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Aired April 15, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Mr. Trump announcing he will use his power to reward his pal with a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the devastating fire tearing through Notre Dame Cathedral, one of the most iconic landmarks in Paris and the entire world.

The inferno raging now for hours and into the night. The cathedral spires collapsed in flames. Tonight, hundreds of firefighters are battling to save a building that stood for more than eight centuries. Authorities now believe both of Notre Dame's towers are safe and the main structure has been preserved.

Back here in Washington, the countdown for the release of the Mueller report has begun. The Justice Department says the attorney general expects to provide Congress and the American public with a redacted version of the report Thursday morning.

I will get reaction from Democratic Congressman John Garamendi.

And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by, including our team in Paris.

Let's go to Paris right now. Our senior national correspondent, Jim Bittermann, is on the scene.

Jim, what's the latest on this horrific fire at Notre Dame?

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's still going on. It's still being fought by the firemen, the 400 firemen that are on the scene trying to contain what's left of the flames.

But at this point, it's down to embers. And most of the flames, visible flames, have disappeared from around the cathedral. It wasn't that way earlier. Here's the way it looked earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BITTERMANN (voice-over): The city of Paris at a standstill, as one of its most iconic landmarks, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, engulfed in flames.

Parisians and visitors standing in shock as sections of the cathedral built more than 800 year ago collapsed before them.

ARASH DERAMBARSH, FRENCH PUBLISHER: Everybody is crying. It's very sad because Notre Dame de Paris is a symbol of Paris and a symbol of triumph. It's a symbol of freedom, the symbol of fraternity.

BITTERMANN: James Janega and his family visiting the landmark shortly before closing.

JAMES JANEGA, WITNESS: We got a couple of blocks across and turned and looked back and gasped as we saw the spire engulfed in flames.

BITTERMANN: The spire of the cathedral, also known as our lady's arrow, destroyed by the flames within hours. Built in the 12th century and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the site of the Catholic cathedral ablaze drawing attention and reaction from around the world.

From the French President Emmanuel Macron tweeting in part: "Like all of our countrymen, I'm sad tonight to see this part of us burn."

To President Trump, who talked about his visit to Notre Dame.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's one of the great treasures of the world. It might be greater than almost any museum in the world, and it's burning very badly. It looks like it's burning to the ground.

BITTERMANN: Four hundred firefighters mobilized to fight the fire, taking extraordinary risks to get close to the flames. The cause of the fire is still unknown at this time, as the City of Light watches its beloved cathedral burn.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BITTERMANN: President Macron visited the site of the fire for several hours this evening. And he said -- as he left, he said, "I'm saying and you can trust me, we will rebuild it starting tomorrow," and asking anyone who wants to contribute to contribute to this.

And, in fact, there are now some online contributions sites that have already started up to collect money to help rebuild the cathedral -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim Bittermann in Paris, thanks very much.

And we will stay in Paris.

CNN's Melissa Bell is in -- outside of the cathedral in the crowd over there. She's on the scene for us.

Melissa, what do you see? What are you learning from your vantage point?

MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you can still see, at the very back of the structure, Wolf, the flames continue to rage. This is a fire that is still not yet under control.

We're also hearing, crucially, from the Paris prosecutor's office, in the very beginning, the very early stages of its investigation, that this was a fire they believe that was caused involuntarily, that it was not criminal in nature.

And that was one of the crucial questions that we had that so many of the Parisians and tourists that have stayed essentially glued to the spot here as they watched this fire evolve, as they watched firefighters try to get to the bottom of it and try to get to the end of it, was, how had this begun as suddenly and as violently and as intensely as it had?

So, one of those crucial questions, whether or not this was intentionally begun, clearly, now, as far as Paris prosecutors in the early start of their -- early part of their investigation believe, was not criminal.

So many other questions remain, whether they will manage to get these flames under control any time soon, how much from the inside of this cathedral will be salvaged.

[18:05:08]

In the meantime, Wolf, there are still extraordinary scenes of emotion all around. Parisians have gathered, Catholics have gathered, and for the last few hours, they have been singing, they have been praying, gathering together as they watch their beloved cathedral go up in flames, people brought together by their faith because, of course, although this is a beautiful Gothic monument, it matters not only to France, but to all of humanity.

It has special significance to the Catholics who have gathered here tonight. So many questions, for instance, about the artwork inside, about the relics inside. Notre Dame, after all, housed the Crown of Thorns believed to have been worn by Jesus Christ as he went towards his crucifixion.

As one priest said to me earlier on: "I had to come here and watch. I had to come and see. This is my home. This was where I was ordained. And I want to know what's happened to all of those precious treasures inside" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: French authorities, as you know, Melissa, they have opened this investigation into the cause of the fire. What else are officials there saying to you about the potential cause?

BELL: Well, we understand that this may have begun in the attic of the church, and that certainly chimes what we have witnessed ourselves from the very beginning of the fire, those great plumes of black smoke that emerged from the roof, from the roof of the nave of the church, the main structure of the church, and very quickly turned into flames that appeared to engulf the top part, the roof of the structure itself.

So it may have begun in the attic, but it was not started on purpose. And, of course, that doesn't take away from the tragedy, from the catastrophe that's befallen the structure, which remains structurally threatened.

We have been hearing from the authorities that there's still some risk to the towers at the very front of the facade themselves. They could yet,, we're told from -- by firefighters, collapse under the weight of the bells, should they collapse.

