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Federal Judge Rules Against Trump In Census Case; Trump Targets Obamacare Again; Interview With Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA), Presidential Candidate; Trump Versus Britain; Trump Defends Labor Secretary Over Epstein Case; Biden Vows To Protect Obamacare, Says Starting Over Would Be "A Sin"; Former Presidential Candidate Ross Perot Dies at 89. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired July 9, 2019 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And Joe Biden warns against committing a sin.

And on the outs. The president insults the British ambassador to the United States once again, still smarting after learning that the diplomat called him incompetent. This hour, I will ask a former U.K. ambassador if America's special relationship with Britain can be repaired.

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: Breaking news this hour. A federal judge in New York says no to the Trump administration in its fight to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. The judge refusing to allow the Justice Department to switch out its legal team in the case.

Also tonight, President Trump is praising his labor secretary, as top Democrats are ramping up their demands for Alex Acosta to resign. Acosta's under fire for his role in a 2008 plea deal for multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein, who is now charged with sexually abusing dozens of underage girls.

Acosta's defending his actions as a top prosecutor in Florida, while calling Epstein's alleged crimes horrific.

Also tonight, President Trump is doubling down on his attacks on the British ambassador to the United States, calling him wacky and a very stupid guy.

This hour, I will talk to Democratic presidential candidate Washington state Governor Jay Inslee. And our correspondents and analysts are standing by.

First, let's go to our Justice Correspondent, Jessica Schneider, and our Legal Analyst, Laura Coates.

Jessica, why did this federal judge deny the Justice Department's request to switch its legal team in the census case?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a biting order from this New York federal judge, Jesse Furman.

In his three-page order, he goes into detail, really slamming the Justice Department for making this request to withdraw certain attorneys that have been representing them in this census case up until this point and asking to substitute these lawyers.

This judge saying that the Department of Justice did not give any satisfactory reasons for changing these attorneys and, in fact, gave no reason at all for changing these attorneys. And that's why the judge in this case has denied this request to change these attorneys.

And, Wolf, this is a big procedural setback for the Department of Justice. Their plan has been multifaceted. They're attacking this census case to put this citizenship question on the 2020 census on multiple levels. They are fighting this in courts across the country, federal courts in Maryland, New York and California.

They're also possibly working with the president on what could be a memorandum or an executive order. So this is a major defeat as it pertains to the court track. They are not allowed in this New York case to substitute these attorneys.

The judge really coming down on the Department of Justice, denying this request and saying and actually putting the onus on these individual attorneys at the Department of Justice, saying, you have to come to us with sworn affidavits talking about this case. This is really a huge blow for the Department of Justice.

And tonight they're so far declining to comment.

BLITZER: It's a significant blow, indeed.

And, Laura, the federal judge, Jesse Furman, writes -- and I will quote specifically -- "Defendants provide no reasons, let alone satisfactory reasons, for the substitution of counsel.'

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's almost as if they believe that questions that justify their conduct are all rhetorical, which we know is not the case. There is a reason they're asking the Justice Department, first of all, why do you want it on the census in the first place?

Remember the word contrived when it came to the Supreme Court, saying, listen, your answers seems to be not only inconsistent with what the administration has said, but it's totally contrived. You haven't offered an actual substantiated, valid reason that isn't politically motivated in some shape or form or fashion.

Again, opportunity to answer a question and have it be even a benign response is, here is our explanation. Again, they treat it as if there's no real need to justify our conduct.

And, remember, courts want their dockets to keep on moving. They don't want unnecessary delays. They do not want to have to have new counsel get up to speed, delaying hearings, delaying trials, if there are any, delaying motion to practice for any time. They want to have everything keep going.

And, remember, it was the commerce secretary who said in the first place, time was of the essence, they had to print all of these things. And now to add this wrench to the plans and say, we're going to delay it, we want new counsel, we're not going to tell you why, that shouldn't be good enough.

BLITZER: And remind us, Jessica, why the Department of Justice wanted to change out this legal team to begin with. The legal team was working. They came up with a decision based on what the attorney general told them to do and all of a sudden the president says something totally different.


