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Flynn Transcript Released; Trump Scared of Impeachment?; Shooting in Virginia Beach; Interview With Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA); At Least 11 Dead, Six Hospitalized After Virginia Beach Shooting; A Source Says, Frustrated Trump Worried About Impeachment As He moves To Distract By Threatening Mexico With Tariffs; White House Enthusiastic About Barr Interview Defending Trump And Denying He's Shredding Institutions. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired May 31, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:03]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Scared of impeachment. After the president railed that the I-word is dirty and disgusting, we're told he is increasingly worried about the prospect of impeachment and isn't clamoring for it, as some Democrats had claimed. Is the president freaking out because Robert Mueller spoke out?

Caught on tape. The transcript of a voice-mail uncovered by Mueller just was released. It reveals the president's lawyer John Dowd was behind a suspicious message left for Michael Flynn's attorney. Is it evidence of obstruction?

And Barr backs conspiracy. The nation's top law enforcement officer sounds more like a Trump surrogate, as he defends the president and seems to buy into some of his ominous theories. Is there any daylight between the attorney general, William Barr, and his boss?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I am Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories right now, including a shooting incident in Virginia Beach, Virginia. We expect a news conference at any moment.

Also breaking, CNN has learned that Mr. Trump has grown more annoyed and frustrated since Robert Mueller spoke out. A source says the president is anxious about the possibility of impeachment, not welcoming it, as some Democrats claim.

This as we're getting a fresh look at evidence in Mueller's obstruction probe. A transcript was just released of a voice-mail left for Michael Flynn's attorney by then Trump lawyer John Dowd. Stand by. We have details on that.

Also this hour, we're told White House officials are enthusiastic about the Attorney General William Barr's new interview defending the president, his attacks on government institutions and his claim that his campaign was spied on.

This hour, I will talk to a member of the House Judiciary Committee, Representative Madeleine Dean. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's get to the breaking news on a shooting incident in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where there are now reports of multiple injuries.

I want to bring in our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz.

Shimon, what are you learning?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, still a very much unfolding situation there in Virginia Beach.

We're just learning that at least six people have been transported to the hospital. Their conditions are unknown. The police still very much on scene. There is video of officers running into the location, into the building with high-powered weapons.

The police there in Virginia saying that this was an active shooter situation, it was one shooter. They have taken that shooter into custody. Obviously, other questions that we have as to the motive, and are there any other injuries, are there any people who have been injured on scene, we don't know.

Police are expected to have a press conference here in the next 30 minutes or so, where we should get more information. But, for now, what we know is that this is a very much still unfolding situation. At least six people have been transported to the hospital, and police there still on scene, going through the building.

Obviously, you have a crime scene now there, but also checking for any other possible victims. And, lastly, of course, the shooter now in custody with police, and we should learn more here in the next 30 minutes or so -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And this was the Virginia Beach Municipal Center, Shimon, where there's, what, a lot of government offices in that building, right?

PROKUPECZ: That's right.

And the locals there, from what I have seen, say that there are a lot of local government offices there. There is a courthouse nearby. There's a school administration building nearby as well that was placed on lockdown. So there's a lot of government-type local offices within this area that police are now on scene there.

And that is where the shooting took place. There are also other local like public works offices. And, of course, city hall, we're told, is nearby as well, which certainly makes this even more interesting, because this appears to be someone who was targeting a government building and government workers perhaps that have now been injured in this shooting, Wolf. BLITZER: We will stand by for the news conference. Supposed to happen fairly soon.

All right, Shimon, thanks very much. When you get more, let us know.

Right now, there's other breaking news we're following involving the president and his deep concerns about impeachment.

I want to go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, you're learning about the president's of mind-set on the so- called I-word, even as he tries to change the subject by threatening Mexico with new tariffs.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

A source close to the White House told CNN President Trump is dreading the idea of being impeached, pushing back on any notion that Mr. Trump is goading House Democrats into taking that dramatic step. This source said the president does not think it's a good thing if he's impeached, saying he's annoyed and frustrated that the Russia story is dragging on.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): A source close to the White House who spoke to the president after special counsel Robert Mueller's comments this week says Mr. Trump does not see impeachment as a good thing.

[18:05:03]

That's contrary to what House Democrats fear, that the president is somehow daring them to impeach him. The president's sense of dread was all too clear as he seemed sickened by the mere mention of the word impeachment.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To me, it's a dirty word, the word impeach. It's a dirty, filthy, disgusting word, and it had nothing to do with me.

ACOSTA: The president is said to be -- quote -- "annoyed and frustrated" and has come to see the Russia story -- quote -- "as so much B.S. all the time," a feeling he appeared to share with reporters.

TRUMP: No, Russia did not help me get elected. You know who got me elected? You know who got me elected? I got me elected. Russia didn't help me at all. Russia, if anything, I think helped the other side.

ACOSTA: Mr. Trump has managed to change the storyline in Washington from Mueller to Mexico, one of the U.S.' closest trading partners.

The president is warning he will start imposing escalating tariffs on Mexico in June, until such time as illegal migrants coming through Mexico and into our country stop. Back in April, the president raised the prospect of tariffs on Mexican products coming into the U.S. when he backed off the idea of shutting down the border.

