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THE SITUATION ROOM
House Panel Subpoenas Corey Lewandowski; Trump Speaks to Reporters before New Hampshire Rally; At Trump's Urging, Israel Bans Visit by Democratic Congresswomen; Interview with Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA), Member, Judiciary Committee, on Israel's Ban of Representatives Tlaib and Omar; Trump Applauds Israel's Decision to Ban Visit by Democratic Congresswomen; Russia Maintains Secrecy and Silence After Apparent Nuclear-Powered Missile Explosion. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired August 15, 2019 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: -- car crash at the Daytona 500 in 2001. The FAA is now investigating today's crash.
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WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Happening now, breaking news, calling Corey: hours before he's due to appear at the president's political rally, and amid speculation he's going to return for the U.S. Senate, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski is subpoenaed by the House Judiciary Committee.
Does he have information that will help the Democrats build a case for impeachment?
And will the White House let him talk?
Inaugural investigation: CNN is learning new details about the investigation into spending at President Trump's inauguration. A former friend of the first lady, Melania Trump, has been subpoenaed. There are new questions about what the Trump family knew, as well as about who profited from the most expensive inauguration ever staged.
Blocking the squad: urged on by President Trump, Israel announces two U.S. congresswomen won't be allowed into the country.
Will the unprecedented snub and the outrage that followed hurt the U.S.-Israeli relationship?
And nuclear risks: following a deadly explosion and reported radiation leak, experts worry Russia may be covering up what could be the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.
Is the Russian government risking the lives of its own people to satisfy Vladimir Putin's military ambitions?
I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories, as we await to see whether President Trump will take reporters' questions once he lands in New Hampshire for a political rally.
The president may be asked about the latest subpoenas from the House Judiciary Committee, which is ramping up a possible impeachment inquiry. The committee wants public testimony from former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and one-time White House senior aide, Rick Dearborn, both mentioned in the section of Mueller report dealing with possible obstruction of justice by the president.
We also expect the president to be asked about his tweet, urging Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to prohibit two U.S. congresswomen from visiting Israel. Pushed by that tweet, Israel announced it won't let Democratic representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib into Israel.
I'll get reaction from Madeleine Dean of the Judiciary Committee and we'll have full coverage of the top stories. Let's begin with Phil Mattingly and Kaitlan Collins.
Phil, first to you. Tell us about the subpoena today.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN U.S. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler is taking a much more aggressive posture towards a potential drafting of articles of impeachment. Now today we get in sharper focus what one of the primary targets is: that's potential obstruction of justice.
The two subpoenas went to Corey Lewandowski and Rick Dearborn.
The reason why?
Wolf, you mentioned it. They're both featured prominently in the Mueller report as it pertains to the important section. In one part of the Mueller report or at least according to the Mueller report, President Trump directly dictated to Lewandowski a message he wanted to take to Jeff Sessions, calling for him to scale back the Mueller investigation.
A month later, Trump checked in to see if it had been done. Lewandowski went to Rick Dearborn, Sessions' former chief of staff, to ask him to deliver the message. The message was never delivered either or by Dearborn but now you know and now you see why Democrats are so interested in the public testimony.
Subpoenaed, they're asked to appear and testify publicly on September 17th. Keep in mind, many of the subpoenas rolled out by the committee have essentially been ignored or blocked by the White House on grounds of executive privilege. That's where Lewandowski's subpoena is so important. He never
actually served in the White House. Many Democrats have been urging Chairman Jerry Nadler to issue the subpoena, because they believe this is their best opportunity to get public testimony from somebody involved in the investigation.
The question becomes, will anything actually come of it?
Corey Lewandowski's lawyer put out a statement, saying he testified before several committees, he went and spoke to the special counsel. Republicans on the committee said it was a waste of time and money but clearly Democrats are ramping up that obstruction investigation that may lead to the drafting of articles of impeachment.
BLITZER: Kaitlan, what are you hearing?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They're expecting the subpoena to be issued. So behind the scenes they've been having what I'm told are preliminary discussions about potentially invoking executive privilege to limit Corey Lewandowski from complying.
We have seen the White House take this route before with people like Don McGahn and Hope Hicks. But this would be the White House trying to invoke executive privilege over a conversation that Lewandowski had with the president, even though he's never held any title in the White House or even in the administration overall.
He's only been an informal adviser to the president since the 2016 campaign, so that's why there are questions about exactly how the White House would proceed with trying to invoke privilege over Corey Lewandowski.
Phil just laid out exactly what the Democrats want to talk about. Those are the conversations that the White House doesn't want Lewandowski answering questions about to House Democrats.
So we're seeing skepticism that this route might actually work. Executive privilege exists so the president can have confidential conversations with people who are working in the highest levels of his government, something that Corey Lewandowski hasn't done.
They haven't made a final decision, this is the way they're going to try to go forward but it's something we're being told is still being considered.
BLITZER: Kaitlan Collins and Phil Mattingly, thank you.
Also breaking, we're getting new details on the investigation on spending involving the Trump inauguration. CNN has learned a former friend of the first lady, Melania Trump, has been subpoenaed. Our senior reporter Vicky Ward is joining us with exclusive details.
