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Sen. Ben Cardin (D) Maryland Interviewed About President Trump Stopping the Strike; Stopping the Strike; Immigration Raids. Aired 5- 6p ET

Aired June 21, 2019 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:15]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news.

Stopping the strike. President Trump says the U.S. military was quote, "cocked and loaded," ready to retaliate for Iran's drowning of the U.S. drone when he called off the attack with only minutes ago. Why is a senior official now suddenly saying the administration is back to focusing on sanctions, not military action.

Immigration raids. The Trump administration is going ahead with a plan to arrest and deport families in tent cities beginning this weekend. Did the presidential tweets spur officials to move forward?

Writing to Warren. Elizabeth Warren unveils a plan to ban private prisons, the latest on some two dozen proposals that have prompted a surge of letters to the Democratic presidential candidate. We visit her headquarters to find out why so many people are writing to her.

And red carpet welcome. Pageantry or propaganda as Kim Jong-un goes all out in hosting China's President Xi. On the outs with President Trump, is the North Korea dictator signaling that he's still a big player on the world stage.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

BLITZER: Breaking news. In a day of startling reversals by the White House, a senior official says the Trump administration is now focusing, once again, on sanctions, not military action against Iran. This, just hours after President Trump revealed the U.S. military was quote, "cocked and loaded," ready to attack Iranian targets in retaliation for the downing of U.S. drone when he suddenly called off the strikes with just 10 minutes to spare. The president said he acted when he learned the strikes could have killed a 150 Iranians, calling that disproportionate.

CNN has learned the United States targeted a limited set of Iranian radar missile positions and that the president's National Security team unanimously agreed the strikes were inappropriate response. A senior administration source says there's concern the decision by the president could make the U.S. now look, quote, "like a paper tiger."

I'll speak with Senator Ben Cardin of the Foreign Relations Committee and former Defense Secretary William Cohen and our correspondents and analysts, they will have full coverage of today's top stories.

Let's begin with the breaking news which we're covering as only CNN can. We're monitoring developments from the White House to the Pentagon, to Tehran. Let's go straight to CNN's White House correspondent Abby Phillip. Abby, a truly stunning reversal by the president. What are you learning?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, after a whole day of deliberation, President Trump seemed to revert back to his non- interventionist instincts calling off a planned strike on Iran at the 11th hour.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump offering candid details into U.S. war strategy and his own personal thinking after he was minutes away from a military strike against Iran.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We had something ready to go subject to my approval.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: President Trump pulling the plug, worried that the death toll in a counter strike would be too high.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: They shot down an unmanned drone, plane, whatever you want to call it and here we are sitting with 150 dead people that would have taken place probably within a half an hour after I said go ahead. And I didn't like it. I didn't think it was - I didn't think it was proportionate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: After days of hinting that he was not inclined to use military force against Iran, Trump came to the brink only to make a sudden U-turn.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: And things would have happened to a point where you wouldn't turn back and couldn't turn back. So they came and they said, sir, we're ready to go. We'd like a decision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: Behind the scenes is CNN learning the top aides, including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton all argued military action was necessary.

Tonight, Iran not backing down warning the Trump administration to back off claiming its military chose not to target a second U.S. plane flying in the vicinity of the drone, this one with American personnel on board.

And as tensions with Iran threaten to bubble over, some of the president's critics say the administration is to blame for pulling out of the Iran deal in the first place.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): If we caused other nations to once again impose sanctions on Iran then we shouldn't be all that surprised that Iran is going to lead the deal and go back to enriching or that we're going to get this increased tensions in likelihood of conflict.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: Trump firing back tweeting "Obama made a desperate and terrible deal with Iran" adding that Obama "gave them a free path to nuclear weapons, and soon."

[17:05:02] "Instead of saying thank you, Iran yelled death to America. I terminated deal, which was not even ratified by Congress, and imposed strong sanctions. They are a much weakened nation today than at the beginning of my presidency, when they were causing major problems throughout the Middle East. Now they are bust."

