.

That's a valid legislative purpose, there's nothing - there's nothing in this letter that refutes both - that this is a valid legislative purpose and that the statute is really clear. But this really isn't about making sort of a valid legal argument, it's about kind of throwing things at the wall, seeing if it sticks.

And I think it's really about potentially giving the IRS some kind of pretext, something to point to in failing to comply with federal law, failing to turn over those returns so that we can engage in the kind of protracted legal battle that if the president gets his way might extend past the election.

BLITZER: You know, Phil, some Democrats seem to think that the president's tax returns would show potentially some untoward foreign influence, is that something one could learn from seeing the president's tax returns?

PHILIP MUDD, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: Heck yes, and can you explain to me why we're talking about the law? I mean I served in government in an executive position, every executive in the intelligence community has to reveal who they owe money to.

Wouldn't you think it would be significant to know, whether you're the president or a CIA official, who you owe money to because you might favor them? What stocks do you own?

Can you be deciding - making judgments on issues when you own a stock in the company and that company comes up for some U.S. government judgment? These are significant questions that have nothing to do with the law, they have to do with what's appropriate if you're a government executive.

I don't care what these lawyers said, I was in government, I wish I had hired lawyers to tell me you don't have to fill out a form every single year to answer appropriate questions. Who do you owe money because we want to know if you're beholden to somebody.

It's not law, it's ethics.

BLITZER: You had top secret security clearances.

MUDD: Still do, yes.

BLITZER: That's what you got to do. You know, Ron, is this the right moment though for Democrats to be pursuing this issue, making the return - the release of the president's tax returns a priority?

RON BROWNSTEIN, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: Well look, they have to be able to walk and chew gum on this because they know from the beginning, as everyone has said, that this is going to be a retracted (ph) fight.

It's going to extend over many other issues that they are both investigating and legislating on. And that really is the challenge, to show that while they are performing this oversight, and there is a reason other presidents have put forward their taxes from precisely the reasons that everyone has - has mentioned, that it gives you an insight into the extent to which public policies that they are pursuing may benefit them personally.

So there is a legitimate reason beyond harassment, partisan harassment to understand this. But they know it's going to be going on for a long time, and they know that they need to be able to show that they are also moving forward on other issues.

And in fact, you know, if you look at what's happened so far in this congress on things like passing the gun control, passing the political reform, the Energy and Commerce Committee this week passed legislation moving toward the floor to overturn Trump administration actions weakening the guarantees of preexisting condition protections.

They need to show that they can do both of these things at the same time, they can legislate their agenda and they can conduct the kind of oversight that was almost completely absent for the last two years.

HENNESSEY: I mean one thing to keep in mind is why this is especially necessary for President Trump, prior presidents have divested from their personal business holdings, so their tax returns might have been interest as - in terms of whether they complied with tax law in the past.

But because President Trump has refused to actually divest his businesses, that presents an ongoing - an ongoing concern and a really rich and important area for congressional oversight. ABBY PHILLIP, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: And I think it's also

worth noting that the president has tried to stop this from happening for so long, even though every other presidential candidate for many, many years has done it, and it's not - it's because he is concerned about his businesses, he's concerned about his personal finances, which have never been under scrutiny like other people in the political eye.

And I think it's a little bit of a black box because the president has made it clear that this is an area of sensitivity for him. I think for Democrats, that has made them want to look into it more, because the fact that he has - he has drawn such a red line on his personal finances and on his business finances seem to indicate that he believes that he has something to hide, and that alone for Democrats gives them a reason to wonder what is in there that he is so protective of and has been for so many years.


BROWNSTEIN: Wolf, real quick, just think of the track that we're on though. I mean this is just the latest indication that this administration is going to go to the mattresses on every front to resist congressional oversight, and there are going to be so many challenges steaming toward the Supreme Court probably on the Mueller report, on other subpoenas about access to information about clearances - security clearances in the White House.


We are heading toward a momentous - probably the most momentous series of decisions since the Watergate era in terms of the ability of Congress to exert oversight over an Executive Branch that by all indications is going to fight them till the last hour on every front in part hoping to simply run out the clock through 2020.

BLITZER: Well, clearly they'd like to run out the clock on this issue. I've always feel - always suspected that people around the president have suggested, at least to me, that he doesn't want people to see how much money he declared as far as income, how much tax he paid, and how much charitable contributions he made, all of which we would learn if we saw his tax returns.

MUDD: Well, I mean - I mean, there are a couple questions. I mentioned a question about - basically the ethical question about who owes you money and who do you owe money to. You're raising a different question which is what Michael Cohen said when he testified and that is are there differences between what the president's properties are worth and what he's declared for tax purposes or for insurance purposes? I think the president's afraid that people are going to look at this and say, A, maybe I didn't contribute to charity, but also there are bigger questions. Did I do taxes like every American's required to do, Wolf?

