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House Dems To Meet As Impeachment Calls Grow; House Judiciary Committee Subpoenas Former White House Aides Hope Hicks And Annie Donaldson; Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) Is Interviewed On Subpoenas For Hicks and Donaldson; Trump Tweets About McGahn Defying Subpoena; Beto O'Rourke Relaunches Presidential Campaign; North Korea's Propaganda Machine Gets Makeover. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 21, 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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ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT CORRESPONDENT: So at the Supreme Court, it may not be the key without a court would move to strike down Roe. But critics feel what will happen is they'll gut it. Jake?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Ariane de Vogue, thank you so much.

Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks for watching.

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WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news: more subpoenas. The House Judiciary Committee issues subpoenas to two more former White House officials, Hope Hicks, who was communications director, and Annie Donaldson, who was deputy counsel.

Will they become the latest to defy congressional investigators?

Calls for impeachment: after former White House counsel Don McGahn fails to show up for a House Judiciary Committee hearing, more and more Democrats are calling for impeachment, as the House Speaker schedules an urgent meeting to try to hold the caucus together.

Last-ditch appeal: the president's lawyers are appealing a federal judge's ruling, upholding a congressional subpoena for records from his longtime accounting firm, as another judge is to hear an appeal by the president and family members against the subpoena seeking bank records.

And sprucing up state TV: North Korea's propaganda machine gets a makeover, as the Pink Lady, who was the TV face of the regime for decades, gives way to a new generation and new techniques.

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

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news. BLITZER: Breaking news: two more former White House officials are slapped with subpoenas as the House Judiciary Committee asks for documents and appearances from former communications director Hope Hicks and Annie Donaldson, deputy chief of staff to Don McGahn.

Also breaking: a growing push among House Democrats to begin impeachment proceedings against President Trump. There will be a caucus-wide meeting tomorrow, where it's expected impeachment will be raised.

For some, the final straw was the failure of former White House counsel Don McGahn to appear at today's House Judiciary Committee hearings on the instructions of the White House, which has stonewalled Democratic investigations at every turn.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi is not on board yet but Judiciary chairman Jerry Nadler is vowing to hold the president, and I'm quoting him now, "accountable one way or the other."

I'll speak with Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of the Judiciary Committee and our correspondents and analysts will have full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's begin with two new subpoenas issued by the House Judiciary Committee to two more former White House officials. Let's go straight to our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, up on Capitol Hill.

Phil, the committee's requests continue to be stonewalled. Former counsel Don McGahn was no-show at today's Judiciary hearing. Now the committee is stepping up the pressure.

What's the strategy with these latest subpoenas?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN U.S. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: To put it bluntly, Wolf, keep the pressure on. Make clear, according to committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, the Judiciary Committee, that they are not relenting, even in the face of the White House defiance related to several subpoenas, blocking all aspects of the investigation they possibly can.

And they are going to keep going after White House officials or former White House officials connected to the president in their sweeping investigation into possible obstruction of justice.

Now these two names, Annie Donaldson and Hope Hicks, two of the people who were closest to the president, and Don McGahn, who you noted, did not show up today for a scheduled hearing, did not comply with this subpoena, showing kind of an increased broad effort to increase pressure on White House officials that may have knowledge related to the committee's ongoing obstruction of justice case, their investigation.

And the reason why this is so important is that it doesn't just push back against the White House, which has been defying congressional Democrats in every way, but it also sends a message to their own counterparts.

Two House Democrats, over the course of the last 24 hours, just out of sheer frustration, has caused a lot of Democrats, who have been falling into line behind speaker Nancy Pelosi, behind the committee chairman, that impeachment, at least, is not ready for now, are starting to turn in a different direction. Take a listen to what some had to say today.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think the case gets stronger the more they stonewall the Congress?