Trump's campaign promise to avoid foreign wars now becoming a reality in office.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEH JOHNSON, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: You know his instincts are no foreign engagements. It's much easier to start one of these fights than it is to end one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: Sources tell CNN that some of Trump's allies on Capitol Hill advised him against being dragged into war. But other prominent Republicans are warning it's naive to think Iran will come back to the negotiating table.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R), MONTANA (via telephone): If, you know, Iran thinks it can demonstrate to the world that somehow it's able to take advantage of the United States, that it's able to attack and destroy one of our drones without any consequence or with the only consequence being that we now ask to speak with them, I think that's very dangerous.

(END VIDEO CLIP) PHILLIP: As the potential for conflict breaks out in the Middle East and other parts of the world, Trump's Defense Department still lacks permanent senior leadership.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I think the problem is not to commend him or not but to take a look at the chaos that exist within this administration. Take a look at the fact the entire leadership of the Department of Defense is turning over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: Sources tell CNN, Trump is expected to permanently name Army Secretary Mark Esper as Defense secretary just days after his initial choice Mike Shanahan decided to withdraw.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP: Now, Wolf, we have an important update on another important subject, immigration. Just days after President Trump announced in a tweet that next week the Department of Homeland Security would be deporting, in his words, "millions of illegal immigrants." We're now learning that there is a planned DHS raid that is scheduled to begin on Sunday but it's not going to be millions of illegal immigrants. It's going to be around 2,000 families who have what they call a final order for removal.

Now this operation has been weeks and months in the planning. It will be in a large scale in 10 cities across the country. And the administration has privately acknowledged that this will be highly controversial. We're talking about targeting families who have been in this country and have been ordered to be removed, in some cases families that include children as well. Wolf?

BLITZER: Surprised they would make an announcement like this in advance. Usually this is kept secret until they go in and do what they are going to do. Abby Phillip at the White House, thank you very much.

Let's dig deeper right now with our chief National Security correspondent Jim Sciutto. He's here. Also joining us, live from Tehran, our senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen. Jim, I understand you have some new reporting on how the president is planning on proceeding.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right. It should be noted this time last night this country was hours away from deadly military action against Iran. The plans were in the air. The ships were in position on the surface. The president, as he tweeted himself, pulling that back within minutes of the military action going forward but was able to speak with a senior administration official today about next steps here and the focus now, according to the senior administration official is additional economic sanctions, not military action.

Described as following, I would not say that the president is thinking about military option. The senior administration official said. The primary thing we're thinking about is additional sanctions. Now the timing of those additional sanctions, the president, of course, claimed by tweet today, they were already in place. We found no evidence of that.

But later this week, Iran is threatening to violate the terms - the 2015 nuclear deal by beginning the enrichment of the uranium again. That might happen as soon as Thursday, the administration talking about imposing additional sanctions in response to that. By Friday, there are number of fields, petrochemical, et cetera, where they can put those additional sanctions on.

Now, Wolf, of course I pressed this administration official about the irony here of imposing sanctions for Iran leaving in agreement that the U.S. itself withdrew from. The administration's explanation is that this new sanctions would be for a variety of behaviors not just violating the terms of that deal, but also its missile activities and its support for terrorism.

BLITZER: Very interesting. Fred, you're in Tehran for us. How are the Iranians responding to this news that the U.S. was only minutes away from launching some sort of retaliatory strike.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, the Iranians from the very beginning, Wolf, have said they would be ready if there was a retaliatory strike from the United States. It's something that they said they would have a very firm response to. It was quite interesting to see today, the Iranian aerospace forces from the Revolutionary Guard coming out and saying, look, if we wanted we could have targeted another American plane that was also in that airspace.

Abby was sort of alluding into it a little bit in her report. This was a P-8 which is normally an anti-submarine plane. And the Iranian's commander of the Revolutionary Guard Corps aerospace forces, he said the reason why he told reporters that today is because he wants to send a clear message to the United States.

