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House Panel Approves Impeachment Inquiry Ground Rules; Trump: Bolton "Was Holding Me Back"; Leading Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate Tonight; Israeli Denies Report It Planted Spying Devices Near White House; Trump Touts Tremendous Potential of North Korea If Kim Signs Nuclear Deal. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 12, 2019 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:00]

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: -- in Europe outside stands a statue of Confucius. You don't need to understand proverbs to read the signs on Confucius Street, your China Serbia (ph) on Friendship Square -- Oren Liebermann, CNN, Belgrade.

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JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

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WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Happening now -- rules of impeachment: Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee take a critical first step toward removing President Trump from office by impeachment, approving a resolution that defining the rules for the panel's investigation.

Debate night: as the impeachment push heats up, 10 Democratic presidential hopefuls take the stage tonight in an effort to remove President Trump by election with the top tier of candidates facing off each other for the first time.

Cell phone spies: Israel denies a report claiming it planted cell phone surveillance devices near the White House and other sensitive locations in Washington.

Was Israel trying to spy on President Trump and his top aides?

And incredible potential: the president gushes about what could lie in store for North Korea as he tries to sweet-talk Kim Jong-un into giving up his nuclear weapons.

Does the brighter future the president is touting actually pose a threat to Kim?

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

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BLITZER: With a party line vote, the House Judiciary Committee has now laid the ground rules for an impeachment inquiry into President Trump, even as divided Democrats struggle to clarify their strategy and even what to call their investigation.

Democratic presidential candidates may be asked about it tonight, as 10 of them face off in the first debate featuring all of the top-tier candidates on the same stage, including Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

We'll talk about that and more with Congresswoman Madeleine Dean, who voted with the Judiciary Committee on the impeachment inquiry parameters today. And our correspondents and analysts will have full coverage of the day's top stories.

First let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, I understand we may be hearing from the president fairly soon?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The president will be departing for Baltimore in about half an hour from now. The president, by the way, and the GOP are all but daring House Democrats to begin impeaching Mr. Trump.

Democrats in the House took another step toward impeachment but Democrats hardly sound united on this issue. The president may choose to weigh in on impeachment as he leaves the White House shortly, as I said, in just a short while from now, about a half an hour from where we are at this point for this speech in Baltimore.

The president, earlier this year, you'll recall, referred to Baltimore as a "rat-infested" city earlier this year.

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ACOSTA (voice-over): Talking tough, House Democrats are setting the ground rules for an impeachment investigation into the president, accusing Mr. Trump of behavior that endangers American democracy.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: The conduct under investigation poses a threat to our democracy. We have an obligation to respond to this threat and we are doing so.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president was all but tweeting, bring it on, characterizing Democrats as choosing impeachment over simply beating him in next year's election. Republicans in the House are flat-out daring Democrats to get going.

REP. TOM MCCLINTOCK (R-CA): I dare to you do it. In fact, I double- dog dare you to do it. Have the House vote on those 18 words and then go at it.

Why won't you do that?

ACOSTA (voice-over): The GOP is seizing on the grumbling coming from moderate Democrats who oppose impeachment, exploiting a divide that put House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the hot seat.

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REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: Come with me sometime and you'll hear what the American people are saying. They understand that impeachment is a very divisive measure.

But if we have to go there, we'll have to go there. But we can't go there unless we have the facts. And we will follow the facts. That's all I'm going to say about this subject.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president will likely have more to say on the subject at a speech to Republican lawmakers set for Baltimore, the same city he blasted earlier this year when he launched a racially loaded attack on its long-time congressman, Elijah Cummings, tweeting, "Cummings' district is a disgusting, rat and rodent-infested mess. If he spent more time in Baltimore, maybe he could help clean up this very dangerous and filthy place."

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TRUMP: Those people are living in hell in Baltimore. They're largely African American. You have a large African American population. And they really appreciate what I'm doing and they've let me know it.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Cummings invited the president to his district to show Mr. Trump he's wrong about Baltimore.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MD.: A lot can be done, all the cutbacks with regard to -- that would affect cities have been significant. And you know what, I want President Trump to come to my district. I want him to -- oh, God, I want him to come.

TRUMP: Be a fantastic --

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president has moved on to his latest target, his just-fired national security adviser John Bolton, tweeting, "In fact, my views on Venezuela and especially Cuba were far stronger than those of John Bolton.

