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House Judiciary Chair Subpoenas From White House Counsel McGahn; Interview with Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) on McGahn Subpoena; Elizabeth Warren Unveils Plan for Free College, Erasing Student Debt. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired April 22, 2019 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Happening now, breaking news: talking impeachment. The House Democratic Caucus is on the phone right now, discussing the Mueller report and whether to move forward on trying to remove President Trump from office.
This comes just hours before five prominent presidential candidates will be asked about it during a CNN town hall event. We're standing by to find out what Democrats will decide on impeachment.
Trump sues Congress: the president remains defiant as his lawyers go to court to block congressional investigations of his finances.
Why doesn't he want Congress to talk to his accountants?
And will a federal court stop Congress from following the money?
Cain unable: one-time Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain facing scathing criticism for his personal conduct, tells the president he's backing out of the nomination for a seat on the Federal Reserve board.
Was he forced to step aside?
And inspired by ISIS: hundreds of people are dead, including at least four Americans, after suicide bombers target churches and hotels overseas. Tonight, a U.S. intelligence assessment says those responsible likely were inspired by ISIS.
Why were urgent warnings ignored?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news. Right now, House Democrats are holding an urgent conference call to discuss their strategy following the release of the Mueller report.
Part of that strategy includes the possibility of impeaching President Trump because of what the special counsel revealed about the president's repeated attempts to interfere with and shut down the investigation. The president insists he isn't worried about impeachment.
He also is suing Congress right now, contending lawmakers don't have a right to look into his financial dealings. The U.S. Senate has the final say on impeachment. I'll speak with Democratic senator Jack Reed and I'll get to that momentarily. And our correspondents and analysts, they will have full coverage of the day's top stories.
First, the politics of impeachment. Our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, is up on Capitol Hill, keeping tabs on sources, listening in on the Democrats' conference call.
Manu, I also understand, you have some breaking news.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, breaking news indeed, Wolf. The House Judiciary Committee is subpoenaing former White House counsel Don McGahn, asking him for his testimony and for records in relation to the committee's investigation into potential obstruction of justice.
This, according to a person familiar with the matter, who tells me that the committee is, indeed, moving forward with a subpoena for Don McGahn, recall that recently, the committee was authorized to issue subpoenas for five different individuals. Five former White House officials, people who had cooperated with the Mueller investigation.
Well, in the aftermath of the release of the redacted version of the Mueller report, the committee is making its next move, issuing a subpoena for Don McGahn, asking for his testimony, probably in public; also, asking for records, anything that he got as he prepared to testify.
And as you know, Wolf, McGahn was a central player for the -- during the first two years of the Trump administration. And his name is mentioned throughout Robert Mueller's report, in addition to what he's referenced in the report, to the president's efforts to apparently try and dismiss Robert Mueller.
He was asked to dismiss Robert Mueller. But McGahn, according to the report, resisted that move and said that he would rather resign than trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday night massacre. That's how the Mueller report quotes Don McGahn's views in resisting the call to fire the special counsel.
But, nevertheless, a significant move here by the House Judiciary Committee, taking steps to subpoena the former White House counsel, Don McGahn, and expect that to happen potentially soon. We'll see the exact date, when they expect them to come forward.
But the moment, Jerry Nadler telling his colleagues on this conference call that that's what he plans to do with his committee, as the Democratic leadership tries to move forward on the investigative front and tries to tamp down calls for impeachment, saying they can get just as much information by interviewing people like Don McGahn and not necessarily going the route of impeachment, at least not yet.
But nevertheless, it could be a very dramatic moment if Don McGahn comes to Congress and tells his story -- Wolf.
BLITZER: He spent 30 hours answering questions from the Mueller team.
Why did they need to impeach -- why do they need to subpoena Don McGahn?
Why wouldn't he just come voluntarily?
RAJU: It's a good question. We've known that they've had --
RAJU: -- interactions with Don McGahn's attorney since March. The committee has sent letters to 81 individuals and entities who they want to discuss as part of the Democrats' investigation into potential obstruction of justice, potential abuses in the White House. Don McGahn was one of those individuals.