[17:10:01] And of course also to the Trump administration that what President Trump said yesterday, that perhaps it might have been a mistake that the Iranian shot that drone down is absolutely not the case. He said the Iranians want to make clear that they know exactly what's flying around their airspace and that their anti-aircraft batteries are extremely dangerous for whatever is flying around. That's of course one of the reasons why they shot down that drone.

And, Wolf, today for the first time, the Iranians actually displayed what they said was the wreckage of that drone. They claim that they shot it down when it was flying at around 50,000 feet. There were really only very small pieces that they've showed. And the reason they did that they said is because those are the pieces that they've recovered in their own territorial water which they say prove that it was flying over Iranian airspace when it was shot down.

Of course, we know, Wolf, that the U.S. has a very different take on this even after President Trump called off that operation. The U.S. still saying that it was over international airspace or in international airspace when it was shot down about 20 miles off the Iranian coast. The Iranians once again, Wolf, saying that if there would have been a response from the U.S., if there would have been a strike from the U.S. that the Iranians would have had a very, very firm response to that, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Fred is in the Tehran, and Jim, thank you very much for your analysis and reporting.

Joining us now, Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, he's a key member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator thanks so much for joining us. Do you believe the president made the right call to cancel this strike at the very last moment?

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-MD): Wolf, it's good to be with you. The president should have known before he even started this mission about the casualties that were likely to occur. Yes, I'm pleased that he is deescalating a potential military conflict. It could be miscalculations. Make no mistake about it. Iran is the bad player here. They are the actor that's doing things that are wrong but the United States has a responsibility to try to deescalate this. An armed conflict between the United States and Iran is not in our National Security interest.

BLITZER: It looks like the president now wants to focus strictly on more sanctions against Iran as opposed to any military action. Are you OK with that?

CARDIN: Well, we've imposed significant sanctions. Congress has authorized additional sanctions particularly on the non-nuclear side. The challenge here, Wolf, is that we're sort of isolated. Our traditional allies disagree with us pulling out of the nuclear agreement. So if we expect to get cooperation from our traditional allies in isolating Iran economically, I'm afraid that we're not going to get the cooperation we need.

BLITZER: Did the president damage the credibility of future potential U.S. military threats against Iran by backing down at the last minute and authorizing this strike?

CARDIN: Yes, it didn't make sense the way the president has presented this. I mean sort of he's outlined his thinking that a military operation was underway and he pulled it back. That he authorized it and then cancelled it. He should have known from the beginning the military assessments on casualties and on likely response and escalation of the conflict. He should have known that before he started the mission. But he's now given the impression that he was on again, off again which shows weakness. So I don't think it was in our interest for the president outlined the strategy here.

BLITZER: But the president said that only a few minutes before the strike was actually going to go forward was he told -- that he asked and was he told that potentially it could have killed 150 Iranians and he said that would not be proportional. Do you agree?

CARDIN: Any president when he's getting the military options from his National Security team from his Defense people should know and inquire as to the casualty count from that military operation. I find it hard to believe that he was not advised about that with the different options that were given to him.

BLITZER: Do you believe the president revealed perhaps too much information by tweeting about his decision to pull back from the strike, giving an interview to NBC News and going into more detail about the moment he decided to make the call and reverse the decision to go forward?

CARDIN: Wolf, absolutely. I think that was a mistake. I want the president to deescalate the conflict between Iran and the United States. So I was pleased that we didn't initiate military operations so to me that was the right decision. But the way that he announced it, it shows weakness and it's not in our interest.

BLITZER: Senator Cardin thanks so much for joining us.

CARDIN: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, President Trump says the U.S. military was quote, "cocked and loaded" ready to retaliate for Iran's downing of a U.S. drone, when he suddenly called off the attack with only minutes to go. Why is the focus suddenly shifting back now to sanctions?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:19:49] BLITZER: Our breaking news, senior U.S. official now says the Trump administration is focusing in once again on sanctions, not military action against Iran after President Trump suddenly revealed he called off U.S. military strikes within minutes to go.