Well, the judge in this case in New York also wants to know why the Department of Justice suddenly wanted to change its lawyers. The Department of Justice hasn't told the courts why they want to make this change and they haven't told the public either.

There's been speculation that because these group of attorneys who were working on this census case for the past few months, they had represented to the court, as Laura said, that time was of the essence. They consistently talked about this July 1 printing deadline that the census had to move forward.


And now all of a sudden, if they go back to the court and say, oh, never mind, we have some more time here, that really presents a credibility issue. And perhaps to alleviate that, that's why the Department of Justice wanted to change up their team of lawyers, so there wouldn't be this issue when they go before the judge.

But before the judge, and to the public, the Department of Justice has not yet explained why they needed this change, and that is exactly why this judge is saying, you can't make this change. You haven't given satisfactory reasons. In fact, you haven't given any reasons for making this change.

BLITZER: The bottom line, at least for now, another major setback to the president who wants the citizenship question asked in the 2020 census.

Guys, stand by. We're going to get a lot more on this, the breaking news that we're following.

I want to bring in our chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, that census citizenship question clearly very, very important to the president, and this judge's ruling clearly a major setback.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. This is a setback for the president, no question about it.

And he has been tweeting about it. He's been talking about it. He hasn't yet reacted to this latest development in the case. So we will be watching for that.

But the president is stepping up to defend his embattled labor secretary, who is facing calls to resign over his handling of the Jeffrey Epstein case. The president says Secretary Alex Acosta is doing a fantastic job, as he put it earlier today.

Mr. Trump also tried to distance himself from Epstein in the Oval Office earlier in the day, after once describing Epstein as a -- quote -- "terrific guy."


ACOSTA (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump appears to be standing by his embattled labor secretary, Alex Acosta, at least for now.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can tell you that for two-and-a-half years he's been just an excellent secretary of labor. He's done a fantastic job.

ACOSTA: The president appeared to diminish Acosta's role as a federal prosecutor in a 2008 plea agreement for multiple millionaire Jeffrey Epstein, who is facing new charges of running a child sex ring in Florida that includes accusations of abusing teenage girls.

TRUMP: I do hear that there were a lot of people involved in that decision, not just him. I can only say this, from what I know and what I do know is that he's been a great, really great secretary of labor. The rest of it we will have to look at. We will have to look at it very carefully.

ACOSTA: The president also downplayed his own relationship with Epstein.

TRUMP: Well, I knew him like everybody in Palm Beach knew him. People in Palm Beach knew him. He was a fixture in Palm Beach. I had a falling out with him a long time ago. I don't think I have spoken to him for 15 years. I wasn't a fan.

So I feel very badly actually for Secretary Acosta, because I have known him as being somebody that works so hard and has done such a good job. I feel very badly about that whole situation.

ACOSTA: But that's not the whole story. Back in 2002, the president told "New York Magazine": "I have known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy. He's a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it, Jeffrey enjoys his social life."

Democrats are accusing the secretary of shielding Epstein from a tougher sentence.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): I am calling on Secretary Acosta to resign. It is now impossible for anyone to have confidence in Secretary Acosta's ability to lead the Department of Labor. If he refuses to resign, President Trump should fire him.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): No surprise. He knew about this when he nominated him for the Cabinet. It just goes to show you.

ACOSTA: Secretary Acosta tweeted in his own defense, saying: "The crimes committed by Epstein are horrific and I'm pleased that New York prosecutors are moving forward with a case based on new evidence."

Republicans say they're awaiting more information.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): There is nothing new that we didn't know before he was confirmed by the Senate.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): As to Secretary Acosta's continued service, he serves at the pleasure of the president, and I'm inclined to defer to the president to make that decision.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I don't know enough about it to say anything.

ACOSTA: The president is continuing to lash out at Britain's ambassador to the U.S., Kim Darroch, over his recently exposed sharp criticism of Mr. Trump, who is still railing against Prime Minister Theresa May's handling of Brexit.

The president tweeted: "The wacky ambassador that the U.K. foisted upon the United States is not someone we are thrilled with. A very stupid guy. I told Theresa May how to do that deal, but she went her own foolish way. Was unable to get it done. A disaster."

