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Sarah Sanders Leaving White House; Interview With Former FBI General Counsel Jim Baker; Interview With Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI); Government Watchdog Calls For Kellyanne Conway's Removal From Office; U.S. Blames Iran For Tanker Attacks; Trump Welcomes Foreign Dirt On Rivals; Pelosi: There's Nothing More Divisive Than Impeaching A President, We Must Handle It With Great Care. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 13, 2019 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're getting new reaction to Mr. Trump. brazenly dismissing the lessons of the Russia investigation.

And one-on-one with Pelosi. The House speaker sits down with CNN's Fareed Zakaria this hour, as she warns, President Trump doesn't know right from wrong and is insulting democracy. Is Pelosi any closer to supporting an impeachment inquiry tonight?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories, including Sarah Sanders' just-announced plans to leave her job as White House press secretary at the end of the month.

There's a lot going on at the White House tonight. The Trump administration is now directly blaming Iran for an attack on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman near the Iranian coast.

And the president is defending his bombshell admission that he would likely accept foreign dirt on a 2020 opponent and not necessarily inform the FBI. Top Democrats are warning, Mr. Trump is a threat to national security, while only a few Republicans have even come close to publicly criticizing him.

I will get reaction from Congressman David Cicilline. He's on the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our White House Correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, Sarah Sanders' public profile had been diminished, with White House briefings virtually now nonexistent. And now she's leaving.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Wolf, you didn't often see her in the Briefing Room, but where you saw

her defending the president was on television. Today, he announced that one of the longest serving members of his administration, Sarah Sanders, is going to be leaving at the end of the month.

Now, he brought her on stage in the East Room of the White House, gave her one of the warmest send-offs in an administration where people often find out that they are leaving by tweet, and he said that he hopes she runs for the gun governor of Arkansas. But that's actually not a far-fetched possibility, because we're being told by sources that privately Sarah Sanders has been floating the idea of running for governor of her home state in recent weeks, telling people she believes that would be a good next move for her.

Now, Wolf, Sarah Sanders may be leaving. But we already know that the days of the daily White House press briefing are long gone. Today, when the president announced that Sanders would be leaving marks the 94th day since there has been a formal White House press briefing.

Of course, Sarah Sanders may be leaving but the president, in the meantime, Wolf, is facing a blistering amount of criticism on Capitol Hill for the comments he made about accepting foreign help in an election.


COLLINS (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump is defending some of his most stunning comments yet.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's not an interference. They have information. I think I would take it.

COLLINS: Now comparing taking dirt from Russia to political diplomacy, tweeting: "I meet and talk to foreign governments every day. I just met with the queen of England, the prince of Wales, the prime minister of the United Kingdom. We talked about everything. Should I immediately called the FBI about these calls and meetings? How ridiculous."

Trump is facing blistering criticism after he dismissed the idea of alerting the FBI if a foreign government offered dirt on an opponent.

TRUMP: I don't think, in my whole life, I have ever called the FBI.

COLLINS: He claimed it's common practice for members of Congress.

TRUMP: You go and talk honestly to congressmen. They all do it. They always have.

COLLINS: But lawmakers, some Republican, are pushing back on his claim that it's routine.

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): I ran for president twice. I ran for governor once. I ran for Senate twice. I have never had any attempt made by a foreign government to contact me or a member of my staff. And had that occurred, I would have contacted the FBI immediately. COLLINS: The president's allies are struggling to defend his remarks.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I think it's a mistake. I think -- I think it's a mistake of law.

COLLINS: While others are trying to turn the tables on House Speaker Pelosi and Democrats.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Her own party spending millions of dollars for a former foreign intelligence officer that we're now trying to interview, traveled the world trying to drum something up. And when they could not find it, they made it up.

COLLINS: That research compiled by a former British spy warned of possible Russian infiltration to meddle in the election through the Trump campaign, something the U.S. government was actively looking into.

The dossier's claims did not all prove to be true. Democrats say it's clear Trump hasn't learned his lesson from 2016 and an investigation that has loomed over his presidency.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: Everybody in the country should be totally appalled by what the president said last night.

COLLINS: But, for now, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is holding the line on impeachment.

PELOSI: What we want to do is have a methodical approach to the path that we are on.

COLLINS: And, tonight, a government watchdog is recommending that the president fire Kellyanne Conway, after she repeatedly violated the Hatch Act, which bars federal employees from making political statements.


The Office of the Special Counsel, which is unrelated to Robert Mueller, says Conway has repeatedly violated the law and "Her actions a road to principal foundation of our democratic system."

The White House is firing back, claiming: "The office's unprecedented actions are deeply flawed and violate her constitutional rights to free speech and due process."


COLLINS: Now, Wolf, the person in charge of disciplining those who violate the Hatch Act is the president.

And our sources today told us that they think it's highly unlikely that Trump is going to take any moves against Kellyanne Conway.

BLITZER: All right, Kaitlan, thank you, Kaitlan Collins at the White House. There's more breaking news tonight. The House Oversight Committee is

launching a formal investigation of presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway and asking her to appear before the panel, this as a federal watchdog is recommending that Kellyanne Conway be fired.