[17:20:03] Joining us now William Cohen. He served as Defense secretary during the Clinton administration before that he was a Republican senator and congressman. Mr. Secretary thanks very much for coming in.

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Do you think the president made the right call?

COHEN: I think it was a wise decision. It was both a wise decision but could be perceived as one of the weaknesses as well and that's one of the problems with it was handled. I think to call off this operation at the last moment based upon a general and I would like to know who that general was. I assume it was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs since he is the principal adviser to the president of the United States before general to come in and say by the way we're going to might kill 150 people and that's the reason the president called it off, seems unrealistic to me.

BLITZER: The president says he asked the general. We don't know who the general was. It could have been General Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. But he said how many people are going to be killed and that's when they said maybe 150. COHEN: I can tell you from my experience at the Pentagon, whenever there's a call for providing military action, very detailed assessment of what type of missile or vehicle is going to be used, where's the target, how many people are likely to be killed, what's the collateral damage, and so most of that if not all of that is done well in advance. Now the notion that within 10 minutes to go, some general would come to the president, by the way, it's going to be 150 people therefore the president calls it off. It calls into question the decision making process in the United States and that is the downside of what the president has done. The up side is he didn't take military action. The down side is that others will now call into question.

I remember reading Henry Kissinger's "White House Years" and he said that a bluff that is taken as a serious threat can be useful but a serious threat that is taken as a bluff can be disastrous. So we have to wonder in the future whether or not the president who really does intend to take military action other countries feel it's a bluff and they do something which encourages military action, that's the disaster that awaits us.

BLITZER: Do you remember a president making a decision like this either when you were Secretary of Defense or any other time?

COHEN: I do. As a matter of fact, in 1998, we were geared up as a result of the president saying we're going to attack Saddam Hussein. I had to come back -

BLITZER: Is it Bill Clinton?

COHEN: Bill Clinton - I had to come back from Wake Island. I was on my way to Hong Kong, flew all the way back to Washington. Then we hear the instructions. I traveled to 11 countries in two days telling them we are ready to go. We want your assistance. And then at the last moment, we're ready to go. Some planes were in the air. The president called it off because Saddam Hussein said I'm ready to let the inspectors back. Again, that was the only time we ever had that but it was a lesson for sure. And it was the right thing to do under those circumstances. We waited a month. He didn't comply. He went back in.

BLITZER: That was I remember 1998, you were the Defense secretary. I remember that incident very, very clearly. So is U.S. credibility now been diminished?

COHEN: I think it is. Again, the whole process of decision making, these are the kinds of decision you only make a decision to use military force as a last resort. And then you have to weigh all of the consequences, you say, Mr. President, if we take this action, here are the things that the Iranians may do. If they do that, what is our response? And you go through this whole process.

BLITZER: And you think they did that? Did they go through that whole process that if the U.S. were to launch a strike against these various targets in retaliation for the downing of the drone, killing 150 Iranians let's say, maybe they were Republican guard, maybe they were civilians, who knows. What do you think the Iranians would have done in retaliation? COHEN: I think we have to examine that and to think it through. Mr. President this is what could happen. We have 70,000 troops in the region spread throughout. We could have them vulnerable, their families, the defense consultants and others to some sort of an attack. We have to be prepared if they do this to escalate it whether dramatically. And in this particular case, again the president having done the wise thing, it could be seen as weakness and maybe that the Iranians are now tempted to do something again which tempts the president. And at this time, if he doesn't take action, it will be a mistake. And this time if they do provoke action, I would assume it would be much more severe than it might have been yesterday.