TRUMP: We're going to give them a one-year warning. And if the drugs don't stop, or largely stop, we're going to put tariffs on Mexico and products, in particular cars. And if that doesn't stop the drugs, we close the border.

ACOSTA: Aides to the president are selling the proposed tariffs as a way of punishing Mexico without hurting American consumers.

QUESTION: Why raise American consumers' prices on all of that stuff coming from Mexico.

PETER NAVARRO, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE OFFICE OF TRADE AND MANUFACTURING POLICY: So this is one of the most misunderstood aspects of the Trump tariffs. China, for example, bears the burden of the tariffs in the form of lower exports, lower prices for their products, lower profits for their companies.

These people who say that somehow American consumers are going to pay for this, it's simply not true. These countries are paying for this.

ACOSTA: But that's not quite true, as big U.S. retailers and brand names are warning prices will go up for shoppers. The White House is rejecting complaints from the president's fellow Republicans, many of them free traders, who complain they were surprised by the tariffs.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president didn't blindside his own party. If Republicans weren't aware, then they haven't been paying attention.

ACOSTA: But a growing number of GOP senators are raising concerns, with Iowa's Charles Grassley saying: "I support nearly every one of President Trump's immigration policies, but this is not one of them," while Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey added in a statement: "A blanket tax increase on everything Americans purchase from Mexico is the wrong remedy."

The White House revealed to reporters on a conference call that it hasn't quite worked out what Mexico will have to do in order to have the tariffs removed.

MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We did not set a specific percentage, not set a specific number. It's a very fluid situation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: And one senior of initiation officials said the Department of Homeland Security is currently working on the specific metrics that Mexico will have to meet to prevent these tariffs from going into effect.

As that official put it, one would think the White House would have thought of that first -- Wolf.

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

There's more breaking news on evidence from the Mueller investigation. The transcript of a voice-mail from then Trump attorney John Dowd to Michael Flynn's lawyer was just released a little while ago.

Our senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez, is here with me in THE SITUATION ROOM.

So we got this full transcript now. How significant, Evan, is this?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we finally have the full context of what John Dowd saying to the lawyer representing Michael Flynn.

This is -- if you remember, this is around the time that Michael Flynn had essentially broke off communications with the Trump team and know they were very nervous. In John Dowd's voice-mail, you can tell that they're very concerned.

One of the things he mentioned is the idea that he wants to know of information that implicates the president. And he also wants to remind Michael Flynn of the president's feelings towards Michael Flynn.

And so, again, this -- having the full context of the voice-mail really shows you a little bit of the nervousness that was going on in the Trump team when they realized that Michael Flynn was about to cooperate with the government as part of this investigation.

We have a response from John Dowd, by the way, who says -- in part, he says: "This is clearly a basis political document designed to smear and damage the reputation of counsel and innocent people."

He goes on to say, Wolf, that no one from the special counsel's office ever brought up this voice-mail to the president's lawyers. But I should know that one of the things that this -- that the Mueller report says is that they didn't try to talk to the president's lawyers about it because they thought it would implicate attorney-client privilege issues, and so they didn't really believe that they could interview anybody or ask anybody about it.

So, again, this was addressed in the Mueller report, but now, as a result of an order from Emmet Sullivan, the judge overseeing Michael Flynn's case, this has been now released.

[18:10:00]

BLITZER: And the federal judge also asked the Justice Department to release the transcripts of conversations that Michael Flynn had with various Russian officials, including the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak.

But the Justice Department has rejected that request.

PEREZ: Yes, it seems -- it seems kind of odd.

And, certainly, the judge's order seems very clear to me, the way I read it, that the Justice Department should release this -- this conversation that happened between Kislyak and Flynn. The Justice Department says today essentially that because this is not related to Michael Flynn's guilty plea and his ongoing case that it is not relevant, and so they did not release this.

Now, we're going to see whether Judge Sullivan comes back to them and says, no, I really meant it.

BLITZER: Yes, he's a tough judge too.

PEREZ: He's a tough judge.

BLITZER: Very tough job.

PEREZ: He doesn't mess now.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Evan, for that.

Let us know the late-breaking developments.

Now to the attorney general's new defense of President Trump. It's being praised at the White House tonight, but it's intensifying concerns among William Barr's critics that he's going out of his way to protect the president.

Let's bring in our senior national correspondent, Alex Marquardt.

Alex, there doesn't seem to be much daylight between the attorney general and the president.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No, that's right, Wolf.

The attorney general is essentially in lockstep with the president about the Mueller probe in a new interview with CBS News. Now, looking forward, the focus is on the job that the attorney general has given himself, which is raising all sorts of questions and concerns.

And that is the investigation of the investigation, how the Russia probe started, which is setting up a potential showdown with intelligence agencies, as well as their international partners.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Today, the attorney general clearly revealing himself as a true ally of the president's.

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think one of the ironies today is that people are saying that it's President Trump that is shredding our institutions. I really see no evidence of that.

MARQUARDT: In an interview with CBS, Bill Barr repeatedly criticized the Russia probe and its origins. BARR: These efforts in 2016, these counterintelligence activities that were directed at the Trump campaign, were not done in the normal course and not through the normal procedures, as far as I can tell.

MARQUARDT: And while the attorney general didn't exactly chant the president's mantra...