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D-GA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: I'm getting there. I think what the president has done has put us in a position where we cannot get any information to do the oversight that we need to do.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): I think impeaching and choosing to not impeach when there is an abundance of evidence could also be construed as politically motivated as well. And we can't be scared of elections. We need to uphold the rule of law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: The divisions flared last night in meetings with leadership, members, not just rank-and-file members but committee chairs, senior members of the House Judiciary Committee, saying the best pathway forward, given the reluctance of the White House to give anything to congressional Democrats, is to start an impeachment inquiry. But Speaker Pelosi has remained firm. The fact that the Senate --

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MATTINGLY: -- controlled by Republicans, 53-47, would almost certainly not move forward on an impeachment inquiry, would certainly not vote against the president on this, she believes it's a political issue and she's also concerned about the idea that, if they were to go down that road, it would take all eyes off of the other issues that Democrats, many of whom flipped Trump districts in 2018, are focused on.

Whether it's health care or prescription drugs or infrastructure, that is something that Pelosi wants to avoid. Up until this point, members have mostly fallen in line behind Pelosi but it is very clear the frustration among House Democrats is palpable.

The White House is making clear they're not going to comply with anything. That is leading Democrats to say something, anything, has to be done. The real question is, if the subpoenas for two more former White House officials today will help assuage some of those concerns or whether it will continue to grow in the days ahead.

BLITZER: And amidst all of this, CNN has learned that Robert Mueller may be backing away from testifying before Congress. How big a blow is that potentially to Democrats?

MATTINGLY: When you talk to Democrats, the number I have spoken to today have made clear, they need something to take the air out of the balloon here and that something would be the testimony of someone who is important related to the Mueller report. Whether it was Don McGahn, who obviously defied his subpoena today, or whether the special counsel, someone Democrats have long assumed would, at some point, come to Capitol Hill.

Our colleagues, Laura Jarrett over at the Justice Department, Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb up here on Capitol Hill have discovered talking to sources that the special counsel's team has been reticent to send him up to Capitol Hill. They don't want him to appear political after spending two years saying almost nothing related to his investigation at all.

The negotiations are ongoing and the attorney general, William Barr, has said it's up to Bob. That's a direct quote from an interview with "The Wall Street Journal" as to whether or not he testifies.

There's been some talk about perhaps having testimony in a closed-door setting. That might be a way to secure the testimony. But I've talked to Democrats up here who have made clear they want that testimony at least in part to be in public. And as of this moment, that has not been secured.

BLITZER: Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill, thank you very much.

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

Jim, the president and his team, they're not giving an inch in this battle. And now these two new subpoenas are coming forward.

Any reaction, first of all, from there?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Not yet, Wolf, but if past is prologue, the White House are showing no signs of backing down right now in their standoff with House Democrats over their investigations of the president.

Aides to the president say the administration is prepared to battle it out with Democrats in court. Mr. Trump is fighting back, as well, by escalating his rhetoric, as he once again accused his adversaries of treason.

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ACOSTA (voice-over): In another swipe at Democrats tonight, the president's legal team is aggressively fighting to appeal a federal judge's ruling that ordered Mr. Trump's longtime accounting firm, Mazars, to turn over his financial records to House investigators, who see those documents as a potential impeachment mother lode.

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA): This is a very important loss for him. It sets the stage for the documents, his tax returns and other information to be available.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Also tonight, an empty table that speaks volumes, as former White House counsel Don McGahn followed Trump administration instructions and defied a subpoena to testify before the House Judiciary Committee, where chairman Jerry Nadler warned he's running out of patience.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): Mr. McGahn has a legal obligation to be here for this scheduled appearance. If he does not immediately correct his mistake, this committee will have no choice but to enforce the subpoena against him.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Despite threats from Congress to go to court, Mr. Trump is making it clear he's in no mood to cooperate.

ACOSTA: What do you have to say to Americans who feel that your administration is stonewalling all of these investigations up on Capitol Hill?

Why not let Don McGahn testify?

Are you afraid of what he has to say?

TRUMP: I think we've been the most transparent administration in the history of our country. Now what happens is the Democrats want a redo and we've had enough and the country has had enough.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president is continuing to take his case to his base, lobbing accusations that unnamed forces in the Russia investigation.

