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House Dems Spar With Former Trump Campaign Manager In Fiery First Impeachment Hearing; "Very High Probability" Saudi Oil Facility Attack Launched From Iran; Interview With Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) On Lewandowski Hearing; Trump Praises Lewandowski As Former Campaign Manager Stonewalls Judiciary Committee Dems; Israeli Exit Polls Projecting Close Election Result; Trump Touts "Very Good" Relationship With Kim Jong-un After White House Dinner With Otto Warmbier's Parents. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 17, 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]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Whose lives she touched, including our friends at ABC News. May Cokie Roberts' memory be a blessing. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

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WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Happening now, breaking news: refusing to answer. House Democrats' first impeachment hearing devolves into a combative spectacle as former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski refuses to answer key questions.

Clean air fight: CNN has learned that the Trump administration plans to kill California's ability to set tough vehicle emissions standards that have been adopted by about a dozen other states.

High probability: a source familiar with the investigation into the fiery attack on a major Saudi oil facility said Saudi and U.S. investigators have now determined with very high probability that it was launched from an Iranian base.

And too close to call: Benjamin Netanyahu's re-election plans are in limbo right now, as Israeli exit polls show a very tight contest with former military chief Benny Gantz, with their respective parties running neck in neck.

I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news. House Democrats sparring with President Trump's combative former campaign manager in the Judiciary Committee's first impeachment hearing.

Corey Lewandowski refused to answer questions about potential obstruction of justice by the president, who was watching from Air Force One and tweeted his strong support for Lewandowski. Lewandowski's stonewalling directly ordered by the White House, which

is claiming executive privilege even though Lewandowski never worked in the executive branch of the federal government.

We'll talk about the breaking news much more with Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, among the lawmakers questioning Lewandowski.

And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by. First, let's go to our political correspondent Sara Murray, here with us with details of this rather contentious House impeachment hearing.

Sara, Lewandowski and Democrats on the panel came out swinging at each other and they haven't stopped.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Absolutely, Wolf. Corey Lewandowski was one of President Trump's earliest and most loyal aides. He showed up at the committee today, ready to take a few digs at Democratic lawmakers and dodge their questions.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY (voice-over): President Trump's former campaign manager stonewalling the House Judiciary Committee as its official first impeachment hearing turned into a spectacle.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): Mr. Lewandowski, it is correct that, as reported in the Mueller report, on June 19th, 2017, you met alone in the Oval Office with the president?

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I say, is there a book and page number you can reference me to, please?

I don't have a copy of the report in front of me.

MURRAY (voice-over): Corey Lewandowski never worked for the Trump administration but that didn't stop the White House from instructing Lewandowski to limit his testimony to what was covered in special counsel Robert Mueller report.

LEWANDOWSKI: Congressman, the White House has directed I not disclose the substance of any discussions with the president or his advisers to protect executive branch confidentiality and I recognize this is not my privilege but I'm respecting the White House's decision.

MURRAY (voice-over): The White House blocked other former White House aides, Rob Porter and Rick Dearborn, from testifying at all.

NADLER: I think we should call this what it is, an absolute cover-up by the White House.

MURRAY (voice-over): After slamming the investigation in his opening statement...

LEWANDOWSKI: As for actual collusion or conspiracy, there was none. What there has been, however, is harassment of this President Trump from the day he won the election.

MURRAY (voice-over): -- Lewandowski did acknowledge that President Trump asked him in 2017 to deliver a message to then attorney general Jeff Sessions, asking Sessions to limit the Mueller probe and not investigate the Trump campaign.

REP. HANK JOHNSON (D-GA): President Trump was hounding you about when are you going to deliver that message, correct?

LEWANDOWSKI: Completely inaccurate, Congressman.

JOHNSON: Well, he asked you about it a few times, didn't he?

LEWANDOWSKI: No, he did not.

JOHNSON: He never asked you whether or not you had delivered that message?

LEWANDOWSKI: Not on multiple occasions, no.

JOHNSON: One occasion, OK?

He did mention it on one occasion to you --

LEWANDOWSKI: I don't know if that is in the report, sir, or not.

MURRAY (voice-over): Lewandowski tried to arrange a meeting with Sessions at Lewandowski's office rather than the Justice Department.