TRUMP: There's no obstruction. There's no collusion.

MARQUARDT: ... he did echo the president's attacks on the investigation.

TRUMP: It's the greatest hoax probably in the history of our country, and somebody has to get to the bottom of it.

BARR: The use of foreign intelligence capabilities and counterintelligence capabilities against an American political campaign, to me, is unprecedented. And it's a serious red line that's been crossed.

MARQUARDT: Now, after vocal complaints from the president, Barr has launched a review of the intelligence that led to the Russia investigation.

BARR: Things are just not jibing.

MARQUARDT: Putting the FBI, CIA and others under a microscope.

BARR: I had a lot of questions about what was going on. I assumed I would get answers when I went in. And I have not gotten answers that are all satisfactory, and, in fact, have probably more questions, and that some of the facts that I have learned don't hang together with the official explanations of what happened.

MARQUARDT: The president has long accused the FBI and its leaders James Comey and Andrew McCabe of spying.

TRUMP: There was spying. There was spying on our campaign. I will tell you what. If that ever happened to the other side, this thing would have been over two years ago.

MARQUARDT: Today, Barr seemingly agreed.

BARR: I think, if the shoe was on the other foot, we would be hearing a lot about it.

MARQUARDT: Still, Barr stopped short of calling their actions treasonous, but barely.

QUESTION: You don't think that they committed treason?

BARR: Not as a legal matter.

MARQUARDT: The attorney general has been criticized for protecting the president. Today, Barr responded to that charge. BARR: I realize we live in a crazy, hyperpartisan period of time.

And I knew that it would only be a matter of time, if I was behaving responsibly and calling them as I see them, that I would be attacked, because nowadays people don't care about the merits or the substance.

MARQUARDT: Instead, Barr said it's the president who is being treated unfairly.

BARR: The idea of resisting a democratically elected president and basically throwing everything at him and really changing the norms on the grounds that we have to stop this president, that's where the shredding of our norms and our institutions is occurring.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT: Barr was also asked about the next election in 2020, and how he'd make sure that Russian meddling didn't happen again.

He said that he'd recently spoken to the FBI director about forming what he called a special high-level group with other departments and agencies, which critics say is really quite stunning that that doesn't exist already, given what we have known for a long time about Russia's continuing attacks on our democracy.

A major hitch in that coordination, those critics say, is a president who still denies that Russia worked to help him win -- Wolf.

[18:15:00]

BLITZER: Alex Marquardt, thanks very much.

Joining us now, Congresswoman Madeleine Dean, a Democrat. She serves on the House Judiciary Committee.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. MADELEINE DEAN (D-PA): Thank you for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let me get your reaction first to the news that President Trump's former top lawyer, John Dowd, left this voice-mail with Michael Flynn's lawyer.

You have heard -- you have read the transcript. We don't have the audio, but we have all now read the full transcript just released today. Do you view that potentially as attempted obstruction?

DEAN: I hope you will forgive me, Wolf, that I want to say that as -- I want to get to that question.

But in the sandstorm of news that you are reporting, that you started the top of the hour with, yet again another shooting, I hope that this president and this administration and this Senate wants to do something to stop the inhumanity of the carnage in this country.

I think about it, and I think, we will learn who was the shooter and who are the victims, those who are dead and those who are wounded and those who are left traumatized.

But I think of John Donne's poem. Don't ask for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee. It tolls for us. It is time this president did something positive to stop gun violence in this country.

Forgive me that. I know your reporting will be complete. And I will go back to the transcript.

I did have a chance to...

BLITZER: Well, let me interrupt you for a moment, Congresswoman, because, if I have to interrupt you, we're going to go to Virginia Beach, Virginia.

DEAN: Yes.

BLITZER: There's going to be a live news conference with local law enforcement. They're going to explain what's going on. We understand multiple -- multiple injuries right now. But we're watching this very closely.

So, if I interrupt you, you will fully understand and you will stand by.

DEAN: I certainly will.

BLITZER: But let's get to the issue -- yes, let's get to the issue at hand.

What's your reaction to the release of this transcript from the president's former lawyer to the lawyer representing Michael Flynn?

DEAN: Well, those words and that transcription appears in the Mueller report, so it was familiar to me.

If you -- as you read it, you can see it's very halting. It is from Trump's attorney to Michael Flynn's attorney. It's worrying about the relationship, that the relationship has been cut off. Is there any implicating evidence against the president? He's hoping to learn something through the attorney. And, remember, tell Mr. Flynn, he still has good feelings for him.

It's a strange, halting, troubling communication between the president's lawyer. And it looks like interference. So it's not surprising. It's within the Mueller report. And we know that Michael Flynn appears in the Mueller report over and over for tremendous wrongdoing.

BLITZER: Yes, we learned for the first time today it was John Dowd who was making that phone call.

DEAN: That's true.

BLITZER: We -- in the Mueller report, we didn't know who it was. We assumed it was John Dowd. But we weren't sure.

DEAN: You're right.

BLITZER: The Justice Department, as you also heard, Congresswoman, hasn't handed over the transcripts of Michael Flynn's phone conversations with the then Russian ambassador to the United States or with other Russian officials, for that matter, even though this federal judge asked for those transcripts.

