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U.S. Administration Misses Deadline To Hand Over Trump Tax Returns; Interview With Rep. David Cicilline (D), Rhode Island, On The Battle Over Trump's Records; Kim Jong-un Leaves On Train For Summit With Putin In Russia. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired April 23, 2019 - 17:00   ET

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


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BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: That's it for THE LEAD. You can follow me on Twitter @BriKeilarCNN. You can tweet the show @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

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WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news: refusing to comply. The Trump administration and White House refused House Democrats' demands for the president's tax returns. Testimony from a former official and more, prompting new threats of subpoenas and contempt charges from angry lawmakers.

Revenge is tweet: President Trump unleashes a Twitter torrent, laden with frustration, anger and defiance, painting himself as the victim of Democrats and the news media.

What sparked this new tirade?

Impeachment calls: Democratic White House hopefuls taking part in our CNN town halls weigh in on impeaching President Trump. Some are leaning toward it.

Will they push their party to hold the president to account?

And midnight train to Russia: North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is heading to his first-ever meeting with Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

Will their summit produce an alliance against American interests?

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

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news. Two new showdowns between the Trump administration and House Democrats trying to investigate it. The deadline has just passed for the IRS to hand over the president's tax returns to the Ways and Means Committee, whose chairman is now weighing a possible subpoena. And the chairman of the House Oversight Committee is now threatening

to hold a former White House official in contempt after he defied a subpoena on White House orders. We'll talk about that and more with Congressman David Cicilline of the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees.

And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by. First, let's go to Capitol Hill. Our Congressional Correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty is there.

Sunlen, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Richard Neal, he's demanded that these documents be made available to the committee. It appears he has been stonewalled.

How do we expect he will respond to this?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this battle will only intensify even more now that this deadline has been missed. It is very possible that we'll see Richard Neal, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, move very quickly, likely to issue a subpoena to get what he wants. And he wants six years of President Trump's business and personal tax returns.

But Neal has, of course, throughout this process, been essentially very, very deliberate every step of the way. And we expect him to keep that up. Most likely, what will play out, we will wait to see a formal response either from the Treasury Department or the IRS, potentially move to issue one more last-ditch effort, attempt potentially even giving them a few more days to comply with that request.

But there is absolutely no expectation that that will change anything at all and push the White House to comply in very -- in any way. Very likely, this will just set up a subpoena battle and then set up a very long and protracted legal battle -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sunlen, the Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, just spoke in New York at the Time 100 event, was asked about impeachment.

What did she say?

SERFATY: This, of course, is the talk up here on Capitol Hill, in the members' districts, as they hit the recess. While the redacted version of the Mueller report was released, we have seen additional calls from some Democrats to call for impeachment.

But that is not the view of House Democratic leaders and specifically Nancy Pelosi. And she spoke just a few minutes ago at this Time 100 event. These are her most extensive comments publicly on this since the Mueller report hit. Here's what she had to say.

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REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: I do believe that impeachment is one of the most divisive forces, paths that we could go down to in our country. But if the path that fact finding takes us there, we have no choice. But we're not there yet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SERFATY: And that certainly keeps in line with what she and other House Democratic leaders have been trying to push her caucus to view, that this is, right now the priority should be on investigations, having hearings, holding these public hearings with Trump administration officials and stay focused on their own policy agenda, stay focused on the 2020 election, not being overly obsessed with impeachment.

So again, the Speaker reiterating her view, trying to tamp down that impeachment talk within her caucus -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Sunlen, thank you. Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill. Let's go to the White House. Our Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta is there.

Jim, the Trump team is clearly in no mood right now to cooperate with House Democrats.

[17:05:00]

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And I've talked to a White House source just in the last hour, who said, don't expect those tax returns from President Trump by the end of the day.

But, Wolf, the White House is pushing back against a range of demands from House Democrats from that standing request to see the president's tax returns to the subpoena for former White House Counsel Don McGahn to testify. The showdown comes as a senior key White House official, the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is downplaying that Russian interference in the 2016 election.