Let's go to our Congressional Correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty. She's up on Capitol Hill.

Sunlen, the Oversight Chairman, Elijah Cummings, says President Trump should listen to that watchdog agency and terminate Kellyanne Conway's employment. What are you hearing?


His moves tonight are in response to that statement from the watchdog, the OSC, the Office of Special Counsel, recommending that top White House adviser Kellyanne Conway be removed from office.

And the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Elijah Cummings, wasting no time tonight moving on this. He says he wants Kellyanne Conway to appear up here on Capitol Hill, and that he will hold a hearing on this later this month, announced now for June 26.

He says in a statement -- quote -- "Complying with the law is not optional. President Trump should terminate Ms. Conway's employment immediately, in light of these dozens of violations of federal law. Allowing Ms. Conway to continue her position of trust at the White House would demonstrate that the president is not interested in following the law or requiring his closest aides to do so."

And important to note here that, while Democrats on Capitol Hill no doubt want to keep the focus and the spotlight focused on this, the OSC, they can only make recommendations. They do not have enforcement power. So this is just a suggestion to the White House, and, of course, the White House say in their response tonight they believe the special counsel recommendations, Wolf, are deeply flawed.

BLITZER: Sunlen, we're also just learning that some members of the Judiciary Committee are now actually sitting down and reviewing Mueller probe documents. What are you hearing?

SERFATY: That's right, a significant movement.

And we're talking about all the back and forth that's happened in recent weeks and months between the House Judiciary Committee and the Department of Justice over access to information.

This is now in response to the deal that was struck earlier in the week, the DOJ allowing members of the House Judiciary Committee to have access to some, but not all of the underlying evidence that Robert Mueller used in his investigation.

And now CNN is told that members are now going over, starting this afternoon, starting today. They're now going over to the Department of Justice and actually viewing this -- these documents and this information, of course, very significant in the overall look at this investigation, as this is something that Democrats have certainly been pushing for -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're going to speak shortly with Congressman Cicilline. He went over and started reviewing those documents earlier in the day.

Meanwhile, Sunlen, the House Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed two former members of the Trump administration. Both played a key role in the Mueller report. Tell us about that.

SERFATY: They did. They both played a critical role.

We're talking here about former Trump campaign deputy Rick Gates and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Both of them, they cooperated in the Mueller investigation. They both, significantly, pleaded guilty in the special counsel's probe before they did so.

The chair of the Intel Committee, Adam Schiff, in issuing the subpoena today, he called them critical witnesses for Mueller, but, notably, witnesses that have so far refused to fully cooperate with the requests coming from Capitol Hill.

Now, the subpoenas issued today, they call for both of these men to provide documents to the committee by June 26. It also calls for them to appear before the committee on July 10. At this point, still unclear how Flynn and Gates will respond -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sunlen Serfaty up on Capitol Hill, thank you.

There's more breaking news on the United States now formally, officially, publicly blaming Iran for an attack on two tankers in the Middle East.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accusing the Tehran government of escalating tensions and trying to disrupt the flow of oil in that critically important region. The U.N. Security Council is holding urgent talks on the attack tonight.

Let's go to our Senior Diplomatic Correspondent, Michelle Kosinski. She's joining us from the State Department.

Michelle, the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, earlier today he forcefully declared that Iran was behind these attacks.


And we have just been able to confirm that the secretary of state just left the Pentagon, where he met with acting Defense Secretary Shanahan on Iran.

But these attacks happened early this week morning, two tanker ships apparently targeted with mines that needed to have been attached to their hulls, dramatic picture showing one of those ships on fire near the Strait of Hormuz, the busiest shipping lane in the world for oil.


One, a crew member was hurt, and the others were rescued by a U.S. Navy ship that was in the area and by Iranians. And the crew of the U.S. ship said that they saw on one of the ships a mine that was unexploded still attached.

So this would be the exact same M.O. as the attacks we saw only weeks ago on four tanker ships also in the Persian Gulf. And that is one reason why the secretary of state wasted zero time today to get out and very publicly blame Iran.

Here's what he said earlier:


MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: It is the assessment of the United States government that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks that occurred in the Gulf of Oman today.

This assessment is based on intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication.


KOSINSKI: So, in this setting, he didn't provide hard evidence. You heard his explanation there.

But this would be no surprise to many, including U.S. allies, who also believe that, in the last attacks last month on tanker ships, it went all the way up to Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard as being behind that.

And Pompeo listed a string of incidents just in the last few weeks that he attributes to Iran, including one attack that killed innocent people in Afghanistan. So, what this shows, Wolf, is that the U.S. stance of increasing pressure on Iran, increasing military presence in the area, trying to cut off Iran's exports of oil are having some effect.

They are angering Iran. Iran is feeling that pressure. Many believe that these attacks and incidents are a response to that. But what the U.S. stance is not doing thus far is changing Iran's behavior in any way, not acting as a deterrent and not bringing Iran back to the negotiating table.