Is there a legal justification to refuse that request, that order from the federal judge?

DEAN: No, I don't believe so.

And if you read volume one, you will know why we in Congress want to know exactly what was said. So we should get those transcripts.

But take a look at this Department of Justice and who it is headed by. It's headed by Attorney General Barr. In the comments that you have just played, in the comments he has uttered since he first audition for the job and then took the job and then put out the absolute falsehood of a four-page memo summarizing the report, he's simply not an honest broker of information.

He is not reporting facts. He's not relying upon law. He is absolutely doing the bidding of a president. So his credibility is worn thin. I can't imagine why he would have done that to himself.

But I take no legal justification from the district -- the Department of Justice saying, yes, you can get this transcript and no, you can't get that one.

BLITZER: We will see what the federal judge, Sullivan, decides to do on that. As we said, he's a very tough judge.

The attorney general also says he didn't agree with a lot of Robert Mueller's legal analysis on the issue of obstruction of justice. Officials over the White House, they're clearly very enthusiastic about this Barr interview.

What does that tell you?

DEAN: What I saw was -- most striking to me was that Mueller spoke this week, the fact that he chose on his way out the door to say, America, please read this report.

That's literally what he was saying. It's grievous, what is in this report, between the interference by our foe, Russia, in the 2016 election, this campaign, the Trump campaign, welcoming it, wallowing in it, having more than 100 contacts with our foe, to his benefit, which he knew, and then the president trying to obstruct the investigation of his own behavior.

It's stunning what's in there. There are -- there's evidence, piles of evidence. And what Mueller said in his parting words were that, this report is my testimony. Please read this testimony. And America needs to pay close attention to the interference by Russia in our elections. [18:20:15]

I look forward to special counsel Mueller coming before our committee. And I don't care that he will not go beyond the bounds of that report, because America hasn't seen the bounds of that report.

It's clear this president has not read the report. Otherwise, he couldn't say the things that he says, although the truth sometimes escapes him.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Madeleine Dean, thank you so much for joining us.

DEAN: Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to follow the breaking news just ahead on a mass shooting in Virginia Beach, Virginia. There's new information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. We expect a news conference at any moment.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:25:24]

BLITZER: Our breaking news this hour, we're standing by for a police news conference on the mass shooting in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

We're told at least six people have now been taken to various hospitals. We're going to go live to the news conference as soon as it begins. We expect it to begin shortly.

Also breaking, a voice-mail transcript just released by the Justice Department showing a possible, possible attempt to obstruct justice by President Trump's then attorney John Dowd. The transcript shows Dowd sought information from former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's lawyer about Flynn's discussions at the time with the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

Let's get some more from our experts and our analysts.

Susan Hennessey, what do you think? Does the release of this transcript, the full transcript, not the partial transcript which was included in the Mueller report, does this suggests that there might have been some obstruction?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right.

So whenever we're talking about a lawyer acting on behalf of their client, it's very difficult to accuse that lawyer of obstruction of justice, mostly because it goes to this question of intent. Was it corrupt purpose? Or was it just sort of zealous representation of the client?

So we probably aren't talking about actual obstruction of justice here. That said, this transcript does sort of paint an additional picture of the kind of campaign that the president and his associates were involved in, that they were trying to get ahead of the Mueller investigation. They were trying to figure out what other people knew, that they were reminding people who might testify against the president that the president likes them, they had sort of feelings.

It's also really telling that John Dowd felt the need to pick up the phone and ask Michael Flynn if he knew derogatory information about the president of the United States that was going to harm U.S. national security.

Ordinarily, lawyers don't have to worry about whether or not people have that kind of information about their clients. So I think it shows how nervous the president was about what Flynn might reveal. And, of course, that goes to the president's personal motivation for his acts that might have constituted obstruction.

BLITZER: Shawn Turner, the Justice Department has rejected, refusing to head over the transcript of Michael Flynn's conversations with Russian officials, phone conversations, including the then Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak.

What's your reaction? Is there a legitimate national security concern here?

SHAWN TURNER, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL MEMBER: Yes, I -- look, I don't think there's a legitimate national security concern here.

When we talk about national security as it relates to the intelligence information being released, what we're talking about is whether or not that information poses a threat to intelligence sources or methods.

In this case, we don't have that situation. We know that this information was collected under the context of a legitimate, a legal counterintelligence investigation. And so since we know that, there is absolutely no national security threat in releasing the information.

I also think it's somewhat outrageous that the Justice Department would deny this request to release this information. I put this in the same bucket as the administration ignoring and disregarding requests from Congress. And now they're doing it with the judiciary.

And I don't think the judicial branch is going to stand for this.

BLITZER: I suspect that the federal judge, Sullivan, who is a tough guy, is going to come back and say, you know what, it's going to happen. But let's see how he reacts.

April Ryan, we're getting more information from our sources over at the White House that the president is now described as increasingly annoyed and frustrated by all this talk of possibly beginning an impeachment proceeding in the House of Representatives.

What are you hearing? Because you cover the White House as well. APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

BLITZER: How annoyed, how frustrated is the president?

RYAN: You just saw a glimpse yesterday, when the president was on the South Lawn as to his frustration.