TRUMP: It was treason and it should never be allowed to happen to another president again, ever, ever, ever.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Drawing a new twist on a familiar chant at his rallies.

TRUMP: Well, we have a great new attorney general who's going to give it a very fair look.

ACOSTA (voice-over): That attorney general, William Barr, told "The Wall Street Journal" he's sympathetic to the president's complaints that he's been unfairly targeted, adding, quote, "I felt the rules were being changed to hurt Trump and I thought it was damaging for the presidency over the long haul."

The president is clearly turning his attention to the campaign, hitting former Vice President Joe Biden in Pennsylvania.

TRUMP: Don't forget, Biden deserted you. He's not from Pennsylvania. I guess he was born here but he left you, folks. He left you for another state.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The reality is Biden moved to Delaware when he was a child. Mr. Trump also appears to have his eye on South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg after his town hall on FOX. TRUMP: Something strange is going on over at FOX --

[17:10:00]

TRUMP: -- something very strange.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president remains focused on border issues heading in to 2020, tapping former Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli to coordinate immigration policy at the Department of Homeland Security.

That's despite Cuccinelli's past criticism of Mr. Trump during the 2016 campaign, which peaked at the Republican National Convention, when he put his anger with the party on display by throwing his credentials on the floor.

KEN CUCCINELLI, FORMER VIRGINIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: I'm not going to --

Sometimes I wonder if I'm watching my country commit political suicide. But I don't think it's really accurate to characterize him as a conservative.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now there was one other top official on the move over here at the White House, one of Mr. Trump's senior aides from the start of the administration, Johnny DeStefano is leaving the president's team. That leaves the president without a key political adviser, as House Democrats are talking more and more about impeachment, as you were just showing a few minutes ago.

Democrats are saying McGahn's refusal to testify has made them more open to the idea of impeachment but when you talk to people over here at the White House, people who are close to the president, Wolf, they don't sound especially concerned about that kind of talk. And they argue that this is more of a worry for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is feeling the impeachment pressure from her own party -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Important point. Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

Joining us now, Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Washington State, a member of the Judiciary Committee.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D), WASHINGTON: Thank you, Wolf. Always great to be here.

BLITZER: Thank you. Your committee has just subpoenaed Hope Hicks, she's the former White House communications director, and Annie Donaldson. She was the chief of staff to the former White House counsel, Don McGahn, and her contemporaneous notes, by the way, feature prominently in the Mueller report.

How important is their testimony on the question of obstruction? JAYAPAL: I think it's very important. Annie Donaldson's notes might be one of the most important things that is in the report. It is our equivalent of the Watergate tapes, in some way. But she actually documents exactly what the president said in numerous instances to Don McGahn.

Don McGahn's testimony, obviously, was very important. Hope Hicks also figures prominently. These are all important individuals who we need to hear from directly and be able to lay out exactly what happened to them, confirm, you know, what is in the Mueller report but go beyond that, as well and make sure that we have all the information that we need in order to assess the 10 specific cases, potential cases of obstruction of justice, that Robert Mueller laid out in the report.

BLITZER: As you also heard, CNN has learned that Robert Mueller is now reluctant to testify publicly before Congress for fear of appearing political. You say, and I'm quoting now, you say, "We have to be very careful about restrictions on his testimony."

What sort of restrictions are you willing to accept?

For example, will you accept a closed-door private hearing?

JAYAPAL: Well, we really haven't -- we heard about this from you. We have not heard about this, you know, on our own through the chairman, so I have no idea what the discussions are, what Robert Mueller actually has or hasn't said.

But I think one of the key things that I was saying to Manu earlier is, you know, we cannot be in a situation where we are constrained from talking about what we hear. We cannot be in a situation where only one or two members are talking with Robert Mueller.

Nancy Pelosi has been very clear about this; Jerry Nadler has been very clear about this. We need to make sure that the public gets this information. This is a report that should have been released in its entirety to the public.

And in fact, you know, Republicans, House Republicans voted with us unanimously -- not unanimously but overwhelmingly -- to allow the Mueller report to be released. And then, all of a sudden, they're fine with the, you know, significant redactions, without the underlying information.