[17:05:00]

ACOSTA (voice-over): "He was holding me back."

Sources tell CNN Mr. Trump may reward one of Bolton's old rivals, secretary of state Mike Pompeo by giving him the job of national security adviser as well, a dual role not seen since the days of Henry Kissinger.

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KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: That would not be an unprecedented move. Of course, Presidents Nixon and Ford did the same thing with secretary of state Kissinger.

But at the same time, the president is looking at a slate of probably five or so, I'd say, with Secretary Pompeo, five-plus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA (voice-over): Another big question for the president to answer in the coming days, gun control and whether he'll call on Republicans to embrace universal background checks, a proposal supported by nearly all Americans.

PELOSI: Why don't we spend some time going over to see Mitch McConnell and asking him why he doesn't want to save lives?

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ACOSTA: The White House just wrapped up a meeting where some proposals on guns were presented to the president, a broad outline of some of the options under consideration were part of that presentation we're told but not specific legislative proposals.

And as for the president's comments that Baltimore is a rat-infested city, the House minority leader Kevin McCarthy declined to say earlier today when asked by reporters up in that city that Mr. Trump should apologize for the remark, he said, quote, "I think the president coming to Baltimore symbolizes that, yes, he cares about Baltimore," Wolf, but it's hard to read that in what the president tweeted earlier this year -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House for us, thank you. Let's get some more on this key move by Democrats on Capitol Hill toward impeachment. Our congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty is on the scene for us.

Sunlen, so where does this impeachment inquiry go from here and is Speaker Nancy Pelosi willing to call it that?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: She's not, Wolf, not at all. In fact, she seems to be actively trying to avoid calling this an impeachment inquiry or an impeachment investigation. And that is certainly creating considerable tension within House Democrats at the moment.

It's a mixed messaging as to what exactly they're doing right now. And that is just shining essentially a super bright spotlight on a very real and deep divide within Democratic caucus on how exactly to proceed next when it comes to impeachment and these investigations that they're picking up steam.

Like the House Judiciary Committee move to head today as those sorts of investigations intensify. It only makes this moment more difficult for House Democratic leaders to handle, essentially, these actions within their party.

And that political balancing act, essentially, very much on full display here today on Capitol Hill, when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi did become very frustrated with many reporters' questions, myself included, as to why she is not calling the House Judiciary Committee's investigation an impeachment inquiry or an impeachment investigation, even as the chairman of that committee does.

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SERFATY: You've long said that public sentiment is an important factor in deciding what you're going to do there.

So shouldn't you set the record straight?

PELOSI: I said -- I have said what I'm going to say on the subject. That's it. We're legislating. We're focusing on the work that we're here to do for the American people. And part of our responsibility is to honor our oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

And in doing so, we are getting, seeking the facts. I'm not answering any more questions on this subject. That is what we had said all along. That is what we continue to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SERFATY: Now the Democrats continue to publicly struggle over this language over impeachment. The House Judiciary Committee, they did take a significant, a procedural step but a significant step forward today in outlining the parameters of their investigation.

The way they will proceed forward, Chairman Nadler, the chairman of that committee promising an aggressive series of hearings to come. He says it will go well beyond the four corners of the Mueller report. And that starts next week with former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski testifying in front of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill.

Let's get some more on all of this, Democratic Congresswoman Madeleine Dean from Pennsylvania is joining us. She's a member of the Judiciary Committee.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us. And I want to remind our viewers, you were among the first Democrats in the House to call for an impeachment inquiry into the president.

Are you satisfied with the steps Democrats are now taking toward that end?

REP. MADELEINE DEAN (D-PA), MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I am. I'm pleased with the leadership of Jerry Nadler and the committee to pass a resolution today that really sets forth the procedures that we're moving forward with.

Let's be clear, we are in an impeachment investigation. The president may not like hearing those words but that is the truth from the top of our caucus on down.

BLITZER: Is Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker, on board?

DEAN: I know she is because, though she may use different language, she's in a very different position.

[17:10:00]

DEAN: But everything we have done and the language that we're using, including impeachment investigation has been vetted by the Speaker. She's a very powerful, smart woman. She has consistently said we are here to legislate, litigate and investigate. That's what we're doing.

BLITZER: What's your message to your Democratic colleagues, who are still reluctant to even use that word impeachment to describe this investigation?