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ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump is digging in his heels as the White House seems to be stonewalling a slew of demands from House Democrats. The president is not complying with the 5:00 pm deadline to turn over his tax returns to Congress. It's a battle that appears to be headed for the courts.

REP. BRENDAN BOYLE (D), PENNSYLVANIA: If the White House continues to stonewall this, we will have to turn to the courts in order to get to a final resolution and to force the White House to comply with the law.

ACOSTA (voice-over): It's also unclear whether the administration will allow former White House counsel Don McGahn to tell the House Judiciary Committee what he knows about the Russia investigation and the president's demand for him to fire special counsel Robert Mueller.

HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESPERSON: I understand why they're doing it, because to drop the collusion narrative or the impeachment narrative or going after the administration, they would be admitting to the fact the last two years of their life have been a complete and total waste.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The White House is also insisting that a former official, Carl Kline, refused the House Oversight Committee subpoena to explain the granting of security clearances to top aides, including Jared Kushner, who told "Time" magazine he thinks he's been vetted enough.

JARED KUSHNER, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: I've had to divest of a lot of things and avoid a lot of things but I think that I've been fully vetted now of two years, 19 hours of testimony, different places.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Kushner raised eyebrows when he appeared to grossly downplay Russia's interference in the 2016 election.

KUSHNER: When you look at what Russia did, buying some Facebook ads to try to sow dissent and do it, it's a terrible thing but I think the investigations and all of the speculation that's happened for the last two years has had a much harsher impact on our democracy than a couple of Facebook ads.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But that's not true. According to the Mueller report, which found that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systemic fashion. Mr. Trump's former opponent, Hillary Clinton, believes the report also revealed potential obstruction of justice.

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: The Mueller report is part of the beginning, it's not the end. As I read it, basically, what I thought it was saying is, look, we think he obstructed justice; here are 11 examples of why we think he obstructed justice.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Some of the president's possible opponents in 2020 are taking that one step further.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The United States Congress cannot sit by and say, it's OK for a president to do that. We have a responsibility to step up. And the way we step up is to begin impeachment proceedings.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The churning of investigations may explain the president's recent Twitter tirade, of roughly 50 tweets in the last 24 hours, as the president complained, "In the old days, if you were president and you had a good economy, you were basically immune from criticism."

Mr. Trump is portraying himself as the victim of what he calls the radical left Democrats and the fake news media.

A former French ambassador to the U.S. says the picture inside the administration is less pretty.

GERARD ARAUD, FORMER FRENCH AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: A lot of offices are still empty, two years after the inauguration of President Trump. Or people are appointed and they leave after one year. Or if there are people in the office, as I said before, they don't know what the president will decide the day after. So it's, in a sense, it's dysfunctional.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: As for the president's tweets, he has been complaining lately that Twitter has been discriminating against conservative voices on the social media app.

Well, today, the president met with Twitter CEO, presumably, about that very issue. The White House also announced the president will be visiting Britain and France later on in June, where Mr. Trump hopes to be out from under this cloud of investigations that seem to be swirling around him.

And, Wolf, getting back to what Jared Kushner said about the Russia investigation, it seems clear that, over here at the White House, perhaps not even just the president but there are multiple top White House officials, including apparently the president's son-in-law, who haven't read the Russia report and don't understand how serious a situation that was in the 2016 campaign -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you. '

Let's get some more on all of this. Democratic Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island is joining us. He's a member of both the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees.

Congressman, the deadline just passed for President Trump's tax returns to be made available. So far, no response from the administration.

Should the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee go ahead and issue a subpoena?

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D), RHODE ISLAND: Well, Wolf, the chairman of the committee, Congressman Neal, has been very deliberate and very intentional about this process.

This is a statute that was enacted in 1932 that gives the tax committee the unqualified right to inspect tax returns of any American.

And I think the chairman is setting out a record, trying to be as accommodating as possible. He's granted another --

[17:10:00]

CICILLINE: -- delay or another continuance of this request.