So, of course, the next question here is, how will the U.S. and others respond, Wolf?

BLITZER: Michelle Kosinski at the State Department, thank you.

Joining us now, Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island. He is a Democrat. He serves on both the Judiciary and the Foreign Affairs committees.

Congressman, thanks for coming in.

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI): My pleasure. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: We have got lots to discuss.

Let me start with the breaking news on Iran. How serious is this escalation?

CICILLINE: I think it's very serious.

The U.N. Security Council is meeting in an emergency session. We expect that members of Congress are going to be briefed on some of the intelligence.

BLITZER: Have you been briefed yet?

CICILLINE: No, we haven't been briefed yet.

BLITZER: Do you have information to doubt what the secretary of state said today, that he directly blamed Iran?

CICILLINE: No. Well, no.

We were briefed some -- about a week ago on some other matters in a classified setting. I accept what the secretary said. We, of course, want to be briefed and understand. But this is a very volatile situation. The policy of trying to get Iran back to the table, I don't think has been successful. Their behavior hasn't changed.

So this is a very dangerous situation.

BLITZER: I spoke in the last hour with the visiting Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, Adel Al-Jubeir.

Let me play this brief exchange I had with him. Listen to this.


BLITZER: Do you foresee the potential of U.S.-led military action involving Iran?

ADEL AL-JUBEIR, SAUDI ARABIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: I believe everybody's trying to avoid war, except perhaps Iran.


BLITZER: Is there a diplomatic solution, because this crisis clearly is escalating?


I think we should avoid a military engagement, of course. I think that's an action of last resort. The American people have seen the consequences of prolonged wars in this region of the world. So there has to be a diplomatic resolution of this.

BLITZER: All right, let's get to some other sensitive issues. The president telling George Stephanopoulos of ABC News that if Russia

or China offered him dirt going into the 2020 presidential campaign on his political opponents, he thinks he would take that information, may or may not actually report it to the FBI. What's your reaction to that?

CICILLINE: Well, it's appalling. This is the president of the United States, from the Oval Office in the White House, saying that he would violate the law, that he would take something of value, which is essentially a campaign contribution, from a foreign government, which is a violation of federal law.

It's appalling that he would say that. The correct response is the response Mitt Romney gave: Call the FBI immediately.

It is not common practice, as the president suggested. Common practice is to do opposition research, not to get it from a foreign government. To hear the president of the United States say that, particularly after what we know happened in the last presidential election, is appalling.

BLITZER: You heard the president say congressmen like you routinely get this opposition research from foreign governments.


Yes, I have run for office for 25 years, for state legislature, mayor, and now Congress. No foreign government has ever offered to help me in a campaign or provide me with opposition research.

BLITZER: What message does what the president said send to adversaries?

CICILLINE: Well, it sends a message to our adversaries that the president of the United States is willing to take their helping in the 2020 election.


And it presents a real challenge in terms of what they will get for that, because, of course, people don't do this -- foreign governments don't do this just to -- as a gesture of goodwill. They want something in return. They expect something in return.

And so it's a very dangerous precedent. It compromises the national security of the United States, when foreign adversaries think the president of the United States and his campaign is willing to take help from them.

BLITZER: As you know, some of your Republican colleagues in the House, they're strongly defending the president. And they're accusing the Democrats of doing this. They say the Democrats used a foreign agent, Christopher Steele, former British spy, during the 2016 election to get dirt, to get dirt on Donald Trump.

CICILLINE: Yes, that's just not true. What you have there is the hiring of a firm, which is perfectly

appropriate, an American company, to do research and to use intelligence, a former intelligence officer, to gather information.

That is different than a foreign government, adversary of the United States, assisting or offering to assist the president in his reelection campaign.

BLITZER: Now, you went over to -- correct me if I'm wrong -- to the Justice Department today to review some of the underlying evidence in the Mueller report. The Justice Department worked out a deal with your chairman of the Judiciary Committee to allow members to see some of this information.

Can you share with us what you saw?

CICILLINE: Well, this was the first sort of show of good faith, the first review of an initial set of documents, a very small amount, obviously, of the total amount.

But these were witness statements that were the basis of some of the contents of the Mueller report. Part of the agreement is not to share the contents while we do this review. But this is really just the beginning. We only saw a very small portion of it.

Next week, we will see additional documents, until, hopefully, all the documents.

BLITZER: Well, without telling us specifics, because I know you're barred from doing so, did you learn anything significant?

CICILLINE: Well, it's important to remember that the Mueller report presents evidence that the president directed Don McGahn to fire the special counsel.

BLITZER: The White House counsel.

CICILLINE: Then to deny that that happened and prepare a false document to deny that occurred, that he directed Corey Lewandowski, an outside person, to contact the attorney general to tell the special counsel to limit or curtail the special counsel's investigation.

So the allegations in the Mueller report are serious evidence of the misconduct of this president. And the witness statements and the reports we saw today confirm some of the contents of the report.

BLITZER: So, it was good backup information that you saw?


BLITZER: All right, and let's see, when you get some more information, what else you learn.