So we just need this to be public. We need people to be able to see what is happening and we need to be able to have a public discussion about what has happened.

What the president has done, these obstruction of justice cases that are so serious, Wolf, that I do not think that -- you know, I just don't think that we can ignore what is happening, the stonewalling that is coming from the White House.

And I'll tell you this, I do not think that the American people, Republican, independent or Democrat, want a president who is above the law. I just don't think that's true. BLITZER: Well, you're one of the members of the Judiciary Committee, Congresswoman, calling for the chairman, Jerry Nadler, to open a formal impeachment inquiry. The House Speaker says the current strategy is working. She points out that a federal judge just upheld a subpoena for the president's financial records.

Why move toward impeachment proceedings when the court, at least in this particular case, appears to be on your side?

JAYAPAL: Well, let me say, first of all, that House Democrats are completely united on two critical things. Number one, we are going to deliver on our for the agenda people. Number two, all Democrats believe that the president cannot be above the law and that we have to hold this administration accountable. The question is --

[17:15:00]

JAYAPAL: -- how do you do that?

And many of us that are on the Judiciary Committee have been dealing with this over and over again.

I've read the Mueller report now three times in its entirety. So we really understand exactly what is happening. Not every single member of our caucus has that same information. And so some of what's happening now is a discussion.

And I respect what Speaker Pelosi is doing. She has a very different role. She's got to lead the caucus but those of us that are in the Judiciary Committee believe that this is warranted to start an impeachment inquiry.

Of course what the courts do matter. And Judge Mehta's decision a couple of days ago was very, very important. But that can't be only thing we do. We still have to do our job and we still have to uphold the Constitution.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, thanks so much for joining us.

JAYAPAL: Thanks, Wolf.

Coming up, breaking news. Already locked in a battle with the Trump administration, House Democrats now issue two more subpoenas for ex- White House officials.

And we're also learning why Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team is now reluctant to have him testify publicly before the House Judiciary Committee.

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[17:20:00]

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BLITZER: The breaking news this hour, the House Judiciary Committee issuing subpoenas to former White House officials, Hope Hicks and Annie Donaldson, hours after former White House Counsel Don McGahn defied his subpoena and was a no-show at the hearing earlier today.

Let's get more on all the breaking news with our experts and analysts.

Gloria Borger, what's the committee strategy right now?

Is it issuing more subpoenas that also potentially could be ignored Ed ignored?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. And I think they will be ignored. I think the committee strategy is how to keep the pressure on the White House, to keep doing this but they know what the answer is going to be.

The answer is going to be, they're going to claim privilege over these conversations, say, with Hope Hicks or Annie Donaldson, who worked in the White House counsel's office. They know they're going to get turned down.

But they're going to keep turning this screw here tighter and tighter and tighter and hope that something finally gives. I don't know whether it will or not, honestly.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Laura, because Annie Donaldson was the former chief of staff to the former White House counsel, Don McGahn, and she was a meticulous note taker. If you go through the Mueller report, we got some examples, a lot of notes in there backing up what Mueller -- what McGahn told Mueller and all of that.

Would hearing from Donaldson be the same as hearing from McGahn or would it be different?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: In some ways, it might be even better because she is the one that is in the rooms, the eyes and the ears for all of these eyebrow-raising conversations about the Russia investigation. She is there, remember, the day that Comey gets fired and she writes something to the effect of, is this the end?

You know, she's pretty honest. She says things like, oh, just another Russia fire drill. So I think lawmakers could have a field day questioning her. Obviously, she's McGahn's number two, she's his right-hand person, worked with him day in and day out. It's not the White House counsel itself but it's pretty darned close.

BLITZER: In one of her notes, when she was taking notes, she writes at one point, is this the beginning of the end?

As you point out.

What do all of these new subpoenas from the House Judiciary Committee tell you about the Democrats' strategy? RYAN LIZZA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Their strategy is to take the Mueller report and bring it to life in congressional testimony. Take the Mueller report, let's be honest, it was shaped by the attorney general of the United States. That's the most impressions of the Mueller report is that it was a bit of a wash.