But I think he's made it very clear; if the White House does not comply with -- the Treasury Secretary does not comply, they will issue a subpoena or institute litigation.

It cannot be the case that the president or the administration refuses to comply with the law simply because they don't want to. The committee will uphold the rule of law and will insist on getting those returns so they can do their work, the work of the committee. BLITZER: You just heard the latest from the Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, saying they're not yet ready to begin the process of impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives.

What's your reaction?

CICILLINE: Well, you know, Wolf, I read the entire Mueller report and all of the appendices. I think, first and foremost, it confirms what we knew, that the Russians, in a very sophisticated, broad campaign, attacked our democracy with an attempt to help Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton.

It certainly then, in the second volume, details acts, which constitute obstruction of justice. We know that's an impeachable offense. But our work has really just begun. Now we have that report, we need the balance of the report, the stuff that has been kept secret. We need all the supporting documents.

We need to bring those witnesses before the committee, so we can hear their testimony, the context. But this is very serious. I think the Speaker has been very clear. We need to do our work, we need to conduct hearings.

If it leads to impeachment, we have to be prepared to do it. If not, we won't. But we will not shirk from our responsibility and, as the Speaker has said, we should never do impeachment for a political reason. We should never incline to do impeachment for a political reason. The facts will dictate this.

BLITZER: The White House also ordered an official not to appear before the House Oversight Committee today and the chairman, Elijah Cummings, plans to vote on holding that official in contempt. House Democrats have no enforcement power, though.

Does this show the limitations on your oversight power?

CICILLINE: Well, certainly, our responsibility to do oversight is contingent on our ability to collect evidence, documents and compel the testimony of witnesses. And the committees will have to issue subpoenas.

And if people do not comply with subpoenas, those individuals will be held in contempt. There may be judicial proceedings that can compel the production of witnesses. But we're not going to be dissuaded from doing our work.

The American people are going to see a pattern, unfortunately, of an administration that refuses to cooperate, refuses to provide information, so we can conduct oversight. But we're not going to give up and say we won't do it because they don't want us to.

It's precisely that they don't want us to that we have a responsibility to do it. And all the committees are going to use whatever tools are available to them to get witnesses and evidence before the committee so we can do our work.

BLITZER: Your committee, the House Judiciary Committee, has issued a subpoena for former White House counsel, Don McGahn, to testify.

Are you concerned that the White House may try to stop him from testifying as well?

CICILLINE: Well, I hope the White House doesn't but certainly the president is particularly furious, because so much of the material that is contained in the Mueller report, so much of the evidence came from members of the Trump administration or former members.

You know, the president has spoken about 12 angry Democrats being responsible. But it turns out that most of the evidence was collected from sworn testimony of people who worked for the president.

So I know that's embarrassing but it's a good thing that they were prepared to be truthful and come before the special counsel and the grand jury and provide information. It now is important that the American people hear about that.

And I hope the president will not attempt again to interfere with our ability to conduct investigations and to get to the bottom of this.

BLITZER: Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic presidential candidate, is urging your committee to begin impeachment proceedings in our CNN town hall. She said, and I'm quoting her now, "There is no political inconvenience exception to the United States Constitution."

Do you agree?

CICILLINE: Oh, look, I don't think anyone on the committee or anyone in the Congress is viewing this in terms of political inconvenience. I think we understand; I was on that conference call. This is a grave moment for our country. We understand the sober and serious matter that is before us.

And we have to approach it, thoughtfully and responsibly. And that begins with collecting all of the evidence to make an informed judgment.

The Mueller report is a big piece of that but we need the balance of the Mueller report. We need the supporting documents that were collected during the investigation. We need to bring in our own witnesses to hear their testimony, the context and further elaboration. So we have work to do.

But no one is taking this about political convenience. We understand, we have a responsibility to follow the facts where they lead us and to make clear that no one, including the president, is above the law.

And if we get to the point of impeachment, we will do it. And if we don't, we won't. But we have a process that we have to follow and we're still in that evidence gathering mode and we're going to take this work and do it expeditiously.

