Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Alleged California Terror Plot Thwarted, Officials Say Suspect Consumed With Hate, Bent On Mass Murder; Joe Biden Holds Out First Campaign Rally As Trump Ignores His Advisers' Warnings Against Elevating Rival; Attorney General William Barr Rejects Hearing Format Proposed By House Democrats; Rep. Jerry Nadler (D) New York Threatens To Subpoena; Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein Resigns. Aired 5- 6p ET
Aired April 29, 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 THE SITUATION ROOM: Happening now, breaking news. Terror plot thwarted. We're just learning of the major terror plot in Southern California allegedly targeting Jews, police, the military and crowds in public places. Chilling new details are emerging, including how investigators stopped them.
All about Joe. Democratic presidential elect candidate Joe Biden comes out swinging in his first campaign rally as President Trump launches multiple attacks against his newest challenger. Is it it a sign that the President fears Biden the most?
Barr fight. House Democrats and the Attorney General, William Barr, battle over how he's going to testify before the House Judiciary Committee later this week. Will staff lawyers get to question Barr or will he boycott the hearing?
ISIS leader returns. The terrorists release a new video apparently showing Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi for the first time in five years, praising the suicide bombings in Sri Lanka that killed hundreds of people and calling for more attacks.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in The Situation Room.
We're following breaking news. A major terror plot thwarted in California where police have arrested a suspect they say was, quote, consumed with hate and bent on mass murder.
Also breaking, democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden proclaiming himself a union man as he courts working class voters in his first campaign rally, this one in Pittsburgh. President Trump, meanwhile, has Tweeted about Biden at least four times today, ignoring advisers who warn giving a rival too much attention could backfire.
We'll talk about that and more with Congressman Steve Cohen of the Judiciary Committee and our correspondents and analysts are also standing by. First, let's get to the breaking news out of Los Angeles, where officials say they have thwarted a major terror plot. Our Justice Correspondent, Jessica Schneider, is working the story for us. Jessica, we're now learning some very disturbing new details.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: We are, Wolf. This is a 26-year-old former army soldier. He served in Afghanistan for four months back in 2012, and he's allegedly been plotting an attack out in California for weeks. Authorities say Mark Steven Domingo purchased long nails to pack into IEDs and then even staked out a spot on Long Beach, California, where a rally was being held this weekend.
But authorities got to him just in time. The FBI had been tracking him by way of a confidential human source. And when that source delivered the bomb materials just a few days ago, that's when members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force moved in and arrested him.
The FBI first found out that Domingo may have had these thoughts when he posted an online video professing his Muslim faith and then posted online this. He said, America needs another Vegas event. That referred to the mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada back in 2017.
And then in the weeks after that, Domingo posted again. He posted after that Mosque attack in New Zealand just last month, that, quote, there must be retribution. And authorities now say that Domingo, he is under arrest. He will be arraigned and formally charged with providing and attempting to provide material support to terrorists.
But, Wolf, they got to him, they had been tracking him. There was this confidential human source and they arrested him just a few days ago right after he had scoped out the location where authorities say he wanted to plot this attack and detonate this bomb.
BLITZER: He also was obviously proficient with weapons too given his military background.
SCHNEIDER: Right. And that's part of what authorities said in their press conference just a little while ago. But, again, they were tracking him. They saw him posting these messages about Las Vegas and about the mosque attack in New Zealand in these online forums and then they began tracking him. And that's when they worked with him with a confidential human source.
So, right, while he was a danger, they said that they had eyes on him the whole time.
BLITZER: Right. Well, they stopped it. So we'll continue to cover this story for our viewers. Jessica Schneider, thank you very much for that report. We're going to stay on top of this story. We'll have more details coming up later this hour.
And next, also, there's other developments unfolding right now, and you just saw it live here on CNN, the Joe Biden campaign rally. CNN's Jessica Dean is in Pittsburgh for us. She's there on the scene for us. So, Jessica, walk us through the former Vice President's bottom line message. JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good evening to you, Wolf. The bottom line message is that he is saying he wants to reward work, not just wealth here in the United States of America. He made the argument today that this economy is not working for everyone that it's only working for a certain group of people in the United States and that he has a plan to build that up, to make more people feel included in that.
Some of the ideas that he talked about today, closing tax loopholes, a $15 minimum wage, reversing the Trump tax cuts, also a Medicare public option.
Some of the things he talked about here at this rally in a union hall, saying, I'm a union guy. Take a listen to what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: I also came here because, quite frankly, folks, if I'm going to be able to beat Donald Trump in 2020, it's going to happen here. It's going to happen here in Western Pennsylvania with your help.