Now it's not clear if he has fully complied with the request. We know that former White House officials have deferred in a lot of cases to the -- to the White House and say that you need to go through the White House to determine what constitutes executive privilege and what does not.
So it's unclear whether or not he has provided the same information to Capitol Hill that he has provided to the special counsel. And the Democrats believe that, essentially, executive privilege rights are waived because of the way that documents were exchanged between the White House and Don McGahn's attorneys and the way he prepared to testify before the special counsel.
And they'll try to pursue it on those grounds. We'll see if Don McGahn complies completely. Perhaps they'll drop their subpoena if there's a voluntary agreement.
But at the moment, that's a pretty significant move to try to compel Don McGahn's testimony and try to get him to provide records as part of this committee's investigation into obstruction of justice -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Don McGahn had a lot of credibility when he was answering questions from the Mueller team. And as I said, 30 hours, he spent with them.
Will he also need to provide documents to the committee?
And are there dates when they want him to appear?
RAJU: Yes, we're being told that documents by May 7th, testimony by May 21st. So that is just a few weeks away, Wolf. So May could be set up for a very significant month for this committee because May 2nd is when Bill Barr is expected to come in a public hearing before the House Judiciary Committee.
That same month, Jerry Nadler wants to bring in the special counsel to testify as well. There's no date set yet for the Mueller hearing but May 7th is when he wants documents turned over. May 21st is when he wants that McGahn testimony.
So significant developments could happen. We'll see what they ultimately learn. But a sign that the Democrats again want to go down this route of investigating and looking further into what exactly the special counsel found, not necessarily going down the route of debating articles of impeachment and trying to remove the president from office but continue on this front.
So we'll see if McGahn provides the Democrats with what they're asking for here -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, I think they want Mueller to testify by May 23rd, around that time, as well, by the end of this month.
The issue of impeachment seems to have the Democratic Party pretty deeply divided right now. I understand they're discussing that right now in this House Democratic conference call.
What are you learning?
RAJU: Yes, that's right. Nancy Pelosi has made it pretty clear that she is not eager to go this route on impeachment. She has said in the past it's not worth it. And even as calls on the Left are growing louder to impeach, she says there are other ways to learn about what happened here.
And she sent this in a letter to her colleagues today, Wolf.
She said, "While our views range from proceeding to investigate the findings of the Mueller report or proceeding directly to impeachment, we all firmly agree that we should proceed down a path of finding the truth.
"It is also important to know that the facts regarding holding the president accountable can be gained outside of impeachment hearings. As we proceed to uncover the truth and present additional needed reforms to protect our democracy, we must show the American people we are proceeding free from passion or prejudice, strictly on the presentation of fact."
And that line right there, that they can learn about these facts outside of impeachment proceedings, a real sign of what her preference is. So the question on this call right now, Wolf, is how many of her colleagues agree. I'm willing to bet that most a lot of them do. But there will still be calls to urge their caucus to take a different approach.
But she at the moment is saying, let's slow down, talk about impeachment and still do things like what Jerry Nadler is doing, like issuing a subpoena for the former White House counsel and get his testimony as they pursue their next steps -- Wolf. BLITZER: These are dramatic developments unfolding right now. Manu, thank you very much.
Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, the president won't be happy about Don McGahn testifying, assuming he does.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And keep in mind, Don McGahn is the former senior White House official, the White House counsel, who was told by the president to fire the special counsel, Robert Mueller.
McGahn, according to the Mueller report, refused to do that, as Manu was saying, didn't want to trigger a Saturday night massacre. And that is going to be some pretty fascinating television to watch if the former White House counsel testifies up on Capitol Hill in front of the House about that exchange with the president.
It is going to be something that the entire country is going to want to watch. Meanwhile, the president, we should say, has been trying to convince the public all day long to believe him and not the Mueller report. The president insisted today that his aides always obey his orders, despite what the Mueller report says about that --
ACOSTA: -- interaction with Don McGahn and other interactions laid out in the Mueller report.