Vicky, first of all, what are you learning? VICKY WARD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. So the latest subpoena is from the D.C. attorney general's office. It is, according to two sources, the third subpoena that Stephanie Winston Wolkoff has received relating to the inaugural expenditure. A source says that she is a meticulous record keeper and she has responded.
I have seen the subpoena. It does ask for correspondence between inaugural planners and the president's children and Jared Kushner. Three of the children, Donald Trump Jr., Eric, Ivanka and Jared Kushner.
Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, you will remember, left the White House in 2018 amid a controversy. She left around the same time it was being reported that her company was paid $26 million by the inaugural. She disputed that.
She said that her company -- most of that was paid to subcontractors and vendors and she has since put out a statement saying that she was thrown under the bus.
BLITZER: I understand, Vicky, you also heard from people involved with the inauguration planning, who raised concerns about the enormous amount of spending in the weeks before.
WARD: Yes. So you know, Wolf, remembering, this was the most expensive inauguration ever, right in at $107 million, double that of President Obama's first inauguration and President Bush's.
We have seen emails and documents that show that there was a big fight, a big clash going on behind the scenes about the expenses. And Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, who's been accused of being a big spender, is one of the most vocal people pushing back against some of the expenditures.
One of the costs we have seen documents was double that of market value. So a lot of people around the inauguration were in fact questioning the extraordinary expense.
BLITZER: All right, Vicky Ward reporting for us, thanks very much.
The president now answering reporters' questions in Manchester. Let's listen in.
TRUMP: They haven't bitten into us at all -- except for the reporters that want to make it look that way but they don't understand what's happening.
The tariffs, we've taken in close to $60 billion in tariff money. And the consumer has not paid for them. Now at some point, they may have to pay something. But they understand that. And who really understands that is our great farmer. The farmers of this country really understand it. They know we had to do something about China and we're doing something about China.
With that being said, I think we're having very good discussions with China. They very much want to make a deal. We'll see what happens. We had a deal and they decided not to make it. Now I think they would like to have had that opportunity again, because I think they really would --
QUESTION: Mr. President --
TRUMP: I think they really missed a great opportunity. I think they feel that they missed a great opportunity. But China very much wants to make a deal. We're talking to them. We'll see what happens. Yes.
QUESTION: Why did you feel the need to get involved in the two congresswomen's trip to Israel?
TRUMP: Well, I'm only involved from the standpoint of they are very anti-Jewish and --
TRUMP: -- they're very anti-Israel. I think it's disgraceful, the things they've said. You have lists of -- and this isn't just a one- line mistake; what they've said about Israel and Jewish people is a horrible thing. And they've become the face of the Democrat Party.
So I did absolutely put out a very strong statement. I think, if you look at their language, if you look at what they've said, if I ever said it, it would be a -- it would be a horrible -- it would be a horrible month, to put it mildly. So the things that they've said -- Omar, Tlaib -- what they've said is disgraceful.
So I can't imagine why Israel would let them in. But if they want to let them in, they can. But I can't imagine why they would do it.
QUESTION: Are you worried that a prolonged trade war with China will pitch the economy into a recession?
TRUMP: No, I think the longer the trade war goes on, the weaker China gets and the stronger we get. We're taking in massive amounts of money. Billions and billions of , Steve, as you know. And I think the longer it goes, the stronger we get. I have a feeling it's going to go fairly short. I think it's going to be - China has lost millions of jobs; you saw that reported today.
Thousands of companies are closing in China. And I don't know, you know, maybe they want to do this for a year. They'd love to have somebody like Biden, who doesn't know what he's doing. I mean, I just put a clip where he said, "Oh, we want to build up China. We want to build up China." Well, they gave us a very strong China.
China has taken out over $500 billion a year for many years from our country. And that's not going to happen anymore.
QUESTION: Sir, just --
QUESTION: How concerned are you -- let me just follow up, sorry.
QUESTION: Sure, it's OK.
QUESTION: How concerned are you about a violent crackdown by the Chinese in Hong Kong?
TRUMP: Well, I am concerned. I wouldn't want to see a violent crackdown. I put a little bit of a memo out last night. He's a man I like a lot. I get along with him very well -- President Xi. And I said that I would be willing to bet that if he sat down with the protesters -- a group of representative protesters -- I bet he'd work it out in 15 minutes.
I bet he'd work it out very quickly. I know it's not the kind of thing he does but I think it wouldn't be a bad idea. I really believe if he sat down -- they have a certain little leadership pool. If he sat down with that leadership pool, I'll bet he'd work something out very quickly. It really seems like things -- it could be worked out pretty easily.
QUESTION: Did you speak with Prime Minister Netanyahu about the congresswomen coming?
TRUMP: I don't want to comment about who I spoke to but I think my social media statement pretty well speaks for itself. I feel that they are so anti-Israel, so anti-Jewish. Again, if other people made that statement, there would have been hell to pay. So -- but I did speak to people over there. Yes.
QUESTION: Sir, China has said that they want to retaliate, that they're going to retaliate because of the tariffs increase that you announced. What's your response to that?