And Democrats don't believe that. They believe the second half of the report, especially on obstruction of justice, is highly incriminating and they need witnesses up there to bring this to life, to testify, frankly, with some drama about the president's behavior, right?

And that's the only way, I think, that they're going to change public opinion on this, that was shaped by the Trump administration.

BLITZER: And the Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, Jackie, has called another caucus-wide Democratic meeting tomorrow morning, to discuss. There seems to be an increasing number of Democrats who are saying, at least begin the process, the procedure for impeachment.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Certainly, the loudest members of the caucus right now are calling for impeachment or are saying the process needs to start, with the exception of Nancy Pelosi. I think the people to watch the closest are Jerry Nadler, Elijah Cummings, Adam Schiff, the committee chairs, that are being directly affected by a lot of these shenanigans with the White House.

If they increasingly waver towards impeachment, that's going to increase the pressure on Nancy Pelosi more so than anyone else.

BORGER: But, you know, as Hakeem Jeffries said today and he's a member of the leadership, he said, why would we move toward impeachment when we're winning?

If you look at the polls, the American public -- even though the president says, totally exonerated, no collusion, no obstruction, the American public believes that the president did something wrong. And they also don't want the Congress to continue to exhaust them with these investigations.

So they already do have the public on their side. And the question is, do they risk, as Jeffries was sort of alluding to, do they risk losing the public in all of this --

[17:25:00]

BORGER: -- if they push it too far?

BLITZER: All right. The president has just tweeted about Don McGahn. We're going to have that for our viewers. We'll take a quick break. Much more right after this.

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(MUSIC PLAYING) BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. We're back with our

experts and our analysts. The president just moments ago tweeted this two-part tweet. I'll read it to our viewers.

[17:30:00] "So even though I didn't have to do it with presidential privilege, I allowed everyone to testify, including White House counsel Don McGahn, for over 30 hours to Robert Mueller and the 18 angry Trump-hating Democrats. And they arrived at a conclusion of no -- at a conclusion of no collusion and no obstruction. The Dems were unhappy with the outcome of the $40 million Mueller report, so now they want a do-over.

A couple of little misstatements there, but go ahead.

LIZZA: I think he means executive privilege, not presidential privilege.

BLITZER: Yes. Also the business about no obstruction, that was --

LIZZA: Look --

BLITZER: That was not the final conclusion of the Mueller report.

LIZZA: Absolutely, the second half of the report. And --

BORGER: Exactly.

BLITZER: Originally, they were saying it was $20 million, then $25 million, then $30 million. Now, he is saying it costs $40 million.

LIZZA: Yes. And it's important to point out when he says no obstruction, what Mueller actually said. He laid out, you know, chapter and verse behavior that many current and former prosecutors believe is obstruction of justice.

But because of a technicality, essentially, that he did not want to do something that would force the indictment of the President, because the Justice Department says you can't do that, he did not say that he obstructed justice, right?

This has caused -- this is the biggest gift to Trump ever, that Mueller was restrained in his conclusions. He laid out the evidence for obstruction of justice but didn't actually say it was obstruction.

And he did that to be fair to the President because, as he says in the report, it would not be fair to charge the President with obstruction publicly if he couldn't actually defend himself in a court of law because he couldn't indict him.

That has put the Democrats in a real jam because they have a report laying out all of this illegal behavior -- and a lot of prosecutors say is illegal behavior -- but they don't have Mueller using word obstruction. And so it allows Trump to tweet like that with a sort of grain of truth.

BLITZER: And he apparently likes the results, but he keeps blasting what he calls these 18 angry Trump-hating Democrats. These were mostly career professionals, these prosecutors.

JARRETT: Right, and he can't seem to make up his mind about whether this report is actually a good story for him or not.

(LAUGHTER)

LIZZA: Yes.

JARRETT: You know, in the initial days, it was like, I'm great, I'm all cleared. Then he sort of changed the tone on it. Then he changed to not wanting Mueller to testify. Then he said he doesn't care what happens, it's up to the Attorney General.