BLITZER: What do you - this is unrelated, but it's sort of related. The fact that it has been now more than a year since there has been a formal Defense Department press briefing over in a press briefing room over the Department of Defense. When you were secretary of Defense, you would have them several times a week when I was kind a guy in correspondents, used to go almost all the time. Why do you think - what do you think the impact of that is on the U.S. credibility and transparency?

COHEN: It's really important to send the signal to our allies as well as to our adversaries what our forces are.

[17:25:00] What they are prepared to do. Why we are in given areas. We don't broadcast what our military plans are specifically but the briefing of our newscasters and reporters, it's really important to keep them full upraised so they are not surprised and therefore have misinformation that comes over the way fake news so to speak.

BLITZER: Would you say the U.S. shouldn't broadcast what it's about to do but it seems the president in that tweet this morning, in this new interview, he's just done with NBC News, he's telling a lot about his decision making process. He was close and then he decided to change his mind.

COHEN: Well, if I were Kim Jong-un, I would look at this example and say, the president is probably bluffing with us as well. Fire and fury didn't take place. We're exchanging love letters now. I won't take him on his word that he'll rain down military power on my head if I test another missile. So that's going to present another problem for the president. If he sends the signal we're really only going to look at economic sanction, which I think is the right thing to do against Iran but also I don't think we can go back to North Korea and say we're going to put more sanctions on you. The Chinese are going to help us. The Russians are going to help us. The South Koreans are going to be with us. I don't think we're going to get back there and I think the North Koreans have played this in a way that's to our disadvantage.

BLITZER: The ramifications of this decision in Iran could be worldwide involving other countries. Mr. Secretary thanks as usual for coming in. William Cohen, former Defense secretary.

The breaking news continues next. Is President Trump handing Iran a victory of sorts as he reveals sensitive information about the military strike he called off. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:31:16] BLITZER: The breaking news this hour, President Trump now said to be focusing in on increasing sanctions against Iran after scrubbing a military strike just minutes before it was set to be launched. Let's dig deeper with our experts and our analysts.

And, Gloria Borger, the President told NBC News this about his decision-making process.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They came and they said, sir, we're ready to go, we'd like a decision. I said, I want to know something before you go. How many people will be killed? In this case, Iranians.

I said, how many people are going to be killed? Sir, I'd like to get back to you on that. Great people, these generals. They said -- came back, said, sir, approximately 150.

And I thought about it for a second. I said, you know what, they shot down an unmanned, drone -- plane, whatever you want to call it, and here we are sitting with 150 dead people that would have taken place probably within a half an hour after I said go ahead.

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS HOST: Yes.

TRUMP: And I didn't like it. I didn't think it was -- I didn't think it was proportionate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you think about the President revealing all of that?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it was surprising to me, actually, because this is a President who has always said, don't reveal what your red line is, don't talk about your strategy before you go on the battlefield. And here he is effectively revealing what his red line is.

What he's saying is, OK, you shot down an unmanned drone. That's one thing, not so much. But if there had been people in that drone, that would've been -- you know, in that plane, that would've been a different thing.

And so now, the question that I have is, how does anyone accept this information? What do the Iranians do? Do they test us and shoot down some more drones? I mean, how does this -- what's the next step now that the President has already said this is where my line is?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: But I have --

BLITZER: People think a drone --

TOOBIN: I have a different question. BLITZER: Go ahead, Jeffrey.

TOOBIN: Who -- like, did it not occur to him --

BORGER: Right.

TOOBIN: -- until 10 minutes before to ask how many casualties there would be? I mean --

BORGER: Or didn't they offer it -- or did they not offer that in advance?

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: How can you not have asked that question? I mean, Secretary Cohen was who was just on -- I mean, that's not how this works.

BORGER: Right.

TOOBIN: I mean, casualty estimates are part of the whole process. I mean, it just sounds like a complete lie that he was telling about how this whole thing unfolded. It's just inconceivable that the Pentagon, these professional soldiers, would not have mentioned casualties until 10 minutes before go -- the go-time.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: But would -- they definitely have. And the question is, would they have given him a definite number, or would they have just said, we expect casualties in the hundreds or what did -- I mean, who knows?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Or did he want to revisit that right at the end --

BORGER: Exactly.

