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THE SITUATION ROOM
Trump Calls For Prosecution Of John Kerry; President Trump Slams Subpoena Of Son; Interview With Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA); Sen. Kamala Harris (D) California Demands Attorney General Barr Clarify Testimony About White House Pressure; Mike Pompeo Says, We Do Not Seek War But Iranian Attack On U.S. Forces Will Be Met With Swift And Decisive Response; CNN: Parent Voiced Concern To Education Board About Violence, "Repeat Of Columbine" Five Months Before School Shooting. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired May 9, 2019 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump goes after the special counsel in his first extended on-camera remarks since the release of the Mueller report. Tonight, he's taking a new stand on whether Mueller should testify before Congress.
Burr in Trump's saddle. The president says he's surprised that the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee signed off on a subpoena for his son, Donald Trump Jr. Are Richard Burr's Republican colleagues signing with him or the Trumps?
Tempering Bolton. Mr. Trump portrays himself as a moderate influence on National Security Adviser John Bolton and his strong views. Is it evidence that another top member of the Trump team is in trouble with his boss?
And repeat of Columbine. CNN has learned that, months before the fatal shooting of a Colorado charter school, administrators were urged to investigate dangerous conditions that might lead to a Columbine- like massacre. Were warning signs ignored?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news on President Trump unloading on the Mueller report, the new subpoena of his son, and much, much more.
Mr. Trump slamming the decision by the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee to try to force Donald Trump Jr. to face more questioning on Capitol Hill.
As for Robert Mueller, the president now claims he will let the attorney general decide if the special counsel should testify before Congress, a reversal of what he said before. He had plenty of harsh words for Mueller during an impromptu Q&A session in which he rambled and raged at his real and imagined political opponents, as well as America's global adversaries.
I will talk with Representative Jackie Speier, who sits on both the Intelligence and Oversight Committees. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's go to our White House Correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.
Kaitlan, since we heard from the president, we have learned he's planning to make a major Cabinet nomination.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, it took four months, but the White House announced the president does finally intend to nominate Patrick Shanahan as the new defense secretary.
He's been in the role as an acting position as ever since January, when James Mattis resigned over a dispute he had with the president, and Shanahan was recently cleared in an investigation into allegations that he was partial to his former employee Boeing while he was at the Pentagon.
But the president did not bring up Patrick Shanahan when he was speaking with reporters off the cuff today.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My son is a good person. My son testified for hours and hours.
COLLINS (voice-over): A mix of surprise and frustration from President Trump today after the Senate Intelligence Committee subpoenaed his son.
TRUMP: I'm just very surprised. I really am by it.
COLLINS: The president blasting the decision by Republican Senator Richard Burr to bring Donald Trump Jr. back in for questioning, but he stopped short of saying whether he will fight it.
TRUMP: My son's a very good person, works very hard. The last thing he needs is Washington, D.C.
COLLINS: The spur-of-the-moment news conference was supposed to be a rare moment of bipartisanship in Washington over health care legislation. But, for the first time since the release of the special counsel's report, Trump fumed in front of the cameras for half-an- hour.
TRUMP: The Mueller report came out. That's the Bible.
COLLINS: After declaring on Twitter that the special counsel shouldn't testify in front of Congress, the president reversed his position.
TRUMP: I'm going to leave that up to the attorney general as to whether or not -- I think, to me, it looks like a redo.
COLLINS: As he repeated his claims the special counsel has an anti- Trump agenda...
TRUMP: Was going wild. He was so angry. And this man now is judging me.
COLLINS: He added a qualifier to his line that there was no collusion and no obstruction.
TRUMP: At the end of the testimony, no collusion and, essentially, no obstruction.
COLLINS: The president aired his grievances over the Mueller report, as a critical deadline for U.S. trade talks with China approaches.
TRUMP: I have no idea what is going to happen.
COLLINS: Trump has threatened to raise tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods at midnight, but sources tell CNN if a deal is made, those may not go into effect.
TRUMP: The vice premier, who is one of the most respected men, one of the highest officials in China, is coming.
COLLINS: Talks were upended after the Chinese tried to make big changes to parts of the deal the U.S. said they'd already agreed to.
TRUMP: They took many, many parts of that deal and they renegotiated. You can't do that.