So, still a lot of structural danger to the edifice itself. We heard not very long ago from the junior French interior minister that it was unclear whether the entire cathedral at this stage would be saved. And as we can see, the flames still raging at the back of the structure. This is a fire that was of tremendous intensity and that hours of efforts from 400 firefighters have so far failed to bring under control.

So we continue to watch as Notre Dame Cathedral continues to burn tonight. And there is some sense that this is a fire that could last for many more hours still -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Melissa Bell in that crowd outside of the cathedral for us, Melissa, we will get back to you.

I want to bring in CNN reporter Hadas Gold right now. She's also near the cathedral on the other side.

Hadas, what are you learning right now about the artifacts, the priceless artifacts inside the cathedral?

HADAS GOLD, CNN POLITICS, MEDIA, AND BUSINESS REPORTER: Well, Wolf, I'm on the back side, as you say, Notre Dame.

And we are still witnessing firefighters on cranes shooting water cannons into the structure. And we no longer see the flames really coming outside of the roof, but there are clearly still embers inside that they're working to try and bring down.

One thing we do know is French Info, which is one of the state radio news services, has said that, actually, because of the restoration being done, about 16 statues were taken from the spire and were brought down for restoration of some kind.

So, in a way, the scaffolding, which may have somehow have been a part of this fire, been one of the reasons for it, may have also been a way that some of these artifacts, the precious artifacts were saved in a way by removing them for restoration as part of why the scaffolding was up.

That might have in some ways saved these very precious statues. We are still waiting to hear on word from the rest of the very valuable artifacts that were there. Some of them are housed in a sort of museum that is within the cathedral. Now, we do have information from the junior minister that the towers

so far are safe and they're still working to save some of the very precious artifacts. As we have been hearing, these are some of the most important pieces for Catholics, for Christians and really for anybody from any religion. It is such a moving place.

It is such a moving building to come into and to witness and just appreciate the grandeur and appreciate the art. I'm right along of the River Seine, and there are still thousands of people lining the river and watching the firefighters work. They're still singing hymns. They have been singing now for hours.

And they are applauding. Every now and then, they start applauding firefighters when they see a firefighting truck come out or when they saw that the flames starting to finally go down after so many hours.

There's a great sense here of pride, but also of sadness for what has happened to what they call our lady -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Hadas Gold on the scene for us outside the cathedral in Paris.

I want to bring in our international correspondent, Clarissa Ward. She's also working the story for us.

[18:10:07]

Clarissa, you have spent a lot of time in Paris over the years. Give our viewers a sense of the history of this truly remarkable cathedral and it has endured over these centuries.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, simply put, Notre Dame is unique. There's nothing else like it.

This is a majestic piece of architecture that's been around for 800 years. It's sort of emblematic of France's resilience in many ways. It's withstood the Crusades, the French Revolution, that Napoleonic Wars, two World Wars.

It has undergone renovations in the past. And yet it's already stood there, a sort of beacon to tourists of the world; 13 million people travel to visit Notre Dame every single year. And if you have visited it yourself, as I'm sure you have, Wolf, it's not hard to understand why. It's an exceptionally moving place to visit.

From the moment that you approach that extraordinary facade and the two towers which house the famous, famous bells, which, of course, inspired Victor Hugo to create the character of Quasimodo in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," and then as you walk into the nave and the sight of this exquisite rose window, which, again, is really unlike anything else that we're accustomed to seeing in Catholic churches.

And for these reasons, I think Notre Dame has become a site that has inspired people, whether they're religious, whether they're not, whether they're worshipers or whether they're artists, not just Victor Hugo. The famous French singer Edith Piaf has a song about Notre Dame as well.

It's become a place that is symbolic of France, that is symbolic of shared values, of an appreciation of beauty, of trying to create something majestic that humbles the visitor as he enters.

And I think there's a very real sense of sadness now, particularly given that it's Easter week, as France and Catholics and all tourists who visit this wondrous site are wondering, what will replace it, what happens now, and what will become that -- of that place that people went to acts of vigil in times of hardship, after the Bataclan attacks in 2015?

That's where the memorial was held. This was a place that people gathered to find solace, to find unity, Wolf. And that is a very difficult thing to replace.

BLITZER: It certainly is.

Clarissa Ward, reporting for us, Clarissa, thank you very much.

We're joined now by a journalist who knows Paris well. Philip Crowther is White House correspondent for France 24. He's also an international affiliate reporter for the Associated Press.

Philip, thanks so much for coming in.

We just heard from the French president, Emmanuel Macron. He spoke about the devastation. What is his bottom-line message to the people of France?

PHILIP CROWTHER, FRANCE 24: Two optimistic notes from the French president and two messages that I think Parisians, the French people, and I think all of us watching this over the last few hours really needed to hear.

The first one was that the worst was avoided. The worst, presumably, what he's talking about there would have been the collapse of the two towers, the rectangular towers at the front of the Notre Dame Cathedral.

Melissa Bell just said in Paris that there is still a slight possibility that that collapse could happen. But if the French president says the worst has been avoided, maybe that is precisely what he means.

Of course, it might also mean that not a single life was lost in this fire, which, of course, is some good news within the devastation. The other message he had was that this cathedral will be rebuilt. I think that is something that Parisians, people who are outside of the cathedral right now, desperately wanted to hear. And I think they wouldn't have accepted anything other than that message.