LEWANDOWSKI: Well, Jeff and I are friends socially and I wanted to have the opportunity to have a meal with Jeff and relay the conversation which the president asked me to ask Jeff to consider giving.

MURRAY (voice-over): The meeting never happened. And Lewandowski never delivered the message. But he claims the president's request was aboveboard.

REP. STEVE COHEN (D-TN): You didn't think that was illegal to obstruct justice?

LEWANDOWSKI: Congressman, the president didn't ask me anything illegal.

MURRAY (voice-over): But the defiant former Trump aide refused to divulge much more.

LEWANDOWSKI: Well, then, don't ask me the question if you don't want my answer.

(CROSSTALK)

REP. SHEILA JACKSON-LEE (D-TX): -- my time. This is the House Judiciary, not a house party

MURRAY (voice-over): Lewandowski's behavior got a rise out of Democrats...

JOHNSON: Gentlemen, Mr. Lewandowski, you are about like a fish being cleaned with a spoon. It is very hard to get an answer out of you.

MURRAY (voice-over): -- while Republicans leapt at the chance to bash the Russia investigation and their Democratic colleagues.

[17:05:00]

REP. JOHN RATCLIFFE (R-TX): This committee has become the search party for impeachment.

MURRAY (voice-over): And Lewandowski piled on.

LEWANDOWSKI: Congressman, I think they hate this president more than they love their country.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now Corey Lewandowski, Wolf, is a pretty combative guy as you know and he seems to be reveling at certain points in the exchanges he was having with lawmakers. At one point during a break, he even tweeted out a link to a potential Senate run that he is toying with in his home state of New Hampshire.

BLITZER: Yes, he's certainly very seriously thinking about that. And he thought maybe today would help him.

MURRAY: Yes, get a little extra publicity.

BLITZER: Good point. Sara, thank you very much.

Lewandowski's appearance is being well received by the Trump team. Our White House Correspondent, Kaitlan Collins is in Los Angeles, where the president will attend a fundraiser tonight.

Kaitlan, the president was watching this and he clearly liked what he saw.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, not only was he clearly watching, he was also watching closely. And up until the minute when he landed here in California for one of the many fundraisers he's going to attend over the next few days -- and the president was offering up his reviews pretty quickly on Lewandowski's performance as aides who were also watching it were talking up Corey Lewandowski's combative actions to the president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LEWANDOWSKI: He's already very rich.

COLLINS (voice-over): Tonight, Corey Lewandowski was performing for an audience of one, who was watching closely.

"Such a beautiful opening statement by Corey Lewandowski," President Trump tweeted less than an hour into his former campaign manager's hearing. Lewandowski was following through on orders from the White House...

LEWANDOWSKI: I will not disclose any conversations I've had with the president, Congressman.

COLLINS (voice-over): -- after it instructed him not to discuss his conversations with the president outside of what is in Robert Mueller's report.

The White House has stopped former aides from testifying before by invoking executive privilege. But it is typically reserved for government employees. Lewandowski as never worked in the White House and hasn't worked for Trump since the 2016 campaign.

LEWANDOWSKI: It is not my idea to provide this letter.

COLLINS (voice-over): Trump watched his former aide testify as he flew on Air Force One to San Francisco for a fundraiser. During that flight, Trump told reporters he would rather not meet with the Iranian president in New York next week as the White House continues to point the finger at Iran for the weekend attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the United States of America, we'll take whatever action is necessary to defend our country, our troops and our allies in the Gulf. You can count on it.

COLLINS (voice-over): Vice president Pence didn't definitively confirm it was Iran but he warned, the U.S. could take action.

PENCE: The secretary of state is traveling to Saudi Arabia today to discuss our response.

COLLINS (voice-over): Trump's trip west comes as he's trying to woo Hispanic voters ahead of the 2020 election.

TRUMP: The Hispanic Americans, they understand --

COLLINS (voice-over): During a Monday night rally in New Mexico, a state he lost by 8 percentage points in 2016, Trump singled out one long-time supporter.

TRUMP: He happens to be Hispanic but I've never quite figured it out because he looks more like a WASP than I do.

COLLINS (voice-over): Steve Cortes is a CNN contributor, who was in the audience.

TRUMP: Nobody loves the Hispanics more.