COLLINS: And, today, Trump praised his national security adviser, while admitting they have major policy differences.
TRUMP: He has strong views on things, but that's OK. I actually temper John, which is pretty amazing, isn't it?
COLLINS: The president was addressing reports that he's clashed with his national security adviser over teasing a military option in Venezuela.
TRUMP: I have different sides. I mean, I have John Bolton and I have other people that are a little more dovish than him. And, ultimately, I make the decision.
COLLINS: The president also accusing former Secretary of State John Kerry of violating the Logan Act by meeting with Iranian officials.
TRUMP: John Kerry violated the Logan Act.
COLLINS: The statute bars private citizens from interfering with diplomatic relations between the U.S. and foreign governments, though no one has ever been convicted of violating it. Trump claims Kerry has told Iranian officials not to talk to the Trump administration.
TRUMP: John Kerry tells them not to call. That's a violation of the Logan Act. And, frankly, he should be prosecuted on that.
COLLINS: A spokesman for Kerry fired back quickly, saying: "The president was wrong about the facts, wrong about the law, and, sadly, he's been wrong about how to use diplomacy to keep America safe."
COLLINS: Now, Wolf, those talks between the U.S. and Chinese trade delegations are under way right now, as we speak.
And though the president said earlier he was still hopeful that an agreement was in reach, the clock is ticking, because those tariffs he threatened on Sunday are set to go into effect at midnight tonight.
BLITZER: All right, Kaitlan, thank you, Kaitlan Collins at the White House.
Now to Capitol Hill for more reaction to the subpoena of Donald Trump Jr.
Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.
Manu, so what are Republicans saying about the decision by the Republican Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Republican after Republican are siding not with Richard Burr, but with Trump Jr., suggesting that he should fight a subpoena issued by the Senate Intelligence Committee to compel his appearance.
Already, Donald Trump Jr. threatening to invoke the Fifth Amendment, also threatening not to show up, and some Republicans are saying he is perfectly within his rights to do so.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I'm not his lawyer, so it's up to him. But if I were his lawyer, I would be reluctant to put him back in this circus.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: I think the rationale to keep the investigation of the Intelligence Committee open is wearing -- wearing kind of thin now.
RAJU: So, do you think that he should not come in, Donald Trump Jr.?
CORNYN: I can understand why, after the Mueller investigation is over, his frustration thinking, how much longer is this going to go on?
RAJU: Is this criticism of Burr, is this Burr -- criticism of Burr warranted?
SEN. THOM TILLIS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: You would have to speak to Senator Burr. I stand by my comments. (END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: And that comment from Thom Tillis was, the Democrats are the ones who are pushing this. He, of course, like the other two senators shown there, is up for reelection and they need Donald Trump's support to win reelection.
But Democrats had a much different approach, including Richard Blumenthal, who suggested that Donald Trump Jr. should go to jail if he doesn't comply with the subpoena.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: If Donald Trump Jr. defies a subpoena, he ought to be jailed, very simply. He has no privilege. He has no right to simply say no. He may be the president's son, but he's not above the law, and he has no privilege whatsoever.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: And, Wolf, a lot of people commenting today, but one person who did not was Richard Burr himself. We tried several times to talk to him and he told me flat out, "I am not taking any questions today."
Even when I asked him, does that mean your subpoena is voluntary, as Trump Jr. seems to be suggesting, he would not take that question -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very interesting. Manu, thank you very much.
Joining us now, Representative Jackie Speier. She is a Democrat. She serves on the House Intelligence Committee, as well as the House Oversight Committee. And she's clearly part of the committees investigating the president.
Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us.
REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: My pleasure, Wolf.
BLITZER: Back in December of 2017, Donald Trump Jr. gave what was described as a private interview to your committee.
Now that you have read the Mueller report, what do you think the Senate Intelligence Committee wants to ask him?
SPEIER: So, I don't know what his interview was like in the Senate committee, but I do know what his interview was like in the House Intelligence Committee.
And I have said for some time, and I have said so publicly, that Donald Trump Jr. needs to come before our committee again, because I am of the opinion that he was not truthful in talking to the committee.
Now, the real question is, we have Michael Cohen, who lied to our committee and is now in prison, and the question becomes, is somehow Donald Trump Jr. going to be treated differently because he's the son of the president and lied to the committee?