DEAN: Well, I think -- and I've spoken to some of them. I think they're very pleased that the Judiciary Committee is taking on the responsibility of doing this impeachment investigation. They want us to get the facts so that they can make wise decisions.

They want us to make sure that we're upholding the Constitution. They're pleased that we're looking beyond the four corners of the Mueller report. We're now looking at what I call pardons, payoffs and profiteering by this president and this administration.

So we're looking at all of the corruption, all of the deception, all of the obstruction. So my colleagues who are not on the Judiciary are very pleased that we're doing this job.

BLITZER: The president is clearly trying to exploit the division within your party. There is some serious division as far as impeachment.

Do you think the lack of clarity is going to make it more difficult for you to make your case to the American public?

DEAN: There is no division on this issue. And that is upholding the Constitution of the United States, the role of law and decency within public service. To a person in our caucus, they believe that this president is indecent.

And they see in plain sight -- and also we read from behind closed doors -- of the corruption, of the attempt to profit, never separating himself from his organizations. So organization. So I know the president would like to use that kind of division. It's not there in the same present way.

Again, I want to take a look at what leadership has said. They know exactly what we're doing. We've done this in coordination. Jerry Nadler very closely in coordination with the Speaker and the leader and the chair. And so the division is not quite what it's being made out to be.

BLITZER: Because even Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, he's reluctant to say this is formally, officially, an impeachment investigation.

DEAN: It's not necessary to use the magic word "formally." We're in an impeachment investigation. Jerry Nadler said that plainly during the course the markup and the passage of the resolution. So we're there. Our committee is there and other committees of oversight are also looking at very important violations of emoluments clauses, financial transactions.

You know, this is something we must do. If I may, I do want to pivot and make sure that it is not missed, the two other things that we did this week. We voted to protect our environment from the reckless drilling that this administration would like to hand off to pollute our waters and to harm our environment.

So we passed bills protecting us and our planet against more offshore drilling and drilling in the Arctic.

The other thing we did, very importantly -- and I'm glad you're reporting on the president talking about gun violence -- we passed three more bills out of Judiciary that will save lives. I don't know what the other side is afraid of.

I don't know what Mitch McConnell is afraid of. I don't know what legal gun owners are afraid of. We have legislation that will save lives. And the Senate has been on recess since we passed the first two in February.

But the American people need to know it. We're not only just doing investigations, we're protecting the planet and we're trying to protect the American public against the scourge of gun violence.

BLITZER: Well, you can pass this legislation, important legislation as much as you want. As you know, Congresswoman, in the House of Representatives, very often it's not even taken up for a vote in the Senate. So it simply dies.

DEAN: It's strange abdication of their elected duty and their sworn oath of office. Notice how Mitch McConnell lately has been talking about he'll only take up legislation when he knows what the president wants to do, whether or not he will sign it.

That's actually not how our democratic process should work. They should actually be legislating. This is not something that they're waiting to find out what the president should rubber stamp. They need to pass legislation and see if the president will sign it. They need to be champions to save lives, to protect our planet and our Constitution.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania. Thanks so much for joining us.

DEAN: Thanks for the chance.

BLITZER: Up next, just hours before the Democratic presidential debate, Senator Elizabeth Warren calls for a major expansion of Social Security.

Does her plan to pay for it really work?

And later, Israel flatly denies an eye-opening report that it's behind the mysterious surveillance devices that turned up around Washington, including near the White House.

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BLITZER: In Houston, the top 10 Democratic presidential candidates will share a debate stage for the first time. Let's bring in our political director David Chalian.

David, what do you expect from the Democrats' rather high-stakes debate tonight and what will be different?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: What you just alluded to is going to be different, Wolf. It's one night only. Remember Democratic voters, for the first two debates in this series of debates that the Democratic National Committee has put together, they were two-night affairs. It was a 20-person field.

Democratic voters had to take 48 hours to assess what it looked like. Tonight, it's all 10 top-tier folks on one stage. So voters are going to have the opportunity to really size everyone up against each other who are really in the hunt for the nomination.

BLITZER: This will also be the first time that Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren not only share the stage together but they're right next to each other in the middle of that stage.

CHALIAN: Yes, and this is sort of the matchup that everybody is waiting to see. All of the other permutations have occurred in the last debates. But here you have the front-runner, Joe Biden and the one candidate who has shown consistent, upward movement throughout the campaign in Elizabeth Warren.