BLITZER: Senator Bernie Sanders in the CNN town hall last night said he believes incarcerated felons, including killers on death row, like the Boston marathon -- [17:15:00]

BLITZER: -- bomber, should still be able to vote from prison.

Do you agree with him, yes or no?

CICILLINE: I don't. Look, I think people should absolutely be able to vote the minute they leave prison. I think, in fact, you lose a lot of rights when you're incarcerated.

Now there are a number of countries that allow incarcerated people to vote, we should look at that. But I think in general, we have come to accept the fact that you lose certain privileges when you're incarcerated.

You should get those immediately when you're released and you lose the freedom and your right to vote. And obviously, restoring that the minute your sentence is completed is appropriate. I would like to look at some other countries. I know a number of countries do allow incarcerated people to vote.

But I think, at this point, the practice that we have makes sense. And you know, I don't support the idea of having people that are incarcerated vote.

BLITZER: Congressman Cicilline, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

CICILLINE: My pleasure.

BLITZER: There's more breaking news just ahead. We're getting Treasury Department's reaction to the request for Donald Trump's tax returns. We'll bring that to you next.

Also the divide over impeaching President Trump grows among Democratic White House hopefuls, as you saw in our CNN town halls.

Which way will they push their party?

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[17:20:00]

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BLITZER: There's more breaking news. The Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, has just responded to House Democrats after missing the deadline to hand over President Trump's tax returns. Let's go to CNN Politics Congressional Reporter, Lauren Fox.

So Lauren, tell us what the Treasury Secretary says.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the bottom line here, Wolf, is that the Treasury Secretary ultimately is arguing that he needs until May 6th, that he's consulting with the Justice Department, to make a final determination about whether or not he will comply or deny the president's tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee chairman.

Now we do know that Richard Neal, the chairman of that committee, has said and believed that he is going to continue to fight to get the president's tax returns. But we also know that the committee, according to an aide that I spoke to earlier, expected that the Treasury Department might try to drag this out, that that could be a potential strategy here because they need ultimately a denial to be able to move on and go to court.

So that's sort of what we're looking at. We're still looking over this letter. It's actually quite lengthy. It sort of gets into the legal rationale for why the Treasury Department may not ultimately comply with this, why they think this is a very different request, using that IRS statute of 6103. That's the statute that they're using on the House Ways and Means Committee to get the tax documents.

But ultimately, this is a fight that we have long expected to go to court, an escalation obviously happening today. But it may be just a few more weeks until we ultimately know where this goes -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's 10 pages, altogether. Five pages of the letter, five pages for an appendix. We're reading it carefully together with you, Lauren Fox, thanks very much.

What do you think, David Chalian?

They say they need until May 6th to review the request; they have to determine whether it is consistent with law.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, I would be a lot more shocked if the letter said, here's the president's tax returns, we're ready to hand them over. This is going to be part of a strategy to make sure that this takes as long as possible, delay, stonewall.

And it's part of this larger strategy that the Trump administration is employing right now, against the House Democrats who are in charge of this, you know, half of the legislative branch right now and the president has made clear to his team that he has no intention of handing over his tax returns.

BLITZER: They say in the letter, Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury Secretary, a final decision will be made by the administration, by May 6th.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL ANAYLST: Yes, so this is clearly just a stall tactic. The letter sort of references this idea that they're consulting with the Department of Justice, as if there's some genuine disagreement as to the law.

There really isn't. The law is quite clear. The Ways and Means Committee has been very, very careful. They've done their homework; they're doing a very sort of modest and carefully couched legal demand in order to ensure that they can meet that prong of showing that this is related to a legislative purpose. This is not just a fishing expedition. And so we expected that the

Treasury Department wasn't going to comply. But the notion that they need longer to talk to their lawyers about it, that really is just about trying to delay this for as long as possible.

BLITZER: The president, Abby, this is so sensitive, he clearly doesn't want his tax returns made public.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Clearly. This has been a fight he's been fighting for years now. And that's the reason why Democrats want it, because this is one of those things that the president has fought so hard on for so long, that it seems to indicate to the Democrats that he has something to hide in those tax returns.