Just today, I was told by a former administration official that there were White House officials like Don McGahn, who declined to carry out the president's orders. And the president is also claiming he's not worried about impeachment tonight, even though he tweeted about that prospect earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Thank you very much, everybody. Happy Easter.
ACOSTA (voice-over): At the White House Easter egg roll, President Trump told CNN his orders are always followed.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you worried that your staff is ignoring your orders as the Mueller report portrays?
TRUMP: Nobody disobeys my orders.
ACOSTA (voice-over): But special counsel Robert Mueller's report says that's not true. Mueller reveals Trump aides and associates defied his orders, even those aimed at shutting down the Russia investigation.
The special counsel wrote in his report, "The president's efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the president declined to carry out orders."
Democrats want to hear from former White House counsel Don McGahn, after it was stated in the Mueller report that he refused a request by the president to fire the special counsel. White House officials insist, there's nothing wrong with such an order.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: If the president wanted to fire Bob Mueller, he would have. In other words, he has the authority to do that. He fired Director Comey.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA (voice-over): The president also appears to be laying out the case against his own impeachment, tweeting, "Only high crimes and misdemeanors can lead to impeachment. There were no crimes by me, no collusion, no obstruction, so you can't impeach. It was the Democrats that committed the crimes, not your Republican president."
At the Easter egg roll, the president all but hopped away from the impeachment question, too.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you worried about impeachment, Mr. President?
TRUMP: Not even a little bit.
ACOSTA (voice-over): The president's outside attorney is also responding to Mueller's findings, arguing on CNN that it was just fine for the Trump campaign to accept dirt on Hillary Clinton from Russia.
RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP ATTORNEY: There's nothing wrong with taking information from Russians.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: There's nothing wrong with taking information --
GIULIANI: Depends on where it came from.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Democrats say that's unacceptable.
REP. LOU CORREA (D-CA): I totally disagree with Mr. Giuliani. There is a lot wrong with taking information from an adversary, a foreign adversary, a foreign government.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Another major development in the investigation, the Trump Organization is now suing House Oversight Committee Elijah Cummings to block Democrats from obtaining the president's financial statements for the last eight years, saying in a statement, "It's an unprecedented overreach of congressional authority."
Cummings fired back, saying, "The president has a long history of trying to use baseless lawsuits to attack his adversaries. But there is simply no valid legal basis to interfere with this duly authorized subpoena from Congress."
The president was keeping busy on Twitter, announcing former presidential candidate, Herman Cain, has decided against seeking a spot on the Federal Reserve. But the president was having trouble communicating the facts on the terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka, at one point, tweeting that 138 million people had died.
Mr. Trump also tweeted he had spoken with the president of Sri Lanka. Turns out it was that country's prime minister.
ACOSTA: Now as for the president's actions laid out in the Mueller report, a former administration official says Mr. Trump, quote, "could have used a lot more firm legal guidance early on in his presidency."
And we should point out, late in the day, the president tweeted again on the Mueller report -- we can put that up on screen -- stating, "Isn't it amazing that the people who were closest to me by far and knew the campaign better than anyone were never even called to testify before Mueller."
It's not clear who the president is referring to here in that tweet, Wolf, but top aides to the president, even Mr. Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, were interviewed by the special counsel. The president, it seems, is once again twisting the truth to undermine the Mueller report -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House for us, thank you.
Joining us now, Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island. He's the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee and, as such, is an ex officio member of the Intelligence Committee.
Senator, thank you so much for joining us.
SEN. JACK REED (D-RI): Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: We have a lot to discuss but, first, your reaction to this subpoena from the House Judiciary Committee to have the former White House counsel, Don McGahn, come before the committee and testify.
What's your reaction?
REED: I think it's appropriate. I think the House Judiciary Committee is the focal point, the focus of investigations of the president's conduct. Mr. McGahn was there. He is featured prominently in the Mueller report. I think it would be appropriate for not only the Congress but for the American people to hear his position on what he said; it's being disputed by the president.
I tend to concur with the Mueller report. I think Director Mueller did a very fair, very honest, very professional job.