Say this simply and clearly, and I mean this, the country wasn't built by Wall Street bankers, CEOs and hedge fund managers. It was built by you. It was built by the great American middle class.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DEAN: And we heard the middle class over and over again about the dignity of work, talking about that message as well. And you heard him there talking about it himself, if he says, if he's going to beat President Trump, he's going to do it here in Pennsylvania. You can bet that he'll be here over and over again, working to get his message across.
Now, also today, for former Vice President Joe Biden, he received an endorsement from the Firefighters' Union. This was a big one for Joe Biden. They talked about it here today. But it also ignited some Twitter back and forth between the President, who Tweeted, Wolf, as you mentioned, four times at former Vice President Biden today. I want to read you one of those Tweets. He said, the deuce sucking firefighter leadership will always support democrats even though the membership wants me. Some things never change.
Now, Biden also Tweeting back at the President saying, I'm sick of this President bad mouthing unions. We need a president who honors them and their work. And he talked over and over again about the importance of unions, how if he is president, that he will do everything he can to support them and build them up. It was a message we heard throughout the day. And this crowd here, of course, again, being in the union hall, really soaking it up.
Now, next up for the former Vice President, he will be headed to Iowa. Wolf, it's his first swing through the caucus state since he made his announcement last week. It was very important to them to get to those early states as soon as they possibly could. So onward to Iowa tomorrow.
BLITZER: His first campaign rally since announcing his run for the democrat presidential nomination. Jessica Dean at Pittsburgh for us, thank you.
Let's get to more on the President's Twitter attacks on the former Vice President. Our White House Correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, is standing by. Kaitlan, there's some concern apparently over there all afternoon, all this attention that Biden is receiving from the President could wind up hurting, actually hurt the President. Tell us about that concern you're hearing about.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They're worried, Wolf, that it could evaluate Joe Biden. Now, in recent weeks, the President -- in recent weeks, the President has been questioning people about whether or not they think Joe Biden could beat him. And his uneasiness over Joe Biden entering the presidential race burst into public view today on the President's Twitter feed.
But, Wolf, as the President is looking ahead to 2020, he's being forced to look back at comments he made in 2017.
COLLINS: Tonight, a president usually known for his confidence appears to be unnerved by his latest rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. Aides insist President Trump isn't worried about running against Biden, but he's clearly on his mind.
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. President: I don't know what the hell happened to Biden. I've never saw that before. I don't know how -- it just doesn't look like the same Biden. I said, is that really Joe Biden? He doesn't look the same to me.
COLLINS: Trump referenced the former Vice President on Twitter at least four times today alone. And while some advisers are urging the President not to single out any democratic presidential hopefuls just yet, those closest to the President are following his lead on Biden.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Why is he using Charlottesville to launch a candidacy, as somebody who was in the Senate for decades, was Vice President for eight years?
COLLINS: The White House has been on defense after Biden made Trump's comments about a 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville that left a counter-protester dead a central focus of his campaign announcement.
CONWAY: When President Trump condemned racism, bigotry, evil, violence and then took it many steps further and called out neo-Nazis, white supremacists, KKK, that is darned near perfection.
COLLINS: After a shooting at a synagogue outside of San Diego left one person dead and several others injured this weekend, President Trump offered a full-thwarted (ph) denouncement of hate at his latest rally.
TRUMP: We forcefully condemn the evil of anti-Semitism and hate, which must be defeated.
COLLINS: The latest shooting six months after a shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh killed 11 has put the rise of white nationalism at the forefront of the 2020 race.
The FBI says hate crimes are on the rise for the third year in a row. But six weeks ago, after a gunman killed 49 Muslims at two mosques in New Zealand, Trump downplayed the threat.
TRUMP: I don't really. I think it's a small group of people that have very, very serious problem.
COLLINS: His allies say his critics are misrepresenting his remarks about what happened in Charlottesville.
NEWT GINGRICH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: If you go back and look at what Trump said, Trump said clearly that he was opposed to white supremacists, he was opposed to Klansmen, he was opposed to Nazis. I mean, he says it clearly.
COLLINS: But after the protest two years ago, the President blamed both sides.
TRUMP: We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.
COLLINS: Then two full days later, after facing widespread criticism from republican lawmakers and CEOs, the President named names.
TRUMP: Those who caused violence and its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as American.
COLLINS: The next day, after fuming from coverage that said he hadn't gone far enough, Trump defended his first statement.
TRUMP: Yes, I think there's blame on both sides. You look at both side, I think there's blame on both sides.
COLLINS: Now, Wolf, during an event here at the White House this afternoon, the President did not answer a question about whether he still doesn't think what white nationalism is on the rise.