BLITZER: Congress Cicilline, as usual, thanks for coming in. CICILLINE: My pleasure. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: There's more news, more reaction to the president saying he probably would accept for in dirt on an opponent, and he might not inform the FBI.

I will talk to the former top lawyer over at the FBI. Stay with us for that.

And the House Oversight Committee chairman takes on another figure in the Trump administration. Will Kellyanne Conway testify, as key officials say she should be fired?



BLITZER: Tonight, Democrats are warning that President Trump is a national security threat, and he doesn't know right from wrong, after a stunning on-camera admission, Mr. Trump saying he thinks he would accept dirt on a political opponent from a foreign government and might not necessarily tell the FBI about it.

Joining us now, the former top FBI lawyer during the Russia investigation, Jim Baker.

Jim, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Let me play the clip. This is the president speaking to ABC News.


TRUMP: This is somebody that said, we have information on your opponent. Oh, let me call the FBI. Give me a break. Life doesn't work that way.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The FBI director says that's what should happen.

TRUMP: The FBI director is wrong.

Your campaign this time around, if foreigners, if Russia, if China, if someone else offers you information on opponents, should they accept it or should they call the FBI?

TRUMP: I think maybe you do both. I think you might want to listen. I don't -- there's nothing wrong with listening.

If somebody called from a country, Norway, we have information on your opponent, oh, I think I would want to hear it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You want that kind of interference in our elections?

TRUMP: It's not an interference. They have information. I think I would take it.


BLITZER: What's your reaction, as the former top lawyer at the FBI?

BAKER: Well, it's distressing. It's distressing.

The president is wrong. He's simply wrong about what he's saying. Americans -- political figures or people working in campaigns should absolutely report to the FBI if they're contacted by a foreign government or foreign officials trying to give information to the United States in some way.

It's just not what we should do. It's just -- it's a threat to the national security. Depending on what the facts and circumstances are, it could very well be illegal. But it's just wrong, frankly. It's wrong.

BLITZER: And it could be designed simply to try to sow dissent in the United States as well, which is what the U.S. intelligence community concluded with the Russian involvement in 2016.

BAKER: Exactly.

We're not talking about Norway here. We're talking about Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, these countries that are not democracies, and do not like the system that the United States has.

And so they're no friends of ours, in that sense. They don't want to see our electoral system, our political system work well.

BLITZER: So what message does it send to Russia, for example, what we just heard from the president?

BAKER: It's a terrible message. It's inviting them to do more of what they did before. And I find it distressing.

And I would expect it's highly demoralizing to the folks in the FBI and the intelligence community, who have been working hard to make sure that this kind of thing doesn't happen.

And I think a message to the Russians and to others is that even though the president is making these statements, the people at the FBI, for example, are bound and determined not to let this happen.


BLITZER: Well, speaking of the FBI -- and you worked there -- you were the top lawyer -- he said bluntly -- and I'm quoting now -- "The FBI director is wrong."

When Christopher Wray, who was appointed by President Trump to become the FBI director, when he hears that, what does he need to do? What does he need to do to respond?

BAKER: So, I think the people -- look, I think all Americans should want our president to succeed in office in executing his or her constitutional duties.

The president is not doing that with respect to the statements that he made. So if people around him, his advisers, like the attorney general, the FBI director, secretary of state, vice president, his family, they need to go talk to the president, and explain to him why this is not appropriate.

They need to help him, because, clearly, he simply just doesn't understand what his duties and responsibilities are in this regard.

BLITZER: The president also said the FBI doesn't have enough agents to deal with this.

If a member of Congress or a presidential candidate came and said, I have been approached by the Russians or the Chinese or somebody with dirt on my opponent, they wouldn't know what to do with it. They don't have enough agents to deal with that.

I see you beginning to smile.

BAKER: It's just -- it's just -- it's preposterous. The FBI has thousands and thousands of agents and other personnel to take tips from the public. We do it all the time. It happens constantly.

The FBI has been dealing with a huge volume of tips for many, many years post-9/11 with respect to terrorism. We know how to deal with information that should be reported about threats to national security and crime.

BLITZER: He also says that any offer from the Russians of what's called opposition research, it's not a big deal. It's the same as any kind of opposition research that political -- that politicians get.

BAKER: It's a huge deal when a hostile foreign government, like Russia, tries to meddle in our elections. It's a huge deal.

And the president has a solemn responsibility to defend the country from exactly that kind of thing. He should not be encouraging it. He should be thwarting it and using everything in his power to do so.

BLITZER: He sort of sarcastically said on Twitter earlier in the day, what should he do if he gets a call from the president of France or the prime minister of Ireland? Do I call the FBI right away?

BAKER: No, but that's -- when he's executing his lawful duties as president of the United States, engaging in the foreign relations of the United States, clearly, he doesn't have to report that to the FBI.

But when a foreign power comes to him, proposing something that would harm the country, and that would interfere with our elections, that's a different story. He's just comparing apples and oranges.

BLITZER: Earlier in the day, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, close ally of the president, said it would be, in his word, a mistake to accept information like this, opposition research, from a foreign source. But he then went ahead and accused Democrats of doing exactly that.