And we should remind people, it's not just his personal tax returns that Ways and Means is seeking, it's also tax returns from his businesses as well and I would hazard a guess that that, too, is also part of the president's anxiety about this.

He has always drawn a red line around his businesses, around his family and that sort of thing. And those two things are intertwined. And I think this really goes to the heart of that.

But we also should, just to be fair to the other side here, what the president is arguing and what the Treasury Department is arguing is that something is different about this, which is that when Ways and means Usually requests these things, they're asking for data in the aggregate about people's tax returns.

And this request is specific to one individual, the president of the United States. Now Susan could be right, that the law is very clear, they have to simply hand it over, because it's in black and white. But that's the argument that the Treasury Secretary --

BLITZER: Bianna, as you know, for almost five decades, every president has made public his tax returns.

Why do you think this president is refusing --

[17:25:00]

BLITZER: -- to do so?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's defied the norms thus far, so why not continue to do it?

And the president's argument, the administration's argument going forward is that he won one election without the public having to see his tax returns. So they are betting, whether this gets dragged out through the legal course or this fight continues -- and this could damage Democrats if they continue to go down this road -- the White House is confident or at least they're presenting themselves as confident that not only will his tax returns not be released, that, in their opinion, the public doesn't care.

But this is something that could inevitably hurt the Democrats more than the president. That is their tactical thinking right now.

(CROSSTALK)

HENNESSEY: I do think --

CHALIAN: Sorry, I was just going to say, the public does care. I want to make this point. In all --

(CROSSTALK)

GOLODRYGA: I'm not saying they don't. I'm saying -- I'm speaking for the administration.

CHALIAN: Yes, no, Bianna, I'm not pushing back on you, I'm just saying they -- you are right. They say that the public doesn't care and they are wrong about that when they say that. The public does want to see the president's tax returns.

HENNESSEY: They're also misrepresenting, to the extent the election was a ratification of the president's position, the president when he was a candidate said he was not going to release his tax returns. He said while they were under audit. He said, in the future.

So once again the White House is attempting to misrepresent what happened by saying, well, we waited out the clock long enough so now it's not reasonable for us to essentially comply with the promise that the president made while he was the candidate.

GOLODRYGA: And look at the wording. You see how sensitive the president really is about this issue, because there has been some debate that one of the reasons he may not want his tax returns released is because, over the years, he's perhaps inflated his net worth.

So when you hear his representatives and the White House press secretary talk about the fact that they're not going to release it, they always present it with a sentence that says, not only, you know, does the president not have to release it, by the way, he's still a billionaire and a very successful businessman.

It's like, that line, that the president is so sensitive about and goes to the argument that this really is speaking to an audience of on e.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. We've got a lot more we need to discuss. Only moments ago, the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, she elaborated on why she thinks it's time to wait until the House of Representatives starts formal impeachment hearings in the Judiciary Committee. We'll be right back.

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BLITZER: We're back. We're discussing Nancy Pelosi right now. Just moments ago she said this, listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PELOSI: I do believe that impeachment is one of the most divisive forces -- paths that we could go down to in our country. But if the facts -- the path of fact finding takes us there, we have no choice. But we're not there yet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: In contrast, listen to Senator Elizabeth Warren at the CNN Town Hall last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mueller believed because of the directions from Donald Trump's Justice Department that he could not bring a criminal indictment against a sitting president. So I think he's wrong on that, but that's what he believed. So he serves the whole thing up to the United States Congress, and says in effect, if there's going to be any accountability, that accountability has to come from the Congress. And the tool that we are given for that accountability is the impeachment process.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: David, the Democrats are pretty divided on this.

CHALIAN: They are, and the divisions are growing actually. Part of this, Wolf is of course because not every democrat has the same political goals here, right? Elizabeth Warren is trying to win a Democratic nomination race where being pro-impeachment could have an appeal inside the progressive left-wing activist base of the party. Nancy Pelosi is trying to protect a majority where there are a lot of Democrats from very middle of the road seats that they just won from Republicans last cycle.