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Many people accused the president of meddling and it was none of his business, but it turns out he was right.


ACOSTA: Now, away from those controversies, a crucial debate played out at an appeals court earlier in the day over the future of Obamacare.

The Republican-appointed judges on that appeals court suggested that Obamacare, which protects people with preexisting conditions, may no longer be constitutional, after President Trump and GOP lawmakers stripped out the individual mandate from that law.

All of that means another critical Obamacare case could be heading back to the Supreme Court just in time for the 2020 election, a very important case, Wolf.


BLITZER: Indeed, critically important. Thanks very much for that, Jim Acosta.

Joining us now, Democratic presidential candidate, the Governor of Washington state, Jay Inslee.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Got a lot to discuss.

I first want to get your reaction to the breaking news we just reported, this federal judge in New York blocking the Trump administration's attempt to put a new legal team in place to deal with this very sensitive issue of whether or not a citizenship question should be asked in the 2020 census.

What's your reaction?

INSLEE: Well, the president got caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

It is clear that this was a sham excuse to try to put this question on the ballot. It is clear that racial bias is involved in this. I'm glad this is one of the cases we filed. We have now beat Donald Trump 22 times in a row.

BLITZER: When you say we, you mean Washington state.

INSLEE: Washington state. Bob Ferguson, our A.G., has done a great job.

Look, I think what happened is, the federal court here had a belly full of being deceived and told lies by the attorneys who represented the commander of lies right now. And that's Donald Trump.


BLITZER: You don't want a citizenship question to be asked as part of the census?

INSLEE: There is no reason to do this whatsoever. It clearly was intended to suppress the participation of people who don't look like Donald Trump.

And this has infected his administration. It's sad to say, but it's true. And I think we have a federal judge standing up for the Constitution. We like to see it.

BLITZER: Let's get to another sensitive issue, the labor secretary, Alex Acosta.

Many of your Democratic presidential candidates and a lot of Democrats in Congress, they're demanding that he resign because of the way he treated Jeffrey Epstein more than a decade ago, when he was the U.S. attorney in South Florida. What do you think?

INSLEE: Well, I heard the president say that the secretary is a terrific guy. Well, I tell you, terrific guys don't give sweetheart deals to sex

offenders because they're a billionaire. And that's what happened here.

And, unfortunately, this is a continuation of a pattern in this administration. This isn't just a one-off offense. This administration is of billionaires, by billionaires and for billionaires. And this is just another incident of demonstrating that, this rogue's gallery of Cabinet members.

He needs to go by resignation or discharge. By the way, there's a lot of things the secretary has done have hurt Americans too, including not giving Americans protection for new overtime rules. We're moving forward to protect people.

BLITZER: So you're joining the other Democratic candidates?

INSLEE: You bet.

BLITZER: You want him to resign?

INSLEE: He should resign or be fired.

BLITZER: And if he doesn't resign, you want the president to fire him?

INSLEE: Yes. The president...

BLITZER: What if the president doesn't fire him and what if he doesn't resign?

INSLEE: There's other means.

I don't know if impeachment is appropriate or not, but one way or another, he should go. Look, the president said he was going to bring us the best people. He's brought us the worst.

It really hasn't been a rogue's gallery. Look at the environmental issues, where the president tried to cover up his horrendous environmental record yesterday, which he knows he's very weak on and very exposed. He appointed Interior and EPA people who every day woke up and said, what can we do to help billionaires make the skies dirtier?

These people need to go.

BLITZER: Let's talk about health care, which is a critically important issues.

As you know, the Trump administration was at a federal court today arguing against the Affordable Care Act, saying it should be invalidated. The potential implications, if it goes to the Supreme Court, which it almost certainly will be, will be critically important for millions of Americans who have come to rely on preexisting conditions, the Affordable Care Act. INSLEE: People need to dig deep to understand how callously

indifferent this man in the White House is to the health needs of Americans.

It's really difficult to imagine a person who would commit themselves to take away health insurance from 20 million Americans, 800,000 in my state. But that's exactly what he's trying to do.