Listen to Lindsey Graham.


GRAHAM: I'm hoping some of my Democratic colleagues will take more seriously the fact that Christopher Steele was a foreign agent, paid for by the Democratic Party to gather dirt on Trump, a document unverified used to get a warrant.


BLITZER: Is that a fair comparison?

BAKER: No, it's not a fair comparison.

I mean, I agree with the senator that this was a mistake for the president to say it, but the comparison to Steele is just not accurate.

Steele was -- true, he's a foreign person, but he was working for a U.S. organization, an organization comprised of U.S. persons, the Democratic Party. So it's not an accurate comparison.

BLITZER: How important was that information that Christopher Steele accumulated in that so-called dossier?

BAKER: Well, I think it's way -- it was way less important than people have made it out to be.

We took that information in. We took it seriously because of Steele and his background and the level of detail with respect to the reporting, but we didn't swallow it hook, line and sinker. The FBI undertook a very elaborate process to try to vet that information to the best -- to the best of our ability.

BLITZER: And you eventually concluded a lot of the information was bogus.

BAKER: Well, I don't know exactly -- I left before they made those final conclusions.

But information like that, it's kind of raw intelligence reporting. And you know it's not always -- you know going in it's not all going to be accurate. And so you look at it carefully.

BLITZER: "The New York Times" is now reporting, Jim, that the Justice Department is going to be interviewing CIA officers as part of the attorney general's new investigation into the origins, the start of the entire Russia probe.

Is that appropriate? Or do you have concerns about this new investigation?

BAKER: Well, I certainly have concerns about it. I'm worried about the chilling effect that that will have on the

agency. And it'll just make all analysts nervous about dealing with the threat, if there's some kind of a charged political environment surrounding it. So I'm worried about it, but it is a natural outcome with respect to

what the attorney general was charged with doing, this review that the president charged him to do of what happened.

BLITZER: Jim Baker, thanks very much for coming in.

BAKER: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead: She's been very tough on what the president said about accepting foreign dirt on a political opponent. Now the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is about to speak out again in a one-on- one interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria.



BLITZER: Tonight, President Trump is strongly defending himself in the face of scathing criticism after saying he would accept dirt on a political opponent from a foreign adversary and not necessarily tell the FBI about the attempted election interference. Let's get some more from our experts and our analysts.

And, Gloria Borger, what's your reaction? How incredible is it to hear this from the President in the Oval Office?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It is incredible. We've heard a lot of incredible things from this president. And, you know, you're tempted to say, oh, this is another dog bites man story, but it really isn't.


This is a President of the United States who is effectively saying from the Oval Office to foreign adversaries come on in, help me in the next election, because I'll listen to you at least. It's as if he didn't go through the last two years of the Russia investigation in which he was claiming and the Special Counsel said there was no collusion.

Now, he's out there saying, well, I'm kind of willing to collude if anybody would like me to. I thought it was remarkable even for Donald Trump.

BLITZER: Bianna, what did you think?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's not the first time we've heard something outrageous from the Oval Office. Remember when he was standing there with the Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador saying that he -- and bragging about how he just fired Jim Comey. Look, this is a president who, just a few days ago, said that he had rebuffed Russia's offer to interfere with elections. So he seems to be all over the place when it comes to this issue but he also likes to play the victim in many respects. And with regards to constantly having this hang over his head, it has given him in a surprising way a bit of leverage with a lot of his supporters that there's this deep state out there that there are people out to get him, the fake news media.

Having this, in his view, vindication because there was no collusion, as he views it, and there was no obstruction from the Mueller report gives him a chance to once again say, see, they are constantly coming after me and I did nothing wrong. But, of course our adversaries around the world view it completely differently.

BLITZER: Susan Hennessey, you're a former attorney at the National Security Agency. How do you think people in the Intelligence Community look at what the President said?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: I think it's pretty shocking and demoralizing, right? You're doing all of this work in an effort to secure U.S. elections from foreign interference. That work is, to some extent, meaningless if there isn't credible nation state deterrence.

And so the same time that the entire U.S. government is engaged in these efforts, you have a president who's saying, rather than giving that clear message of if a foreign country is to interfere in our election, they will face consequences, instead he's saying we welcome it.

It's also worth noting why we don't want presidents to accept opposition research from foreign countries, why we don't want foreign countries to interfere in our elections. That's because we want Americans to decide who's going to be president for reasons about whether or not it benefits the United States of America. We don't want elected officials to be beholden to foreign governments that may have helped them get elected or to take steps in order to maybe incentivize a foreign government to help them get elected in the future.

This is really basic stuff. I mean, it's a little bit like explaining why stealing is wrong to a small child. I mean, it is a basic concept of patriotism and ethics and morality, and I think it really is pretty stunning that we have to have this conversation with a President of the United States.