That's the question that should be asked.
BLITZER: Well, you have, I'm sure, gone back and taken a close look at what he told your Intelligence Committee. Specifically, what did he lie about, supposedly?
SPEIER: Well, I think that he should be given an opportunity to testify more specifically to the committee.
He also had a lapse of memory more often than not when he testified before our committee, but there were a number of times when he was not truthful to our committee, and the Mueller report actually makes that very clear.
BLITZER: What was it about, though, the Trump Tower meeting or something else?
SPEIER: Well, yes, it was the Trump Tower meeting and his engagement in the campaign.
BLITZER: The subpoena for the son of the president of the United States, that's obviously very, very extraordinary. How far can the Senate Intelligence Committee really go in terms of insisting that he actually appear?
SPEIER: I think what's important to point out here is that this is a Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee who has called on Donald Trump Jr. to come before the committee and has subpoenaed him.
It shouldn't be lost on Republicans, and it shouldn't be lost on Democrats. It is also important to point out that Lindsey Graham was one of the people that was interviewed who said, well, I just wouldn't comply with it.
This is the same Lindsey Graham who was running against then Donald Trump the candidate and calling him a nut job. So, what we have is a number of people who are running for reelection, Lindsey Graham being one of them, who is concerned about winning reelection, and so will kiss the president's ring, if necessary, to make sure that they are reelected.
Mr. Burr is not running for reelection and appears to have the backbone to do what's right on behalf of the American people.
BLITZER: After tweeting that Robert Mueller should not testify, President Trump now says it's up to the attorney general to make that decision. Do you think Bill Barr will stand by his word before Congress several times that he has no objection to Mueller's appearing before Congress?
SPEIER: Well, I think, Wolf, we have got to remember this is a pattern that the president uses. He comes out and says, no, I don't think he should testify before the
committee, I don't want him to. And then he's counseled by his staff. And then he says, OK, he can testify. I'm going to leave it up to Mr. Barr.
Well, Mr. Barr is going to do precisely what the president wants, which is what he said initially, which he does not want Mr. Mueller to testify.
So, I would be shocked, frankly, if the attorney general now allows Bob Mueller to testify.
BLITZER: We will see if he does.
The House Judiciary Committee voted to hold the attorney general in contempt after he refused to provide them with the full unredacted Mueller report.
Your committee chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, along with a top Republican on your committee, Devin Nunes, they have made the same request. Will they get a different result?
SPEIER: So, our charge on the House Intelligence Committee is to look at counterintelligence and to what extent any activity was engaged in that would weigh on our national security, and those underlying documents should be made available to the committee for that purpose.
BLITZER: The entire House will soon be voting to hold the attorney general, Bill Barr, in contempt. Will that vote really make it more difficult, though, for you to get the cooperation you want from the Justice Department as far as your Oversight Committee efforts?
SPEIER: I think that they are distinct.
And, again, the fact that we are looking at counterintelligence issues and our national security should be very compelling to a court to make sure that we do access the underlying documents of the Mueller investigation.
BLITZER: President Trump today said that your chairman, the Intelligence Committee chairman, Adam Schiff, is, in the president's words, conning the country.
What's the president's goal, do you think, with these attacks?
SPEIER: Well, now, regrettably, the president cannot help himself and constantly has to attack those that he sees as threatening him.
And I think what I'm most concerned about, frankly, is, as the screws get tightened around him, he is going to do something that will be untoward. I hope I'm wrong. But I think we have to be prepared to respond effectively and swiftly if the president takes any action that will be detrimental to this country.
BLITZER: Representative Jackie Speier, thanks so much for joining us.
SPEIER: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: And just ahead, as the president fumes over a Senate subpoena for his son, does the Republican chairman of the Intelligence Committee think he has something on Donald Trump Jr.?
And will the president actually push for former Secretary of State John Kerry to be prosecuted, as he's accusing Kerry of illegal contacts with Iran?
BLITZER: Breaking news tonight: President Trump slamming the Senate Intelligence Committee's subpoena of his son Donald Trump Jr.
Let's dig deeper with our experts and our analysts.