And that may shock people, but that is the situation. He has no way to replace Obamacare. He has no intention of replacing Obamacare. This is a callous indifference to the suffering Americans.

I talked to a friend who had a mastectomy yesterday. And to think that there's a president of the United States trying to take away health insurance to women who want to have a mastectomy, that's infuriating. And it is sure infuriate -- it should infuriate people. We need a new president.

BLITZER: As governor of Washington state, you just signed into law a government health insurance plan that competes with private health insurance right now. Is that a model of something you would like to see down the road nationally?

INSLEE: Yes, we did.

And I was proud to be the first governor to sign a public option bill in United States history. It is a step forward. It's not the ultimate step. We need to continue to get actually universal health care in this country.

But it is important, because we have set a template for other states to follow now, even without federal action, where we can provide a state-sanctioned care system for people in my state. And I hope others will follow us.


BLITZER: Let me get your reaction to the president's environment -- environmental speech yesterday. I don't know if you read it or if you heard it, but he said he has now given the country -- in his words -- a clear direction to focus on environmental challenges.

This is a signature issue for you.

INSLEE: Well, look, Donald Trump is for environmentalism like he is for feminism, basically. And he has the worst record of any perhaps politician maybe in world history. We don't know.

But I think this is really interesting. And I haven't heard other people comment about this. I think what Donald Trump did yesterday was to demonstrate a path to victory to defeat him, because he understood, by going out and just trying to cover up his tracks on this horrendous environmental record, he's demonstrated how weak and exposed he is.

Look, the polling shows this is his weakest point in Americans. We now need to drive this message home. We should attack his weakest link with our strongest candidate, someone who's going to make defeating climate change the number one priority. And that's my advocacy of my campaign.

So, let's attack him where he is weakest. It is on the environmental policy. People want clean air and clean water. And they want to defeat the climate crisis. That is a tremendous way to defeat this man and make him a blip in history.

BLITZER: Governor Inslee, thanks so much for coming in.

INSLEE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Governor Jay Inslee of Washington state.

There's more breaking news just ahead. What does a federal judge's new ruling mean for the president's fight to add that citizenship question to the U.S. census?

And did the labor secretary, Alex Acosta, give alleged sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein too lenient a deal, as Democrats now claim? Former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara -- there you see him -- he's standing by live.



BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the president's controversial battle to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census.

A federal judge in New York refusing to allow the Justice Department to swap out its legal team in the case, that decision just announced.

Let's bring in CNN Senior Legal Analyst, Preet Bharara. He's the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

So, Preet, what does this mean for the president's quest to include a citizenship question on the census?

PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it doesn't help that effort.

I mean, we all sat around the television and the newspapers last week under the impression that that fight was over, because the Supreme Court made a ruling, saying that you can't add a citizenship question on the basis of a pretext.

And now you have a series of lawyers who decided, for whatever reason, that they don't want to be on the case anymore. And that's what people have suspected about this. And Judge Furman, who is a very good judge -- I know him. He's a smart guy. And he doesn't take any nonsense.

And he's not going to let the case proceed unless he understands, under oath, the reasons why these lawyers have decided to remove themselves from the case or if they were removed by other folks.

So it slows things down. It also, I think, sends a signal to other lawyers at the department who are career officials who care about their reputations that they just can't make arguments that violate their conscience and that undermine their credibility.

And so, overall, I think it's a good thing for understanding transparency, and for sending a good signal to the rest to department.

BLITZER: So it's not enough for the president, the president of the United States, to overrule the attorney general, the commerce secretary and say, I don't care what you guys think, I want this to take place, I want that citizenship question asked in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision? That's not a good enough reason?

BHARARA: Yes, I don't think so.

What I'm talking about here is with respect to this particular ongoing case that has proceedings still pending. It sets the president's goal back. Presumably, the president could do some other thing and order folks to add a question or have an addendum or do an executive order. All those things have been discussed. Those options have been discussed.

All of those, though, will invite litigation as well, and will require there to be lawyers from the Justice Department to defend I think really, really poor reasons and pretextual reasons. Those will be separate from this proceeding. But I think, overall, it's not good for the president and it shouldn't be good for the president on these grounds.