He's all over the map on this, but the real point is he never testified. He never sat down with the Special Counsel. He never sat -- subjected himself to questioning under oath by the team, Democrats or Republicans on that team.

BLITZER: What about the new reporting from CNN, Gloria, that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team is now suggesting maybe it's a bad idea for him to come testify.

BORGER: Well, Laura knows more about that, yes.

BLITZER: To come testify before Congress.

BORGER: All I know is what I learned from Laura Jarrett.

(LAUGHTER)

BORGER: But, look, if I'm Bob Mueller, I don't want to be asked the question, which would be -- the first question out of the box would be, if the Office of Legal Counsel didn't keep you from indicting this president, would you have indicted him? Is there enough stuff there?

And he is going to say, eh, I can't really talk about that, I don't want to give an opinion. Because if he gives an opinion, then he's going to look partisan.

And he has, for this entire two years, I think, in his own head, wanted to do a mic drop and kind of just walk out of the room when it's over. And they want to hear from him.

I think they should hear from him, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if they have to reach some kind of conclusion about him maybe doing it privately. I don't know what --

JARRETT: Yes.

BLITZER: Would private testimony from Mueller have the same impact as public testimony, which, of course, would be televised live?

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: Absolutely not. It will be completely -- especially if partisans can't control themselves with the theatrics. You just have -- we've already seen this. Look at the Michael Cohen hearing. The fact that that was on

television had a much larger impact than anything he would have said behind closed doors. Even though that was untrue but we can go -- that's something else entirely, but -- and especially with this president.

He knows the value of television, of this testimony. It's probably one of the reasons Don McGahn has been asked not to testify, no matter what the President says.

Because a lot of people didn't read the Mueller report. They only saw what Bob Barr put out or have only heard it through a certain context. Having the actual people sitting there and talking is very different.

He'll also be asked about what -- about the letter he sent after Barr put out that one-page memo and be asked to, you know, explain his objections with it. There's a lot of ground that would cover, and it would bring a lot more issues right in front of the public rather than have it --

BLITZER: Is the President nervous about this?

LIZZA: Well, look, he -- just as Laura said, he can't make up his mind as to whether he thinks this report exonerates him and was great or not.

Look, I think there are a lot of Republicans who would have some questions for Mueller that they think would be very good from their side of this debate, right? There would be a lot of questions about Russia collusion and some of the storylines that Mueller investigated and learned were not as incriminating as people thought.

[17:34:56] So Mueller would have plenty to say that the White House might actually be O.K. with. The part that is by far the most damning for the President is he lays out a road map for charging this president with obstruction of justice.

JARRETT: This is --

BLITZER: Laura, this was all your terrific reporting.

(LAUGHTER)

LIZZA: Yes.

JARRETT: This is one of the areas, though, where you see this clash between leadership in the House and sort of the rank and file Democrats and who want to be a little bit more aggressive.

We heard from several of them today that said Mueller must testify in public. But yet when Manu Raju, our colleague on Capitol Hill, asked Jerry Nadler, the Chairman, he said he didn't want to talk about it. And he said -- essentially declined to comment, no comment there at all.

But there's going to be a little bit of a dance there because Mueller's team is saying, well, wait a minute, we may need to talk about the format, public versus private.

And one of the sticking points is whether he could do the questioning part behind closed doors. But if the rank and file Democrats are not on board with that, Jerry Nadler will have to make a choice there.

BLITZER: A very significant choice, indeed. Stick around.

There's a CNN exclusive I want to get to right now. Iran's Foreign Minister denying his country was involved in the recent attacks on a Saudi ship in the pipeline.

In an interview with CNN's Senior International Correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, he also discussed possible negotiations with the Trump administration, which he accuses of playing what he calls a very dangerous game.

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MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS, IRAN: We are not willing to talk to people who have broken their promises.

Because we talked to people -- we did not believe that our nuclear program, our nuclear energy program, required us to provide any concessions or provide any confidence-building measures, but we engaged. We acted in good faith, we negotiated, we reached a deal.