TRUMP: Well, if they did retaliate -- which I don't think they will do because we're talking to them and they're offering things that are very good. I don't think they'll retaliate. But if they did, we have the ultimate form of retaliation. I think that they'd have very few jobs left in China, because we'd be able to step it up. Just so you understand, I've been very mild about it. Very, very mild.
There's a long way I can go. And somebody had to take on what was happening with China. We can't allow China to take, out of our country, $507 billion every year, not including intellectual property theft and so many other things. So we're having very good talks with China. I think things will happen but we'll see.
QUESTION: If they do retaliate, will you want your team to meet with them in September as planned or no?
TRUMP: Well, that's too -- I -- look, September, the meeting is still on, as I understand it. But I think, more importantly than September, we're talking by phone and we're having very productive talks. They would like to do something, I will tell you that. And the talk we had a few days ago with my two representatives, nobody knew what was on that talk except for myself, China and those two people. That was a very good conversation.
QUESTION: Do you want Jay Powell to cut interest rates some more?
QUESTION: Jay Powell should be cutting rates because every country all over the world is cutting and we want to stay, sort of, even. And I don't mind if we're higher -- we're better -- we're a better credit -- but we're way too high. Jay Powell has made a big mistake. He raised them too fast and he also quantitative tightened.
He did quantitative tightening. That was a big mistake -- $50 billion a month. And it put us in a position. And interestingly, even with normalized interest rates, President Obama was paying nothing. And we have a much better economy. And you have to look at our economy also from the day after my election, because we picked up tremendous steam the day after the election.
That's not attributable to President Obama. They only did that because of us. So when somebody says "from January 20th," it's not from January 20th; it's from November 9th, the day after the election. We picked up. The fact that I won lifted our economy greatly. And --
TRUMP: -- if I didn't win, it would go down.
And, frankly, if, for some reason that happened in the 2020 election, you'll see this economy go down the tubes. I will tell you that right now.
QUESTION: Mr. President, do you have any idea on when China's going to follow through on their ag purchases and crack down on fentanyl?
TRUMP: They want to follow through very quickly. This was part of the conversation that we had. They had a special representative actually come over and talk to us -- a different group -- and a message to me, a very strong message to me. They want to start doing that very quickly. I'll be honest, I'm not there yet.
QUESTION: Did you -- did you tell Israel to --
TRUMP: It's not China; I'm not there yet. We'll see what happens. I do want to -- I really would like to see China, in a humane way, solve the problem in Hong Kong -- humanely solve the problem in Hong Kong. And I think they could do it very quickly. You know, I said yesterday: I really have a lot of confidence in President Xi. I know that if he sat down with their representatives, I have no doubt he would solve that problem quickly.
QUESTION: In your conversations with people connected to Israel, did you encourage them to reject the (INAUDIBLE)?
TRUMP: No, I don't encourage or discourage. I think that if Israel allowed them to come in for the normal reasons, other than those reasons, I really believe that it would be a terrible thing for Israel. I think it would show a terrible sign. They want to do boycotts. They said horrible things about Jewish people.
They said horrible things about Israel and Israelis. I think it would be terrible thing, frankly, for Israel to let these two people, who speak so badly about Israel, come in. And they have become, amazingly, the face of the Democrats. The Democrats don't want to do anything to condemn them. If they were -- if this were 10 years ago or if this were maybe a different time or different people or whatever, they would be condemned for the things they've said.
They've said some of the worst things I've ever heard said about Israel. So how can Israel say, "Oh, welcome"? I don't think it would be a good thing for Israel.
QUESTION: Mr. President, do you think that Steve King needs to resign?
TRUMP: I don't know the situation with Steve King. It looked like -- I read a statement that supposedly he made. I haven't been briefed on it but certainly it wasn't a very good statement.
QUESTION: So you're going to go to the G7 pretty soon and I think you're going to meet with Boris Johnson. Are you going to have some sort of declaration about the intent to seal a trade deal with him, with the Britons?
TRUMP: So we're dealing with the U.K. on trade and a trade deal and we're going to have a great deal made. I've been dealing with Boris Johnson. I just spoke to him yesterday. I'll speak to him again. He and I are very much aligned. We feel very good about each other. I think we'll make a fantastic and big trade deal with the U.K.. Actually, we should do much more business than we're doing with the U.K.. You know, it's a -- they're probably -- I don't want to say our "closest," because I don't want to insult other people but certainly -- or countries -- but certainly they're one of our closest allies anywhere in the world.
And we're going to have a fantastic relationship with U.K.. And we're going to have a great trade deal with U.K.. And that's moving along rapidly.
QUESTION: Any other goals for the G7, sir?
TRUMP: I think just relationship. We'll see what happens. We have a lot of things to discuss, a lot of things to discuss.
QUESTION: Is Corey going to announce tonight?
TRUMP: I don't know. Corey Lewandowski, I think, would be terrific if he ran but I don't know that he's going to run. I spoke to him about it a week ago. Frankly, I think it's something he'd like to do but I don't know that he's going to do it. I think he'd be very good. He loves New Hampshire. He loves our country. If he did it, I think he'd be very formidable.