BLITZER: Mitt Romney, the Republican Senator from Utah, he said, what the President said strikes at the very heart of our democracy. But a whole bunch of other republicans, they are stopping short of criticizing the President.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Sure. So Senator Romney there, to your point, is saying what should be obvious, that this is wrong and he's making a politically smart move by coming out early and proactively so he really just has to say the bare minimum. He's still not breaking legally with the President or calling for impeachment, like only one republican in Congress has done, Congressman Amash. He stands without saying that much in sharp contrast to other Republican Senators who are really still just completely cowed by the President.

If you compare him to say, we saw Senator Lindsey Graham on air today, he just looked like a shell of a man, a shell of a senator. Yes, he said that he thought the FBI Director was right and the President was wrong. But if you looked at his body language, if you looked at the way he delivered it, after carrying all the water he's carried for the President, he just looks decimated.

BLITZER: Yes. Gloria, what do you think.

BORGER: Let me just add one more thing here, which is don't forget the timing of this ridiculous statement that he made to George Stephanopoulos. The President, in a way, was defending his son, Don Jr. Don' Jr. had been back in Congress --

BLITZER: Gloria, hold on for a moment. Everybody hold on for a moment because Fareed Zakaria of CNN is interviewing Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker, at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. I want to listen in.

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: -- that he really doesn't like you, right? He said this publicly. Why do you think -- why do you get under his skin?

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: As I said to a reporter today, analyzing the thinking -- I used the word loosely (ph) -- of the President of the United States is not what I spend my time on. I was kind of disappointed though when we were in Normandy. I just took a big -- 57 House members, democrats and republicans, evenly divided, like Noah's ark, one democrat, one republican, to Normandy.


In the morning I was on Andrea Mitchell and she asked me something about the President. I said, it is my practice, our custom, everybody respects that when we are overseas, we never criticize the President of the United States.

And we were right there in Normandy with the tombstones behind us and the rest. So I just wasn't going to engage in it. But I never do anyway. It's our practice.

When he then came on later in front of the same tombstones and started saying all of this stuff, it was so beyond inappropriate, I felt really sorry for him.

ZAKARIA: But why do you think -- let me posit something. Do you think there's something about you being a strong woman who has bested him in the shutdown? Do you think that has something to do with it?

PELOSI: Well, there are some New Yorkers in the crowd, right? What the New Yorkers told me, women in New York told me when he became president, they said, here's what he will do. It's what he always does. First, he will flatter, then he will bully and then he will sue. That's just how he -- that's what he does. And he's true to form. But our country is so great and here we were in Normandy with 60 members -- 57, three, one thing or another, illness in the family, 57, and it was almost 20 senators, House and Senate democrats and republicans as well, over there to pay our respects to our men, the courage of those who invaded Normandy. It was the biggest naval invasion in the history of the world, if not, the biggest invasion under President -- who would be President Eisenhower, such an incredible thing.

And it was -- we were there to honor our veterans, many of whom were there in their 90s. And that was their purpose, to thank them but also as a recognition of a cooperation with our allies that made that success possible. And we have to remember that that was central to how we save civilization as well as protect our freedom as we go forward. So this whole idea of protecting, of course, our country, first and foremost, that's our oath that we take to protect and defend, but to recognize that the collaboration with our allies is a very, very important part of all of that. Was then, it still is now.

ZAKARIA: Do you think that the country is ready for impeachment hearings?

PELOSI: Here's my thing. Our founders -- we're so blessed with our founders. And many of us are history buffs, as -- well, many of us are here. And we do believe that foreign policy should be nonpartisan, should stop -- that debate should stop at the water's edge. It doesn't always.

But, basically, coming back to one guidance that our founders gave us, of all the great documents and, thank God, they made the constitution amendable, but with all the greatness and the documents they gave us, they gave us a guidance, e pluribus unum, from many, one. They couldn't imagine how many we would become or how different we would be from each other. But they knew that we had to be one.

And in all that we do in my role as Speaker of the House, and I believe most of my colleagues subscribe to, it is try to find as much common ground as you can. Strive for oneness rather than division. I don't think there's anything more divisive we can do than to impeach a President of the United States.

And so you have to handle it with great care. It has to be about the truth and the facts to take you to whatever decision has to be there. It should by no means be done politically. We shouldn't impeach politically and you shouldn't not impeach politically. But we must always remember we have a responsibility for oneness because that is the strength of our country.

I always say our diversity is our strength. In our caucus, we are very diverse. Our diversity is our strength, but our unity is our power. That's what gives us leverage in the rest of the world that we are the United States of America.

ZAKARIA: There are several democrats who are running for president who are calling for impeachment, Elizabeth Warren. If one of them gets nominated, the two leaders of the Democratic Party will be somewhat at odds on this issue.

PELOSI: You never know where we'll be by the time one of them gets nominated. But it is -- again, we are on legislate, that's our responsibility.


We promised lower healthcare cost, bigger paychecks, building the infrastructure of America, cleaner government, introducing legislation to make our government cleaner, taking out voter suppression, all of that.

[18:45:11] So, that's what we promised. That's what we're doing. We passed legislation to that effect and we continue to do so.