But back to the advice he's getting from advisers about not elevating any of these candidates just yet as they battle it out for the nomination, for the democratic nomination, other aides who know the President well say that they fear that as he sees more democrats getting air time and sucking up some of the political oxygen, he's going to do whatever he needs to stay in the news. Wolf? BLITZER: All right, Kaitlan, thank you, Kaitlan Collins at the White House.
Let's bring in our experts for some analysis. David Chalian, he spoke for about a half an hour at this initial campaign rally, the former Vice President, Joe Biden. What'd you think?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, you can see why President Trump has Joe Biden under his skin, why he's getting under his skin a little bit, precisely because of how Joe Biden was messaging today and where he was, right. It was no accident. He was in Pittsburgh, he was taking a union endorsement, showing the example, I am the person who can make an economic appeal on middle class values to these people that drifted away from this party last time and went to Donald Trump. And that is why Trump's advisers are so fearful of him.
I mean, it was so sort of shocking to my ear to hear Joe Biden. It's as if Sherrod Brown did get into this race. I mean, the dignity of work, real economic populism, he sounded a little Bernie Sanders at times, Wolf, taking on millionaires and billionaires. He continued to call himself middle class Joe and wear that as a banner of proud. This is the economic piece of the overall Biden rationale for his presidency, which is to campaign on rebuilding the middle class and win back those voters that drifted away.
BLITZER: Well, on that point, let me play a little clip. This is Joe Biden moments ago in Pittsburgh.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: The stock market is roaring, but you don't feel it. There was a $2 trillion tax cut last year. Did you feel it? Did you get anything from it? Of course, not. Of course, not. All of it went to folks at the top.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR AT LARGE: Yes. I mean, that's what David is talking about as it relates to Sanders, right? All of it went to folks at the top. Look, I was most struck by the fact that Joe Biden is running for a version of the Democratic Party that if you were online on a daily basis, you wouldn't think exists, which is in the Midwest, in the industrial Midwest, economic -- primary economic voters, middle to low class white voters, it's a very different kind of campaign in -- look, where he starts it matters. He starts in Pittsburgh in a union hall.
Okay. Nobody else has done that and I think there's a -- you know, the Bernie Sanders idea of what the Democratic Party looks like and who it will elect, the Kamala Harris idea of what the Democratic Party looks like and who it will elect, even the Pete Buttigieg image of what the Democratic Party looks like and who it will elect is very different than Biden. And I think that that's -- that that will be a very clear line. Joe Biden is not running to win a poll on Twitter about your favorite democrat. I don't really know that he cares a lot much about it. It's an interesting gambit, he's clearly in it in that regard.
BLITZER: He opened his remarks in Pittsburgh just now, David Swerdlick, with a brief statement condemning anti-Semitism, what has happened in California, this second attack on a synagogue within the past six months. White nationalism is going after white nationalism.
It's so far in the last few days. That's been a major thrust of his in an attack format against the President.
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. And the tragic events this weekend in Poway sort of underscored this. But before this happened, before the shooting at the synagogue happened, he already went to Charlottesville very deliberately and delivered this rebuke to President Trump for his failure to be a moral leader after the Charlottesville death of Heather Heyer and all of the disruption there two years ago.
In Vice President Biden's video where he announced his candidacy, he said, this campaign is about everything that makes America America. And that is a direct response, in my view, to Trump's tag line of make America great again. These are two big visions of America going at each other, rather than a lot of the other democratic candidates who are looking at very specific narrow policy ideas, Green New Deal, jobs, et cetera.
BLITZER: Because he keeps talking about the soul of the nation is at stake right now. That's a theme that he keeps referring to at least over the past few days. Are you hearing what we're hearing that Biden seems to be obviously a deep a concern for the President's re-election campaign? They're worried about him potentially, precisely. But what he underscored today is middle class roots, how he could do in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, which the President carried.
JACKIE ALEMANY, ANCHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST'S "POWER UP": That's exactly right. And I've said this before, but I think the President's Twitter feed is a great window into his neurosis and his paranoia and greatest fears.
But I want to slice through the narrative here a little bit and I do think in a way that Trump kind of avoids this because of the steps and the measures he's taken with regard to NAFTA and thus far, is Biden is going to face some scrutiny for his record here. Obviously, you don't need me to tell you he's self-styling himself as a hero of the working class using his upbringing to foster a connection with these labor unions and middle class, the middle class workers.
But at the same time, they're going to look back on his record, he supported NAFTA, he supported TPP. Bernie Sanders right before his announcement speech released a little bit of a sub-announcement aimed at Biden saying that he would call for an EO to end federal contracts with people outsourcing jobs to American workers and also that he would label china a currency manipulator.