And, Bianna, I want to you listen to the president earlier today, how he reacted to this subpoena.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: For my son, after being exonerated, to now get a subpoena to go again and speak again after close to 20 hours of telling everybody that would listen about a nothing meeting, yeah, I'm pretty surprised.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: It was part, Bianna, of a long rant. He clearly is very, very angry. He's agitated about this.
What do you think? How do you explain it? Why is he so upset?
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He clearly wants this to be over.
And he thought that it would have been over, with the Mueller report having been released. And that doesn't seem to be the case. I think you can't underestimate the significance of a Republican-led committee calling for the president's son to come before them again.
And, remember, Burr has no incentive to continue this investigation any further than it has to be. In 2017, in August of 2017, he gave an interview where he said he expected their investigation to end by the end of the year in December. He said something earlier this year as well.
So, clearly, he must have seen something, whether it was in Mueller's testimony -- I mean, in Mueller's report or from what they heard from Michael Cohen, that did not correlate with what they had heard from Donald Trump Jr. earlier.
So, the president, you can obviously understand why he's upset that his son would have to be subpoenaed back, but, at the same time, this isn't necessarily something that the president has control over. And given that this is coming from a Republican-led committee, it is something that is very significant.
BLITZER: It's very extraordinary.
Susan Hennessey, what do you think? How big of a deal is it that this Republican majority Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, the chairman, went ahead and issued this subpoena for Donald Trump Jr. to come and testify again?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's an indication that they feel that they really need to talk to him again. Apparently, he did -- he did not voluntarily agreed to come in.
So now they're going to force him, either to come in and testify, or at least to assert the Fifth. One thing to keep in mind, though, is this notion that the Mueller report in any way exonerated Donald Trump Jr. is just not true on its face.
The Mueller report describes Donald Trump Jr. being aware of the Russian plot, encouraging it, seeming to benefit from the fruits of that plot, lying to the public about it. It also found that Donald Trump Jr. accepted a thing of value from a foreign national, which would be a violation of campaign finance law.
But Mueller's team decided that they didn't think that they could prove beyond a reasonable doubt the elements that he knew it was a crime at the time. They also didn't know how they were going to establish the monetary threshold that it would -- that this dirt on Hillary Clinton was actually worth $25,000.
There's another section of the report where this is partially redacted. So we don't know for sure who it's referring to. Strongly indicates that they contemplated potentially charging Trump Jr. under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, but decided it wasn't quite the appropriate fit on the statute -- with the statute.
So, really, the Mueller report described quite shocking and appalling conduct by Donald Trump Jr. It just did not -- it just -- it just decided not to bring criminal charges. And so it's pretty clear, from reading that report, why Congress would feel the need to follow up and get more answers.
BLITZER: It's not an easy decision for the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee to issue this subpoena. What does it say to you?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN COMMENTATOR: No, it's not easy.
And I think some people were surprised that Senator Burr did this. Here's one thing I know about Senator Burr. In 2010, he was one of the eight Republicans who voted to repeal don't ask, don't tell. That told me at that time that he was something -- somebody that thought about how he would be seen in the rear-view mirror in the history books, had he acted on principle vs. just on party-line votes. And I think that one data point tells me that that's what he's
thinking here. He knows that Donald Trump Jr. is legally exonerated. But he would like to get to the facts of this matter.
And, to Susan's point, I think this is one of the reasons why Democrats have played this a little too tightly. They have tried to thread the needle with all these fine-tuned legal points, instead of just, for instance, last week, when Attorney General Barr was in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, just asking him, OK, you couldn't charge Donald Trump Jr. with a crime, but do you think it was OK, what he did, or do you think, to your point, it was appalling, and just get an answer on the record?
BLITZER: In the Mueller report, they also have an allegation against the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, that he leaked to the White House some very sensitive information that the so- called Gang of Eight, the leaders in the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, the leaders of both the Democrats and Republicans, received.
He says he doesn't remember that.
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Boy, and this on the heels of the president continuing to characterize this as a bunch of angry Democrats.
The lineup of Republicans, starting with Jeff Sessions, going to Rod Rosenstein, going through Robert Mueller, and now including Richard Burr, I'm starting to say, actually, it's a bunch of angry Republicans.