BLITZER: Let's turn to the new charges brought by your former office, the Southern District of New York, against multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein.

President Trump's labor secretary, Alex Acosta, is facing a lot of new scrutiny right now over his role in Epstein's 2008 plea deal down in Florida. Acosta says that this time is different thanks to new evidence and additional testimony.

Is it accurate to imply that the evidence wasn't strong enough back in 2008 to fight this in court?

BHARARA: So he talks about new evidence. I don't know how much new evidence there is, apparently some, because the Southern District itself reports that they conducted searches and found what appears to be child pornography at the home of Jeffrey Epstein.

They also may have found additional witnesses to talk about conduct that happened in New York, as opposed to Florida. But what seems to me, from being an outsider looking at this, what's really new is the evidence brought to bear by this reporting by the Miami newspaper that made it clear that the way in which the resolution happened in Florida, with Alex Acosta at the head of the U.S. attorney's office, was done in a very strange, arguably potentially corrupt way. And I was district attorney for seven-and-a-half years in my own

district. And I never once had a meeting, ever, notwithstanding -- not even off-campus, but never with defense counsel in any case, not to mention a high-profile case, without the team there, and negotiated personally a resolution like it looks like happened here.


BHARARA: So I think Alex Acosta has to answer a lot of questions about why it was resolved that way and what the reasons were and what he based his decisions on.

BLITZER: Yes, the U.S. attorney of the Southern District of New York cited the excellent reporting by "The Miami Herald" over these past many, many months.


A lot of speculation, Preet -- and I need your expertise on this -- why this case in New York is being handled by the SDNY's public corruption unit. Is there any significance there?

BHARARA: There may be.

I used to field these questions when I was the U.S. attorney also. And I saw my successor, Geoff Berman, who was very strong in his remarks at the press conference this week. And when asked this question, the same question you just asked me, he said, look, I wouldn't read too much into it at all.

Now, when I was U.S. attorney, you might have cases that you're investigating that involve statutes, whether it's securities fraud or cyber-fraud or something else. But it may be the case that one or more targets are potentially public figures.

And at the moment you think that one of your targets may be public figures, and that may not ever materialize, my inkling was to put the people in the public corruption unit on the case, perhaps even in charge of the case, because they, excellent, like all the other children, prosecutors in the office -- I call them all my children because I love them equally.

But they have a special sensitivity and understand the sensibilities in investigating public figures. It doesn't mean you're going to see a public figure indicted, but that's my best guess.

At the same time, they don't only have public corruption prosecutors on the case, but, as I saw the array of folks at the press conference, there are also one or two people who focus on sex trafficking who are not necessarily public corruption prosecutors.

BLITZER: Preet Bharara, thanks so much for joining us.

BHARARA: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, there's a lot to discuss with our analysts who are here. They're standing by, as we cover a lot more of the breaking news.

We will be right back.



BLITZER: We're following breaking news. A federal judge in New York has just ruled that the Justice Department cannot switch its legal team to reargue a -- for a citizenship question on the U.S. census. The judge said the Trump administration failed to give a satisfactory reason for the change.

Let's dig deeper with our correspondents and our analysts.

Laura Coates, how unusual is this ruling?

COATES: Well, it's not unusual for maybe a client to want to change counsel, but it's unusual for somebody to be actual the counsels themselves and say, I'm not going to offer any reason for why I want to leave, especially since we already know that the Supreme Court took this case and said there is a contrived reason, a pre-textual here. We see it compared with the administration has said and public, which is what you're saying right now. And so give us some basis to say it's satisfactory.

They didn't do that. They treated it as a rhetorical question of why do you want to leave? Oh, well -- I mean, more needs to be said to a federal court on an issue this important.

BLITZER: This judge -- this federal judge in New York is a very serious guy. You just heard Preet Bharara tell us.