This president says, yes, bring it on. It's the exact opposite, because we saw, when Bill Clinton was impeached, he wound up being a hero of sorts. And his thinking, this president's thinking at the beginning was that he would be like Bill Clinton, he would be viewed as a martyr.

But there's too much -- quote, unquote -- "damaging evidence" that people are saying that is popping up from the tentacles of this Mueller report, especially when Mueller came out to clarify what was misperceived, the misspeak about what he actually said in his report.

So this president is not happy. They're trying to spin it as it's OK. But this president is very upset. And the more information comes out, like what we're hearing today about these Flynn tapes, it's just making it worse.

BLITZER: What do you think, Ron?

Because there's a whole bunch of Democrats who fear that, even if he's impeached in the House, acquitted in the Senate, that's going to be a political plus for the president going into his reelection campaign.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

Well, first of all, I mean, I think that the Dowd call today, the transcript that came out, is a reminder of the potential value of further hearings, perhaps impeachment hearings, on the Mueller report.

I mean, the Mueller report was a big mass for the American people to digest. And many of the individual episodes -- I think if we took a poll, people could not identify the 10 things that Mueller pointed as potential obstruction of justice.

[18:30:00]

And the opportunity to kind of elucidate these one by one and the potential impact of that on public opinion is why it makes sense for the President to be unnerved by the possibility of impeachment.

In terms of the politics, Wolf, you know, I think people are over- reading lessons of '98 to 2000. It may not be significant one way or the other as people think. It is true democrats gain seats in 1998 in the six-year of Clinton presidency, the first time that it happened since 1836, when -- 1834, excuse me, when republicans impeached him.

But the fact is that republicans did win the White House in 2000 on a theme of restoring honor and dignity to the Oval Office, in essence, piggy-backing on the argument that was made in impeachment, and republicans maintained control of the House in both 1998 and 2000. There is not support in public opinion today for impeaching the President, but there is a possibility that the process and the information that's brought out could change that.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: Everybody stand by. We're going to have a lot more on all of this. We're also standing by for this news conference in Virginia Beach, Virginia. There's been a mass shooting there. We're expecting to hear momentarily from law enforcement. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:35:00]

BLITZER: There are multiple breaking stories this hour. We're standing by for a police news conference on a mass shooting in Virginia Beach, Virginia. We're told at least six people have been taken to hospitals. We're standing by momentarily, we're told police, local law enforcement, the FBI will be at a news conference and update us on this mass shooting. Stand by for that.

Also breaking. Sources telling CNN that the White House is, quote, enthusiastic about the Attorney General, William Barr's defense of President Trump and questions Barr is raising about the Russia investigation, why it started and who was involved.

Let's get back to our analysts. Susan Hennessey, I want to play a clip for you, what the Attorney General said in the CBS News interview, his interpretation of the Mueller findings. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: We didn't agree with the legal analysis, a lot of the legal analysis in the report. It did not reflect the views of the department. It was the views of a particular lawyer or lawyers. And so we applied what we thought was the right law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What exactly is the right law?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: So, look, Barr has been committed in his role as the President's defense attorney, but he hasn't actually been a particularly effective one on this count. So the argument that Barr is putting forward is essentially that the obstruction of justice statutes cannot apply when the President is exercising his constitutional powers.

Now, that's a decent argument for why you might say, hey, the firing of James Comey can't be obstruction of justice because the President can fire the FBI Director for whatever reason he wants. The problem is that Mueller, in his report, actually engaged with that argument. He said, yes, there are some of these difficult questions.

But the President was not exercising his constitutional authority when he directed Cory Lewandowski, a non-government employee, to call the Attorney General and pressure him to limit the scope of the investigation. The president wasn't exercising his constitutional powers when he asked Don McGahn to create a false record denying that the President had ever asked to fire Robert Mueller. So Mueller actually really engages with this argument.

What Barr is doing is a little bit of a straw man. He's picking sort of the weakest formulation, pretending as though that's the whole story. He hasn't actually given an explanation on those much stronger arguments.

The other thing that Barr is doing when he says, this is just the opinion of some lawyers in the department, Robert Mueller's team included some of the most celebrated constitutional litigators of their generation, people like Michael Dreeben. So, really, for Barr to sort of characterize DOJ luminaries as if they are just random lawyers that came up with a theory, you know, that is a little insulting as well.

BLITZER: And also, you know, Shawn, in defending his investigation, the new investigation, he has launched into the origins of the whole Mueller probe because Barr says things are just not jiving. What do you think the Attorney General is suggesting?

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. You know, we all know that there are people who were involved in this investigation who behaved in ways that were antithetical to what the Justice Department stands for, namely Lisa Page and Peter Stzrok. But what Attorney General Barr is trying to do is he's trying to paint a picture in which that behavior, the attitudes that were communicated in all of their text messages back and their communication back and forth, he's trying to create a picture in which the American people believe that that's the norm as opposed to the exception within the department.

And so when he says that things just aren't jiving, he is basically saying, hey, you remember those two people, that's the way this investigation unfolded. And I think that what he is really doing here is he's really setting up a conflict between the people who work for him at the Justice Department and the FBI as well as people in the Intelligence Community who do the hard work of conducting these investigations.

HENNESSEY: He is also indicating that he is willing to harm the public faith and integrity of the department that he himself leads if that's going to help the President's political message.