QUESTION: What executive actions are you prepared to take on guns? Executive actions on guns, are you prepared --
TRUMP: We're going to look at that very closely and we're looking at the whole gun situation. I do want people to remember the words "mental illness." These people are mentally ill and nobody talks about that. But these are mentally ill people and people have to start thinking about it. I think we have to start building institutions again because, you know, if you look at the '60s and '70s, so many of these institutions were closed. And the people were just allowed to go onto the streets. And that was
a terrible thing for our country. They closed them; cities couldn't afford them and they closed them. I mean, I can tell you: In New York, they closed a lot of them. And the people went out; they went out onto the streets. And it's a terrible thing.
But a lot of our conversation has to do with the fact that we have to open up institutions. We can't let these people be on the streets. So we have a tremendous crowd in New Hampshire. It's -- all over the place, everybody is saying, "Wow." Our competitor has virtually no crowd. I don't know what that means.
I assume that's a poll of some kind. But I think we're going to do very well in New Hampshire.
TRUMP: New Hampshire should have been won last time, except we had a lot of people come in at the last moment, which was a rather strange situation. Thousands and thousands of people coming in from locations unknown. But I knew where their location was.
QUESTION: Where (INAUDIBLE)?
TRUMP: But I think we're going to have -- I think we're going to have a tremendous success in New Hampshire. These are great people. And the relationship is very good.
QUESTION: Do you still plan to commute the sentence of Blagojevich?
TRUMP: We're looking at it. I feel very badly. I think he was very harshly sentenced but we're looking at it very strongly. People feel very strongly about that. I floated it and I wanted to see where the Democrats stood, where the Republicans stood. People feel very strongly about Rod Blagojevich and his sentence.
He's been in there for seven and a half years; that's a long time. And what he did was terrible but it's a long time. It's a long time.
QUESTION: Are you pushing Mitch McConnell on background checks?
QUESTION: I've been dealing with Mitch McConnell. He's a man who we have had tremendous success with judges and judicial appointments. We're going to be up to 179 federal judges within the next two months. Nobody would have believed that's possible. And that was because President Obama was unable to get them completed.
So I inherited about 138 empty seats. Nobody can believe it. And we will have them almost all filled with tremendous judges and tremendously talented, smart people. They'll be filled within two months. So I have 179 judges and 2 Supreme Court justices. That's something that nobody would have ever thought possible.
I want to thank, very much, President Obama for that.
QUESTION: But I was asking about background checks for gun owners, for gun purchasers.
TRUMP: Yes, we do. I've been speaking to Mitch about that. I've been speaking to everybody about it. And we don't want to see crazy people owning guns. But I also want to remember that mental illness is something nobody wants to talk about. These people are mentally ill and we have to study that also. Because, you know, it's them; they pull the trigger.
The gun doesn't pull the trigger. They pull the trigger. So we have to look very seriously at mental illness and we're doing that at a level that hasn't been done before. OK?
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) speaking with, Mr. President, besides the Senate Majority Leader and Pat Toomey? Is there anyone else who you're talking to?
TRUMP: Yes. Yes. I'm speaking to many Republicans. And I'll tell you, it's -- it's been pretty -- an amazing experience. They want to see something happen. And basically, it's very simple, they don't want to have insane people, dangerous people, really bad people having guns. Republicans agree with me on that, I think, you know, I would say, pretty much uniformly.
QUESTION: Do you think this will be easy to do when the Senate comes back? Or how (INAUDIBLE) --
TRUMP: Well, I'm afraid that if we came up with a good bill, I think the Democrats then might up it and then do things that can't be done and that the public wouldn't want done. I hope that wouldn't happen but that's happened in the past. You understand.
QUESTION: Do you support universal back ground checks?
TRUMP: I support strong, meaningful background checks, where people that should not have guns, people that are insane, people that are mentally ill, people that are bad, bad people -- like this guy in Philadelphia, who has been arrested numerous times; he's a bad guy -- where people like that would not have guns.
And, frankly, people like that should be locked up. He shouldn't have even been on the streets. Thank you. Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Did you talk to Xi directly? Was that who you talked to in China?
TRUMP: I will speak to him. We have a call scheduled soon -- President Xi. We'll be speaking to him very soon. I really believe he can work it out. I know him well. If he wants to, he can work that out in a very humane fashion. He can work something that everybody is happy. Thank you.
BLITZER: All right. We just heard the president on several important issues. He's getting ready to fly to Manchester, New Hampshire. Jim Acosta is in Manchester, where the president will be attending a large really. Jim, we heard the president go off on several important issues,
including attacking those Democratic congresswoman after causing a political firestorm earlier today by a public tweet, urging the Israeli government to ban them from entering the country.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. You heard the president say he did talk to the Israelis about supporting this idea on the part of the Israeli government to bar these two representative from traveling to Israel in the coming days.
The president did not want to get into whether or not he told the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to not let them into the country. But we've heard the president go after the lawmakers known as The Squad. We'll have to wait and see whether he does that later on this evening here in New Hampshire.
ACOSTA: He's holding a rally here. But make no mistake, the president made it very clear that if those lawmakers travel to Israel, he wants the Israeli government to send them back.
ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump is reigniting his culture war with the Democratic congresswomen of color known as The Squad. The president is now supporting Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to block Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from entering Israel, tweeting, "It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Representative Omar and Representative Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel and all Jewish people and there's nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. They are a disgrace."
But that's not true, the congresswomen have never said they hate Israel and all Jewish people. The president's tweet came right before a statement from Netanyahu, laying out his reason to bar the congresswomen, saying their plan is only to damage Israel and to foment against Israel.
Before the president's tweet, the White House denied Mr. Trump was urging Netanyahu to ban the congresswomen, saying that was inaccurate. Democrats are railing against the move.
REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: It's an insult to the American people. Representatives Tlaib and Representative Omar are equal members of the United States Congress.
ACOSTA (voice-over): It's Mr. Trump's latest attack on Omar after some of the his supporters chanted she should be sent back to her native country of Somalia at a rally last month.
TRUMP: And obviously and importantly Omar has a history of launching vicious anti-Semitic screeds.
And she talked about the evil Israel and it's all about the Benjamins. Not a good thing to say. ACOSTA (voice-over): In response to Israel's decision, Omar fired back, saying in a statement, "The irony of the only democracy in the Middle East making such a decision is that it is both an insult to democratic values and a chilling response to a visit by government officials from an allied nation."
Both Omar and Tlaib, who is Palestinian American, have drawn criticism for supporting a movement to boycott Israel over some of its policies.
REP. RASHIDA TLAIB (D-MI), MAJORITY MEMBER, HOUSE COMMITTEE ON OVERSIGHT AND REFORM: I can tell you they're all around college campuses. There are Jews, Muslims, Hindus, all different kinds of backgrounds who are pushing back against racist policies in Israel, because they see that the human rights violations of children being detained, the fact that my grandmother who lives in the West Bank right now does not have equality. She doesn't have freedom of travel.
ACOSTA (voice-over): But even the powerful pro-Israel lobby AIPAC opposes Netanyahu's decision, saying "We believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally, Israel, first-hand.
Democrats say the push for Israel to ban the congresswomen, is nothing more than a distraction from wobbly week on Wall Street that raised concerns a recession could be on the horizon.
REP. TIM RYAN (D-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We saw him go off the rails yesterday; now today it's this. It will be something tomorrow and the more the heat gets cranked up and the more this economy softens, the less he's going to be able to keep his stuff together.
ACOSTA: One thing to remember about the president's attacks on The Squad, they are tactical. I talked to a Republican adviser close to the president earlier today, who said if Democrats will link the Republicans to Steve king, they are going to link Democrats to The Squad.
One thing to point in the president's comments just a few moments ago to reporters, the president once again raised this false conspiracy theory, that thousands of people voted illegally here in New Hampshire in the 2016 election. There is no evidence of that. That's another unproven conspiracy theories that the president likes to spread around -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We'll monitor what's going on where you are, Jim Acosta is in Manchester, New Hampshire, the president on his way there for a big political rally.
Joining us now Pennsylvania Democratic representative Madeleine Dean, a member of the Judiciary Committee.
Congresswoman, thank you so much for joining us.
REP. MADELEINE DEAN (D-PA), MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Thank you for having me, Wolf.
BLITZER: Let me get your reaction from what we just heard. First of all, he bitterly went after these two Democratic congresswomen and he applauded this decision by the Israeli government, which he clearly encouraged.
What's your reaction?
DEAN: Imagine what the president said of these women, that they hate Israel and all Jewish people. That's an extraordinary lie. The president should be ashamed and should take it back.
I happen to have just come from eight days in Israel. It's a country and a people that could not be more welcoming. And I would hope that the president would be embarrassed and apologize for his urging of prime minister Netanyahu to bar the women from coming.
These are equal members of Congress. They are part of our congressional delegation and Israel is one of our most important allies in the world, a democracy, a partner, a friend.
It's an extraordinary bad move by our president and it's unmistakably bad move by prime minister Netanyahu. It's also such an undermining of the exact thing that Israel should want to do and what they wanted to do when they toured us, about 41 members of the Democratic caucus. And then another 30 Republican members came in about a day and a half as we were on our way out.
They want to show us the beauty and the richness of its place and its people. Why would you want to bar two duly-elected members of Congress? It's wrongheaded by our President in extraordinarily dangerous ways, and it's, I think, a mistake by Prime Minister Netanyahu.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: So what is your specific message to Prime Minister Netanyahu? I know you and your fellow members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, had a chance to meet with him when you were there.
DEAN: We were there. We did have a chance to meet with him and listen to his presentation to us, and he took about an hour and a half's worth of questions of us. But he knows very, very well -- he was educated in my district, as you know. He was graduated from Cheltenham High School, and I reminded him of our neighborhood. And so, I -- he knows very, very well that these are two duly-elected members of Congress.
And actually, he wants to sell his country and the beauty of his country. Let these women in, so they can learn more about the beauty of that country. Recognize also, one of these women, her grandmother, a Palestinian woman, lives there. It's just an extraordinary obstruction by the Prime Minister, and I think it's a real mistake.