We have not seen any of those kinds of policies from Biden yet. He said that he used his line twice, let's reward work and not wealth and that he is going rollout economic policies to support that. But it's still very much TBD, whether or not he can actually match the policies to support labor unions in the way that he's describing himself.
CILLIZZA: Well -- and Jackie is right too. I mean, look, I do think it is worth noting that the image of Joe Biden there that he presented today, I think, probably has real appeal to an independent or a republican voter, potentially, in Pennsylvania. I think the issue is there's 19 other people that Joe Biden has to beat in a primary in a Democratic Party, that he is gambling hasn't changed as much as some of the other people in the race believe it has.
That Biden speech, Bill Clinton could have given a similar speech to that. There's not that much different there. He is saying that the party -- that the Democratic Party of unions, of middle class working men and women, that's who this party still is. It's not necessarily the urban, highly affluent, you know, highly educated. I mean, it's a gamble that might pay off.
CHALIAN: This is just day one, right?
CILLIZZA: Totally, totally. But he does choose what he says in the beginning on purpose. That's all, yes.
CHALIAN: This is the economic rationale. You are right, he's making that play. But for us to think that we're going to go through the next eight months and he's not going to have to participate in all of these issues that are being debated in the democratic side, he will, like we saw Hillary Clinton flip on TPP last. I mean, he will have to go through this, how he maintains this authentic self of him, this version of him through that process is going to be the measure.
SWERDLICK: Yes, I think that's right. And I do think, like everybody is saying, that he is clearly grabbing the -- looking for the working class voter in the American heartland. I don't think Vice President Biden, being from the former administration, should give up on the other economic story that he could tell, which is that the stock market of the Obama administration did better than Trump's, that unemployment came down over three points under President Obama and Vice President Biden. So if he goes away from that, I think he'll hurt himself in the general election.
BLITZER: This Washington Post, ABC News poll shows -- that just came out, 62 percent of those polls said the economy works to benefit those in power. You see the numbers right there. Only 34 percent say it's benefiting all the people. That's a theme that we just heard from the Vice President.
ALEMANY: Right. That's exactly right. This message of economic populism is really resonating with the Democratic Party, specifically with middle class workers.
[17:20:04] But I think it's really important to point out, especially as Biden has clearly staked his campaign on appealing to this demographic, that there's nothing that workers hate more than the perceived political elite, you know, campaigning to them with just empty rhetoric and not necessarily supporting it with the policies. And that's where Trump, I think, really hit a sweet spot.
BLITZER: And he's not shying away from directly attacking the President of the United States.
CHALIAN: Oh, no, not at all. I mean, that actually is part of his primary political strategy, because coming out of the gate with the video about Charlottesville and making it just about Trump, that is to remind all the primary voters who have these 19 other options that Chris was talking about that I'm the one you can actually see on the debate stage with Donald Trump. I am the one you actually see going mano y mano with this guy and I have got the experience and the years to back this up and try bring some normalcy back is sort of the Biden argument.
So he's happy to go after Trump and happy that he baited Trump into a debate, because it gives that general election inevitability sense in the primary.
CILLIZZA: Yes. I mean, if Donald Trump's advisers are not happy that he singled out attacking Joe Biden, you know who is thrilled? The Joe Biden advisers. I mean, there's nothing that could make Joe Biden's argument more than us talking about whether Donald Trump, via his Twitter feed, because I'm with Jackie. I always think his Twitter feed is the best window into him. Donald Trump sending four Tweets about Joe Biden.
Joe Biden couldn't have scripted that better. He couldn't have written those Tweets better to make the, I am the guy he's obsessed with, I'm he's worried about, I'm the guy that can beat him.
BLITZER: Let's see what he has to say tomorrow. He's leaving Pennsylvania, heading to Iowa, another very important state. We'll see what his message is there.
Stand by, guys. There's more news we're following right now.
Democratic lawmakers are eager to grill the Attorney General William Barr over his handling of the Mueller report. But Barr's scheduled hearing in front of the House Judiciary Committee may be in jeopardy right now as he wrangles with the committee chairman, Jerry Nadler, over the terms of his testimony.
Let's go to our Congressional Correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty. Sunlen, so tell us about this disagreement.
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is truly a standoff, Wolf, between the chairman of the committee and the Attorney General over the format and the conditions of his testimony that's upcoming on Thursday. Nadler, the chairman of the committee, he wants the questioning to be expanded to also include bargaining questions from committee lawyers, committee staff on the committee. But Barr is very much opposed to that and Nadler making it very clear in the last day that he is not backing down from that. He says it's up to him to determine what the committee does, how the committee holds this hearing. And he says that if Barr does not show up on Thursday over this, he will issue a subpoena.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): He is not going to dictate the format of the Judiciary Committee. What we have -- what we're planning to do is that after the members finish questioning for five minutes, the democratic counsel will have half an hour to question and the republican counsel will have half an hour to question. And that's a standard method of doing things. Sometimes it's used, sometimes it's not. It's, in my judgment, an effective way of doing things. And the witness is not going to tell the committee how to conduct its hearing, period.