You know, David Swerdlick, even if the Trump administration is defeated, when all is said and done, can't get that question on the citizenship census forms, will this whole fight right now so scare the immigrant community that they won't want to participate in this census?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, potentially, yes, Wolf, because now this idea is out there in the ether. Whether or not it ends up on the census as a question, this idea that the administration is trying to root out who is a citizenship and who is an immigrant, whether legal or not legal, does put a climate of fear out there in the immigrant community and it goes against the purposes of the census, which is to count all the people who are here in the United States regardless of whether they're citizens or legal residents or undocumented immigrants because it has to do with how federal resources are allocated.

BLITZER: You know, this attitude that's going on at the White House right now as far the Labor Secretary, Alex Acosta, Pamela, is concerned, the President said he's doing a great job as Labor Secretary, but Acosta is coming under enormous fire for what he did when he was the U.S. Attorney in South Florida a decade ago. And, basically, we had some lenient charges against Jeffrey Epstein. PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And, remember, this is the second time he's under fire. The first was back in March when the Miami Herald reported on this plea deal that Acosta gave to Jeffrey Epstein. And now it's being revived because of the charges in New York against Epstein and this incriminating evidence that was uncovered.

But I think what you're seeing from President Trump is what we've seen in the past. Basically, he says, look, he's doing a good job. I'm happy with the job that he's doing. We'll just wait and see. And the White House has previously said back in March that there is this internal review. It has not provided clarity on where that stands exactly. That could be because DOJ is looking at it.

But what President Trump appears to be doing is waiting to see how this is going to play out in the media. Will the controversy die down again like it did in March or will this stay and will he just be under too much pressure and have to let him go?

But if you look at the past, given all the turnover in his cabinet, the President has fired actually only a small number of his cabinet officials. He normally doesn't like to do it because of this perception that his administration is in chaos.

BLITZER: Ron Brownstein, how do you see this unfolding?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think the pressure is going to be substantial from democrats. I mean, they have every incentive to keep the focus on the Labor Secretary. I mean, there are even some democrats who are calling for the Attorney General to step aside, Kamala Harris, for example, in this investigation.

Look, the democratic disdain for William Barr, I think, at this point is bottomless. Nancy Pelosi said today on a different issue that she was not interested in anything he had to say because she believes he has already lied to Congress.

But I do think the central focus is going to be the Labor Secretary. And while no administration likes to retreat on this sort of thing because it kind of conveys weakness, there really isn't a lot on the other side of the ledger that would make you go to the mattresses to defend Alex Acosta as your labor secretary.


BLITZER: What do you think, Laura?

COATES: Well, we all have a tendency to compartmentalize. This is not an instance where it's appropriate to do so.

Acosta is the Head of the Labor Department, which means that they are overseeing human trafficking and children and children labor efforts. It is an inconsistency to have had a lapse of judgment that would allow you to give a sweetheart deal, including to people who are unnamed, co-conspirators who served as facilitators and madams of child pornography, molestation and pedophilia, which is really what it is.

I hate the phrase underage girls because it seems to connote something that's more benign to people than what it actually is. Child molestation and pedophilia by somebody who didn't have the money to buy decency.

And so you have this idea that there is a sweetheart deal given by Acosta. Now, he is in this position to oversee similar behavior. The lapse in judgment would have to be a total 180 to who he is now.

And also there is a lot of information, and we're learning as this case goes on, to suggest that it was more than simply a lapse in judgment. Perhaps there was something more corrupt or nefarious about the entire proposition.

And from a sex offense prosecutor myself, the idea that the victims were never even incorporated in the discussion is an abomination of justice.

BLITZER: Everybody stand by because there is a lot more breaking news we're following. There are new developments in the truly extraordinary public feud between President Trump and top British officials.



BLITZER: A war of words between President Trump and top British officials is heating up dramatically tonight with the British Foreign Secretary calling Mr. Trump's public criticism of the U.K. Ambassador to Washington disrespectful and wrong. President Trump lashed out at Ambassador Kim Darroch on Twitter, labeling him as whacky and a very stupid guy.

That attack followed the leak of Darroch's cables to London in which he called the President inept, insecure and incompetent.

Let's get some more on this truly extraordinary public feud. The former British Ambassador to the United States, Peter Westmacott is joining us from London.