BLITZER: Well, let me read you to what Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American, tweeted earlier today. And she tweeted a picture of her grandmother who lives in the West Bank. The decision by Israel to bar her granddaughter, a U.S. congresswoman, is a sign of weakness because the truth of what is happening to Palestinians is frightening. So what's your reaction to the statements made by Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar?
DEAN: Well -- and I'm just learning it from you. I had not read or heard those statements. I can understand they would be gravely disappointed. And shocked, frankly, at two world leaders, our own President and the Prime Minister, from trying to ban them from coming in.
As I said, have them come in. Let them learn of the richness of this country and its peoples -- it's multiple peoples. That's where I see an extraordinary mistake. There's nothing to hide here. Let's take a look. Let the congresswomen in.
BLITZER: Let's get to another sensitive issue right now. Your Judiciary Committee has just issued subpoenas for former Trump campaign chairman Corey Lewandowski and former senior White House aide Rick Dearborn. How important is their testimony on this whole issue of obstruction of justice?
DEAN: I think it's very important. You know that we have gone to court to compel Mr. McGahn to come forward. He is going to be critically important. He was counsel to the President.
But then, Lewandowski, if you remember the timeline -- we're talking June of 2017. About June 14th, the President learned that now the Special Counsel was going to be expanding his investigation because of evidence of obstruction of justice by the President. That's June the 14th, 2017.
Three days later, the President meets with Lewandowski -- who is not a staffer. He was campaign; he is not a White House staffer. Meets with him in the Oval Office and issues a message that he is to deliver to Jeff Sessions, to restrict the Special Counsel's investigation and it should only look to the future, not to the past.
And then two days later, on the 19th, he talks to Lewandowski again, and he wants to know what has happened. Have you -- have you committed that message to Mr. Sessions? So it's a constant attempt to interfere, trying to use an outside person in Lewandowski, to get a message to Sessions to either un-recuse or reduce and limit the investigation. Remember, Sessions had reduced himself.
We also subpoenaed Mr. Dearborn because then, Lewandowski, uncomfortable with the message delivery to Sessions, says to Dearborn, will you deliver the message to Mr. Sessions? So there's an awful lot of tampering and obstruction going on there that is evidenced in the Mueller report, so Mr. Lewandowski and Mr. Dearborn's testimony and facts will be important.
BLITZER: As you correctly point out, Corey Lewandowski never served in the government, never served in the Trump administration. He worked in the campaign before that. DEAN: Yes.
BLITZER: So what's your reaction when you hear that the White House is considering invoking executive privilege to prevent him from testifying before your Judiciary Committee?
DEAN: Well, it's very much like some of the legal claims that they had falsely made in other areas. It just simply does not apply. He cannot invoke executive privilege. He will attempt to. We have seen the obstructive behavior by this president of our duty of oversight. We've had to go to court.
[17:35:03] And I really have great confidence and faith in our courts that they will uphold our ability to compel people to come on in and testify. And so, I can imagine the President will try it again. He will have the help of Attorney General Barr, as we have seen, so it's -- it's very troubling times.
And I have to tell you, I'm back here in my district. And it's nice to be back in the district, but I have to tell what you my constituents say to me -- make sure you complete your duty of oversight. Make sure you get the facts to us. Continue your impeachment investigation through the Judiciary and bring the facts to the American people.
BLITZER: Let me, also, while I have you, Congresswoman, get your thoughts on yesterday's dramatic shootout in Philadelphia, your -- in your neighboring district. You were at the news conference earlier this afternoon in Philadelphia. The Mayor of Philadelphia gave a rather impassioned plea for gun control. Listen to what he said last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR JIM KENNEY, PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA: Our officers need help. They need help. They need help with gun control. They need help with keeping these weapons out of these people's hands.
And if the state and federal government don't want to -- don't want to stand up to the NRA and some other folks, then let us -- let us police ourselves. But they preempt us on all kinds of gun control legislation. Our officers deserve to be protected, and they don't deserve to be shot at by a guy for hours with an unlimited supply of weapons and an unlimited supply of bullets.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The shooter, as you know, had this A.R.-15 style rifle. You just heard the President say, I support strong, meaningful background checks. What needs to happen right now?
DEAN: And you heard the President not say universal background checks. He wants to have some Swiss cheese version of background checks, and I hope we don't allow that to happen.
I was at the press conference today. And I think your reporting showed it's a miracle that this man with an assault-style weapon sitting in a house where there were hostages held, and two police officers held up in that location, was able to shoot six police officers and fortunately, not one died. In fact, all were treated and released last night.
It's extraordinary what the police force did in bringing everybody to safety, including the hostages, including the two police officers who, for hours, were in that house, and also, of course, the shooter. They were determined to protect everyone's safety, even the shooter. So it could have ended so much worse, and it didn't.
What do we need to do? The Senate needs to come back now. They should have acted on the bills that we passed in February. We passed two background check bills, one universal background check and one to close the Charleston loophole. That's more than 160 days ago.
And so, I call the Senate to come back. They've been on recess since February, as far as I can tell. The American people have suffered gun violence day after day after day. What Mayor Kenny has pointed out today was, of course, commended the police officers and the Commissioner Ross, but he also said, guess what, the police then last night responded to yet another shooting, a 20-year-old male shot in the head, later declared dead.