REPORTER: What does it say if A.G. Barr doesn't back down on his objections?
NADLER: Then we will have to subpoena him. And we'll have to use whatever means we can to enforce the subpoena.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SERFATY: And tomorrow, the House Judiciary Committee has already announced that they intend to have a vote over these questions over the format, especially that big question of, if staff members will also be allowed to question Barr. That's just another indication that they are pushing full stream ahead with this and not backing down from their very firm requests.
Now, we will see, of course, over the next few days, what really ends up happening, what really pans out, whether cooler heads, essentially, will prevail, Wolf. But right now, it's safe to say that the fate of this hearing on Thursday very much hangs in the balance.
One thing to add, Attorney General Barr is scheduled to be up here on the Hill on Wednesday testifying in the Senate, this back and forth whether the House, fo course, does not change that, that will go on as planned.
BLITZER: Yes. He'll be there Wednesday morning before the Senate Judiciary Committee up in the air right now what happens before the House Judiciary Committee, Thursday morning.
I understand, Sunlen, that President Trump, Speaker Pelosi, Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, they'll be sitting down for yet another meeting. It's been a while since they all got together. Tell us about this.
SERFATY: It sure has, Wolf, and this certainly could get interesting. We have learned that that Oval Office meeting that was originally scheduled for just the three of them has now been significantly expanded. Now includes a list of over ten top democrats on Capitol Hill, perhaps suggesting that this meeting could be something of more substance perhaps. And those democrats are from committees that potentially have a -- play a role if an infrastructure deal could come together. Of course, we've seen these meetings go off the rails between them before. So we will see.
BLITZER: We'll see what happens in that meeting, supposedly, as you say, infrastructure at the heart of that meeting. Sunlen Serfaty up on Capitol Hill, thank you.
Let's get more on all of this. Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen of Tennessee is joining us, he's a Member of the House Judiciary Committee. Why is it so important, Congressman, and thanks very much for joining us, for ouse Judiciary Committee staff attorneys to question the Attorney General as opposed to simply letting you guys do it?
REP. STEVE COHEN (D-TN): Well, we have questions we would like to ask that opportunity, but five minutes isn't a long enough period of time to really to develop answers when the witness can filibuster, and they often do filibuster. Whitaker filibustered the whole time. The committee council could have more opportunity to do that, and there's precedent for it. When the Whitewater committee met in the '90s, the republicans where the chairman was a republican and Chertoff was his counsel, and the democrat side, Richard Ben-Veniste was the counsel. They questioned the witnesses after the members did. So there's ample precedent and it was established by a republican chairman.
BLITZER: Is it worth potentially losing the opportunity for the House Judiciary Committee to question the Attorney General over this issue?
COHEN: I think it's important not only for this issue but also the issue about redacted information that we want to have access to in a skiff, where it's closed to the public and secure. But the fact is, if this Attorney General is chicken to face the House Judiciary Committee, he's not worthy of being a United States Attorney General. He's chicken to face the council and he's afraid of their questioning and their cross-examining. If he's that unsure of himself and unsure of his ability to parry the questions, then he does not deserve to be Attorney General and it shows how loose of a foundation he had to make the statements he did about the Mueller report.
BLITZER: We're just getting word now that the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, has just submitted his resignation. We were anticipating he would formally resign after the completion of the Mueller report. But let me get your immediate reaction.
COHEN: Rod Rosenstein made a speech, I believe, this weekend where he said that the Mueller report only showed a small amount of the influence and efforts that Russia had to interfere with our elections. He was obviously affected by and disturbed by what Russia did to interfere with our elections. We should know all about that and that should be the major import of Barr and Trump is seeing to it that they don't interfere with the elections. But because Trump is so insecure about his own election victory, where he didn't get -- win the popular vote that he refuses to let anybody suggest that his presidency is not a legitimate presidency and that the Russians helped him get elected. The fact is they did. The facts will prove it and show it that the social media influence of the Russians had effect on people. You can't demonstrate that with numbers, but you know it did. Everybody spends money on advertising. Everybody tries to influence public opinion. That type of millions of dollars worth of social media influences people, especially when it's targeted as well as it was.
BLITZER: Will your committee, the Judiciary Committee, Congressman, call on Rod Rosenstein to come before your panel and answer questions?