If I could just pick up on this point and make it maybe even more simple about exoneration, boy, what a distance we have crawled through the mud. Two-and-a-half years ago, the campaign didn't want to talk about Russian contacts, because I presumed they were embarrassed that there were contacts.
Nobody would want to consider accepting information from a rival power, including an intelligence service that is our foe. Then we go on to saying, yes, we talked to them, but it was about people, kids coming into this country.
And then we actually realized there are a ton of contacts. And Rudy Giuliani says, why wouldn't you want to take information from the Russians?
My point is, you might be exonerated by the law, but the shame we should feel in this country for traveling in two-and-a-half years from saying, it would be completely inappropriate to talk to Russia, to saying this might be part of American politics, he is never going to be exonerated in my book.
GOLODRYGA: And, Wolf, it's a bit rich at this point for Donald Trump Jr. to respond -- or at least through a spokesperson or somebody who is close to him -- by calling Senator Burr a so-called Republican. Remember, he was one of the president -- or nominee's -- candidate then Donald Trump's first surrogates. He had always been a supporter of the president and had been closely aligned with him.
To somehow now paint him as an anti-Trumper is just revisionist history.
BLITZER: And it's a big deal, obviously.
Everybody, stand by. There's a lot more on all the breaking news right after this.
BLITZER: We're back with our experts and our analysts.
Very interesting development, Susan, you've been following closely. Today, you have the President said he wanted the former Secretary of the State, during the Obama administration, John Kerry, prosecuted for violating the Logan Act by talking directly with the Iranian officials but the President said his people didn't want to do that. That sort of stood out, especially now that Senator Kamala Harris, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said she had specifically asked the Attorney General, Bill Barr, when he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about whether the White House had asked him to prosecute individuals.
First, listen to the exchange she had with Bill Barr, the Attorney General, and then what the President said today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Has the President or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone, yes or no, please, sir?
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yes, but I'm trying to grapple with the word suggest. I mean, there have been discussions of matters out there that they have not asked me to open an investigation.
HARRIS: Perhaps they've suggested?
BARR: I don't know. I wouldn't say suggest but --
BARR: I don't know.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What I'd like to see with Iran, I'd like to see them call me. You know, John Kerry speaks to him a lot. John Kerry tells them not to call. That's a violation of the Logan Act. And, frankly, he should be prosecuted on that. But my people don't want to do anything that's -- only the democrats do that kind of stuff, you know.
If it were the opposite way, they'd prosecute him under the Logan Act. But John Kerry violated the Logan Act. He's talking to Iran and has been, has many meetings and many phone calls and he is telling them what to do. That is a total violation of the Logan Act.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You know, Kamala Harris, the Senator, she's written a letter saying that the Attorney General should come back and clarify his reluctance, just specifically answer her questions.
HENNESSEY: Right. So this is one of the most sort of arresting moments of Barr's testimony and which he really sort of dodge. He refused to give a clear answer on whether or not the President had ever directed or suggested for him to open an investigation. Obviously, that would be a very grave abuse of power.
What the President has essentially said now is that he has had discussion about prosecuting a specific individual, John Kerry, for this violation of the Logan Act, never mind that it's actually never been used to obtain a conviction. That raises the question, is the, his people, that the President is referring to the Attorney General? And so Harris is now saying that she wants to follow up to find out, hey, you weren't able to answer the question last week. Are you able to give us more additional clarity in light of the President's statements?
MUDD: I wish this were Friday night because this would be a way to kick off a weekend. This is too rich, too rich for a Thursday night. The President of the United States before he's President, when President Obama was in office, has one of his advisers, Michael Flynn, pick up the phone to the Russians and say in what I could only interpret as a negotiation before that team is ever inaugurated, Russian's, don't pay attention to the Obama sanctions, we're going to hook you up.
If someone needs to be prosecuted of the Logan Act, the President seems that was short memory. Michael Flynn gets another done court beyond lying to federal prosecutors, because we have him on tape telling the Russians, I'm going to negotiate away sanctions before we're ever in office.
HENNESSEY: And we should also note that most legal scholars believe that the Logan Act, which has not been used in more than a century, would violate the first amendment. And so there is a reason why the Justice Department doesn't want to prosecute a case because they aren't sure that the statute can be defended at all.
BLITZER: David, what do you think?