What do you like more, the country or the Hispanics?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now Wolf, the president will still be here in California tomorrow when his administration is expected to revoke one of California's signature environmental policies. Its ability to set those tailpipe pollution standards stricter than

the federal rules, that's expected to come tomorrow and it's not only going to be a blow to the state but also a blow to his predecessor and his environmental legacy.

BLITZER: Important development. Kaitlan, thank you.

New information tonight about the devastating attack on a major Saudi oil facility. Our International Diplomatic Editor, Nic Robertson is in Riyadh for us now.

Nic, you've spoken with a source close to the investigation.

What are you learning?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: What we're understanding now, Wolf, is that at least one of the missiles fired at the petroleum complex failed to hit the target and landed in the desert and wasn't badly damaged.

It's given both Saudi and U.S. military intelligence experts an opportunity on the ground to examine its components. They've got circuit boards from it and examine it.

Now what we know from Saudi officials is they say that this weapons system was made in Iran. What the officials say is they are still looking for the launch site. What this source close to the investigation says is that the launch site was in Iran, close to the border with Iraq. The missiles were fired with a trajectory to go into Iraq -- over Iraqi airspace and through Kuwaiti airspace and then to target the petroleum facility.

[17:10:00]

ROBERTSON: However, because these systems are -- the weapon systems are sophisticated, they can maneuver around radar, radar systems. This is a new type of device, if you will. It is a cruise missile capable of flying at very low levels to avoid radar detection.

So at the moment, the direction that we're being -- the direction we're being guided in, if you will by this source is it does appear that both the United States and the Saudis are on track to point the finger at Iran as a launch site.

High probability is where that calculations are now. And just to give a little bit of context, Wolf, for our viewers here, early last year the Saudis took me and my team from CNN, we were the first journalists to see some weapons systems they said were fired by the Houthis in Yemen.

They were, in fact, constructed in Iran and they told us back then they were looking at circuit boards and components. They went on to send those missile parts to the U.N. And the U.N. confirmed those findings. The Saudis today are appealing to the U.N. to join their investigation. They're trying to internationalize the findings. BLITZER: This clearly was an act of war against Saudi Arabia, the destruction of those oil facilities. Nic Robertson in Riyadh, thank you very much.

Let's get more on this. Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York is joining us. He's a member of the Judiciary Committee and the House Democratic caucus chairman.

Congressman, thanks for joining us. Let's talk about the Corey Lewandowski affair today. What was going on at the Judiciary Committee.

Did you get the answers you wanted from Lewandowski?

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): Yes, though he was clearly a reluctant witness. He was there to perform for Donald Trump. But he couldn't escape from the factual conclusions that were contained within the Mueller report. Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion for the sole purpose of trying to artificially place Donald Trump at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The Mueller report concluded that the Trump campaign at the highest level welcomed that assistance. Subsequent to the launching of a criminal investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian spies, Donald Trump did everything possible to try to obstruct that investigation, including by telling Corey Lewandowski to deliver a message to Jeff Sessions and to instruct Sessions to limit the special counsel's investigation to future acts of electoral interference, thereby trying to evade criminal liability related to the 2016 campaign.

BLITZER: But Congressman, as you well know --

JEFFRIES: That was made clear today in the hearing.

BLITZER: All of those points that you made just now were included in the Mueller report.

And did the American public learn anything new today from Corey Lewandowski?

Because everything you just said we knew going into the hearing.

JEFFRIES: Well, we've understand clearly that we have to bring the 443- or 444-page Mueller report to light. You can't do that with a singular individual, Bob Mueller, or a singular witness testifying today, Corey Lewandowski, because they all play different parts in the story that we have to tell.

The Trump administration clearly doesn't want that story to be told. All we're simply trying to do is to follow the facts, apply the law, be guided by the Constitution and make sure that the truth is presented to the American people.

BLITZER: Did you expect Lewandowski to stall today?

Did the Democrats, you and your colleagues, plan for that?

Did you rehearse for that?

Because it really was a spectacle, as I'm sure you will agree.

JEFFRIES: Well, we understood that Corey Lewandowski was there to try to put on a show for one individual, Donald Trump. He wasn't there to tell the truth.

But the reality is that if we are going to examine the episodes of obstruction of justice and abuse of power and the culture of corruption at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, you have to present fact witnesses to the American people. And that was done today. This is just a small part of the story that we'll have to tell as we move forward.