CHALIAN: -- and have that last piece of information he focused on?

BLITZER: And I got to focus, David Chalian, on the fact he campaigned and he's been saying for years and years that, you know, he hates these foreign wars.

CHALIAN: Exactly.

BORGER: Sure.

BLITZER: He's not going to get involved in these foreign wars. And right now, he's doing his best not to get involved.

CHALIAN: Exactly. It's actually consistent with what he campaigned on, what he told the country he would do. And that's why I always take with a bit of a grain of salt when the President gets into a saber-rattling mode in any kind of way.

He is so clear that he does not want to be mired down in some war in the Middle East or in a faraway place. And so I always take him, rhetorically, a little less sincere on this stuff than I take somebody who has not committed themselves to completely not get involved in that way. And I think that's why you hear from capitals around the world the concern about mixed messages.

BORGER: Right.

CHALIAN: That that is a concern that our allies have now about whether or not there are mixed messages being read by the Iranians and by even our allies.

BORGER: Our allies don't know if the President is bluffing or not when he rattles the -- you know, the saber, as you put it, right? They don't know any more than we know in this particular case.

[17:35:07] We're not used to having a president who goes out there and says, there will be fire and fury unless there is. I mean, the last time we heard that was shock and awe and there was, unfortunately.

So nobody knows how to take this president. It goes back to the question of lying. Because so many people don't believe what he says anyway, should they believe him in this instance?

BLITZER: Yes.

BORGER: What does he --

BLITZER: And you know --

BORGER: What does he mean?

BLITZER: And, Joey Jackson, you know, this is not just a little drone. This is a major aircraft that's unmanned. It's $150 million, it costs. It's not cheap. But in effect, what the President is saying, since it's unmanned, you know, to adversaries like Iran, for example, go ahead and shoot it down. There won't be military retaliation.

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, Wolf, if you believe him. I am with my esteemed colleague, Jeffrey Toobin, in this. I would have to believe -- and to me, this is a credibility issue, and what I mean by that is this.

When you go into that room, it would strain my imagination, if when you're taking an assessment of what the response should be, that you're not discussing, well, what should that response be? How proportionate should it be? What are the amount of casualties? Who would those casualties be? What areas are we going to target?

Is this the response that we want? What are the consequences of that response? Is it worth the human life? This is significant equipment.

What are the political implications of this? What are the human implications of this? Who would I have to answer to? What would Congress say? Is this a declaration of war? Could it be a declaration of war? Should we be committing truth? I could stay here all night and all day, Wolf, addressing what would

be of concern to me. I'm not the President. And so it would strain the imagination to believe that just before things were about to strike, I'd say, well, you know what, how many people would die here?

And so to me, I'm not so sure that that happened. It would seem that that puts the President, certainly, in a light and people would say, wow, that was a great call, Mr. President. You didn't want to take lives. You are humane. But I'm just not sure that that's exactly what occurred in as much as I don't believe it.

BLITZER: Jeffrey, go ahead.

TOOBIN: I got nothing.

(LAUGHTER)

TOOBIN: I think he's exactly right.

BORGER: Well --

TOOBIN: You know, when Joey Jackson is right, he's right. I'm got nothing.

BORGER: But I don't --

(LAUGHTER)

BORGER: I don't think it's mutually exclusive. I mean, I think you guys can be absolutely right that the President was making this up. On the other hand, this is the story he's telling. And if, in fact, this either occurred or it happened at the last minute, as David said, or is the story he chooses to tell, what does that tell us?

You know, what does it tell us about his decision-making? What does it tell us about a president who has announced what his red line maybe to our adversaries? And then they are --

CHALIAN: And what real-world impact might that have?

BORGER: Exactly.