He asked for donations, for international donations even. And I think right now the feeling truly is that Notre Dame Cathedral will be rebuilt. It will obviously take a long time. And we will have to wait and see what exactly it looks like in the morning, Paris time. Right now, when you look at the live footage, I think you can expect

this to be a hollowed-out cathedral, a structure that is left, a stone structure that is left, the kind of thing you might have seen after a bombing in the Second World War, for example.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWTHER: But cathedrals have been rebuilt in the past.

BLITZER: And Macron said: "We will rebuild Notre Dame because it is what the French expect. That is what our history merits. And this is our deep destiny."

We watched this cathedral, Notre Dame Cathedral, burn on live television. Why was it so -- tell us why it was so difficult to contain this fire, if it started in the roof?

CROWTHER: Well, it's, first of all, because this is partly at least a wooden structure. And this wood is very, very old. It's essentially an 800-century, at least, old forest that was burning in the inside of Notre Dame Cathedral.

One of the reasons why it burned for so long, first of all, is because this was a very, very difficult thing for firefighters to do. The area around Notre Dame Cathedral, it's called the Ile de la Cite. It's an island in the middle of the Seine River with very, very tight buildings all around it, very narrow streets.

[18:15:07]

It's very difficult to get to that building, despite the fact that there is actually a square in front of those two towers that are still standing right now.

Also, of course, any kind of aerial help was actually impossible. This brings us back, of course, to something I'm sure we will discuss later on, the tweet from President Trump, that it is -- it was impossible, according to the Civil Rescue Service in France, for any planes to bring water in, to throw water at the fire, essentially, because these -- it would have been tons of water.

And according to the French authorities, it would actually have risked destroying the whole building, the complete building, before the fire would have ravaged it. That's why it took that little bit longer.

There was a little bit of criticism, actually, from people I know on the ground, from those who were watching what was happening. They were looking up at this cathedral and thinking, why aren't they doing more sooner? Why aren't their planes coming in? Why aren't there more firefighters on the ground?

Maybe those worries have gone away, now that we know and at least believe that the structure of this cathedral will stay intact. But there certainly were those worries and those criticisms. And I think, as time goes by, the French authorities will have to answer to that, what exactly the plan was, and whether, indeed, there was a plan in place to be able to fight a fire in this centuries-old cathedral.

BLITZER: Because when we saw that spire go down, and we saw the fire escalate., all of us were asking those basic questions. What was going on? Why couldn't they contain?

But if so much of this -- this structure is wood.

CROWTHER: Absolutely.

And pretty much all of the wood is gone now. If you look at the pictures that are coming into us from Paris right now, what's left is essentially the stone, the stone structure of Notre Dame Cathedral. Almost all the wood, I think, is pretty much gone now.

The stained glass windows, the famous stained glass windows, they presumably are gone also now, destroyed. Now, the wooden structure, that includes, of course, the roof, that is gone. The wooden spire is gone. The pews will have gone as well. A lot of artwork will have gone.

Again, though, there is a little bit of positive news within all of this. It appears that a lot of the artwork and a lot of the relics were, in fact, saved from this fire.

BLITZER: We're showing our viewers some new video of the fire when it was really, really getting worse and worse and worse.

The people of Paris, many of them have gathered. It's now after midnight in Paris. They're singing religious hymns. They're sad, clearly.

Give us your sense. And you know this, this -- the city of Paris, well, the history of the Notre Dame Cathedral. Why is it so important?

CROWTHER: Well, it's been there so long, first of all, but it's also part of the Paris skyline, if indeed Paris has a skyline. It doesn't have many skyscrapers.

So this is actually one of those buildings that everybody sees. You see it from a distance. You see it from up close, of course. But also those of those of us who might never have been to Paris know it as well. That's why it is so important.

Of course, we might have seen it in movies. We might have read about it in Victor Hugo's novel. We might have seen it on postcards. It is just something that is so important to all of us, because it's not necessarily seen as one of the wonders of the world, but one of those things that we take for granted.

That's why, at this point, I also think of those people who just would pass by every day, every day, and might have taken it for granted, and now we're watching this -- still this ongoing fire at Notre Dame Cathedral. Also makes you think of those who built it in the first place so many centuries ago, those who might have been there during all of those wars, the Revolutionary War in France, two World Wars, and so much destruction and so many wars over the last few centuries.

Another thought that I think is important, at least when I first looked up from what might have been one screen at the time and looked up towards another one and saw this fire first develop, I thought -- my first instinct was, is this a terrorist attack, because that is just something that people in Paris and those of us who observe Paris are simply used to at this point, because this is one of the centers of Parisian culture.

It is one of the most well-known symbols of Paris. It is a pretty obvious terrorist target. So there is, again, a little bit of good news in what we have been seeing here. At least this was clearly not a terrorist attack. At least that is what we're hearing from Paris right now.

It appears to have been a rather trivial reason for this fire. Maybe it may be some kind of an accident during those renovation works. We don't know that at this point. But I think that is some good news, at least, that our worst fears were actually not realized.

And as the French president said, and going back to your initial question, the other good news is, of course, that the worst in terms of the cause of this fire didn't happen, but also in terms of the result didn't happen.

The towers are still standing, and we do expect them to still be standing in the morning.

BLITZER: It's so sad that this cathedral survived two World Wars, yet, because of some renovation, we saw such destruction.