COHEN: I think it would be a good idea. Chairman Nadler will make that decision. We certainly want Mr. Mueller. It's important to know what his involvement was as well as Rosenstein. But Mr. Rosenstein, who I think did a commendable job, except for coming up with the excuse of why Comey was fired, would probably mount Barr's line.
BLITZER: Well, when he said Comey should be fired, he was blaming Comey's behavior, the former FBI Director, on what he did with Hillary Clinton in the final days of the campaign. You were condemning that at that time as well.
COHEN: I was. But when I did it, and it was the wrong thing to do, and it's just like what Barr did, he went off and spoke a lot about Trump, somebody who wasn't indicted or suggested for indictment and defended them. He shouldn't have had given all the information. He did either. Comey did the same thing Barr did. But the fact is Comey did make a mistake. I think he influenced the election. He shouldn't have reopened the investigation and announced it. He shouldn't have made the statements he did. Rosenstein was right on that, but he did it for the wrong reasons. He did it to give Trump an excuse and the real reason Trump fired him was this Russia thing, as he said. He didn't fire -- Comey didn't back off of the deal and give Mike Flynn a second chance.
So what Rosenstein did was accurate and what Comey did was wrong and violative of judiciary policy and FBI policy through the judiciary, the Justice Department, but he gave it for the wrong reasons. And for that reason, Rosenstein is not to be commended, he's to be condemned for doing what Trump wanting to do his dirty work to cover up the real reason for firing James Comey.
BLITZER: Well, let's see what happens if he agrees to come before your committee. We'll watch that obviously very closely. Congressman Steve Cohen, thanks so much for joining us.
COHEN: You're welcome, Wolf. Nice to be with you.
[17:30:00] BLITZER: Well, let's see what happens if he agrees to come before your committee. We'll watch that, obviously, very closely. Congressman Steve Cohen, thanks so much for joining us. BLITZER: We'll have more on all the breaking news. Once again, the
Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, who played a very key role overseeing the Mueller investigation and actually creating the Mueller investigation has just submitted his resignation.
Plus, the leader of ISIS, out of the public eye for nearly five years, has apparently just reemerged in a brand-new video.
BLITZER: All right, let's get back to the breaking news. The Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has just resigned. His resignation comes as the Attorney General William Barr's scheduled testimony in front of the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday morning might actually be unraveling.
[17:35:04] Let's bring back our political experts for some analysis.
Jackie, first of all, let's talk about Rod Rosenstein. We all have the letter now. His resignation goes into effect May 11th.
JACKIE ALEMANY, ANCHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST "POWER UP": Yes. And as we were just joking about, this is almost the second time he's resigned. But Rosenstein has been really an enigma throughout the Trump presidency, really difficult guy to understand, especially as more and more anecdotes have come out from behind the scenes.
You know, he's a guy who volunteered potentially to wear a wire to record what the President was doing behind the scenes, but then he's also the same person who "The Washington Post" just reported last week who's also tried to mollify Trump with -- in terms of the Mueller report, saying that he was going to be able to land the plane here.
The line that really stands out to me here is him quoting John Ashcroft for, you know, conducting -- overseeing a professional Justice Department free from politics, right? This comes right after Trump called the FBI scum on Saturday.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Dirty cops, yes.
ALEMANY: So, you know, despite this letter, I'm not sure Rosenstein has done the most in order to make sure that the Justice Department is isolated from politics as he's so claiming here.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I'm not sure anybody can, but it does seem that he offered some parting advice for the President.
He said, quote, we ignore fleeting distractions and focus our attention on the things that matter because a republic that endures is not governed by the news cycle. I almost feel like the subtext there is, like, put down your phone --
DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right.
CHALIAN: Stop tweeting. Yes.
CILLIZZA: One other thing in the -- covering the idea -- covering up the idea, potentially, that he is leaving early. I just -- I love when they do -- the median tenure of a Deputy Attorney General is 16 months and few serve longer than two years, which is, essentially, I'm not being forced out, everything's cool, I'm leaving when they basically leave.
But -- I just -- Jackie's point about him being an enigma is fascinating. Because he is the guy who establishes the Special Counsel, he is the guy who stays and kind of protects the Special Counsel -- broadly, Don McGahn, also.
But he's also the guy who, when Bill Barr gives the press conference before the Mueller report -- an hour and a half before the Mueller report comes out --
CILLIZZA: -- he's the guy doing this.
SWERDLICK: Yes. Yes.
CILLIZZA: Standing next to him. And Barr says Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I decided, jointly, not to pursue obstruction. So you --
CILLIZZA: In some ways, you can make what you want of him. You can make him a hero or a devil, either way, in this story, but he's -- one thing you can't -- he's absolutely at the center of this. And now that it's concluded, at least that part of it, he's leaving. This is not hugely surprising.