So the political calculus is a little different, but there's also a memory from 1998 that Nancy Pelosi lived through in Congress and she saw that the Clinton impeachment effort on the part of Republicans and Gingrich did not work well for them politically.

That's why you hear her really wanting to methodically slow roll this a bit. Notice, she won't take it off the table -- she's not willing to shut the door to it. But she just wants this to be as methodical as possible, and not jump immediately to impeachment.

BLITZER: Abby, how does the White House see this?

PHILLIP: Well, several people in the White House indicated that they believe impeachment is an inevitability, that they have been expecting this for quite some time, the president has been talking about it for some time -- and that they might even be able to use it to their advantage.

I think they think that the Democrats risk overplaying their hand and beyond that, just the divisions laid bare by this whole debate is advantageous to the President in some ways because it allows the Democrats to go on with this end-fighting (ph) while he's over there making the case that this whole investigation was a witch hunt from the start.

So I mean, it might seem counterintuitive that that's how they feel about this, but that also is a little bit of a hangover from the Clinton impeachment in which they felt like Clinton came out of that with better approval ratings because he was seen as being under siege -- I think that's how the President feels like he can turn this around to his advantage.

BLITZER: How do you see it, Susie?

HENNESSEY: Well it's not clear to me what Nancy Pelosi means by we're not there yet. If she's saying we're not there to make the decision on impeachment yet, that's reasonable. If what she's saying is we're not there yet to actually engage in impeachment inquiry, that fact- finding process that is for Congress to undertake, based on what is in the Mueller report, I think that's a basically unsupportable position.

[17:35:00]

There are two mechanisms that this country has for removing a president who we believe is unfit for office. One of those is voting him out of office. That's a decision for the American people.

The other is impeachment, and that is the power that is granted to the Congress. And this really is a realm in which I think there's an obligation for democrats to step back, not just consider sort of the base raw political calculations, but also, wherever they swear an oath to uphold and faithfully and well execute the duties of their office, what does that mean?

BLITZER: And another issue - a sensitive issue, and Bianna, let me get you to weigh in on. Senators Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris last night at the CNN Town Hall, they're now facing criticism about how they responded to questions about whether convicted, incarcerated felons, including killers on death row, like the Boston Marathon bomber, whether or not they should be allowed to vote from prison. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If somebody commits a serious crime, sexual assault, murder, they're going to be punished. They may be in jail for 10 years, 20 years, 50 years. Their whole lives! That's what happens when you commit a serious crime.

But I think the right to vote is inherent to our democracy. Yes, even for terrible people. But I do believe that even if they are in jail, they're paying their price to society, but that should not take away their inherent American right to participate in our democracy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People who are convicted, in prison, like the Boston Marathon bomber, on death row, people who are convicted of sexual assault, they should be able to vote?

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think we should have that conversation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLIZTER: What do you think?

GOLODRYGA: You know, you once again have Bernie Sanders driving the narrative here, whether it's regarding Medicare for all, whether it's regarding free health - free college tuition, you have a man who's acknowledged a few years ago, everyone thought he was talking crazy talk.

And now you have a situation where a lot more people are considering some of the policies that were seen as very progressive, too liberal, now they're becoming more mainstream and adopted or at least in conversation among the leading candidates for president.

So you had republicans really focus on what he said last night and jump on the bandwagon, as saying, this is going to be what this man is going to run on, that convicted felons, murderers, rapists have the right to vote. Is this really the president that you want? But you have other candidates who were really, I think, caught off guard and having to address issues that they didn't come to this town hall prepared to talk about, Wolf.

BLITZER: David?

CHALIAN: Yeah, I think Bernie Sanders clearly took a position that opens up a line of attack. There's no doubt about that. But I also wonder if Bernie Sanders has a touch of the Donald Trump magic, if you will, when you're looking at politics on this, which is that he's never going to back off from this, perhaps.