[18:20:04]

CROWTHER: Yes, something that to me seems very trivial, at least something that might have been -- I don't what it might have been, a discarded match.

I have -- no one knows at this point what might have been the real reason. There is an investigation going on in Paris. Of course, everybody wants to know what really happened.

But I think that was part of the shock, really. You're looking at this building that survived so, so much, and then it goes up in flames, and you're wondering why this happened. And it looks like it was simply -- there's that correlation right now that we know exists.

There was renovation work going on at the time, badly needed renovation work, by the way, of the cathedral, and then this fire that we saw developing on our screens. It looks like those two had something to do with the troops.

BLITZER: Yes, so sad, indeed.

You're the White House correspondent for France 24. The president, President Trump, was speaking, expressing his sympathy, certainly expressing his shock, like all of us. He also started tweeting about this.

So, let me see if we get -- we have that tweet. There, you see it right there. "So horrible to watch the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Perhaps flying water tankers could be used to put it out. Must act quickly."

What's the reaction in France when you -- when the president of the United States posts a tweet like that?

CROWTHER: It's very, very bad. He's a very unpopular president in France generally. And this is the kind of thing that French people have become accustomed to from this president, someone who comments on things that he might not be an expert on and where he turns out to be wrong. He was wrong in this case.

Water tankers, according to the French authorities, simply could not have been used to fight this fire in Central Paris. They were, first of all, too far away. Secondly, they simply had -- there was the risk of the water actually destroying the cathedral simply because of the weight of those tons of water.

And so he was proven wrong, and he was proven wrong by the French authorities. The French -- the Civil Defense Service actually put out just the one tweet in English tonight. All the others were in French. And this one I think was clearly addressed to President Trump, when they said, look, that was simply not a solution.

Again, this is a very unpopular president in France. And this is the kind of thing that nobody really wanted to read or hear.

BLITZER: Yes, it's pretty extraordinary, the president weighing in on what the people of France and the authorities should have been doing. That was pretty extraordinary, when you think about it.

Philip Crowther, thanks so much for coming in.

CROWTHER: You're welcome.

BLITZER: There's more breaking news ahead, as we follow the battle to save the Notre Dame Cathedral from being burned to the ground.

We're also getting new information from White House officials on their expectations for the release of the Mueller report and how it's likely to play with the public.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:26:32]

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news out of Paris, the famous Notre Dame Cathedral ravaged by fire.

The world has been watching this disaster unfold, including President Trump, who called it a terrible sight to behold.

The president also has been busy slamming the Mueller investigation, as the redacted version of the special counsel's report is being prepared for release on Thursday.

Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, the White House is gearing up for more details of the Mueller probe to finally be made public.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They sure are, Wolf.

With the Mueller report set to come out later this week, President Trump appears to be feeling some added anxiety, as he is once again lashing out once against at the special counsel's office.

The president, as usual, serving up some other distractions, making some threats of sending undocumented immigrants to sanctuary cities. That's not exactly what he said in the past.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): Traveling to Minnesota to tout his tax cut, President Trump appeared to have the 2020 campaign on his mind.

TRUMP: We may have the best economy we ever had. Everything that we have done can be undone, and bad, bad things can happen.

ACOSTA: But the president seems to have more immediate concerns, namely, the Trump administration's plan to release a redacted version of special counsel's Robert Mueller's findings to the public on Thursday.

Even before all of the facts are in, Mr. Trump is alleging he's the victim, tweeting: "They spied on my campaign. We will never forget."

The president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who is expected to release a rebuttal of the Mueller report, piled on.

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think it was the product of a -- you want to call a political dirty trick or you want to call it a crime, I don't know, criminal conspiracy. But, in any event, I think the collusion will leave that question open. How did this come about?

ACOSTA: The president also tweeted: "Mueller and Attorney General William Barr, based on Mueller findings and great intelligence, have already ruled no collusion, no obstruction. Investigate the investigators."

But that's not true. Mueller did not reach a conclusion on obstruction. Barr did. Mr. Trump's attacks on Mueller's team run counter to his comment last month, when he said the special counsel had acted honorably.

QUESTION: Mr. President, do you think Robert Mueller acted honorably?

TRUMP: Yes, he did. Yes, he did.

ACOSTA: The president is continuing to talk up the idea of sending undocumented immigrants to sanctuary cities, tweeting: "Those illegal immigrants who can no longer be legally held. Congress must fix the laws and loopholes. Will be subject to Homeland Security, given to sanctuary cities and states."

But in the past, the president has promised to deport the undocumented out of the country, not ship them around from city to city.

TRUMP: Anyone who illegally crosses the border will be detained until they are removed out of our country and back to the country from which they came.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ACOSTA: President is also coming under intense criticism for slamming Congresswoman Ilhan Omar with a tweet that featured video of the Minnesota Democrat along with images from the 9/11 attack.

In a statement, Omar says: "Since the president's tweet Friday evening, I have experienced an increase in direct threats on my life, many directly referencing or replying to the president's video."

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And, certainly, the president is wishing no ill will and certainly not violence towards anyone.

ACOSTA: Democrats say the president has gone too far.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Nothing she said is deserving of what's happening to her and what the president is doing to her. This is a reprehensible attack on her. It's trying to incite anti-Islamic feelings.