This is a problem of too many guns, illegal guns, assault weapons on our streets, in our cities, in our suburbs, and in our rural areas. This is America's uniquely grievous problem. The Senate needs to come back and pass our two bills.
And I'm committed -- on the Judiciary Committee, we're committed -- we were on a phone call today -- to coming back and marking up more bills. I want to have, among them, an assault weapons ban. We need to put that back in place. There's no reason we should have assault weapons on the streets of this country.
Think of the children. There were children held up very close by yesterday for hours from a daycare center. Think of those children and the trauma that this daily gun violence puts our children through. The Senate needs to acts. It's very sad that they're not.
BLITZER: Representative Madeleine Dean, thanks so much for joining us.
DEAN: Thank you very much, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, let's get our political experts here to discuss.
And let's start with what the President just said, you know Dana, about the Israeli decision to bar Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from coming into the country. They were supposed to arrive this coming Sunday.
At one point, he did say, my social media statements speak for the -- statement speaks for itself. I did speak to people over there.
In one of his social media statements, he said, it would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think the best way to respond to this is to read a quote from AIPAC's statement. I think that really says it all. Because AIPAC, as everybody here knows and people at home should know, they're a very strong lobby -- American lobby for Israel and have been in lockstep pretty much on issue after issue with President Trump, and here's what they say.
[17:39:58] They say although they disagree with these two congresswomen on key issues regarding Israel, we also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally, Israel, firsthand.
That says it all -- we have that on screen. That says it all. And so, this is about as -- this is them speaking, but, also, you've heard from Republicans and Democrats -- as un-American a move and as an undemocratic a move -- little D -- as you can imagine, made by two democracies. Two countries that pride themselves, equally so, as great democracies, to bar -- to bar two people to go in there.
And, again, this is not my opinion. This is coming from, in a bipartisan way, a bipartisan cry. Because what way -- what better way to explain to these women, if they do have problems with Israel, which they do, to try to get through to them or change their opinion than to bring them in?
BLITZER: You know, Nia, a complete flip by the Israeli government because only a few weeks ago, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, said -- we disagree, he said, with these two members of Congress, but we respect the United States Congress, and we will welcome them into the country.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right. And, of course, they welcomed other members of Congress there. There's reporting last week that the President wanted to, essentially, lean on the Israeli government and have them bar these two congressmen -- congresswomen, and that's, of course, what he did.
He wants to elevate them. He wants to make them the face of the Democratic Party.
HENDERSON: He wants to paint them as anti-Semitic, which they aren't, anti-Semitic. Of course, some Democrats have had problems with some of the statements they made in the past, but this -- you know, it will be interesting to see sort of what the blowback is if there is more blowback from Republicans. And you've heard some Republicans, like Marco Rubio, essentially say this was a bad thing --
HENDERSON: -- for Israel to do and certainly a bad thing for the President to do as well.
BLITZER: Because the President -- and you just heard him say it again earlier today. He tweeted, Representatives Omar and Tlaib are the face of the Democratic Party, and they hate Israel.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Yes, I mean, that's what he is playing at. I mean, he's got it. He wants the squad -- of which half of them are these two members of Congress who wanted to visit Israel.
He wants them to be, if not the face, a face of the Democratic Party in 2020. Because Donald Trump has already signaled to us what he is going to do, that it is a choice between maybe someone you don't love personally, Donald Trump, but you like his policies, particularly on the economy, and a socialist.
It doesn't matter if it's Bernie Sanders who's the nominee, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, or Joe Biden. That's going to be the plan of attack. That's what he does, it's what he will do, and this is all in support of it.
Can I just add one thing to what Dana said? It's very interesting that that quote is about weakness and strength. Real strength is a capacity to hear viewpoints that you know disagree with you, sometimes in a fundamental way, and try to explain why you disagree and have that conversation.
CILLIZZA: Strength is not saying, nope, sorry, you don't agree, you can't come. I mean, again, I always turn to, like, what are we -- what do I teach my kids? I don't teach them that if someone disagrees with you, then you should -- you should just shut that person out. That's not strength.
BLITZER: You know, Bianna, the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is a strong supporter of Israel. She issued a statement saying this -- Israel's denial of entry to Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar is a sign of weakness and beneath the dignity of the great state of Israel. The President's statements about the Congresswomen are a sign of ignorance and disrespect, and beneath the dignity of the office of the President. What's your reaction?
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Look, if there's one person who benefits -- and that's in the short term, I think, not even the long term -- from this today, it's President Trump. Israel definitely doesn't benefit. Bibi Netanyahu doesn't benefit. He, clearly, was pressured by the President.
As you mentioned, just a few weeks ago, the Israelis, reluctantly and begrudgingly, said that they would allow these congresswomen in, precisely for the reasons discussed at this table. That Israel is a democracy, that Israel has nothing to hide.