TURNER: Yes, predetermining the guilt of the --

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And he is too much in the pocket, it sounds like, with words he's been saying and that especially that synopsis of a synopsis of the Mueller report, that he is in the pocket of the President, that the White House and the Justice Department are now together.

[18:39:58] There used to be a time it was separate, when the Justice Department could stand alone and successfully, without bias, look at what was going on in the White House or any other agency and make determinations. That is gone now.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: I was going to say, to April's point, I mean, really, William Barr, at this point, is not much different than Devin Nunez or Lindsey Graham. I mean, you know, what you've seen is that every institution that is supposed to be, in any way, an independent check on the President that is controlled by the Republican Party has essentially been turned over to enabling and defending the President.

I mean, there is kind of -- there's no -- I mean, the idea that the military would participate in covering up or denying sailors from the John McCain to see the President, every institution that is under the President's direct control or within the control of the Republican Party is really shedding any kind of independent authority or responsibility to act as a check or even an independent voice questioning the things that he does.

RYAN: And, Wolf, a lot of this, Barr, the President, are really banking on the fact that a lot of people, the vast majority of people, have not read the Mueller report. Because if they did, they would see things that is inconsistent with what the Justice Department is saying and the President of the United States is saying. So this right here with the Mueller report and the length of pages, and the (INAUDIBLE) where for they are as, you know, sometimes it is a little cerebral, and people don't want to read it, they rely on others to give you the information. But if people read that report, they will see what Mueller said instead of giving the synopsis of a synopsis or what I think it was.

BLITZER: But if they actually hear Mueller say it in open testimony, Susan, you know, it's one thing to go ahead and read 448 pages, single spaced, with a lot of footnotes. It's another thing to be watching TV and listen to the now former Special Counsel make his points.

HENNESSEY: And this is why the President is so incredibly afraid of an impeachment inquiry because he recognizes what apparently Nancy Pelosi doesn't, and that's that an impeachment inquiry would be incredibly damaging to him, because even if there isn't new information, isn't new bomb shells, the American public has not digested or reckoned with the contents of this report.

An impeachment inquiry would have hearings ,where not just people like Robert Mueller, but Don McGahn, Cory Lewandowski, the the people who were actually the players in this would have to testify and tell the story before the American public.

BROWNSTEIN: Susan, real quick, can I say that you're not limited to doing that only solely through impeachment. I mean, you know, you can follow that same track without beginning the impeachment inquiry, which does kind of centralize the entire investigation into a binary question of should he stay or should he go. They may eventually have to get there.

And as I said, it may not be quite as politically risky as they think, but that isn't their only option, their only choice.

HENNESSEY: So I think one sort of way to respond to that is we've seen the White House's stonewall strategy. They aren't going to answer any subpoenas, they aren't going to produce any kind testimony, and certainly the House of Representatives would be on a stronger legal footing to the extent they're going to have to litigate for every piece of information if they actually had an impeachment inquiry.

RYAN: And there are a lot of calls for the process to begin. And if that process does happen, going to Susan's point, so much information will be put out there. But you have to remember, impeachment, and, Wolf, we were there for Bill Clinton's impeachment, it takes a long time for impeachment to happen. It's not going to happen this year. But during the process, that information getting out, there is the 2020 election process.

TURNER: It comes down to this idea of whether or not the American people want to see this president held accountable for what they believe he's done, or if they're more focused on seeing Congress, senior legislators actually work on behalf of the American people.

BLITZER: You know, Shawn, you worked in the government for a long time. You worked for the Director of National Intelligence. You were deeply involved in what was going on, protecting America's national security. When you hear the President of the United States, as he did this week, go after the federal prosecutors, the FBI agents, those involved in launching this investigation, he says that there were 18 Trump haters, including people that worked for Hillary Clinton, then goes on to say, it just rings in my ear, some of the worst human beings on earth, what goes through your mind?

TURNER: I've talked to a lot of my former colleagues about that.

BLITZER: Hold on a second, that thought. The news conference in Virginia Beach is just beginning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the most devastating day in the history of Virginia Beach. The people involved are our friends, co-workers, neighbors, colleagues.

You know, at this point I would like to turn things over to Chief Cervera to give you the information that we have so far.

CHIEF JAMES CERVERA, VIRGINIA BEACH: I am going to give the information that we have at this time.

[18:45:02] We -- as we receive additional information, we will release it when it is appropriate. So, what I know at this time is the information we're going to time. As we receive additional information, we will release it when it is appropriate. So, what I know at this time is the information we're going to release. Right now, I can tell you we have multiple casualties, multiple

fatalities. We have 11 deceased victims there at the scene, six more victims transported to area hospitals. I do not have the condition of the victims at this particular time.

I can tell that you one of the individuals shot by the suspect is a Virginia Beach police officer and he was saved by his vest. We established a family assistance center, Princess Anne Middle School, Holland Road, for the employees that worked in building two, so they can meet up with their friends and families.

We're also in the process of identifying all of our victims so we can make personal notification to family members.

We know shortly after 4:00 p.m. this afternoon, a suspect entered building two. He is a long time employee of public utilities. I will not release his name at this time. And he immediately began to indiscriminately fire on all of the victims. Officers entered once the call went out, officers were at headquarters, they responded to building two. They secured as much of the victims as they could, and then they engaged with the suspect.