They have a history going back over a decade, when they did some battle over the bankruptcy bill and Biden was in the Senate. There is clear indication from the Biden campaign that he is looking to draw contrast with Warren on the stage tonight, in saying, it's not just about how many plans you have.

You need to be able to show how you can actually execute on these plans, show how you can take a plan and actually get it into law and help people. That's what Biden is trying to paint, that Warren is like, yes, you have plans but they're pie in the sky.

We'll see how Warren handles that. It will be interesting to see if he takes incoming from other candidates. She hasn't experienced that but now that she's on the rise, she has to be aware of some folks targeting her.

BLITZER: Yes, she certainly has been on the rise. Just hours ahead of the debate tonight, Joe Biden's campaign is releasing a new video. They're focus is on one specific person, namely, former president Barack Obama. So, David, what's the strategy here?

CHALIAN: Yes, this is --

(LAUGHTER)

CHALIAN: -- I thought maybe Joe Biden was going to change his name to Joe Biden Obama for this debate. The strategy is simple: African Americans are the critical core of Joe Biden's support. We talked about this yesterday when our poll was out, Wolf. That is what, it is African American voters that are powering Joe Biden to the lead in this race.

And this association, according to polls, is one of the major reasons that people are considering Joe Biden. Supporters of Joe Biden are excited about Joe Biden because of his eight years of service to Barack Obama. This is a critical part of his resume.

And he wants to have it out front, in the center, constantly in this debate. Especially you remember after the last debate where some of the Democrats started picking apart the Obama legacy or saying some things they disagreed with. You will see Joe Biden basically hug virtually Barack Obama every chance he gets.

BLITZER: Yes, lots of African American voters in the Democratic primary in South Carolina but not so much in either Iowa or New Hampshire, right?

CHALIAN: That is right. He's got to get through two very white states first before he can get to the Nevada and South Carolina. His campaign, the Biden campaign, constantly points to the diversity of his coalition.

But you are right to note, those first two states are not that diverse. They're overwhelmingly white states. And so I think you are starting to see the Biden campaign try to temper expectations to try to buy him some time. And if he doesn't win those first two contests that he can still go the distance here.

But as you know, Wolf, once the ball gets going and voters start weighing in, you don't have much time to say why you're not winning contests. You got to win contests.

CHALIAN: Yes, that train starts moving very, very quickly, as all of us know. David, as usual, thank you very much.

And to our viewers, an important note, we'll have full debate analysis later tonight starting at 10:30 pm Eastern right here on CNN. Our political and legal experts are here. We've got lots to discuss and we will, right after this.

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BLITZER: As 10 Democratic presidential candidates prepare for tonight's debate, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee approved ground rules for an impeachment inquiry of President Trump.

Why the dual focus on impeachment and the election?

Let's ask our political and legal experts.

Dana Bash, you're there in Houston for us. You're covering this presidential debate.

What does today's vote, first of all, in the House of Representatives, in the Judiciary Committee, signal about the strength of this impeachment investigation?

DANA BASH, CNN SR. U.S. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, the train is on the tracks. That's what it signals. The question is -- and what we've seen over the past couple of days is how Democrats actually define what this train is.

And the confusion, whether it's intentional or not, about what kind of inquiry this is, what kind of preparation this is, has been really fascinating to me to watch.

[17:30:00]

From the House Democratic leadership, including the Speaker herself, refusing to use the "I" word, impeachment; instead, saying that we are going to investigate, we're doing inquiries, we're going to litigate -- every other word instead of that. But the fact of the matter is, this is a big first step that the House Judiciary Committee took.

And as you mentioned, I'm here in Houston, where there's going to be a debate among 10 candidates vying for the chance to go up against Donald Trump, where despite the fact that almost all of them have said that they think an impeachment inquiry is the right way to go, if you give them political truth serum, they will say, even if that's the right thing to do, policy-wise -- you know, just in terms of how Democrats should use the majority in the House politically, the reality is that they know it could very much hurt anybody who is on the ticket up against Donald Trump if it goes from an investigation and inquiry further down the road.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Important point, indeed. You know, Laura Coates, from a legal perspective, how does the vote in the Judiciary Committee today -- what does it accomplish? Does it give, for example, the Congress more authority to get specific detailed information?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it actually lays out a scenario of how they're able to actually conduct the investigation, if they want to use that word. It's one of those -- just so we're clear, how this is going to work is as follows. First of all, Jerry Nadler now has the authority to convert these so-called committee hearings into impeachment hearings. That's a heck of a magic wand to be able to wave if and when they do certainly wrestle with and do away with this semantics argument.