Or - and he's going to stick to his guns like he does on a lot of issues. When he said last night, Chris Cuomo pressed him and said, you just cut an ad for the opposition, he's like "I do that all the time." So I wonder if Sanders actually just doesn't feel threatened by such a - what would in conventional politics would be seen as a faux pas.

BLIZTER: At the CNN Town Hall, Pete Buttigieg, he disagreed with him.

HENNESSEY: Yes, I don't think - it's certainly reasonable, not such a crazy idea that, you know, it couldn't even be discussed. That said, you know, Sanders is not especially persuasive on the matter.

People give up all kinds of rights while incarcerated, including freedom of movement, freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, all kinds of things. And so, you know, the notion that voting rights are inherent and different, I didn't hear him make the case for that.

GOLODRYGA: And there's a difference between talking - oh, I'm sorry. Go ahead.

PHILIP: Oh, no. I mean what this speaks to me about is how Bernie Sanders is trying to push the Democratic Party to think bigger about these things, to go beyond what the line of political correctness was and think bigger about them. And that's exactly what' he's doing here.

BLITZER: Everyone, stick around. There's more news we're following, including Kim Jong-un. He's on a private train headed for a meeting with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. Is the North Korean dictator planning to turn on President Trump?

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[17:40:00]

BLITZER: Tonight, we're getting new clues about the deadly Easter Sunday bombings that killed hundreds of people in Sri Lanka, even as authorities warned that dangerous terrorists are still at large. Our Senior International Correspondent, Sam Kiley, has the latest from Colombo in Sri Lanka.

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SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, Sri Lanka is in a state of emergency, as the country's prime minister warns the suspects armed with bombs are still on the loose.

RANIL WICKREMESINGHE, PRIME MINISTER OF SRI LANKA: People are on the run. So far, we have been successful in apprehending many of them.

KILEY: ISIS has claimed responsibility for the coordinated carnage, but without proof. And now a possible motive. The massacres in churches and hotels were the work of Islamic extremists, intent on revenge for mass shootings at two New Zealand mosques in March.

RUWAN WIJEWARDHANA, SRI LANKAN STATE DEFENSE MINISTER (through translator): We have information that this attack was carried out by a radical Islamist group as a retaliation to the attack at the mosque, in Christchurch, New Zealand, but an extremist.

KILEY: CNN has learned that India's intelligence services passed on specific information in advance of the bombings, after interrogating an ISIS suspect arrested in the country. Now, Sri Lankan authorities, facing a backlash for failing to act on India's evidence, are warning that a truck and a car bomb are believed to be at large in Colombo.

[17:45:00]

Terrifying news, although some now have little to lose.

American Matt Linsey was in a hotel with his family when the bombers struck. The blast killed his two children as they tried to escape.

MATT LINSEY, LOST HIS TWO CHILDREN IN THE BOMBINGS: The bomb went off and they both were running toward me. And I'm not sure whether that's what, you know, killed them or not, but I yelled for help -- that's why I lost my voice -- for my son and trying to massage his heart.

KILEY (voice-over): UNICEF says at least 45 children are among the dead, including Washington, D.C.'s fifth grader, Kieran Shafritz de Zoysa. He was in school in Sri Lanka and hoped to return to the U.S. next year.

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KILEY: Now, Wolf, the Indian authorities are absolutely convinced that this was a plot assigned to ISIS, the so-called Islamic State. And of course, the Islamic State has also laid claim to these atrocities -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's so heartbreaking. Our hearts go out to the families who have so suffered. Sam Kiley in Sri Lanka, thanks very much.

Just ahead, the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, is on his way to Russia. He's taking a private train to a meeting with the Russian President Vladimir Putin, the first face-to-face meeting between the two strongmen. So what's on the agenda? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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[17:51:05] BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, North Korea has just confirmed that Kim Jong-un's train has left for Russia for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. CNN's Brian Todd is joining us with details now.