BLITZER: Some are already even making comparisons to Watergate, when then White House counsel John Dean was forced to come before Congress and testify.
Do you see any parallels here?
REED: Well, I think there are parallels in the sense that Mr. McGahn was privy to a lot of the issues surrounding -- particularly the obstruction of justice charges, where the inference was the president was taking steps repeatedly or trying to take steps to frustrate the investigation, firing Comey and doing other things.
And Mr. McGahn was the counsel to --
REED: -- the president and was closely involved in those decisions. And I think it would be fair for him -- not only fair, it would be appropriate for him to come before the Congress and the American people. And I think he would answer truthfully.
I think he's a very excellent attorney and a very decent person and he will answer truthfully. And those answers, I think, will help.
BLITZER: As we speak, Senator, your Democratic colleagues in the House, they're on a conference call, discussing this entire question of impeachment.
Based on your reading of the Mueller report, do you believe President Trump has committed impeachable offenses?
REED: I think the question about obstruction of justice is still one that has to be looked at very closely. As even attorney general Barr said, in his letter to us initially, Mr. Mueller could not exonerate the president from that charge. So that is a very significant issue.
With respect to the conspiracy issue, the Barr letter suggested that there was nothing there. But when it came down to the obstruction charge, he was very, I think, specific in quoting directly from all of the report that he could not be exonerated. The president could not be exonerated.
So I think you have an issue there. And I think the best way to proceed is through further investigation, calling first Director Mueller, who can give context. I mean, if his whole report was based on the premise that he thought was appropriate, that he could never charge the president because that was a policy of the Justice Department, that a president cannot be charged, can only be impeached, I think that puts this whole report into a specific context that will be very useful.
And then I think we have to get the whole report, even the redacted portions. It could be controlled in terms of distribution, so not everyone gets to see it. But critical members on both sides of the aisle get to see it. And I think, with the McGahn testimony, it could be -- shed even further light on what took place.
BLITZER: Your Senate colleague, Senator Elizabeth Warren, a presidential candidate from Massachusetts, she's called on the House to begin impeachment proceedings.
Is she right?
Is that necessary right now?
REED: At this juncture, I think what's appropriate is to follow the investigation. There's a certain point which the evidence and the facts will become obvious, I think, to all, we hope, but at least to significant numbers, that there is culpability here.
And at that point, that's when I think the Judiciary Committee in the House can start formal, if you will say, impeachment proceedings. But there is an obligation to investigate these allegations and to establish the facts, establish the evidence.
And after that, if you've reached a critical point and you feel that there have been high crimes and misdemeanors, which is a very, very broad range of possible charges, have been reached, then you can proceed.
And again, having been through this once before in the '90s, then it goes to the floor of the House of Representatives and that's the vote of the House. No president is impeached until the House, the whole House votes.
So these judiciary proceedings are appropriate, useful and, I think at the investigation level, are timely and should be pursued.
BLITZER: Senator Reed, thanks so much for joining us.
REED: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Up next, we'll preview a major political event, CNN presidential town halls with five major Democratic candidates.
What will they say about impeachment?
BLITZER: We're following breaking news. The House Judiciary Committee has just subpoenaed President Trump's former White House counsel, Don McGahn. McGahn's possible testimony and the possibility of impeaching President Trump are certain to come up at tonight's CNN presidential town halls.
Joining us now from the site of tonight's CNN town hall event, our senior political analyst, Mark Preston, and our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly.
Mark, impeachment certainly has been a hot topic all along. Will we learn more tonight about where these five Democratic
presidential candidates stand?
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Wolf, I would be surprised if we don't learn more from these candidates. We've already seen Elizabeth Warren up to this point has really reignited it, certainly on the campaign trail.
Her decision to go out there and say that she thinks that the president should be impeached, the House should start moving forward with impeachment proceedings, is going to force the other candidates to have to weigh in on it.
Now we've heard some things but we really haven't heard definitive answers up to this point, Wolf.