The suspect did shoot a police officer. Officers returned fire. The suspect is deceased.

While the scene is secure, we have a long term investigative process that's being undertaken now. There's a lot of work to be done. It is still an active scene. We are being assisted due to size, scope, intensity of this scene, being assisted by the FBI, forensics unit, DHS forensics unit, and Virginia Beach state police forensics unit.

Medical examiner is on route, protocol for the medical examiner's office. Right now, we have a lot of questions. The whys, they will come later. Right now, we have more questions than we have answers.

We're a little more than two hours into the event and we used the word event, that's a cop term. It's a devastating incident that happened that none of us want to be here talking about, this devastating incident which is going to change the lives of a number of families from our city.

So my goal will be to update you and confirm additional information as soon as we can. Our next briefing should be at 21:30 hours. We have been told the governor is en route to the scene. We've been notified by our state senators and other elected officials, offering their condolences to our city and to our family of those of us who work in Virginia Beach.

REPORTER: Can you tell us any more about the suspect? Was he a former or current employee?

CERVERA: He's a current employee.

REPORTER: Current employee, and do we know anything about what led to his --

CERVERA: That I'm going to have to hold off, Andy.

REPORTER: What floor?

CERVERA: I'm sorry?

REPORTER: What floor --

CERVERA: It was multiple floors.

REPORTER: What was he shooting?

CERVERA: I couldn't tell you how long the shooting occurs. They're usually very quick.

REPORTER: Can you take us inside the movements of the suspect once he entered the building? We know it is not a secure building, it is a building where people do business. Do we know what he did once inside?

CERVERA: I -- again, we are beginning the forensic process of this particular incident, and please understand the size of this incident, the intensity, I've got officers, we have firefighters who entered the building to assist victims, we have EMS rescue personnel, numerous law enforcement officers that went to the building. It is a huge scene, but understand the intensity of the scene.

So, as more information comes out as to how this unfolded, you'll be given the appropriate information when the time is due.

REPORTER: Does the 11 include the suspect? Eleven deceased, does it include the suspect?

CERVERA: No. We have 11 victims.

REPORTER: Eleven victims.

CERVERA: And the suspect who was also deceased.

REPORTER: Thank you.

REPORTER: Chief, you have been here a long time, been chief a long time. You and I have known each other a long time, you're very emotional. I want you, and I know it is tough, tell us about (INAUDIBLE)

[18:50:00] CERVERA: There's no way to describe an incident such as this. No chief of police anywhere in the country, no mayor, no city manager, no assistant city manager, no fire chief, no rescue chief, no one wants to stand up and give information such as this.

I think at this particular point, I want to give the utmost respect and dignity to victims and to their families, because they are going to be forever changed base on this particular incident. The other piece that I think everyone has to remember is we have a number of forensic techs and detectives who are working through this scene, and just understanding the intensity of the scene. REPORTER: Chief, can you tell us more about the officer who was shot.

CERVERA: The officer shot was basically saved by his bullet proof vest. He was treated. I have not had a chance to have conversation with him. But that will happen tonight.

REPORTER: Chief, the city is shaken. What are your words to people of Virginia Beach?

CERVERA: I can tell you this. The fact that the suspect was immediately confronted, the fact that the suspect is deceased means that our citizens can rest easy tonight. We do not have someone who is out in the community to do more harm. Also, to the citizens of our city you can really understand when this particular violent, violent act occurred, police fire, rescue immediately responded to the scene and did that professional thing that they do, because that's what they do.

REPORTER: Chief, do you know what offices are in that building?

CERVERA: I'm sorry?

REPORTER: Do you know what offices are in that building?

CERVERA: Public works, public utilities. It's the operations building of the city.

REPORTER: Chief, can you say were all of the victims city employees?

CERVERA: I'm going to have to hold off on identifying who the exact victims were.

AARON ROUSE, VIRGINIA BEACH CITY COUNCIL MEMEBER: If I could make a statement.

CERVERA: Yes, sir.

REPORTER: Chief, were any city employees injured?

CERVERA: Yes.

ROUSE: I'm Councilman Aaron Rouse. This day did will not define Virginia Beach. We, our citizens will define in our response to this day Virginia Beach.

We will determine going forward today how we respond to our city. We will come together. We will show the strength of our city. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you very much. We will let you know the next briefing will be approximately 9:30. We will keep you updated as the exact time and the location as we get closer.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: All right. So there you hear the very, very sad, awful news, a mass shooting in Virginia Beach, Virginia, at the municipal center. The public works department, public utilities department.

Eleven people were shot and killed, according to the local police chief, 11 people have been killed. Six more have been taken to hospitals. The suspect has been shot and -- and is dead as well.

But this is an awful, awful situation. You heard the mayor. You heard the police chief. Both of them are understandably totally choked up as a result of another -- another mass shooting here in the United States.

Shimon Prokupecz, I know you are working sources as well. It's heart breaking to hear this. We didn't get information about the type of weapons in killer used.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: No, the police are not talking about anything in terms of what the shooter used. But they do say he went floor to floor. So this does sound like it went on for some time. And perhaps it's the policy intercepting this shooter, killing him, what prevented more people from being injured and killed.