ACOSTA: The president is also standing against Democratic attempts to obtain his tax returns, as his legal team has told the Treasury Department in a letter that those documents should not be handed over.

The White House says lawmakers wouldn't understand Mr. Trump's returns anyway, despite the fact that there are an estimated ten accountants in Congress.

SANDERS: This is a dangerous, dangerous road, and frankly, Chris, I don't think Congress, particularly not this group of congressmen and women, are smart enough to look through the thousands of pages that I would assume that President Trump's taxes will be.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[18:30:00]

ACOSTA: Now, that issue aside, it's the release of Mueller's findings that will have Washington on the edge of its seat all week long until they finally come out. And an administration official insists the White House is not concerned about what those findings will disclose. They believe the top lines of the report will essentially be the same. But this official added there is curiosity over here, Wolf, about the unknown. Wolf? WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: All right. Jim, thank you. Jim Acosta reporting.

Let's bring in our Senior White House Correspondent Pamela Brown. Pamela, you have some breaking news on how the White House is bracing for the release of this redacted Mueller report.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The White House has been thinking about how to respond to this report, Wolf. And the White House does plan to respond. This will be led by White House Special Counsel Emmet Flood. He has been meeting with other officials. And I am told that the response will largely rest on the Mueller report itself, much like the response to the Barr letter. Officials will read this report and respond accordingly. And I'm told Emmet Flood will read through it and brief the President on the main headlines.

But in terms of the White House thinking about the report, basically, the thinking is that, look, the top line of conclusions have been out there, Bill Barr, the Attorney General, has shaped the public perception, Wolf. That is the thinking. And so officials I have been speaking with don't seem to be very concerned on this report shaping the public perception because of how Bill Barr has handled this.

However, there is concern about how democrats on Capitol Hill will respond, whether there's anything in this report that will give ammunition and there certainly is curiosity, as Jim said, about is there anything in this report to explain why Robert Mueller did not a make conclusion, reach a conclusion on obstruction? White House officials are curious about that, just like the rest of the public.

BLITZER: Hopefully, we'll get an answer to that fairly soon. It's a significant question. Do you have any indication that the White House has been in direct touch with the Justice Department in advance of Thursday's release of this redacted Mueller report?

BROWN: Well, Rudy Giuliani, the President's attorney, spoke to my colleague, Dana Bash, and said that there hasn't been any communication engagement on redactions over executive privilege. But Bill Barr during the hearing last week sort of left open the possibility when he said, I'm not going to talk about communications with the White House. Right now, it's certainly possible. We don't know exactly, so that remains to be seen.

One White House official I spoke with today said that he is letting -- the White House is letting Bill Barr take the lead. This official said, we're letting Bill Barr drive this train. And I think the White House, in my sense of talking to officials, the necessity to play a role in the redactions over executive privilege has changed now that those findings have already been out there and the White House is calculating that it may be worse for them if they do get involved in the process. They understand the amount of scrutiny it would bring.

BLITZER: Important stuff. Pamela Brown, thank you very much.

BROWN: Yes. BLITZER: Tonight, ahead of the Mueller's report release, the top members of the House Intelligence Committee are demanding a briefing by the Special Counsel on all materials from his investigation. This rare bipartisan request was signed by the Democratic Committee Chairman, Adam Schiff, and the ranking republican, Devin Nunes.

Our Senior Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju is joining us right now. Manu, Schiff and Nunes, they've been at odds since the start, basically, of this Russia investigation. How telling is it they're now on the same page with at least these demands?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, these demands are on the same page but they have different motivation for asking for this information. Devin Nunes is concerned about the start of the Russia investigation. He believes there was a corrupt motive and he believes this information can help shine light on what he believes is FBI misconduct.

Adam Schiff, the House Democratic Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, views it much differently. He is concerned about any information that could show the President may have been compromised in any way with this foreign pie. He wants to know what counterintelligence information Robert Mueller turned up. And because he said that this information may not turn up in the Mueller report, which is why he's laying out these demands.

Wolf, he laid these, he made it very clear to me yesterday that he is prepared to push forward for this information and he wants -- he's even suggesting a subpoena may come forward if he doesn't get this information.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): We have an independent basis to want the counterintelligence information, and after all this began as a counterintelligence investigation determined to find out whether the President or people in his campaign had been compromised in any way by a foreign power. That may or may not be included within the Mueller report. The Mueller report may only go to prosecutorial decisions.

[18:35:00]

So we're going to insist that they uphold their statutory obligation, that means giving us classified information, that means giving us grand jury material.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: And, Wolf, he's also asking for a briefing from Robert Mueller and his team as part of this. But the first thing that he made clear, they want the full Mueller report and the underlying information, but a sign, Wolf, that they are going to be pushing on multiple fronts to get all of this information after Thursday's release of the redacted report. That's just going to be the end of one chapter and the beginning of a new chapter, a fight on Capitol Hill for the full information, Wolf. BLITZER: As you know, Manu, House Democrats have now set a new deadline for the release of the President's tax returns. What's the latest in this fight?

RAJU: Yes. Richard Neal, the Chairman the House Ways and Means Committee, sent a deadline for next Tuesday for the Treasury Department to turn over those tax returns. And Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury Secretary, over weekend, was non-committal about meeting that deadline.

But today, the President's attorney, William Consovoy, sent a letter to the Treasury Department making it clear that they object to the release of these tax returns to Capitol Hill. They're pushing back at the contention by the democrats that there's a policy reason behind it. They say that this is nobody actually believes this, as according to this argument they are making.