Legislate, investigate. We have cause, there was an assault on our country, an assault on our democratic institution of elections. We have a responsibility to get to the bottom of that and because of the resistance that we're getting from the White House, we must litigate.

So, as we investigate and litigate, we'll go where the facts take us with all due respect to whoever may be president of the United States, it really doesn't matter. What matters are the facts. It's not about partisanship. It's not Democrats and Republicans. It's not about partisanship. It's about patriotism about what we must do.

And I'm going to say -- I love the press. They're our guardians of our democracy. Freedom of the press is so important, right, David Brennan (ph)?

However, they just have an obsession with talking about impeachment. Every time one of my members says, oh, the pressure is on. The pressure's not on. I respect everybody's opinion about where they think we are on this, but I also respect the work of our chairman in terms of legislate, investigate, litigate, and we have that responsibility to find out what happened.

What's sad for us is that this is an admitted assault on our democracy. Every agency -- intelligence agency has high confidence that this happened. There's proof in the rest. The Mueller report subscribes to that and the president of the United States says it's a hoax. A hoax?

The president of the United States should be the one taking the lead to look into what happened there. Instead, he's saying they could do it again. There's something very wrong with this picture.

And so, in any event, the facts, the truth, what's right for our country in the most unifying way, not dividing way.

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: The attorney general has been held in contempt by a House committee. There are two paths you can do down. The House can vote criminal contempt or civil contempt. In other case, I assume the Department of Justice will not be indicting the attorney general.

You have a sergeant at arms in the House. You actually have a jail cell in the basement.

PELOSI: We used to. I think it's turned to a --

ZAKARIA: What are you going to do if Bill Barr does not -- will the House hold him in criminal contempt?

PELOSI: Well, the criminal contempt takes a little bit longer. There's a reason they went down the path they went down. I have confidence in our committees. I'm a big believer in the committee system, let the members do the investigating and the rest and make the recommendations.

It's a very sad thing. The attorney general of the United States lied under oath to the Congress of the United States, but that's not even why he was held in contempt. It was because of his refusal to obey a subpoena. So, it will take it's path. It's all about --

ZAKARIA: What happens when --


ZAKARIA: He's not going to -- the Department of Justice is not going to enforce anything you ask of them against him, right?

PELOSI: No, but it's in the courts. It's the Constitution, the beautiful constitution of checks and balances, the heart of the matter, separation of power. The courts will determine a disagreement between the executive, the legislative and the executive branch.

And so we're going to the courts. And we think we have a good case. We won the first two cases which were unequivocal about there's no question that Congress has oversight responsibilities and should have access to the information.

Article 3 actually, you know, the article 3 of the articles of impeachment for Richard Nixon were that he refused to obey the subpoenas of the House of Representatives. But it's very hard to understand how the Republicans in Congress have no support for the institution in which they serve to support and defend the Constitution and the rights of the House of Representatives -- well, the Congress, House and Senate, as well as the assault on our elections.

We don't know how long that will last. But as more information unfolds, we hope to get to the bottom of it, yes.

[18:50:01] ZAKARIA: Let's turn to foreign policy. The secretary of state has just said --

PELOSI: Please. Thank you. I don't want to comment --


ZAKARIA: I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't ask some of these questions.

The secretary of state says the attacks on the two tankers in the -- around the Straits of Hormuz were Iranian -- done by the Iranian government. Do you think that we are in for a possible military confrontation between the United States and Iran?

PELOSI: Well, I certainly hope not. But for people of a certain age -- students of history, Straits of Hormuz gives you chills, right? Oh, my goodness.

But I do think that the secretary has not offered any proof of this. He has just said what he said. And it's not unbelievable that a country might exercise its leverage. And here the prime minister of Japan is in -- he is not still there. He was there yesterday, Abe in Iran, and so we'll see what that is.

But we have absolutely no appetite for going to war or to be provocative, to create situations that might evoke responses where mistakes could be made. Countries exercise leverage, they threaten, this or that. But there could be mistakes made and that's a dangerous thing.

In -- I'm here -- we were up almost all night with the appropriations bill. But at the same time during the night the defense -- the Armed Services Committee was writing the defense bill. And in the defense bill which they ended at 7:00 this morning, they put in there -- nothing in the bill would be considered an authorization of use of military force against Iran, that the administration may try to use some authorities that are, frankly, non-existent.

But we have to -- the American people have no appetite for a war with Iran. I don't think the president does. The president wasn't for the war in Iraq, as you know. And so I think --

ZAKARIA: Well, he was for it before he was against it, I think. He changed his mind on it a bit.

PELOSI: Well, as I say, I can't keep up. I'm too busy to be worrying about if and when and what he did. But he tells me all the time I was against the war in Iraq. Just going with what he said.

But it is -- this is a very dangerous situation. If I might just go back a little bit, what is his motivation? What is their motivation to be provocative with the Iranians? Why did the president turn his back on the Iranian nuclear agreement?

This was an agreement that was masterful. It was a diplomatic virtuoso of performance on the secretary of state, John Kerry, Hillary before him, others involved, that all of these countries, Russia and China never would do any sanctions on Iran, never. They wouldn't because Iran could be a source of fundamentalist activity in their regions, in both China and Russia. So, they always look the other way with Iranian this or that, that they would be part of in agreement.