Now, the justification they're offering today for their change in opinion and view is their support of BDS -- Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. But that is something that these congresswomen supported last month when they were allowed entry as well, so that doesn't even make sense as to why they would change their mind right now. Remember, Bibi Netanyahu has an election coming up next month as well. But out of all countries, especially in the region that Israel is in,
they do not like to be called weak. And given the relationships that they have built up with countries and leaders that have said far worse things and have posed a far greater threat to the state of Israel compared to these two congresswomen, they have met with these leaders, these other leaders, so why they view these two women as a threat is beyond me. So the one takeaway would be pressure from the President.
[17:45:04] You heard the President say, oh, ultimately, though, this is Israel's decision. Clearly, there was a lot of pressure coming from this administration. And remember, this is a country, Israel, that had special bipartisan support from both parties historically.
And you are hearing more and more reports, especially leading up to the 2020 election, about Republican strategies to woo some Jewish and pro-Israel voters away from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. And one of the ways they're doing it, obviously, is propping up the squad, which the Democratic Party, clearly, for the most part, disagrees with on these specific issues and does not view as the face and voice of the party as a whole.
BLITZER: Yes, important information indeed. Everybody, stand by. There's more breaking news we're following. A plane carrying NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has crashed in Tennessee. We're gathering details. We'll update you on that.
Also, troubling silence from Russia following the apparent explosion of a nuclear-powered missile. Is Vladimir Putin's government covering up a growing radioactive threat?
[17:51:07] BLITZER: We're getting word that NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt, Jr., his wife, and others have survived a plane crash in Tennessee. We're gathering information. We're going to bring you new details in the next hour. Stand by for that. Fortunately, everyone seems to have escaped serious injury. A dramatic crash, though, indeed.
Also, tonight, silence and secrecy from the Russian government amid concerns over the apparent explosion of a nuclear-powered missile. Brian Todd has been tracking the story for us. Brian, give us the latest.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, we've got new information on the explosion and new concerns from nuclear weapons experts. They're worried that the missile that exploded could now be leaking radiation on the seafloor. This as the Kremlin continues to try to control the flow of information.
TODD (voice-over): Tonight, nuclear experts worry Vladimir Putin's government is trying to cover up a deadly nuclear explosion in Russia, risking lives in order to avoid revealing military secrets. It all began last Thursday after a mysterious explosion off Russia's
northern coast. The U.S. believes the blast came during the testing of a nuclear-powered cruise missile. The Kremlin will only say some kind of liquid fuel ignited.
DARYL KIMBALL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ARMS CONTROL ASSOCIATION: I think the Russian state is going to try to maintain a brave face. They're trying to assure their public that there is absolutely no risk. I would not trust that.
TODD (voice-over): Scientists warn a failed nuclear reactor inside that missile, designed to help it fly thousands of miles through the sky, could now be at the bottom of the sea.
If as Russian state media reported, the explosion occurred on a platform above the water, scientists say the missile could have fallen in. With tides, wind, and rain factored in, they say, if this missile is leaking radioactive material in the water --
MICHAEL ELLEMAN, DIRECTOR OF NON-PROLIFERATION AND NUCLEAR POLICY PROGRAMME, INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR STRATEGIC STUDIES: Those that are down current, for long distances, could be exposed to radioactivity. It would be very troubling and worrying if that were the case.
TODD (voice-over): Russia's meteorological agency initially said radiation levels spiked at four to 16 times above the norm before going down, but Russian military officials later told state media that no dangerous substances got into the air. Among the crucial questions tonight, how far could any radiation have spread?
KIMBALL: In the air, it can -- it could spread hundreds of kilometers.
TODD (voice-over): On Wednesday, the Russian military ordered a nearby village to be evacuated due to military drills then quickly scrapped the evacuation order. American analysts say they are concerned that if some areas are not evacuated now, the people who live there could become very sick, even though they may not show the symptoms of radiation sickness immediately.
KIMBALL: How long people are exposed to that is a key factor. And there may be health effects down the roads, a higher incidence of cancer.
TODD (voice-over): Tonight, experts say western intelligence agencies are likely scrambling to see what kind of recovery teams the Russians are sending to that area off their northern coast. And studying satellite images and communications intercepts to see how seriously they are treating the explosion. One think tank says it has already seen a Russian nuclear transport ship on public satellite photos.
ELLEMAN: I would look for sniffer planes to obtain radio -- samples of the air to determine if there's any radioactive elements. I would also look for mother ships, recovery ships, submersibles, deep-dive robotic equipment. That will tell you what they're trying to recover and at what depth.
TODD: Tonight, another critical signal that analysts say we should watch out for is whether Vladimir Putin continues to try to develop this nuclear-powered cruise missile. Experts are concerned that since he's tried to build at least one of these things, he might try to manufacture hundreds or even thousands more, which they contend is a bad idea. Multiple nuclear weapons experts have told us Putin should scrap this missile entirely. It is simply too dangerous -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks for that report. Brian Todd working the story.
[17:55:01] Coming up, more on the breaking news. President Trump heads to a political rally, applauding Israel for prohibiting a visit from Democratic Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.
[17:59:52] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Access revoked. Israel bans two U.S. congresswomen from entering the country after President Trump encourages a key foreign ally to side with him against his political opponents. Tonight, Mr. Trump is attacking the lawmakers again as Democrats call the ban an --