BLITZER: Let's not forget, he was often either directly or indirectly attacked by the President.
SWERDLICK: Yes. I agree, though, with Chris. He's either a hero or a goat depending on what you look at. The tone of this letter is so lofty and opaque as to be almost absurd, Wolf, so let's talk about two things.
One, in terms of what you just said. Right, the Special Counsel was allowed to complete his work, and Rod Rosenstein had a role in that. So perhaps he did play a key role in having justice brought out, at least that far.
On the other hand, the way he handled, Wolf, the firing of Jim Comey, authoring the May 9th memo that gave Hillary Clinton as a plausible reason why Jim Comey should be let go by a Republican president, I think he got rolled by the Trump White House.
I don't know any other way to see -- CHALIAN: By the President himself. I mean, he was --
SWERDLICK: By the President himself. I don't know any other way to see it.
SWERDLICK: So again, hero or goat, I don't know.
CILLIZZA: We just -- the thing about him is he's so central, and yet we don't really -- and there's been so much reporting about him, but he doesn't, with the exception of the speech last week, he doesn't talk publicly all that much. And so there's so much that we don't know.
Because, well, he was alleged to have offered to wear a wire, bringing up the 25th Amendment. He -- they say he was joking. There's reporting that says he wasn't joking. You don't -- we don't really -- you can't pin him down because we just -- he is not waiting -- I guess the Rosenstein memoir, I mean, probably, is not that far away.
CHALIAN: Let's see what that says, yes.
CILLIZZA: But, like, I mean --
CHALIAN: There's a book, I think, in the future.
BLITZER: And let's see if he --
BLITZER: Let's see if he testifies --
BLITZER: -- before the House and/or Senate Judiciary Committee sometime down the road.
Speaking of testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, you just heard Congressman Steve Cohn say that the Attorney General might be chicken to go before the committee on Thursday because staff lawyers will be asking some questions.
CHALIAN: Right. Of the things that are going to scare Bill Barr, I don't think Steve Cohen's comments are the ones to do it, calling him out a chicken and getting into a name-calling contest.
But I think Jerry Nadler seemed pretty certain that a subpoena would be coming Bill Barr's way if he could not, indeed, reach an agreement about coming and testifying before the House Judiciary Committee.
And then, as you know, we could see this potentially end up in the courts. This is part, potentially, if Barr says I'm not coming, I don't like your rules, I think this goes into a list of things that the Trump administration has now going where they're just going to try and stonewall this new Democratic majority in the House. [17:40:00] ALEMANY: Yes. And I think, you know, what is so
fascinating to me also about Rosenstein's exit is that speech that he gave last week to the -- I think the police association in New York, which is -- which really -- you know, he sort of unleashed this Pandora's box, begging Democrats to subpoena everyone involved with the Mueller report after he said it was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of Russian interference. Which should really be the priority for most of the federal government going into 2020.
CILLIZZA: And which Steve Cohen noted in that -- in your interview with him.
ALEMANY: Right, exactly. And so I sort of feel like this is, you know, the Trump administration almost double dog daring Congress to continue to call them in. But, you know, there is really little incentive, I think, for the White House to cooperate here after they've -- after the Mueller report's already been rolled out, and they've already shown their appearances of cooperation.
BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more on all of this. Everybody, stand by. We're also following other important news that's unfolding right now.
After nearly five years, the ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has appeared in a new video just released by the terror group.
And we're also getting new details on the chaos and the infighting plaguing the National Rifle Association. Why is President Trump getting involved in the turmoil?
[17:45:48] BLITZER: Tonight, the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has apparently reemerged in a new video just released by the terror group. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is joining us with more details.
Barbara, this would be, what, the first time in almost five years we've actually seen Baghdadi? What clues are intelligence officials looking for in this video?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are, in fact, looking to absolutely verify it's him. They have to go through all of their technical analysis, but it does, by all accounts, appear to be Baghdadi, let's face it.
So what they are looking at, frame by frame, is the clues about the state of his health, where he might be, who he appears in this video alongside him as he sits on the floor with other men, their faces masked, looking at a series of documents, who might those people be, who is he in contact with.
And very interesting, how he got this communication out, perhaps, because there are references to very recent events on the video, including references to the attacks in Sri Lanka, which, of course, are only several days old. So all of that means Baghdadi is somewhere where he can communicate or get his message to those who are able to communicate it.
And the Sri Lanka attacks reference has escaped nobody. That attack said to be inspired by ISIS and U.S. intelligence looking at it very closely. Those attacks were massive. That showed the ability of ISIS even after it's lost territory in Syria and Iraq, still very much able to inspire significant attacks outside their traditional area of operations.