Also, they've outlined how specifically they're going to be asking questions. They're going to give counsel an opportunity to answer questions, even for an hour after official committee hearings. They're also going to allow the White House to respond. I mean, this is a very big step and -- and clearly laying out for not only Donald Trump and the administration but for the American people what to expect if and when or whether they ever convert to an impeachment inquiry.

It does do that, but it's one step. How many steps more they'll actually get to the investigation, the fact-finding, and perhaps articles of impeachment, that's anyone's guess at this pace.

BLITZER: You know, Rebecca Buck, why are the Democrats still struggling when it comes to even using the word impeachment?

REBECCA BUCK, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, I agree with Dana, Wolf, that it's very interesting to watch this political messaging wrestling match unfold among the Democrats. And it seems that they're trying, at least for now, at this stage, to have it both ways, politically.

They don't want to get too far over their skis on the impeachment issue because they recognize, especially for these Democrats who are going to be in competitive swing districts in the upcoming election, this is going to be potentially a hand grenade of an issue. And so they want to tread carefully here, they want to make sure that they have their ducks in a row before they say the "I" word.

But as Dana suggested, the train is already on the tracks. They're moving in this direction, so it really is just a question of semantics. But it does tell you a lot about the political risks that they see here that they're not saying that word.

BLITZER: You know, Arlette, as you know, House Democrats, they're arguing amongst themselves over the use of the word impeachment. The Democratic presidential candidates, they're getting ready for a big debate tonight including the former Vice President, Joe Biden. He released this brand-new video ad today, focusing a lot on his connection with former President Barack Obama. Is that a preview of his strategy to come? And I know -- I asked you the question because you cover the former Vice President for us.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, you know, it's really a go-to topic for Joe Biden on the campaign trail. There isn't an event where he doesn't remind folks that he was serving alongside President Obama. It's a point of his resume that he and his team really think that they can capitalize on.

And you know, being out there, talking with voters, especially the state with -- like South Carolina where there are a lot of Black voters, they often point to the fact that, one, Obama picked him and, two, that he helped push over the finish line a lot of these initiatives like the Affordable Care Act that the Obama administration and Vice -- former Vice President Biden are particularly proud of.

And you'll remember at the last debate, there were elements of Obama's legacy that also came under fire, and there rose Joe Biden as the defender and protector of President Obama's legacy. And that's something he and his team want to continue to stress, going forward.

BLITZER: You know, interesting, Dana, you're -- as I said, you're already in Houston covering this debate later tonight. So what's the winning strategy for these Democratic presidential candidates, sparring amongst each other or simply trying to go after President Trump?

BASH: Each of these candidates has a different answer to that because they have a different necessity depending on where they are in the polls. For Joe Biden, the answer is, seems to be, going after Donald Trump but also protecting his right and left flank physically. Maybe not politically, but physically on that podium since he's going to be, you know, right in the middle there.

[17:35:09]

The telegraphing that we're getting -- and Arlette knows this better than I do, but that we're getting from the Biden campaign is the fact that he realizes he is, for the first time, on the stage with Elizabeth Warren, the one who has been the most ascendant over the past several months, and the fact that he is going to -- at least his aides are hoping he says something along the lines of plans aren't everything. Maybe he won't say, I'm talking to you, Elizabeth Warren, but it's going to be pretty clear he's talking to Elizabeth Warren and talking about Elizabeth Warren's M.O. in this campaign.

And I think you're going to see different variations of that from the different candidates. I think, also, the fascinating dynamic is going to be Kamala Harris, who has been, guns blazing, against Joe Biden for the first two debates. And all indications are, from her campaign, telling us that that is not going to be her strategy tonight. She's going to talk more about herself and more about Donald Trump.

BLITZER: Well, let me get Arlette back in because this will be the first time Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren are right next to each other. Do you expect fireworks, or will they be sort of nice to each other?