SWERDLICK: Yes, no. I agree with everything they were saying. I just would add that the Attorney General in that clip you played, Wolf, was being too cute by half. Again, when the senator asked the Attorney General of the United States, did anybody suggest, then he kind of gives that cute shrug and says, what do you mean by suggest? It suggests that he's not interested in answering the question.
BLITZER: Let me get, Bianna. Go ahead, Bianna.
GOLODRYGA: Well, it does seem to fit with the President's M.O. I mean, when you hear reports of the President pressuring his former Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, to open an investigation into Hillary Clinton, the pressure that he put on Don McGahn, the pressure that he put on Jim Comey. It seems to him that this goes back to, you know, what a Roy Cohn should do he says, give me my Roy Cohn. This is something that he has been reported to have been doing the past couple of years.
And the most uncomfortable part of that was him looking around the room today and to his HHS Secretary, Azar, for sort of validation and support and no one really knew how to respond to him, and wanting to agree that, in fact, he was in violation of the Logan Act or he should be prosecuted. This seems to fit a pattern of the President's that we have now been reporting over the past couple of years.
BLITZER: We will be speak about that later this hour with Anderson Cooper himself. And to our viewers, by the way, stay with CNN for a live Town Hall with the former FBI Director, James Comey. Anderson Cooper will moderate later tonight at 8:00 P.M. Eastern.
Coming up, we're learning of an ominous warning about conditions at the Colorado school where a deadly shooting occurred this week. One parent feared a repeat of Columbine.
BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following right now, a new statement just out from Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, on the Iranian threat to U.S. forces. Pompeo writes, and I'm quoting him now, we do not seek war but he vows that any Iranian attack will be met with what he calls a swift and decisive U.S. response.
Let's dig deeper with Brian Hook. He's the U.S. Special Representative for Iran, Senior Policy Adviser to the Secretary of State. Brian, thanks very much for coming in.
A pretty alarming statement. So, give us the details what's going on.
BRIAN HOOK, U.S. SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR IRAN: We received a number of credible threat assessments that Iran was plotting attacks against American interests and against our partners in the region. And so we repositioned military assets as a prudential move, it's a defensive move, and also sent a signal to the Iranian regime that they do not want to escalate this.
BLITZER: So what specifically is the U.S. fear? What are the Iranians up to?
HOOK: Well, they have been running an expansionist and very violent foreign policy around the Middle East for some time. So many of the missiles that you hear about hitting various targets, whether it's in Israel or whether in Saudi Arabia, they're Iranian missiles. So we need to really restore deterrents against Iran's regional aggression. The best way we're going to do that is to make clear that we will respond with force if Iran runs an offense.
BLITZER: But you're saying there are new specific threats that you've learned, which has caused the U.S. movement of aircraft carrier strike force, bombers and urgent, unannounced visit by the Secretary of State to Baghdad.
HOOK: Yes. It was important that the Secretary go to Baghdad to sit with the Iraqi leaders and to make clear that we want a strong, stable and sovereign Iraq. The Iranian regime doesn't want any of those things.
BLITZER: So the U.S. troops in Iraq, and there are about 5,200 U.S. troops, maybe another 7,000 contractors, half of whom are U.S. citizens, are they in danger right now from Iran or Iranian-supported surrogates, Shiite militias, for example, in Iraq?
HOOK: Back in September we had our embassy in Baghdad that was the subject of rocket attacks, also in Basra.
BLITZER: From who?
HOOK: From Iranian-backed militias. And so we have put in place the necessary safety precautions. Now, with the most recent sort of threat streams that we have received, we have now repositioned our forces.
BLITZER: Because there seems to be an urgency right now, the intelligence that you have, and you're confidence and the intelligence that it's good, right?
BLITZER: The threat to U.S. troops in Iraq would also -- there a lot of American troops in Kuwait and Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, are they in danger from Iranian proxies?
HOOK: Well, so many of those places you just mentioned, they've been in danger for the last 40 years. Iran is now the most significant threat to peace and security in the Middle East with the defeat of ISIS. And so we, for the first time, are taking an entirely different approach to Iran's expansionist foreign policy that has destabilized the Middle East and has killed hundreds of Americans. So we're just putting in place a new strategy so that we can promote more peace in the Middle East.