This is the new ISIS. The caliphate may be defeated, but ISIS still very much able to assist in inspiring and launching terror attacks, insurgent attacks. U.S. intelligence, the U.S. military, will tell you this is the ISIS that still exists, the ISIS that the world needs to be very concerned about, Wolf.
BLITZER: That represents a significant, significant threat. Barbara Starr, at the Pentagon, thank you.
Just ahead, a power struggle over at the National Rifle Association has plunged one of the most powerful interest groups in American politics into turmoil right now. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
[17:50:40] BLITZER: Infighting and allegations of corruption are rocking the National Rifle Association tonight. Now, President Trump is inserting himself into the turmoil. Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. He's got details for us.
Brian, a battle between top leaders at the NRA, and it is all public right now.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, an internal battle in the NRA spilled out in public in a very messy way. Moments ago, we learned that the NRA's powerful CEO, Wayne LaPierre, has been re- elected to his position unopposed. This caps an ugly fight that LaPierre had with another high-profile NRA figure who many Americans will remember from an infamous Washington scandal.
TODD (voice-over): America's most prominent gun rights organization with one of the nation's most powerful lobbying arms is in turmoil tonight. Retired Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, a controversial figure for decades for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal, announced he is out as president of the National Rifle Association, saying in a letter, quote, there's a clear crisis in the group.
North lost an internal battle against the powerful CEO of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre. "The Wall Street Journal" says North accused LaPierre of charging more than $200,000 in wardrobe expenses to an NRA vendor and that North was forming a crisis committee to look into the group's finances.
"The Journal" reports LaPierre told the NRA board North was pressuring him to resign and trying to extort him. ANNA MASSOGLIA, NONPROFITS AND FARA RESEARCHER, CENTER FOR RESPONSIVE
POLITICS: We're seeing controversies swirling around the NRA unlike any other, whether that be the controversial contractors, the infighting within the NRA. It's is really a point that we haven't seen before.
TODD (voice-over): Tonight, the NRA's internal fight is drawing in other powerful players. The New York Attorney General's Office announced it's launching an investigation into the gun group and issued subpoenas. The Attorney General's Office won't say specifically what it's investigating, but the group Every Town for Gun Safety says it's filed a complaint about the NRA's tax-exempt status with the IRS.
MASSOGLIA: There's a number of different questions raised about whether or not what the NRA is spending on is under their tax-exempt status, meaning what their purpose that they said the group would do.
TODD (voice-over): President Trump is now going after the New York Attorney General over its investigation, tweeting that that office and Governor Andrew Cuomo are, quote, illegally using the state's legal apparatus to take down and destroy this very important organization. Cuomo fired back that, unlike Trump, New York is not afraid to stand up to the NRA.
Trump who has enjoyed deep support from the organization is also calling for an end to the infighting, tweeting the NRA, quote, must get its act together quickly. Trump was at the group's convention on Friday and praised both leaders.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Wayne LaPierre, Oliver North -- I have been following Oliver for a long time. Great guy.
TODD (voice-over): Despite that support, the "New York Times" reports contributions to the NRA have recently been lagging, in part because of a well-financed opposition movement in the wake of several mass shootings.
Earlier this year, CNN reported that Robert Mueller's investigators asked about the Trump campaign's relationship with the NRA after the Center for Responsive Politics revealed that the group had spent about $30 million to help Trump win in 2016.
MASSOGLIA: Groups like the NRA who spend very heavily on politics raise a big question about who is actually bankrolling those operations that are spending to influence voter views.
TODD (voice-over): Congress has also looked into whether Russian money was funneled through the NRA. The NRA told Congress it received no significant money from Russians and that it doesn't use foreign funds for election purposes.
In the end, Robert Mueller's report never mentioned the NRA, though it's not clear if he referred any of his investigation of the group to other U.S. attorneys.
TODD: An attorney for the NRA sent a statement to CNN saying the NRA will cooperate completely with any inquiry into its finances and that the group has full confidence in its accounting practices and what the attorney called its commitment to good governance.
We also reached out to Colonel Oliver North for additional comment on all of this. He didn't get back to us, Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting. Thank you. There's breaking news, a chilling alleged terror plot uncovered in California. We're learning new details of the U.S. Army veteran, the suspect that has plans to commit what investigators are calling mass murder.
[17:54:58] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Bent on mass murder. That's how the Feds describe a former U.S. Army soldier charged with plotting terror attacks in the Los Angeles area. Authorities say he wanted revenge and hoped to give his targets a taste of terror.
Resigned. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is officially calling it quits tonight after delaying his departure as the Mueller report was released. Tonight, he has parting words for President Trump.
[18:00:03] Making Trump nervous.