And you heard the Virginia official there say just before -- at the beginning of the press conference -- this is most devastating day in the history of Virginia Beach. This seemingly coming at the end of a workday there just after 4:00 when this shooting started.

The police chief there saying that this is the operations building of the city. There is public works there. There are other offices in that building. And I'm sure we're going to hear a lot of heroic stories as we keep going here.

Most importantly for these families, the police chief there saying these are people we know, these are people whose families we know. Now, we have a community in mourning. The other thing we have learned is that this was an employee, a current employee of the city there when this happened, Wolf.

BLITZER: Current employee goes into the -- into this building, the Virginia beach municipal center and starts killing people once again, ref people shot and killed, six people have been taken to hospital. Presumably some of them, Evan Perez, in serious condition

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf.

[18:55:01] And again, the locust of this appears to be building two, which part of a complex of municipal buildings. There is a courthouse there.

So, initially, a lot of the first reports people thought it was directed at the courthouse. But it appears that a lot of this -- this is all contained in what is known as building two, according to the police chief there. It's essentially the operations center where people go pay utility bills and so on.

And so, it appears that the victims are all employees or appears to be the people who worked alongside this employee who is now the gunman, the person who carried out this mass shooting. This has to be one of the worst things, the person goes in and kills people he knows, he interacted and worked with.

BLITZER: And, Phil Mudd, you heard the police chief, James Cervera, say that this killer went from Florida to floor and started shooting and killing people.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Yes, you look at this and not only the fact how he conducted the attack and the fact that he died in the attack. You have to assume he didn't have an exit plan. That tells you something about the mental state of the individual going in if he is not thinking forward saying, how do I get out?

But I'll tell you, through the night, when you're asking questions like the police chief was asking, he is saying we have more questions than answers. The investigators on this, you got to hold off on the grief in the next few hours by look at everything from friends and fireman to social media, and I presume interviewing people who knew him at work. They're going to figure out who he was within hours I'd say, Wolf.

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's those people at work who will provide a picture of the circumstances at work that led this individual to do what he did. Often times with the workplace shootings what you see is you see a pattern of trouble either in the workplace, where there is conflict with other colleagues or you see individuals in the workplace clearly having trouble at home and that kind of spills over in the workplace. Investigators as Phil said will be looking at all that to try to find out what -- what led the individual to do that.

PEREZ: I mean, the important thing, obviously, is that this has been contained, right. It's not somebody who got away from the scenes. Perhaps he didn't intend to get away from the scene from the beginning here and was confronted. And as the police chief said, you know, a lot of these things -- even if he was managed to get from floor to floor, we're not talking about a lot of time. You know, this is not a long time for something like this, and you can kill 11 people very quickly depending on what kind of weapon --

TURNER: Particularly when you are someone who understands the space. I mean, if he worked there, he knew where people would be.

BLITZER: He was a current employee.

TURNER: He knew how to get around the space which makes these kinds of shootings much more deadly.

BLITZER: This was a local government building. Phil, I don't know the kind of security they had going in or out. But this individual worked there. So, presumably, he could get in have his weapons or weapon whatever he had and just for whatever reason, sick reason, decides to go kill his fellow employees.

MUDD: No, I think that's right. If you look at this coupled with the things like school shootings, remember the Las Vegas shooting we had, people asked questions about how you secure facilities, as someone who watch this for years, I don't know how to you that. There is going to be follow on questions, questions like we had at that horrific school shooting in Broward County, Florida, about whether there are indicators that you can cue on that law enforcement have interaction with him that should be part of a formal red flag process.

Just one final comment. I agree with Evan, the police chief is talking about the site being contained. As someone who watches, I wouldn't assume on the inside that it's contained yet. Did he have a coworker who was equally disturbed that you got to talk to?

It's going to take a while to figure that out. It sounds like it's contained, but there's questions that will be answered through the night.

BLITZER: You know, Shawn, 11 people killed, murdered by this individual. Six more taken to hospital. What, 17 individuals in probably not very long time have been shot and 11 of them are dead.

TURNER: Yes. So, one of the things we're having to rook at here investigators will look at is what kind of weapons this individual have when he went in? Was in a situation in which this organization had done active shooter drills before, because clearly when you have this number of people killed, this number of people injured, there will immediately be questions as to whether or not people there knew what to do in a situation, whether or not they had practiced it?

But you know this- the fact that they were able to bring this individual down fairly quickly after this event started and the fact that he clearly was -- went in with the understanding he was not coming out obviously is very good for the community.

BLITZER: Does the FBI take charge of an investigation like this.

PEREZ: Well, not necessarily. I mean, they come in and assist the local police who are in charge of this investigation. And they will come in and help perhaps do profile, perhaps do searches of any materials like computers or so on at the request of local authorities. But especially since the person did not get away, this remains a local investigation.

BLITZER: But if it were determined, Phil, that this was a rate hate crime for example then potentially the FBI could take charge.

MUDD: Sure. I mean, Evan's right. Right now, it looks like a standard murder case of someone who might have been irritated, not only irritated but angry in the office. This could just be local police handling this.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to stay on top of the story. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

CNN's breaking news coverage of this deadly shooting in Virginia Beach continues right now with "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT".

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