So you're seeing the President's attorneys working the refs of sorts trying to urge the Treasury Department not to comply with the democratic request. But, wolf, it's expected that the administration won't turn this over and it's expected that this will be yet another court fight between House Democrats and the Trump administration. Wolf?

BLITZER: Lots of fights going on. Manu Raju, thanks very much.

Joining us now, Congressman John Garamendi, he's a democrat. He serves on the Armed Services Committee. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. As you know we're standing by for the release of the redacted version of the Mueller report. The Attorney General Bill Barr's fighting calls from lawmakers to release the full unredacted report. How long should democrats wait before formally issuing subpoenas?

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA): Not very long. We're down to the deadline. Let's see what comes out on Thursday. The rest of the information, the Intelligence Committee really needs to have that information. They are continuing their investigations on all things that happened in the 2016 election, and they need all of that background. Keep in mind, the Intelligence Committee has access to the most secret of all of America's secrets. And certainly, within this report, there's nothing quite as secret as some of the other secrets that we have. With regard to the other committees, they will be searching for certain things.

The issue of the tax filings, I find that very, very strange that they would be unavailable. The law is perfectly clear, it says shall, shall deliver those returns. The question that the President's raising or his people are raising, I think, is one more effort by the President to deflect, deflect from what is happening.

BLITZER: We're going to get to those tax returns in a moment. But do you believe, Congressman, that the full Congress, all of the members, should have access to the full unredacted report, including the sensitive, classified information, for example, or just select committees? GARAMENDI: Well, I'll give you the past history. All of the classified information, the top most secret stuff, is available to us. We cannot take it to the public but we can view it, we can read it. We can't copy it. We can't take notes. But we do have the opportunity to see it. And this is some very, very heavy things that have happened in the last decade I've been in Congress. So I would think that that information should be available to all of us so that we can see what is happening here, what did happen.

Beyond that, we don't know where this information will take us. Will it take us to an impeachment? That's possible, in which case the information would then be part of the evidence in an impeachment situation. Maybe it will go the other direction and never come to that. We don't know. We need to know. And, frankly, the American public needs to know as much as we need to know.

BLITZER: Let's turn to another very sensitive issue, the President's proposal to place detained migrants in sanctuary cities across the United States. What do you make of the President's plan?

GARAMENDI: Well, first of all, it just seems to me he's using these people who came here seeking asylum. It is not illegal to seek asylum. In fact, it is legal to seek asylum. They came seeking asylum. And to use them as a political tool, which really he's been doing all along, and now, moving them from one city or to one city or another as a political tool presumably to seek revenge upon those cities, just really follows on the sad, sad story of what this president has done repeatedly with regard to the immigration issue.

Instead of reaching out, working through a legislative solution to this, he already had the chance. He had the opportunity with DACA. And then he closed that down at the very last moment.

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He had a chance to have money for a wall, but then he stopped, wanted to keep -- apparently, from my view, wanting to keep the immigration issue alive, and now, to use these people as a political crutch and just follows in the sad history of all that he's been doing with regard to immigration.

BLITZER: Parts of your congressional district out in California do have sanctuary policies. Would you like to see local officials work with the White House to carry out the President's plan?

GARAMENDI: Well, we already are. Not really appropriate to tell you where, but throughout California, there are many, many young men, excuse me, young children and mothers and fathers with their children in various cities where they are awaiting the adjudication of their asylum claims. When those adjudications take place, some will undoubtedly be able to stay in the United States, others will be sent back to wherever they came from.

It already happens. Would there be another busload or two busloads so the President can have his political revenge? We could certainly handle that if it came to that and we'd do it with compassion. We would do it with Christian motives that hopefully would be an evidence this Holy Week.

BLITZER: Let's move to the fight in Congress to access President Trump's tax returns. The White House says lawmakers aren't even smart enough to understand those kinds of documents. What did you make of that? We heard that from the Press Secretary, Sarah Sanders.

GARAMENDI: Well, we've gone through two years and two months of absolutely foolish statements coming out of the White House. And you just -- it's come to the point we just shake our head and say, oh, yes, there they go again. We not only have people in Congress who have degrees in accounting and legal and law degrees and the like, but we also have access to extraordinary staff. Those tax returns will be delivered to Congress and you can bet that we will have expert attorneys and accountants go through those tax returns, looking for evidence of the way in which the laws need to be changed.

And so that's our task, has the President and quite possibly other people that are engaged in real estate development, used the tax code in a way that is inappropriate, hiding profits through some other mechanisms? We need to know that. This is probably one of the biggest developers, or at least by his account, the biggest developer in America. Is he violating the codes? Do the codes give him tax breaks that are not appropriate? If so, that's the work of the Ways and Means Committee and that's what they need to look at.

BLITZER: You don't need advanced degrees to see how much income someone got according to tax returns or how much taxes they paid or the kind of charitable contributions they provided, all of that pretty simple to understand. Congressman John Garamendi, thanks so much for joining us.

So let's get some more right now on the Mueller report. Our correspondents and analysts are here.

Gloria, expecting the release of the report Thursday morning. What are you looking for?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, obviously, I want to learn more about the big unanswered question, which is why Mueller's team did not come to a decision on obstruction. I think it's critical for everyone to see how he explains this and how he explains both sides of the issue, whether they should have found obstruction or should not have found obstruction rather than coming to no decision at all.