BLITZER: Everybody stand by. There's more news we're following. Elizabeth Warren proposes a major change to the U.S. criminal justice system, banning all private prisons. We'll be right back.

[17:37:52] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Democrat presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren says she'll ban private prisons and immigration detention facilities if she's elected president. Her newly released plan is the latest of some two dozen policy proposals that have helped boost her standing in the crowded Democratic field.

Our political correspondent, M.J. Lee, is joining us now. M.J., you just visited Warren's campaign headquarters in Boston. What did you see? What did you hear?

M.J. LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, Elizabeth Warren has been rising in the polls lately. And CNN visited her campaign headquarters in Boston, and we got to see a little bit of what some of her supporters have been telling her lately, the old-fashioned way, by writing letters.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MOLLY DORIS-PIERCE, CONSTITUENCY OUTREACH DIRECTOR, WARREN CAMPAIGN: The most time-consuming part of the mail is opening the mail.

LEE (voice-over): For Molly Doris-Pierce, this is how she spends most of her mornings.

LEE (on camera): And where are they coming from?

DORIS-PIERCE: All over the place, across the country.

LEE (voice-over): As Elizabeth Warren's constituency outreach director, she's tasked with opening the dozens of letters that arrive here at the Senator's campaign headquarters in Boston.

DORIS-PIERCE: And then they listed out campaign finance reform, automatic voter registration, protecting and saving the environment.

LEE (voice-over): Many handwritten on pages ripped out of notebooks or handmade postcards. Sometimes no more than a few words on a post- it note. And they mostly end up on this wall, a wall capturing the concerns, thoughts, and suggestions of Warren's supporters.

DORIS-PIERCE: We get a lot of health care, we get a lot of the environment, just the basic issues that are on people's minds. And this is what's motivating me. This is what I'm thinking about.

You can feel the economic anxiety that they're having. Like, we get a lot of people who say, I'm on a fixed income so this is all I can give, but I really believe in you.

LEE (voice-over): The policy-driven candidate has been rising in the polls, catching up to her progressive rival, Bernie Sanders. These letters offering a glimpse of Warren's decisions and ideas that appear to have resonated most with voters this year.

DORIS-PIERCE: I picked this one also because it says, can't wait to hear you debate, you are wicked smart. Love that you're the first to call for an impeachment inquiry.

LEE (voice-over): Numerous notes like that one agreeing with her call for impeachment proceedings against President Trump in April. Others putting pen to paper after she released a major student debt forgiveness plan.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am writing to share my student loan story with you. There's so much I'd like to say but since I just got paid and sent off my $806 payment for my student loan, I'll focus on that.

LEE (voice-over): But sometimes, there's a letter that has nothing to do with politics or policy.

DORIS-PIERCE: This is my favorite. It's a birth announcement.

LEE (on camera): Oh, wow!

DORIS-PIERCE: And the baby's name is Elizabeth. And it says, child named after our future president. So this one's definitely making the wall.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[17:45:05] LEE: Now, Wolf, Warren, obviously, has a very big week coming up. She will take the debate stage on Wednesday. And according to a campaign aide, she has been spending the last few days doing debate prep. And we're also told that she is expected to put out another policy proposal on Tuesday -- Wolf.

BLITZER: M.J. Lee, thank you very much. Coming up, Kim Jong-un's successful summit with China's president, what message did it send to President Trump?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:50:10] BLITZER: A brief summit with China's president is being called a success for the North Korea dictator, Kim Jong-un, who used the high profile event to send a message to President Trump.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us with details. Brian, there is both symbolism and substance to this summit.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. Kim and Xi Jinping strategized over how to deal with President Trump, and there are real concerns tonight that Trump's hand with Kim just got weaker. All of this playing against the backdrop of some incredible scenes in Pyongyang.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): The propaganda was predictable but still spectacular. A massive choreographed ceremony in a packed stadium. Fireworks. Dancers reenacted Korean War battles when Chinese and North Korean soldiers fought side by side against Americans.