Ambassador, thanks so much for joining us. And I know you say it's an important part of the job for Ambassadors to give private advice back home. So, first of all, were you surprised to see the assessment as it was leaked from Ambassador Darroch?

PETER WESTMACOTT, FORMER BRITISH AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Well, Wolf, good to be with you again. Was I surprised to read what my successor has actually sent back to London? Frankly, not terribly, because although some of that language didn't go down a storm in the Oval Office, it's not very different from what an awful lot of commentators have been saying about this administration. And I would have been surprised if the Ambassador on the spot whose job is to report things as he sees them and as other people tell him they are had said much less. So the content of it didn't really surprise me, no.

BLITZER: The President, as you know, he responded on Twitter calling Ambassador Darroch a very stupid guy and a pompous fool. And the President also says, and I'll read directly what he says, we will no longer deal with him.

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, is standing by the Ambassador, but do you think he can effectively serve now that all of this has become public?

WESTMACOTT: It certainly puts Kim in a very difficult position. I think the first set of salvos that came from the President, one might have been able just to shrug it off and say, well, something has got under his skin, he's been watching something on television that's annoyed him and so he's lashed out. And now we've had three rounds.

And bear in mind, it's not just insulting towards Kim, who, by the way, is neither whacky nor stupid nor, it's also insulting towards Theresa May, the Prime Minister, for whom the President had lots of compliments when he was here for a state visit just a month ago.

So it has gotten worse over the last few days. I think that it makes Kim's position difficult, but I would like to think that this will pass and that he will be able to carry on discharging his duty.

What I think would be intolerable would be -- is if somebody said he can't do his job or he has to be withdrawn or his tour of duty has to be shortened because somebody quite irresponsibly and maybe criminally back here in the U.K. has leaked the honest assessments, which this Ambassador and his team have made of what the administration is up to. That's his job. How could it possibly be right for an ambassador to be withdrawn or regarded as incapable of doing his job anymore when all he's been doing is his job and doing it pretty well, as far as I can see?

BLITZER: Which is a fair point. And you suggest that this leak of these diplomatic cables that were supposed to be secret was no accident. What do you think the motivation was here?

WESTMACOTT: Well, that's a great question, Wolf. I do not know. There is an inquiry which has been launched into how this happened because it's not just a single document. This is a dump of sensitive material stretching back a couple of years, which have come from the Embassy in Washington. Somebody has put it together and given it to the mail on Sunday for some kind of reason.

Was it to undermine Kim Darroch? I doubt it, because he's almost at the end of his four-year tour of duty. Was it to try to ensure that his successor is not another diplomat but somebody who is politically deemed to be more of an unquestioning supporter of President Trump? Maybe.

But I'm afraid this probably got caught up in a nasty polarized debate going on in the United Kingdom as we try and choose a new Prime Minister between hard line pro-Brexit people who are often supporters of Donald Trump and people who are more professional, dispassionate civil servants.

[18:45:11] And there are people who are saying why don't we have a nice political appointee in Washington like we sometimes had in the past rather than somebody who is known to be doubtful about Brexit, a remainer as we call it, in the European Union, and critical of the president? And some of the politicians here in the United Kingdom have said that the criticisms in those documents which were leaked show that Kim Darroch is not fit to be ambassador in Washington.

I think that's nonsense but it's an indication of the political debate going on here in London at the moment.

BLITZER: Yes. You're joining us from London right now. What's been the reaction in London, in the U.K. to what the president has now said about the British ambassador?

WESTMACOTT: Initially, I think people said, well, that's what this president is, you know? He's -- he's said some pretty rude things about the United Kingdom, about our prime minister in the past, but it was telling when Jeremy Hunt, who is one of the two candidates to be prime minister, was on the hustings tonight and said he thought he was disrespectful and quite wrong for the president to speak of the British prime minister as he had this afternoon. There was spontaneous applause in the studio.

I think people don't feel that this is the way the president of the United States should treat either the ambassador on the spot or the prime minister of the United Kingdom, given that the U.K. is such a close ally and partner of the United States in so many of the things that America cares about around the world.