BLITZER: Everybody stick around. There's a lot more we need to discuss. There's more news right after this.



BLITZER: We're back with our experts, and Susan, what do you think the former Vice President, Joe Biden, he made a couple of jokes about the inappropriate touching today. It was - what did you think of that?

HENNESSEY: Some people are sort of accusing him of saying - of suggesting that this means that he isn't actually taking the issue seriously. You know, that said, it was a joke that was really at his own expense. Certainly nothing about it was mocking individuals who's said that they'd made him uncomfortable. You know, that said, I'm sure that his campaign advisors were cringing. We're not particularly happy for him to be making light of this at all, and it is a little bit of a reminder of what Joe Biden is like on the campaign trail - that he's a little bit gaff prone, he tends to speak his mind, and if he does, indeed, enter the 2020 race, we're going to be reminded of that with a lot more frequency.

BLITZER: What did you think?

MUDD: Yes.

PHILLIP: I mean, I thought it was striking that he, afterward, talking to reporters seemed to resist the ask for a direct apology to these women who had accused him of this kind of behavior. Now, that's Joe Biden prerogative. I think he is making a bet that his explanation of how he approached this situation and approached understanding what is acceptable and what is not is going to be sufficient to voters, but I certainly think it's not going to satisfy people who want him to say more and who want him to be a lot more contrite. I agree with Susan. It's - you should avoid jokes in a situation like this. I don't think there's really any circumstance under which this is some kind of laughing matter, but this is who Joe Biden is. I think he, like a lot of people of his age and who's been in politics most of his life, he wants to do things his way. He understands that norms are changing, but he's not going to change who he is as a candidate, and his campaign manager's going to have to deal with that one. BLITZER: Go ahead, Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Look, he's been - he was elected into the Senate in 1972. He's lived through fundamental changes in the country and the party, and I think this whole episode is indicative of the larger problem he faces. I mean, obviously he's taken positions and behaved in ways over the course of his career that are less acceptable now especially within the democratic coalition, and he's got to figure out a way where is not simply spending all of his time apologizing for things that he has done before. He needs to show that he understands things have changed, but he also needs to give people a positive reason to support him rather than just simply kind of backing off things that he earlier done, and it really kind of underscores the need for him if he's going to run to get into the race, to create and agenda and to show, A, that he understands how much things have changed, but B, that it's more than an apology toward it. That he has a reason - an affirmative reason to want to be president and to make the lives better for the people in the democratic coalition.

BLITZER: Let's get Phil Mudd to weigh in. Go ahead, Phil.

MUDD: He's done. I mean, he's a relic of the past. The democratic party for decades has been let's move forward. You have people in the party - as Ron said, he was elected in 1972 - who are showing in this case that he still has remnants of the past with him. You look at the candidates who are moving forward - Buttigieg, Kamala, Cory, if you look at Beto O'Rourke - all these people are young people who say, "I'm hope for the future. I don't carry the baggage of the past as Obama did, as democrats did in the 1970s." I think this is another indication that he's done because he's the past. He's not the future.

BLITZER: Bernie Sanders is not that young. I mean -

MUDD: Yes, but he's done, too.

HENNESSEY: I mean, I do think -

BLITZER: He's going well for himself.

MUDD: No, he's done.

PHILLIP: I think that it highlights, though, what voters will decide.

MUDD: Yes.

PHILLIP: I mean, we can have this conversation at this table, but Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are the two front runners in the democratic primary where their coalition is getting younger and younger by the year. It tells us something about what is going on the ground where people are looking for a complex set of things, one of which might actually be experience and the other might be, in the Biden's case, the potential that they could stand up against Trump. It's a very specific thing.

MUDD: Yes.

PHILLIP: Not Joe Biden in a vacuum. Joe Biden against Donald Trump.

BLITZER: All right, everybody stick around

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, and -

BLITZER: There's more news - hold your thought for a moment. We got more news. We got a report that coming up almost - after almost seven years of living inside Ecuador's embassy in London is WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange about to be expelled. What happens to him if he leaves?



BLITZER: WikiLeaks is claiming that its founder Julian Assange could soon be expelled from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he's taken refuge for years. He could face legal jeopardy here in the United States and may hold answers to a key question in the Mueller Probe.

Brian Todd has been digging into all of this for us, Brian, what are you learning?


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have new information tonight on Julian Assange's precarious situation inside the Ecuadoran embassy and on what prosecutors in the United States could be after from Assange including information about the Trump campaign's alleged efforts in 2016 to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.