Kim Jong-un, Xi Jinping, and their wives expressed their pleasure as children presented them with flowers. On the streets, women jumped up and down in anticipation. Then the crowd reveled when the two leaders moved past, waving from the top of a limousine.

Tonight, analysts are calling this summit in Pyongyang a big win for the 35-year-old North Korean dictator.

JUNG PAK, SK-KOREA FOUNDATION CHAIR IN KOREA STUDIES, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: It was a successful meeting for Kim in that he was able to have a Chinese leader come to a nuclear-armed North Korea with the streets lined with cheering North Koreans. That shows the world and to President Trump that Kim is still a player.

TODD (voice-over): A message to Trump which Kim seems desperate to send. Until Kim sent President Trump a birthday letter last week, there had been months of stone-cold violence between the two leaders since their summit in Hanoi failed to advance denuclearization talks.

Tonight, with Trump about to meet Xi next week at the G-20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, experts say the savvy Chinese leader could be on the verge of playing a powerful card -- using Trump's desire to advance a nuclear deal with North Korea and Xi's own leverage over a young North Korean leader who is still very dependent on him.

GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN: NORTH KOREA TAKES ON THE WORLD": Xi Jinping will tell Trump that he can control North Korea, that he will push it in better directions, if Trump gives him concessions on what he wants, which, right now, is trade. So Xi Jinping is going to dangle this North Korea card in front of Trump.

TODD (voice-over): But there is a concern tonight that Trump's hand with Kim Jong-un might have just gotten weaker because of Trump's pull back on a military strike against Iran.

CHANG: President Trump's reluctance to cause casualties to the Iranians is something that Kim Jong-un is going to take onboard. This is going to be a dangerous situation where the North Koreans could challenge us, and we know what the North Koreans can do. They can kill Americans.

TODD (voice-over): Another concern tonight, that while Xi might be able to help push Trump and Kim back together, President Trump should also be wary that stronger ties between Kim and Xi could work against America.

PAK: My biggest worry about North Korea-China ties is that China decides to not implement sanctions or to be not as vigorous about sanctions implementation. So far, sanctions are our biggest leverage against North Korea and to try to sharpen Kim's choices to denuclearize.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Analysts say with China's role in this nuclear standoff, it is important to understand what China's and Xi Jinping's biggest fears are. Chinese leaders have often said publicly, they want North Korea to get rid of its nuclear weapons, but what they really want is to keep North Korea from collapsing to keep tens of millions of North Korean refugees away from their border.

And if keeping North Korea stable means that Kim Jong-un gets to keep his nuclear weapons, well, Chinese leaders won't have a very big problem with that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, there was some drama here in Washington this week surrounding President Trump's latest letter from Kim Jong-un. Tell us about that.

TODD: Right, Wolf. "TIME" Magazine, they just published a transcript of a meeting that President Trump had with a group of reporters in the Oval Office this past Monday. In that meeting, according to "TIME," Trump showed the reporters the latest letter he said was written to him by Kim Jong-un.

Trump made it clear that him showing that letter was off the record so they could not report on it, but a "TIME" reporter tried to snap a picture of the letter. And according to "TIME," the President then threatened that reporter with jail time if they published the picture. "TIME" is not publishing that picture.

BLITZER: Very interesting. All right, Brian Todd reporting. Thank you.

Coming up, a senior U.S. official says the administration is back to focusing in on sanctions against Iran after President Trump says the U.S. military was quote, cocked and loaded, ready to retaliate for Iran's downing of a U.S. drone when he called off the attack with only 10 minutes to go.

[17:54:47] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Cocked and loaded. President Trump is revealing more about his decision to cancel a strike on Iran just minutes before the mission was set to launch. There are new questions tonight about his reversal and concerns about what he will or won't do next.

[17:59:57] Arrest and deport. Immigration officials are set to launch raids on undocumented families in 10 cities. Are they rushing ahead with the operation after the President announced plans to deport millions?