BLITZER: Very interesting; speaking of Elizabeth Warren, Phil, the senator, she'll be on the stage tonight during the 8:00 pm Eastern hour. Her campaign has just unveiled a truly sweeping proposal involving student loan debt as well as free tuition to all public colleges across the United States.
What more have you learned?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN U.S. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, it's in keeping with what Senator Warren has been doing throughout the course of her campaign, rolling out sweeping progressive, further reaching than any other candidate in the campaign, types of proposals.
This one specifically would actually go through dual prongs. You've heard a lot about Democrats talking about free college, free tuition for college. That's something that is part of this proposal. It would be free college for any public two- or four-year university. That would be part of it.
The other part that you're hearing the Warren campaign talk the most about is debt forgiveness. People own debt, obviously $1.25 trillion across the country, something a lot of students and parents are dealing with a lot. This would forgive up to 75 percent of the outstanding debt.
The proposal in total would be about $1.25 trillion; if you're making $100,000 or less, you would be available to have about $50,000 in debt forgiveness. It would move up on a sliding scale from there on out.
And I think what underscores is something we've seen repeatedly, whether it's on health care or even on foreign policy, now on student loans, Elizabeth Warren believes her lane is the policy lane. Her lane --
MATTINGLY: -- is in-the-weeds policy. So far, that hasn't necessarily brought her to the top of the polls. But everything you've seen and heard from her campaign over the course of the last couple of weeks, they're comfortable with this lane; they believe at some point it will pay off. And I think it's very fair to say you'll hear a lot more about this tonight.
BLITZER: Mark, you've watched this very closely.
Could a dramatic proposal like this move the needle for Senator Warren?
PRESTON: I think it's something that's really going to work well with the liberal base. And when Phil talks about her being the policy presence, she really is. She's steeped in policy. She comes from being a college professor, very professorial.
She's also very focused, though, on liberal policies. So when she's talking about loan forgiveness and impeachment, these are all issues that are going to play to that left side of the Democratic Party, where there's a lot of competition, as we know, for right now.
As Phil notes, no one's really broken out except for Bernie Sanders. But that might be perhaps because of name ID. But he has, of course, a lot of support and they're vying for the same supporters.
So it will be interesting to contrast not only Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren tonight but also Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, who seems to be the odd duck out, because she's not necessarily playing to that real left side of the Democratic spectrum.
BLITZER: We'll watch it together with you guys. Mark Preston, Phil Mattingly, thank you very much.
And to our viewers, stay with CNN for tonight's special town hall event, live from New Hampshire. We'll hear from five of the top Democratic contenders with an eye on the White House. It all starts right after THE SITUATION ROOM, 7:00 pm Eastern.
Coming up, the Mueller report paints a picture of after White House where top officials routinely ignored potentially illegal orders from President Trump. But the president insists he remains in total control of his administration. We'll discuss that and all the latest political news. That's just ahead.
[17:31:27] BLITZER: Breaking news, House Judiciary Committee Members have just subpoenaed President Trump's former White House Counsel Don McGahn. It comes as House Democrats are huddling right now in an urgent conference call. Let's get some more with our political and legal experts, Chris Cillizza. Don McGahn spent 30 hours testifying before the Mueller report before the Mueller team. How important would his testimony be before the house judiciary committee?
CHRIS CILLIZZA, POLITICS EDITOR AT LARGE, CNN: Well, I mean I think important. One thing to your point that mitigates it a little bit is he spent 30 hours talking to the Special Counsel. So presumably most of what he knows Mueller knew put in the report. That said there are several instances that I would like to and my guess is Democrats and probably for some Republicans would like to hear more of that involve McGann. One being Trump says that he wants McGahn to fire Mueller, that he calls him back when The New Times breaks the news and says, "Hey, can you say that that's not true?" McGahn says, "No, I won't do that."
Trump said that didn't happen. He said that at the time he said it since - I think that would benefit from further explication from McGahn. Plus, this is a guy Donald Trump we know walked up. Some people would say broke but this is a guy Donald Trump who walked up to the line legally speaking a number of times. Don McGahn was right in the center of that and may be able to shed even more light on what Bob Mueller sort of shone a light on already.