I also think that we may learn a little bit more about this question of collusion or conspiracy, and why they decided that there was no conspiracy to defraud the United States government. Was it because we know people met with Russians? Was it because they were used by the Russians and were used unknowingly? I mean, these are all important questions that need to be answered for the American people.

We also need to know about that Trump Tower meeting with Russians in Don Junior's office and how Bob Mueller regarded that and how he followed up on that as well as the Air Force One letter that did not describe accurately what went on in that meeting that the President was very involved in, right?

BLITZER: They said that meeting was about orphans.

BORGER: Yes, adoption.

BLITZER: Adoptions, that's correct.

We're learning that the White House, Jeffrey Toobin, doesn't think the report, when it comes out on Thursday, will really change public opinion. But the President's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, told CNN that the President's legal team is now updating its rebuttal. What does that say to you?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think the White House is exactly right. You know why, because nothing changes public opinion about Donald Trump. You know, we -- you know, we talk about Helsinki and Charlottesville and the polls on Donald Trump have not moved since he was inaugurated. I mean, you know, we make a big deal when it's like, oh, 40 percent, it's 42 percent.

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You know, other presidents have big movements, 10, 20 percent. And, you know, that doesn't mean the Mueller report isn't important. And I don't blame the White House for updating their response. That's a perfectly reasonable and appropriate thing to do. But anyone's expecting people to change their minds, I don't think they've been paying attention. People have made up their minds about Donald Trump, and, you know, the polls reflect that.

BLITZER: You know, that's an important point. Sabrina Siddiqui, the timing of this release on Thursday, it's raised some questions.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, certainly, one aspect here is that the timing of the report is when lawmakers are on a two- week recess. So they aren't actually physically in Washington. And some of the committee members, certainly on the Democratic side, have signaled that perhaps there's a prospect of some lawmakers returning from Washington early to view the report. A lot of it depends, of course, on the level of transparency from the Justice Department. We're also coming up on a holiday weekend.

So, you know, some people have complained maybe they're trying to bury the release of the report. But I think the ultimate question is what will the level of transparency be between the Justice Department and members of Congress? And do you see both the top Republican and top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee asking Attorney General William Barr to give members of Congress a briefing.

I think that you're not only going to see members of Congress asking to see some of that redacted information, which the attorney general himself in testimony on Capitol Hill signaled he might be willing to share with certain members of Congress, but also you will see Democrats continue and fight for the release of the full report.

I don't think that the timing of the release is ultimately going to change anything about how the report itself is received by members of Congress, as well as the public for that matter.

BLITZER: That's an important point too.

You know, Rebecca Buck, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, the top Republican Devin Nunes, they don't like each other. They disagree. They've been fighting for the past couple of years.

But now, they agree the Justice Department should hand over everything to them, including all of the counterintelligence information that Mueller should be made available for an actual briefing.

REBECCA BUCK, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right. Pretty unusual these two men agree on anything. It's like if they saw pigs flying through the studio as well, that's how rare this is. But this is an unusual situation where their divergent interests are aligning.

They have very different motives here for wanting to get this information. For Adam Schiff, it's all about seeing the mass behind the answers in the Mueller report. Why did they make the legal decision to ultimately not to charge certain people with crimes, including the president, why did they come to these legal conclusions? What was the evidence that they were working with? And does it deserve further investigation by Congress?

But for Devin Nunes, he's looking at is there any improper investigation? Should this investigation have been started in the first place? Did investigators overstep?

And so, that's why they're aligned on this, two very different goals here for these guys.

BLITZER: You know, Gloria, and I want all of you guys to weigh in, there's breaking news right now, CNN has now confirmed two House committees, Intelligence Committee and Financial Services Committees, they have issued subpoenas to Deutsche Bank to get information about the loans they provided to various Trump business projects.

Pretty significant stuff right here, about $300 million in loans.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, it is significant. I mean, Kara Scannell has done great reporting on this topic, it seems that when Trump was in business in New York, he didn't have such a great reputation and he couldn't get a lot of people to loan him money. Deutsche Bank was one of those banks that did loan the Trump organization money over the years.

BLITZER: Over the years about $2 billion.

BORGER: Two billion dollars. And I think, now, there are questions about what those loans were, how those loans were transacted, why they decided to give Donald Trump the money that he wanted when no other bank would.

And so, I think now they're going to have to open up their books to investigators to find out just why these transactions occurred with the Trump Organization.

BLITZER: Jeffrey?

TOOBIN: And Deutsche Bank is not just any old bank.

BORGER: Right.

TOOBIN: Deutsche Bank has been fined repeatedly for money laundering, including money laundering in connection with Russia. When I wrote a profile of Adam Schiff after he became Intelligence Committee chairman, the first thing he said he was going to do was subpoena deutsche bank to see what the relationship was financially between the president and Russia, if that could be determined through the Deutsche Bank records.

Now he's doing it and we'll see what the record says.

BORGER: And this does go into the larger question, as Jeffrey points out, of the Trump organization and whether it was involved in laundering money from the Russians and whether the bank was a part of that.

BLITZER: Deutsche Bank, Sabrina, issued a statement. I'll read it to our viewers.