What the United States is saying is that we make a deal. Whatever we can get you in the negotiations through the deal, it's fine. Whatever we cannot get you, we'll come back to try to get you.

This is not the way serious countries deal with each other. The United States may be used to doing that with clients, but they cannot do that with Iran.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: How dangerous do you think the situation is currently in the Persian Gulf? With the U.S. aircraft carrier on its way, B-52 bombers, and at the same time, from your side saying, look, we don't want an escalation, but it will be painful if there is one.

ZARIF: Well, there will be painful consequences for everybody if there is an escalation against Iran. That's for sure.

The United States is engaging in economic warfare against Iran. It has to stop. Economic war means targeting Iranian people. That has to stop.

The United States does not have the legal position, does not have the moral position, does not have the political position, does not have the international position to impose economic war on Iran.

Iran is not interested in escalation. We have said very clearly that we will not be the party to begin escalation, but we will defend ourselves.

Now, having all these military assets in a small waterway is, in and of itself, prone to accident, particularly when you have people who are interested in accidents. So extreme prudence is required, and we believe that the United States is playing a very, very dangerous game.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Coming up, Beto O'Rourke is relaunching his presidential campaign as he takes part in a CNN town hall later tonight. We're going to get a preview.

Plus, North Korean news looks to the West as it undergoes a propaganda makeover.

[17:38:24] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Coming up tonight, a CNN presidential town hall with former congressman Beto O'Rourke live from Des Moines, Iowa. CNN's Dana Bash will moderate.

And CNN Political Director, David Chalian is on the scene for us at the town hall site. David, so what does Beto O'Rourke need to accomplish tonight?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, I think mission number one for O'Rourke, Wolf, is to reenergize his campaign, capture some of the enthusiasm that existed when he first got into this race back in March. He has slipped a bit since then.

So reintroduce himself in some way or introduce himself for those just tuning in why he is the best Democrat equipped to take on Donald Trump in this field of 23, get that energy going, bring in those donations, of course, sign up those volunteers. I think that's sort of mission critical for Beto O'Rourke tonight.

BLITZER: Listen to what Beto O'Rourke, David, said last night in Iowa about playing nice with Republicans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BETO O'ROURKE, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not naive about the forces that we face. It is not just Donald Trump. There is no more -- I'm trying to use polite language here, but you know what I'm talking about when I talk about Mitch McConnell. If we play nicely by the set rules, we're going to end up with the same results.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Interesting because we almost heard an opposite message from Joe Biden this weekend in Philadelphia, saying unity would help win the presidency. What's your analysis?

CHALIAN: Yes. In fact, you're right. Joe Biden, he just completely disagrees with this notion that Democrats are looking for somebody to just be a fighter, that they are also looking for someone to sort of heal the nation, unify the nation after these turbulent political times, be able to reach out across the aisle.

This is what Joe Biden is selling. You just heard Beto O'Rourke there make a different appeal, and I don't think it's by accident.

I mean, I think it -- the contrast that he's trying to draw is clear. And that is, there's a faction inside the Democratic Party, Wolf, that thinks that Republicans should not be reached out towards but that actually should be taken on, confronted, and defeated.

[17:44:58] There's that fighter notion, and there's that return to normal, the post-chaotic notion. I think that's a debate that's going to happen inside the Democratic Party throughout this process.

BLITZER: Several other Democratic candidates, David, attended abortion rights rallies today. Is this shaping up to be a central issue in the next election?

CHALIAN: It's certainly a hot issue right now. I don't know that we're going to see it stay sort of at the top. People still tell us health care is most important to them, climate change. But this is an issue that activates the Democratic base, and that is why you're going to see Democratic candidates continue to talk about it, Wolf.

BLITZER: David Chalian, on the scene for us in Iowa, thank you very much.

And our CNN presidential town hall with Beto O'Rourke starts at 10:00 p.m. Eastern later tonight only here on CNN.

Coming up, North Korea's propaganda makeover. We're going to show you what's strikingly different about its newscast.