BLITZER: It's one thing to read his quotes in the Mueller report.
BLITZER: Another thing to see him on television saying those kinds of things presumably including some more. The Democrats, Susan Hennessey, they're right now on an urgent conference call discussing what to do next. There's a deep divide among Democrats. Do they go forward immediately with impeachment or simply continue to investigate maybe down the road, go there, how do you see it?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY ATTORNEY: Well, I think it's troubling to see them to not be prepared to at least a launch on an impeachment inquiry which is separate than actually impeaching someone. The Mueller report contains information that is just devastating. It describes a president who was aware of a foreign campaign criminal conspiracy to interfere in the U.S. election, who welcomes that help, who lied to the American people. It describes a president who on multiple occasions obstructed justice and we should be careful to not mince words here.
Yes, Robert Mueller did not make that accusation but in the report he goes through, he lays out with excruciating detail how Trump's conduct met every single statutory element of the crime. He says there are no constitutional or legal defenses for this conduct. He just doesn't say that last sentence and therefore the President has committed a crime.
BLITZER: In part because a sitting president according to the Justice Department can't be charged.
HENNESSEY: Exactly, and he clearly relies on this OLC precedent in saying, "I can't even make this accusation because the President can't be indicted." And so if what happens as the Democrats respond by making this a purely political calculation, basically, do we have enough votes to remove him from office that means that under the OLC guidelines the President can't be held accountable for the criminal justice system and the President can't be held accountable through the Congressional constitutional mechanism. I think that has really scary implication.
CILLIZZA: Also just one quick point to add, Susan, he doesn't - as Susan said he does - Mueller didn't come out and say, "Donald Trump obstructed justice." But he kind of says it in the negative way that he says, "If I could exonerate him, we would. I can't do that." Well, the logical conclusion is what's the opposite of that. He says it without saying it sort of.
HENNESSEY: The Mueller report makes clear that under the current OLC guidance this kind of investigation can only exonerate a president, it cannot even accuse.
[17:35:01] BLITZER: OLC is the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department. You know that. We know that. Some of the viewers might not know what OLC is. Sabrina Siddiqui, the President said it today he's not even a little bit worried about impeachment. Should he be?
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think so long as Republicans are in control of the Senate, it's highly unlikely that the President will be impeached. That does go back to the sort of political calculation that Democrats are making where even if House Democrats did move to impeach the President, there would not be sufficient votes in the Senate to actually remove him from office.
Even if you look at the aftermath of this report, which is incredibly damning and really laying bare the many instances in which the President at a minimum sought to obstruct justice, the silence from Republicans on Capitol Hill has as usual been deafening. You had Senator Mitt Romney come out and be very critical more so than his colleagues of the President's conduct, but he didn't actually recommend any action against the President.
And other Republicans who've talked about the report have only talked about the no collusion aspect of it. They have almost entirely ignored the allegations with respect to obstruction and that's why Democrats want to be very careful about how they pursue this process where they don't immediately move from the redacted report to impeachment but they subpoena witnesses and documents. They use this report as a road map and really try and build the case before the American public.
BLITZER: Samantha Vinograd, the Mueller report clearly lays out a series of White House officials and others disobeying the President's orders in part because they're trying to protect him from engaging in some illegal activity. The president was asked about that earlier today by CNN. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Are you worried that your staff has ignored your orders as the Mueller report portrays?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nobody disobeys my orders.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That was Kaitlan Collins asking that question.
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN ATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Wow.
BLITZER: What do you think about that? NIVOGRAD: Well, it's actually untrue according to the Mueller report,
the Woodward book and other reporting. And Wolf, this sounds like something I'd expect to hear on an episode of Game of Thrones from the Mad King or Queen Cersei not from a democratically elected president. And to be clear, I spent a lot of hours in the situation room with President Obama.
A lot of people directly disagreed with him when he had ideas or suggestions, including his legal advisors who said, "Mr. President, consider the legal angle of an idea that you have." Well, we have here something very different. We have staff waging a silent mutiny against President Trump because they do not feel comfortable sharing the legality of a matter directly with him or saying that he's having a bad idea. That's not good for a National Security.