BLITZER: But have you seen a new Iranian aggression in the aftermath of the U.S. ripping up the Iran nuclear agreement and imposing much tougher new sanctions? HOOK: Well, we have seen Iran --
BLITZER: Is this retaliation by the Iranians, for example, to what the U.S. has done?
HOOK: It's hard to know what drives them. But we do know that from the beginning, in 1979, this is a revolutionary regime. It's the last revolutionary regime on earth. It is committed to destabilizing the Middle East. And so we are committed to the safety and the security not only of American interests but also our partners and friends in the region.
BLITZER: You heard the President today in his Q&A with reporters say that his National Security Adviser, John Bolton, is more hawkish than he is. He's got to calm him down. What does that mean?
HOOK: Well, the President has a national security cabinet that is committed to this new Iran strategy. We do want to get to a new and better deal and that would address not only the nuclear threat but would address the missile threat, the regional aggression, the arbitrary detention of American citizens that are currently held in Iran. We're going to take a comprehensive approach. That's been the new strategy and it's working.
BLITZER: What about this former Secretary of the State, John Kerry? You heard the President today say he should be investigated and charged with violating the Logan Act because of those conversations he's had with Iranian officials, a lot of conversations he's had. Tell us what the President wants by that.
HOOK: We should have one Secretary of State at a time. And Senator Kerry has had numerous meetings with Iran's foreign minister --
BLITZER: He's suggesting he hasn't had numerous conversations?
HOOK: No, he is -- Senator Kerry has confirmed that he has met with the Iranian Foreign Minister in Norway, in Munich and at the United Nations, and those aren't coordinated with the State Department. So we don't know what happens in those meetings. What people have reported is that he has advised the Iranian regime to wait out this administration and their strategy of economic pressure so that whoever that --
BLITZER: How do you know he said that to Mohammad Javad Zarif? I assume that's who you're referring to, the Foreign Minister?
HOOK: Well, we don't know because, the meetings are not coordinated with the State Department. And so that is actively Secretary Pompeo has said that this is actively undermining American foreign policy and it's not appropriate.
BLITZER: And so you agree with the President that the former Secretary of State should at least be investigated for violating the Logan Act?
HOOK: I'm not an expert on the Logan Act, but we do know that he has been conducting meetings with Iran's Foreign Minister on a fairly regular basis as a private citizen, and that isn't appropriate.
BLITZER: Because, remember, during the transition there were accusations that the future national security adviser to the president, Michael Flynn, was violating the Logan Act by having conversations with the Russians.
HOOK: Predates me.
BLITZER: That was not your department.
BLITZER: But bottom line, how worried should we be about a war between the United States and Iran?
HOOK: Well, we're not seeking a war, and the president made that very clear today. He is open. He wants to have a diplomatic solution to the entire range of threats to peace and security that Iran presents. Now that's going to require a change in behavior, but he does want to get to a new and much better deal than the deal that we left a year ago yesterday.
BLITZER: Let's see what happens. Brian Hook, you're making us nervous just hearing all that stuff. Thanks very much for coming. Appreciate it.
HOOK: Thanks very much. OK.
BLITZER: Just ahead, a warning of a Columbine-style attack at a Denver-area school months before this week's deadly shooting.
[18:50:39] BLITZER: We're learning new information tonight about the deadly school shooting near Denver and a warning of possible violence months before.
CNN's Scott McLean has the latest.
SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Surfacing in this Denver area community, still mourning the latest school shooting, potential signs missed that warned of a Columbine-style attack months before this week's tragedy. 2
A letter obtained by CNN shows the Douglas County School District urging the STEM school to investigate serious allegations, listing more than a dozen complaints from an anonymous parent, including concerns about student violence that could lead to a repeat of Columbine. The parent called the situation at the school "the perfect storm", blaming a high pressure environment and citing an alleged recent bomb threat and added that several students have reported sexual assault in school and that nothing is being done. It was sent in December, five months before the shooting at STEM
School Highlands Ranch left one student dead and eight others injured.
CAMI BRAINARD, STEM SCHOOL HIGHLANDS RANCH PARENT: It's extremely disturbing, but I haven't heard of anything like that, you know, through my son at all.