[18:50:00] Deutsche Bank is engaged in a productive dialogue with the House Financial Services and Intelligence Committees, and we remain committed to providing appropriate information to all authorized investigations in a manner consistent with our legal obligations. If you have questions concerning the investigative activities of the committees, we would refer you to the committees themselves.

SIDDIQUI: One of the things important to remember about the Mueller investigation is that the investigators were limited in the scope of what they could pursue. And one of the red lines that the president himself put out were questions regarding his finances.

I think that if you ask Democrats on Capitol Hill and this request is evidence that they believe that nothing in fact is off-limits, and they really believe that more information about the president's financial transactions or his business dealings, that they really hold the keys to potentially some of the unanswered questions that have come up in multiple investigations not just the Russia investigation and potentially the business relationship between the president and Moscow. But also other questions that have been raised about whether or not the president committed tax or insurance fraud, one of the many allegations by of course his former attorney Michael Cohen, yet to of course be proved. But something that signals where Democrats are headed next as they try to use the power they now have in the majority of the House.

BLITZER: Sabrina says this for the president has been the so-called red line. You know, you're going after his Trump Organization, his various business deals over the years.

BUCK: Right. And he can try to push back and not give Democrats the documents they want for as long as possible, but ultimately they have this oversight power as the majority in the House. And so, this is the consequence, again, we've talked about this before of Democrats having won the election in the mid-terms, taking back the majority in the House. They now have the authority to investigate Donald Trump and they're poised to do it potentially in the next few months, potentially next year. They're going to make this a very painful process.

BLITZER: This will be painful for the president.

TOOBIN: But there's just a big difference here. You know, the president can stone wall, and they have refused to provide interviews, to provide documents from the White House itself. But they can't stop Deutsche Bank from turning over records. That's a big difference.

BLITZER: And Deutsche Bank says it will cooperate under legal circumstances.

Everybody, stick around. There's more breaking news right now.

Senator Bernie Sanders has just released his tax returns. What do they reveal about one of the current front runners for the Democratic presidential nomination?

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[18:55:06] BLITZER: There's breaking news we're following right now. Senator Bernie Sanders has just released his tax returns amid some growing pressure for him to do so.

Let's go to CNN's Ryan Nobles.

Ryan, what are we learning about Senator Sanders' taxes?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bernie Sanders finally releasing some ten years of tax returns, Wolf. This, of course, comes after you asked him whether or not he planned to do shortly after he announced his campaign for president a couple of months ago.

And these tax returns, the biggest revelation from them confirms what we already knew, and that is Bernie Sanders is now a millionaire. And take a look at the timing of when he jumped into the millionaire class. You take a look at this information, if you go back to 2015, you can see that Sanders made just a little more than $200,000, and then that was right around the time he announced his candidacy for president.

And then in the years of 2016 and 2017, he earned more than a million dollars in both of those years. And then in his 2018 tax return which he just filed, it shows he made a little more than $500,000. That's of course his adjusted gross income.

Now, his campaign says the bulk of that additional income for Sanders comes with the sale of his book. And his book did make it to the number three on "The New York Times" bestseller list. It was also translated into a number of different languages.

And over the weekend, Wolf, as we followed Senator Sanders across the Midwest, he kind of bristled at the question whether or not there was a level of hypocrisy for him to now be a millionaire when he's railed against the millionaire class for the bulk of his political career. And essentially what his campaign told us this doesn't at all be at odds with the issue Sanders cares about and there's no way in any way, shape or form it will conflict with the issues he pushes for now or in the future as a political candidate.

Other than that, though, Wolf, the terms of the percentage that Sanders paid in taxes, his charitable contributions, there's nothing out of the ordinary there. They promised us it would be boring. Aside from the amount of money he's made over the past couple of years, that's exactly what they turned out to be -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And it's a good thing he released those tax returns. We'll see if the president of the United States eventually releases his tax returns. He's resisted and resisted, still resists as of now.

Ryan Nobles, thank you very much.

Also tonight, another important story we're following. Protesters in Sudan are celebrating the military coup that toppled long time dictator Omar al-Bashir. But they're still demanding that civilians rule the country.

Let's go to our senior international correspondent Nima Elbagir. She's in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum for us.

Nima, the protests continue around the clock. What's the latest?

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What a difference a week makes, Wolf. Last time we spoke about this, I had had to sneak in to Khartoum report under cover at a time when journalists even reporting from inside the country carried a death penalty.

But now, things have changed. President al-Bashir has been forced to step down. For the protesters, though, it isn't enough. They want nothing short of a full civil transition of rule, and they're coming in their thousands.

Take a look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELBAGIR: Welcome back to downtown Khartoum.

t may look like things are clearing up here and people are going home but actually what's happening is that they're swapping shifts because the protesters here still will not leave this space unoccupied.

They're saying we're the generation that brought down Bashir and we're not going to be fooled. This is Baja (ph). Baja (ph) was imprisoned three times. He was

tortured. He was abused and he's not the only one. Most of the young men sitting here have been in prison.

How many here were detained during the demonstrations? Everyone?

Can you hear that? We've been hearing sporadic gunfire for most of the night. It doesn't sound very far away.

We spoke to some of the army officers when we were coming in and they said they have been exchanging fire with some remnants of the former regime national intelligence services.

We're trying to get up high to show you exactly how many people are here. It's completely extraordinary.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Powerful reporting from Nima Elbagir.

Nima, thank you so much for the excellent, excellent work.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

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