BLITZER: Peter Westmacott, the former ambassador to the United States, thanks so much for joining us.

WESTMACOTT: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And just ahead, the Democratic divide over health care deepening, pitting Joe Biden against some of his top rivals.


[18:51:29] BLITZER: The Democratic divide over health care appears to be deepening with some of the top tier presidential candidates calling for Medicare-for-All, while the frontrunner vows to protect Obamacare.

Our Political Reporter, Arlette Saenz is joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM with details.

Some sharp disagreement from some -- for these candidates.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, there really is, Wolf. And Joe Biden spent the past days ramping up defense of the Obamacare and highlighting the he has with those in his party who are all in for Medicare-for-All.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SAENZ (voice-over): The 2020 fight over health care is on. With Joe Biden insisting Medicare-for-All isn't the answer.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Starting over would be, I think, a sin.

SAENZ: The former vice president at President Obama's side when the Affordable Care Act became law.

BIDEN: This is a big (EXPLETIVE DELETED) deal.

SAENZ: Even the Trump administration reminding voters of his connection. Today calling it --


SAENZ: Biden is now pitching himself as the protector of that plan, saying he'll build on Obamacare and offer a public option to buy into government-run insurance.

BIDEN: I'm opposed to any Republican who wants to dismantle it or any Democrat who wants to dismantle it.

SAENZ: That warning directed at his Democratic rivals pushing Medicare-for-All.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When it comes to health care, there is no middle ground.

SAENZ: In South Carolina this weekend, Biden singled out one Medicare-for-All backer, Kamala Harris.

BIDEN: Health care, we strongly disagree. I don't want to get away -- do away with Obamacare and start all over and trash it.

SAENZ: This new line of attack comes as Harris has struggled to explain whether she supports scrapping private health insurance, starting with this moment in January at a CNN town hall.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let's eliminate all of that. Let's move on.

SAENZ: And then this question at last month's debate.

LESTER HOLT, DEBATE MODERATOR: Many people watching at home have health insurance through their employer, who here would abolish their private health insurance in favor of a government-run plan?

All right.

SAENZ: Harris later saying she misunderstood the question, thinking it was about her own insurance and she's now trying to ease some voters' concerns about Medicare-for-All.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We cannot go immediately into health care for all.

HARRIS: But to your point, it can't just happen overnight. There will be a transition period.

SAENZ: A CNN poll found 85 percent of Democrats favor a government- run health care plan. But only 30 percent say a national program should completely replace private insurance. That's the number Biden is banking on, as he vows Obamacare is here to stay.

BIDEN: No one is going to tear down the jewel of President Obama's presidency. I promise you that.


SAENZ: Now, Joe Biden so often refers to himself as a Middle Class Joe out on the campaign trail. And tonight we learn just how much he earned since leaving the White House. He and his wife Jill reported earning $11 million in 2017 and $4.6 million the year after. Wolf, a good chunk of that coming from his speeches and his book as well.

BLITZER: Millions and millions of dollars.

All right. Thanks very much, Arlette, for that.

Stay with us. Lots more news right after this.


[18:59:10] BLITZER: Finally, tonight, we remember Ross Perot who died after a battle of leukemia. He ran for president twice as independent, getting nearly 19 percent of the vote in 1992. Many Republicans blamed him for Bill Clinton's victory over George H.W. Bush. Perot went on to create the Reform Party and challenge President Clinton in 1996.

I interviewed Perot two years later when he was urging Clinton to resign over the Monica Lewinsky scandal and there were questions about whether Perot might run again.


BLITZER: All right. Let's takes another caller from Anaheim, California. Please go ahead with your question.

CALLER: Will you run for office in the year 2000, sir?

ROSS PEROT, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't want to run for office. I never wanted to run for office. I said the other day, if he resigns, I will promise not to run for office. Now, that ought to be exciting for both parties because they considered me a nuisance.


BLITZER: Tonight, former President Bill Clinton is joining in the tributes to Ross Perot saying he respected the passion he brought to politics even when they were opponents.

Ross Perot was 89 years old. May he rest in peace.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.