Brian, Putin and Kim, they've never met before.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They have not, Wolf, not in person. This is their first face-to-face meeting, Wolf, a meeting that is being watched closely by the U.S. and its allies. There are some crucial questions surrounding this summit tonight, including over how Kim and Putin might work together against the United States and if they're comparing notes on how to deal with President Trump.

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TODD (voice-over): They are the leaders of two countries considered hostile foreign powers, are viewed suspiciously by U.S. intelligence, and have both been courted as friends by Donald Trump. And tonight, Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin are about to meet face-to-face for the first time in a supercharged summit of America's enemies.

Kim has left Pyongyang on his armored train, heading for a meeting with the Russian President on Thursday. Likely in the Siberian city of Vladivostok.

KELLY MAGSAMEN, VICE PRESIDENT FOR NATIONAL SECURITY AND INTERNATIONAL POLICY, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: It's always worrying when you have two adversaries meeting who have, potentially, shared interests against the United States of America and who do not see the United States of America as a friend.

TODD (voice-over): The Kim dynasty has a long-standing relationship with the Kremlin, forged at the height of the Cold War, an era that Putin has been desperate to recapture. Kim's father and grandfather both took long exhausting trips to Moscow on board armored trains like the one Kim uses now.

Putin visited Kim's father in Pyongyang in 2000. Those meetings always worked against America's interests. Tonight, experts warn of how a new alliance between Kim and Putin could work against America, including potentially sharing intelligence and supporting each other's attempts to weaken the U.S. through cyber attacks and missile technology.

COL. DAVID MAXWELL (RET.), SENIOR FELLOW, FOUNDATION FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: We've seen Russia advance its cyber capabilities, and we've seen North Korea advance its cyber capabilities. I mean, it's attacked Sony, it's attacked banks. And I think sharing cyber techniques is something that they could both benefit from, especially if they target South Korea and the United States.

TODD (voice-over): Analysts say this meeting is classic Vladimir Putin, an example of how he wants to assert Russia as an important player on the world stage and drive a wedge between Trump and Kim, especially after the President's summit with the North Korean leader fell apart back in February.

BEN JUDAH, AUTHOR, "FRAGILE EMPIRE: HOW RUSSIA FELL IN AND OUT OF LOVE WITH VLADIMIR PUTIN": Vladimir Putin likes to act as a spoiler in international affairs, and he likes to try and wheel away small states and big states from the influence of the United States. He likes to try and create problems in order to be essential to solve them.

TODD (voice-over): There are strong personal similarities between Kim and Putin. Both are considered strongmen and love the images which come with that.

Experts say the former KGB lieutenant colonel in the Kremlin is a master at manipulation and that he's tried to manipulate Donald Trump. Kim's done that as well, they say, and the two leaders could compare notes on how to work the American president to get what they want.

Analysts also believe this meeting could be seen as a slap at Trump or at least a signal.

MAGSAMEN: I think they're both playing for the president's attention right now. I think it's basically Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin telling the United States that they have their own interests here. That they're going to pursue their own interests on their own terms.

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TODD: And so far, neither the White House nor the State Department is commenting directly on the meeting between Kim and Vladimir Putin or on the concerns over how this alliance may affect U.S. national security.

Analysts have their own words of caution for Kim in that regard. They say if Kim's diplomatic dance with President Trump breaks down and if Kim returns to a hostile posture toward the United States, he likely won't be able to count on Vladimir Putin to back him up when he comes under serious pressure except, on occasion, maybe to help Kim evade some sanctions -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, very important development. Thanks very much, Brian. We'll watch the story unfold in the coming days.

[17:54:53] There's breaking news next. Another missed deadline prompts new threats of subpoenas and contempt charges as the White House apparently stonewalls House Democrats.

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BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Deadline defiance. The Trump administration refuses to comply with the demand by House Democrats to hand over the President's tax returns tonight. The Treasury Department just informed Congress about its next move in this escalating fight.

Twisting the conclusions. Jared Kushner makes a stunning claim that the Mueller probe did more harm to the U.S. than Russia's election interference. The President's senior adviser and son-in-law dismissing Moscow's assault on American democracy as nothing more than a couple of Facebook ads.