So, from a diplomatic standpoint it was remarkable, the countries that came together. From a nuclear standpoint, the letter from the -- among other things but I just spot one letter from the nuclear physicist, some of them Nobel laureates and all this, wrote that this bill should be the template -- template for nuclear agreements, non- proliferation agreements, should be the template.

Moniz, the secretary of energy, knows this stuff so well, communicating with the Iranians, so they understood that he understood and the others as well. So, when we voted for that in the Congress, voted to support the president on that, it was having heard from all of the ambassadors from these countries coming in saying what their commitment was. It was a remarkable achievement.

And it really -- you have to wonder why if you do not want Iran to have a nuclear weapon and then you say, well, they could have a nuclear weapon in 10 years under this agreement, well, without agreement they could have one in one year. So what's the -- what's the logic except some other issue that it was negotiated by President Obama?

[18:55:04] We had so many national security experts, whether ambassadors, generals, admirals and all the rest supporting the agreement as well. So it had official diplomatic, national security, technical, nuclear, et cetera support along the way. So why?

Then he comes in and does -- undoes that, and inflames the U.S.-Iran issue. Why? What is the purpose?

And then to -- I'm in the going to accuse anybody of instigating anything, but for not having a policy that would smooth the waters so to speak. So, again, I don't -- I think he probably knows there is no appetite for war among the American people.

And I myself very much was against the war in Iraq. So, you know, I see the consequences and it's sad.

We just came back as I said from Normandy. But before Normandy, around the president's weekend, we were there for the -- I took a big delegation, bipartisan, to the Munich conference. And following that, we went to Brussels.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to continue to monitor Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, speaking to our own Fareed Zakaria.

But I want to get some quick reaction.

And, Gloria Borger, first to you. She made it clear she doesn't have an appetite to begin formal impeachment proceedings against the president.

BORGER: No, she did make that clear. She has no appetite for that. She also made it clear she has nothing but disdain for this president, saying that she feels sorry for him.

And when it comes to Iran, she also makes it clear that she believes that the president, given the fact that he pulled out of the nuclear deal, has effectively stirred the pot in that region when he didn't need to do so. So while Pelosi doesn't want to impeach at this moment, she is not giving him any benefit on anything.

BLITZER: Bianna, what did you think? GOLODRYGA: Well, she is also suggesting that it's sort of the media that's talking about impeachment all the time when we all know in talking to our sources that this is really becoming a big issue and a divisive issue within the party as a whole. She focused on the committee chairs doing their jobs and following the process, and in this case going down the judicial route. But we do know that the chairs themselves are very frustrated and are feeling a lot of heat from their colleagues.

And so for this to go on for the foreseeable future is going to be a significant burden for this -- for this caucus and for Nancy Pelosi, because for the public to constantly hear discussion or debate about impeachment could in one sense benefit the president if this continues for months on end without any significant closure.

BLITZER: Susan, you did hear her accuse the attorney general of the United States, Bill Barr, of lying under oath during his congressional testimony.

HENNESSEY: She has made that claim in the past, sort of leveling all kinds of accusations against real misconduct on the part of in administration. You know, whether or not there's actually sort of merit to the claim against Bill Barr.

But Pelosi's suggestion that the plan here is to go where the facts lead them and that this is really about continuing to find additional facts, suggests that the existing facts are not enough, right? That what is already on the table that's not enough to begin the impeachment inquiry which is, of course, the fact-finding process by which you determine whether or not those facts are enough.

And so, I do think that what we're seeing is this sort of this tortured process, this delay game is becoming increasingly absurd, especially when contrasted with comments like we saw the president make last night which is he has seen the Democrats aren't inclined to hold him accountable. Certainly, the Republicans are not going to hold him accountable.

And so, what's his message? Not only is he not sorry. He would do it again.

SWERDLICK: Yes, just to follow up on that point. And, Susan, we talked about this a lot in recent weeks and you've been very persuasive on this point. The only thing I think she is contrasting with what you are articulating is that the speaker is saying -- I think she rounded third on this in a way she hasn't before in that interview with Fareed, Wolf, is that yes there is a constitutional employ imperative to impeach and enough information as you say.

I also think she is saying as the speaker, as the Congress, there is also an imperative not to see the republic further rupture and there is so much division already that she wants to go as slow as possible toward what might be an eventual impeachment.

GOLODRYGA: And I wonder, Wolf, quickly, if the president's comments last night would impact at all Robert Mueller's decision to testify. We know that he does not want to if it were up to him. But given the fact that the president said that it's game on, and there is nothing wrong with accepting foreign information, then you may see him change his mind because, clearly, that was the focus of this report and the outcome of it.

BLITZER: That's an important point. And she said, I don't think there is anything more divisive than beginning impeachment proceedings against a president of the United States.

And be sure to join Fareed Sunday morning for the full interview with Nancy Pelosi, 10:00 a.m. Eastern.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.