Plus, breaking news. House Democrats slap two more former White House officials with subpoenas.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:50:49] BLITZER: North Korea's propaganda machine is getting a makeover as you've just seen. Brian Todd has been looking into this for us.

Brian, tell our viewers what you're learning.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have recently been seeing sleeker looking newscasts on North Korean state T.V., younger anchors, a more Western-looking production. This is part of Kim Jong-un's propaganda makeover, and it includes the phasing out of a woman who became something of a T.V. legend in North Korea.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

TODD (voice-over): She is called the Pink Lady. For decades, Ri Chun-hee delivered North Korea's most grand announcements with breathless energy. Once even donning all black and crying openly as she announced the death of Kim Jong-un's father.

But tonight, it appears North Korean state television is looking to refresh its image, putting Ri Chun-hee into semi-retirement.

The Pink Lady's traditional dress and artistic backdrop have been replaced with younger anchors and a sleeker T.V. studio look for its propaganda-filled newscast.

While it's all still propaganda, it looks decidedly Western, with reporters out into the field covering regular North Korean citizens and fancy graphics, drone footage, and even time-lapse video.

JEAN LEE, DIRECTOR OF THE HYUNDAI MOTOR-KOREA FOUNDATION CENTER FOR KOREAN HISTORY AND PUBLIC POLICY, THE WOODROW WILSON CENTER: This is something that they want to tell their people. We are modernizing under our young leader. And with his youth comes a whole new level of technology.

TODD (voice-over): In one instance, they even staged an interruption onset. A presenter walks in and hands the anchors with a breaking news update on how a steel factory is doing.

Analysts who study the regime's media and propaganda machine say the change in North Korean state T.V.'s broadcast could be influenced by more content coming in from outside North Korea.

LEE: They do also have the ability to go to the local DVD shop and buy Russian, Romanian, Chinese T.V. soap operas and movies. And so they are aware of foreign content, and some of that is certainly seeping into how they present their T.V.

TODD (voice-over): Analysts say this is also part of Kim Jong-un's broader makeover, a retooling of North Korea's image from that of a stodgy Cold War era hermit kingdom to a portrayal of a modern, vigorous country with young leadership.

Part of that effort, analysts say, involve Kim promoting his younger sister, Kim Yo-jong, to powerful positions, even putting her front and center at international events such as the Winter Olympics.

Cameras are even allowed to capture Kim at pop concerts with his glamorous wife, Ri Sol-ju, a former orchestra singer.

DR. BALBINA HWANG, VISITING PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Kim Jong-un is trying to show his audience that he is the young leader, he's dynamic. That he's actually the younger generation. That's he's in touch with pop culture.

TODD (voice-over): As for those slicker propaganda casts, experts believe they are part of Kim's plan to keep younger North Koreans in line with the regime.

LEE: He wants to get his kids hooked on drones, on devices, on technology, on cell phones. He dangles them as enticements for what their future may hold, what kind of creature comforts may lie in store for them if they are loyal to the regime.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Analysts say there is a danger with this technology and propaganda makeover for Kim's regime.

That with faster-paced newscast, still not airing live but turned around much more quickly than they were before, and with the technology moving faster than the regime can sometimes keep up with, there is a risk that Kim and his circle could lose some control of their message.

Wolf, that anchor, Ri Chun-hee, is not gone forever. She'll be brought back for big announcements.

BLITZER: Very interesting indeed. Good report, Brian. Thank you very much.

Coming up, the House Judiciary Committee subpoenas two more ex-White House officials after former White House Counsel Don McGahn defies a subpoena, sparking more impeachment calls from Democrats.

And the U.S. military intercepts Russian warships -- warplanes, I should say, off the coast of Alaska. What's behind Moscow's latest move?

[17:54:51] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Subpoena hope. As House Democrats refuse to accept White House stonewalling, they just issued new subpoenas for two former Trump administration officials, including Hope Hicks who was closer to the President than almost anyone.

[17:59:59] Picking up speed. More Democrats are supporting impeachment, questioning House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's go-slow approach.