MCLEAN: At the time, the school's principal Penny Eucker called the allegations at the time an attack in a letter to parents, saying they were false accusations and that an investigation by STEM board and staff leadership revealed no evidence of these allegations.
Today, Eucker continues to defend the school, writing in a statement to CNN: Like any school with more than 1,800 students, we receive complaints, all of which we take seriously and investigate promptly. The safety and well-being of our students and staff is our highest priority.
The school even filed a defamation lawsuit against a Jane Doe since the parent remains anonymous. The grounds of the lawsuit are far from clear, and school administrators have not returned calls to clarify.
In December, a group of parents wrote a 240-page report asking the county to intervene, describing an atmosphere of distrust, uncertainty and hostility about issues ranging from safety concerns to special education programs.
The county board of education even wrote: We urge you to consider a change in leadership.
Meanwhile, students gathered to mourn the loss of Kendrick Castillo, the 18-year-old killed trying to tackle one of the shooters. The vigil quickly turned political as students walked out in protest when some speakers pressed for more restrictive gun laws. At one point, students were chanting --
CROWD: Mental health! Mental health! Mental health!
MCLEAN: But with just three days left of school, students are pledging to push on.
CHRIS ELLEDGE, STEM SCHOOL HIGHLANDS RANCH STUDENT: You don't stop your life just to -- just because of one bad thing. You can't let that get in the way. You have to band together as a community. You have to stay strong. STEM strong.
MCLEAN: And according to a law enforcement force with direct knowledge of the investigation, the 18-year-old suspect in the case had taken the two handguns used in the shooting on Tuesday from his parents. They had purchased them legally.
I should also mention, Wolf, that the school district had scheduled a public meeting to discuss Tuesday's shooting. This afternoon the meeting was canceled because of logistical challenges. Neither suspect has heard formal charges yet, but both will be back in court tomorrow -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It's also heartbreaking. Scott McLean, on the scene for us, thanks very much.
Up next, President Trump's new swipe at Robert Mueller. He says the special counsel is in love, his words, with the former FBI Director James Comey. We have details and a preview of tonight's CNN town hall with Comey. There he is, Anderson Cooper. He's the moderator. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll discuss right after this.
[18:57:54] BLITZER: President Trump taking another swipe at special counsel Robert Mueller and the FBI director. Trump fired James Comey.
Let's bring in CNN's Anderson Cooper. He's moderating the CNN town hall with Comey tonight.
Very timely that the president spoke about Comey earlier in the day. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Bob Mueller's no friend of mine. I had conflicts with him. We had a business dispute. We had somebody that is in love with James Comey.
He liked James Comey. They were very good friends, supposedly best friends, maybe not, supposedly best friends. You look at the picture file and you see hundreds of pictures of him and Comey.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What do you think?
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: I'm not sure what to make of that exactly. What's interesting is that actually in the Mueller report, many things that President Trump said Comey was lying about were confirmed by Mueller in the report with other documentation. So Comey stands up pretty well in terms of the things he was being called out by the president on.
BLITZER: It's interesting and it's very important, we're all going to be watching tonight, why do you think Comey has decided to go out and do a town hall? He's written an op-ed, he's done some other stuff.
COOPER: Yes. I mean, one, his book is coming out in paper back, so there's clearly that incentive. But I think he wants -- you know, he wants to remain engaged on some level and I think he's trying to figure out what that is. You know, he actually canvassed in the 2018 Democratic race in Virginia. So, it's interesting to see if he actually plans to kind of continue having a public role after this stage or if he's going to kind of go below the radar.
BLITZER: So you'll ask some questions but mostly the audience. COOPER: Right. It's a town hall. We've got an audience full of
people, people all over the D.C., Virginia area. Republicans, Democrats. We'll have a lively discussion. I'll follow up with some questions.
BLITZER: And, presumably, we're going to get his detailed reaction to the Mueller report.
COOPER: Right. I mean, there's a lot -- there's a lot in the Mueller report to talk to him about. Obviously, there's a lot about the inspector general report which is going on within the Department of Justice, which obviously Republicans are focusing on a lot. So there's a lot to talk about.
BLITZER: Get ready, one hour from now. We'll all be watching.
BLITZER: Anderson, thanks very much for coming in.
BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.
Thanks very much to our viewers for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.