He is at the center of one of the biggest counterintelligence investigations in the United States - the Russian attack on the 2016 election - but up until now, Julian Assange, the mercurial founder of WikiLeaks, has been untouchable hold up in a couple of rooms inside Ecuador's embassy in London for almost seven years living under asylum, only seen publically via video or when occasionally holding news conferences from the embassy's balcony.

JULIAN ASSANGE, FOUNDER OF WIKILEAKS: My work will not be held (ph).

TODD: But his welcome may be wearing thin. On Tuesday, Ecuador's president complained the 47-year-old has repeatedly violated protocol at the embassy. Last night, WikiLeaks tweeting claiming a high-level Ecuadoran official told them Assange could be kicked out of the embassy within, quote, "hours to days."

JENNIFER RODGERS, FORMAL FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: If that happens, I think he'll be in custody in quick order.

TODD: British authorities are expected to immediately apprehend Assange either to charge him themselves or extradite him to the United States. If that happens, it would provide a last-second twist in the special counsel's Russia investigation coming just weeks after Robert Mueller turned in his report on election interference. Assange could be the key to answering whether anyone associated with the 2016 Trump campaign communicated with WikiLeaks about its release of damaging, hacked information on Hillary Clinton. The attorney general says Mueller did not establish conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, but it's not clear if Mueller had access to information from Assange. So what could Assange talk about if he was ever questioned?

RODGERS: Any contact, of course, that Assange had with not only the president, anyone on the president's team, Roger Stone, Jerome Corsi, anyone in that orbit, any Ameircan's all together frankly.

TODD: Before finishing his report, the special counsel appeared to be interested in Assange. In the indictment of Trump ally, Roger Stone, Mueller's prosecutor says Stone was asked by a top Trump campaign official to find out from WikiLeaks what dirt about Clinton would be released and when. At the time, Stone was claiming to be in touch with Assange. The indictment says Stone even tried to ask Assange for Hillary Clinton's emails. Stone later said he was never in direct touch, and Assange has denied that he got the hacked information from the Kremlin.

ASSANGE: Our source is not a state party. So the answer for our interactions is no.

TODD: But U.S. intelligence says the hackers were agents of Russian intelligence, and according to one of the Mueller's indictments, WikiLeaks begged the hackers in the summer of 2016, quote, "if you have anything Hillary-related, we want it in the next two days."

DAVID SALVO: ALLIANCE FOR SECURING DEMOCRACY/GMFUS: His interests aligned with the Russian government's in 2016. Again, it's no secret that Assange has a stated motivation of destabilizing the U.S. - U.S. interests and U.S. genome (ph), and the Russian government's interests are the same. So it's very easy to see why he would be a pawn.

TODD: What's not clear tonight is how the U.S. and specifically the president would handle Assange being arrested. When WikiLeaks released thousands of pages hacked from democrats during the campaign, Donald Trump was thrilled.


TODD: But others in the administration have openly slammed Assange and his organization.

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: It's time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is, a non-state, hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.

TODD: Prosecutors also appeared to be after him. Late last year, a clerical error in a filing by the U.S. attorney revealed secret criminal charges in the United States against Assange. It's not clear what Assange might be charged with because he also led the WikiLeaks's publication of classified U.S. war files for Iraq and Afghanistan stolen by Chelsea Manning back in 2010. Legal analysts say charges for that incident might be more serious if they involve espionage, but that Assange could also be charged with posting the hacked emails.

RODGERS: Assuming that he knew that this information was hacked and was not legally obtained, which he would know if he knew where it came from, then he can be on the hook fro disseminating that information.


TODD: Assange's lawyers, meanwhile, are battling in public on his behalf, one of them saying his expulsion from that embassy in Britain would be illegal, that it would look like a, quote, "war trophy displayed by Britain and Ecuador." A lawyer for Assange in the United States said it would be a, quote, "dangerous path to take to prosecute Assange in the U.S. for publishing truthful information." Wolf - BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Good work, Brian. Thank you very much. Coming up, breaking news. President Trump digs in against democrat's demands for six years of his tax returns. His lawyers write to the Department of Treasury citing legal arguments why the president should not comply as an administration official warns of a long court battle.


And new details emerging right now about the cruel hoax by a man who falsely claimed he was the boy who disappeared nearly eight years ago, now he's facing federal charges.


Happening now, breaking news, not giving them up. The president makes it clear he won't release his tax returns, hiring lawyers to fight a demand by Democrats. We're told Mr. Trump is willing to go to the U.S. Supreme Court to stop Congress and the public from seeing his secret tax records.

Border break back down, after failing to close the southern border this week as he threatened, Mr. Trump travels to the region. Tonight he's pressing his case for a national emergency.