SAENZ: I think that there is going to be an implicit contrast that each of the candidates are going to try to make against each other. Biden's advisers, they're really trying to downplay the fact that there's going to be a head-to-head matchup. They're saying there are 10 other candidates on that stage and that Biden is going to be focused on running his own race, but, as Dana mentioned, they have been previewing this line that we need more than plans, we need someone who can deliver and execute.

They've been saying that over the past 24 hours. The question is, can Biden deliver that as he's really trying to hold on to his status as the front-runner and especially as he's going to have two figures to his left and right, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who really are on a different ideological side of the Democratic Party?

BLITZER: And, Rebecca, the pressure is really on some of these other candidates who may -- who made the debate stage tonight, but they may only be at two or three percent right now. They've got to really come up with something in order to continue their campaign.

BUCK: That's right. It's important to remember that for these candidates, Wolf, it's really a fight for survival tonight. Obviously, the October debate has the same polling threshold to qualify as this debate tonight does. But when you look ahead to November, it's expected that the DNC is going to raise the polling threshold to three percent, four percent. And so, these candidates are going to be challenged now, tonight, to start raising their profile, raising their polling, really have a moment that can elevate them to that November debate.

BLITZER: Yes, some of these campaigns are running out of money rather quickly as well.

Everybody, stick around. There's a lot more news we're following, including Israel now flatly denying a startling a new report that it's behind the planting of mysterious listening devices around Washington, including near the White House.

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BLITZER: While in the middle of a trip to Russia today, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strongly denied a Politico report that Israel is responsible for planting some mysterious surveillance devices right here in Washington that are used to spy on cell phone conversations and turned up in rather sensitive locations including near the White House.

Our CNN senior national correspondent Alex Marquardt is working the story for us. Alex, tell us more.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, these devices are called stingrays, and the Department of Homeland Security has said that they've seen evidence of their use before. But this is an explosive new allegation that Politico makes, that one of the U.S.' closest allies, Israel, is reportedly behind these devices to spy on the President and his team. Allegations that the Israeli embassy here in Washington told me are absolute nonsense.

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MARQUARDT (voice-over): An adamant denial tonight from Israel, following a report claiming that its intelligence services planted cell phone surveillance devices near the White House and other sensitive locations in Washington, D.C.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: Absolutely not. We have a directive -- I have a directive -- no intelligence collection in the United States, no spying. And it's rigorously enforced without any exceptions. It's complete -- complete fabrication.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Politico reports that, according to former senior U.S. officials, Israel was most likely behind a series of electronic spying devices known as stingrays. The goal, the former officials tell Politico, was to spy on top White House staff and the President, who is known to often use a cell phone whose security has been repeatedly questioned.

ROBERT BAER, FORMER CASE OFFICER, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: If I were a foreign intelligence officer in Washington, I would want to listen in to his calls and his closest aides'.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): In April 2018, the Department of Homeland Security confirmed to Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden that they found stingray-like activity in Washington but did not say who was behind it.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: That can really be an entry point, a glide path for people who represent an extraordinary danger to our country.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): A stingray is technically known as an IMSI- catcher. It simulates a cell tower, tricking cell phones into connecting to them. The stingray can then capture location, calls, texts and other data streams, extremely valuable information on potentially very serious subjects. U.S. security officials say it's possible that Israel could buy these devices anonymously and use them as part of their U.S. intelligence gathering.

[17:45:04]

BAER: The Israelis have never stopped spying on us one way nor another, you know. And when they get caught, there's a slap on the wrist.

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MARQUARDT: And that slap on the wrist, if it ever happened, wasn't made public. Now, we asked the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Council and others for comment, but they all declined. Of course, this White House is extremely close to Benjamin Netanyahu, actively supporting his often-controversial actions. But as close as the Israel and the U.S. are, it is important to note that, of course, the U.S. gathers intelligence on them as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of spying going on all over the place.

MARQUARDT: Good point.

BLITZER: We have not matched this Politico story.

MARQUARDT: Not yet, we have not.

BLITZER: No other news organization has yet, either, right?

MARQUARDT: They have not, but, you know, officials, former and present, tell me it is entirely plausible.

BLITZER: And you'll continue to work the story. Thanks very much for that, Alex.

Coming up, does the departure of former national security adviser John Bolton increase the likelihood of a nuclear deal with North Korea?

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BLITZER: With his former national security adviser now out the door, President Trump is ramping up his charm offensive as he tries to sweet-talk North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un into giving up his nuclear weapons.

CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us. Brian, the President was in full sales mode as he talked about a potential nuclear deal with North Korea, what it could mean for the North Koreans.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. The President seems obsessed with the potential for North Korea to become a tourist paradise. He's really pitching that idea to Kim Jong-un while, at the same time, siding with the dictator over John Bolton.

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TODD (voice-over): It is one of the most fascinating aspects of President Trump's relationship with Kim Jong-un.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: North Korea has tremendous potential.

TODD (voice-over): His fascination with turning Kim's hermit kingdom into a public paradise.

TRUMP: It's a great location as we used to say in the real estate business.

TODD (voice-over): On Wednesday, President Trump, once again, maintained his optimism. Not only that a nuclear deal with Kim is there for the taking but that there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow if he and Kim can strike their grand bargain.

TRUMP: This could be one of the most unbelievable -- if you look at a country in terms of upside, this could be one of the most unbelievable experiments ever, North Korea.

TODD (voice-over): Trump has previously gushed about the potential for a North Korean economic boom if Kim's regime makes a deal with the U.S., striking the tone of a New York real estate magnate.

TRUMP: They have great beaches. You see that whenever they're exploding their cannons into the ocean, right? I said, boy, look at that view. What -- wouldn't that make a great condo? TODD (voice-over): Once, he showed Kim Jong-un a video in Korean,

showing how fabulous the future could be for a nuclear-free North Korea.

TRUMP: I think he loved it.

TODD (voice-over): But analysts say while Kim does want to see his economy improve, there's a limit to what the supreme leader will tolerate.

COL. DAVID MAXWELL (RET.), SENIOR FELLOW SPECIALIZING IN NORTH KOREA AND EAST ASIA AFFAIRS, FOUNDATION FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: That brighter future means the economic development that the President touts. With economic development comes information, and that is what is going to undermine his legitimacy. And a brighter future for the Korean people in the North is really a dual-threat to Kim Jong-un.

TODD (voice-over): Could the path to a nuclear agreement have been cleared by the firing of national security adviser John Bolton? Trump says it was a mistake for Bolton to have angered his North Korean friend by suggesting North Korea could meet the fate of Libya and its former dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, who turned over his nuclear material to the U.S., only to see the U.S. help bring him down.

TRUMP: When he talked about the Libyan model for Kim Jong-un, that was not a good statement to make. If you just take a look at what happened with Gaddafi, that was not a good statement to make, and it set us back.

TODD (voice-over): Here is what Bolton said in a network interview last year.

MARGARET BRENNAN, CBS NEWS MODERATOR: Is it a requirement that Kim Jong-un agreed to give away those weapons before you give any kind of concession?

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think that's right. I think we're looking at the Libya model of 2003, 2004.

TODD (voice-over): North Korea called that a sinister move, called Bolton a, quote, warmonger and a human defect.

TRUMP: And I don't blame Kim Jong-un for what he said after that, and he wanted nothing to do with John Bolton.

TODD (voice-over): The Libya model terrifies dictators like Kim Jong- un.

LINDSEY FORD, DAVID M. RUBENSTEIN FELLOW FOR THE CENTER FOR EAST ASIA POLICY STUDIES, THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: When internal problems arose in Libya, the United States and others were not standing behind the Gaddafi regime. And as a result, Gaddafi ended up going out in a really horrible way. So for dictators, the message there is that nuclear weapons are a deterrent.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Tonight, analysts are calling John Bolton's ouster a victory for Kim Jong-un. They say the dictator has long been trying to drive a wedge between Trump and aides like Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. And they say, with Bolton now out of the way, the North Koreans will believe it will be easier to play the President and get a more favorable deal, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very interesting. Bolton's remarks, Brian, on North Korea and Libya really undermined his tenure with the President early on, right?

TODD: It really did, Wolf. He made those remarks before the Singapore summit with Kim Jong-un last year. And just before that summit in the summer of last year, CNN reported that State Department officials, other sources inside the White House, believed that Bolton made the remarks in order to blow up the talks and that Trump and other White House officials were totally off -- caught off guard by Bolton's comments and were very angered by them. That happened early on in Bolton's tenure.

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BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much. There's more breaking news. Next, President Trump is talking to reporters right now outside the White House. Stand by for the very latest.

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