The President should have a team that implements his guidance including his executive orders and the United States should have White House staff that's not working hours in the day managing the President's worst impulses but instead the American people deserve to have a team that's all hands on deck actually managing our National Security.
CILLIZZA: Well, just one quick thing, in disobeying him it's probably the best thing that they could have done for him legally speaking. If Don McGahn carries out Donald Trump's order to fire Bob Mueller, we're in a different place today than we were. Rex Tillerson said repeatedly, "He asked me to do things, I had to explain to him they were against the law."
So disobeying my orders can be applying the law, that's ....
BLITZER: Everybody stick around. There's more news we're following, including breaking news in the investigation as to who may be responsible for the deadly suicide attacks on churches and hotels.
[17:42:59] BLITZER: Breaking news, authorities in the United States believe they've identified a key terrorist connected to the deadly Easter Sunday bombings that killed at least 290 people in hotels and churches across Sri Lanka. At least four Americans are among the dead. CNN's Will Ripley is joining us from Colombo in Sri Lanka where the hunt is on for the attackers. Will, give us the very latest.
WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Barbara Starr has learned from two U.S. officials that this key terrorist does have connections to ISIS and other international terror organizations. But the key and unanswered question here in Sri Lanka tonight and the reason why there's such heavy security at hotels like this one well they just don't know if there are more terrorists out there.
RIPLEY(voice over): Tonight, a state of emergency in Sri Lanka and a race to track down a terror network before it strikes again. In Colombo the bomb squad performing this controlled detonation of a suspicious van near St. Anthony's Church, one of the sanctuaries targeted in a wave of deadly bombings on Easter Sunday that killed at least 290 people and injured hundreds more.
This new video shows a man state TV calls a suspect in the St. Sebastian's Church bombing. Church officials say a bomb in his backpack, one of six suspects wearing backpacks seen walking into churches and luxury hotels just before a series of eight explosions rocked this South Asian island nation.
U.S. and Indian intelligence agencies had warned Sri Lankan authorities for days a local Islamist group was plotting and attacked the government apologizing for the massive intelligence failure promising to compensate victims' families.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is an attack on everyone, definitely. This aggression just doesn't have any explanation.
[17:44:47] RIPLEY(voice over): Interpol and the FBI are now assisting as investigators uncover evidence of what could be a much larger terror plot. Police found 87 detonators at a Colombo bus station. They defused a six-foot pipe bomb on the main road near the airport. So far at least 24 people are under arrest in connection with the bombings. A U.S. official tells CNN the attacks are ISIS-inspired.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Suddenly, came a big sound, with a big noise and broken glasses and dust. All the people are shouting, weeping. And we can't realize what happened.
RIPLEY (voice-over): Bomb after bomb, city after city, it was a terrifying Easter Sunday across Sri Lanka. The primary targets, four hotels full of foreigners and three churches full of Christians.
One blast rocked St. Sebastian's Church at the end of Easter mass. A thousand worshippers ran from the horror. Lifeless bodies, bloodstained pews, debris, and human remains propelled through the sanctuary into the streets.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were children, there were women, and all close by and all were blown off, almost. So we have more than 100 people who were killed on the spot.
RIPLEY (voice-over): The violence reminiscent of Sri Lanka's bloody 26-year civil war. The fighting ended 10 years ago next month. Tonight, a new threat putting this entire nation on lockdown. Normally busy streets empty, a nationwide curfew in effect. And growing fears an international terror group may be silently plotting its next move.
RIPLEY: Wolf, all three of the hotels that were bombed are just a very short distance from where I'm standing right now. And the hotels that were not hit have security at the perimeters to make sure that if there is an attempted attack, they won't be able to get in. But that is doing little to soothe the nerves of a lot of nervous people, especially foreign tourists who've been trying to get out of this city -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Just be careful over there. Will Ripley on the scene for us. We'll get back to you. Thank you very, very much.
Coming up, a surprising twist in the wake of a daring raid on one of North Korea's embassies.
[17:51:45] BLITZER: Tonight, we're following surprising new developments in the wake of this year's mysterious break-in at a North Korean embassy. CNN's Brian Todd has been working his sources. Brian, there's been a raid and an arrest both here in the United States?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. We have new information tonight on the extraordinary pressure being placed on members of the group which conducted that raid at North Korea's embassy in Madrid, Spain.
One of these men is now in hiding in fear for his life. We're told that the information these men likely got from that embassy could be very valuable to western intelligence.
TODD (voice-over): It was a bizarre and brazen heist aimed at North Korea and its dictator Kim Jong-un, carried out in broad daylight against the brutal regime's embassy in Spain back in February.
Ten men gained entry into the compound, allegedly by posing as businessmen, tying up the staff and beating them, Spanish officials say, before making off in embassy vehicles with a stash of thumb drives, hard drives, computers, and phones. A gold mine, former spies say, for western intelligence.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Police!
TODD (voice-over): Tonight, CNN has learned U.S. Marshals are searching for this man, Adrian Hong, a Mexican national and U.S. resident who, Spanish authorities say, led the embassy assault.
Authorities raided Hong's apartment Thursday but didn't find him there. A source close to Hong shared this video exclusively with CNN. Tonight, his lawyer tells CNN Adrian Hong has gone to ground.
LEE WOLOSKY, ATTORNEY FOR ADRIAN HONG: Well, he certainly fears for his safety. We do have reason to believe that North Korean hit squads have been dispatched to target Mr. Hong.
TODD (voice-over): Adrian Hong is a leader of the group once known as Cheollima Civil Defense. ADRIAN HONG, MANAGING DIRECTOR, CHEOLLIMA CIVIL DEFENSE: It is a
brutal totalitarian regime.
TODD (voice-over): His lawyer now says they want to be called the Provisional Government of Free Joseon. They are a sworn enemy of Kim Jong-un's regime.
TARA O, ADJUNCT FELLOW, PACIFIC FORUM: Their stated goal is to overthrow the regime and bring in human rights and other freedoms to North Korea.
TODD (voice-over): A former U.S. Marine named Christopher Ahn, another alleged member of the group, was taken into custody by U.S. Marshals in Los Angeles on Thursday, though it's not clear what Ahn has been charged with. His case is under seal and his lawyer hasn't commented.
This is a picture of Ahn taken with the son of Kim Jong-un's half- brother. According to Adrian Hong's lawyer, Christopher Ahn helped extract that young man and his family from Macau to a safe location two years ago shortly after Kim allegedly had his half-brother murdered at an airport in Malaysia.
It's not clear if Ahn was involved in the raid on the embassy in Spain on February 22nd, but Hong's lawyer admits his client was. He says the group was invited inside and wasn't violent. Spanish officials say Adrian Hong caught a plane to the U.S. shortly after the embassy raid.
And Hong's group says it shared the material taken from the raid with the FBI at the FBI's request. What could the bureau learn about operations at that North Korean embassy?
ROBERT BAER, FORMER CASE OFFICER, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: The North Koreans, we suspect, are involved in narcotics, in murder, all sorts of things, and get confirmation of this hard intelligence is very difficult to do. And it's -- you never get an opportunity like this.
[17:54:56] TODD: Adrian Hong's attorney tells us he is concerned that if his client is taken into custody, he might eventually be extradited to North Korea. Now, the Justice Department, while not commenting on any other aspect of this case, has told CNN that, essentially, it would not try to facilitate that extradition.
The FBI, when we asked about any information that might have been shared with the bureau from that raid at North Korea's embassy in Madrid, would not comment on any of this -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What a story this is. Brian Todd, thanks very much.
Coming up, we'll have more on this hour's breaking news. The House Judiciary Committee just subpoenaed President Trump's former White House Counsel Don McGahn. If he testifies, will it lead Congress closer to impeaching the President?
[18:00:01] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Democratic plans. House Democrats hold an urgent conference call to discuss impeaching President Trump.