And so we take seriously our responsibility on the Judiciary Committee to do just that. The House is a separate and coequal branch of government. We don't work for Donald Trump, we work for the American people. And this is information we need to gather and put forward.

BLITZER: As you know, Democrats want to call other witnesses for this impeachment investigation.

Do you worry, though, that Lewandowski set the precedent for not cooperating?

JEFFRIES: Well, Lewandowski portrays himself as a tough guy. He's a likely candidate for a Senate seat in New Hampshire.

[17:15:00]

JEFFRIES: And he was there probably to try to launch his senatorial campaign, not necessarily to take seriously his responsibility as a witness to participate in this hearing on behalf of the effort to find the truth for the American people.

But that is OK because the American people can judge Lewandowski based on what they've seen from today in terms of whether he was participating in a cover-up or participating in an effort to reveal information to the American people.

At the same time, we as House Democrats will continue to legislate and continue to work on driving down the high cost of prescription drugs, dealing with the surprise billing issue, protect people with pre- existing conditions and enact a real infrastructure plan.

We can work to get things done while at the same time we're upholding our responsibility to be a check and balance on the out of control executive branch.

BLITZER: Let me get your thoughts on the investigation into the attack on Saudi Arabia's oil infrastructure.

If the Iranians are, in fact, responsible, how should the United States respond? JEFFRIES: Well, let's first determine whether the Iranians were responsible and we cannot take the word of the Saudis. This is the same group of individuals that butchered a "Washington Post" journalist with a bone saw and then lied about it.

And so we need some objectivity here as opposed to racing to accept the Saudi narrative. And then if we determine this culpability as it relates to Iran, we could evaluate what the proper response will be, whether that is economic, diplomatic or some combination thereof.

BLITZER: Congressman Jeffries, thanks so much for joining us.

JEFFRIES: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: A very busy day up on Capitol Hill.

Up next, we'll have more on the breaking news. Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski stonewalling Democrats and refusing to answer many of their questions during an angry, very partisan hearing.

We're also about to go live to Israel where they are counting votes from today's national election.

Will Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be able to hang on to power?

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:20:00]

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BLITZER: The breaking news: during a long and contentious and very partisan hearing this afternoon, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski repeatedly refused to answer key questions about potential obstruction of justice by the president.

Let's bring in our political and legal analysts to discuss this spectacle that we saw today.

First of all, Gloria, did we learn anything new?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we confirmed -- I should say they -- they confirmed the Mueller report, what was in the Mueller report. Beyond that, there was nothing -- there was nothing new.

But confirming the Mueller report was enough for a lot of Democrats because while Corey Lewandowski -- and by the way he changed his strategy in the middle of his testimony; at the beginning he wouldn't testify. Somebody must have gotten to him during the break and said, you have to start cooperating or these guys could arrest you for not cooperating while under subpoena.

The second half, he spoke a little bit more, confirmed that he really wanted to kind of color outside of the lines in terms of approaching -- in terms of approaching Sessions and, in the end, he didn't do it because he went on a beach vacation with his family.

But the Democrats made the point very clearly that, you knew this was wrong and that's why you decided to say to Sessions, well, maybe we could have dinner. I don't want to meet at DOJ. I'm not going to call you.

And so I think they made their point there. But overall, the grand scheme of things, Corey Lewandowski did what he wanted to do, which was to look like he was stonewalling Congress, to play to the president and to play to people who might one day get the chance to vote for him in the state of New Hampshire.

BLITZER: And to try to score points against the Democrats. That is a major --

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Of course. Of course.

So was it useful?

BLITZER: Susie, you're a legal expert. The White House claims executive privilege for Corey Lewandowski even though he never worked in the White House, never worked in the executive branch for the federal government at all.

Do they have a case for that?

Because clearly at least the first half of his testimony he kept citing that privilege.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY ATTORNEY: No. Executive privilege does not cover every single conversation the president has with anybody at any point in time. Corey Lewandowski has never been a federal government employee. He did not work in the White House. He did not work in the executive branch of the government.

He is not entitled to executive privilege and the White House knows that. So every time Corey Lewandowski is citing executive privilege, what he's really saying is go jump in a lake, I'm not going to answer your questions and you can't make me.

And that is essentially the strategy. It is self obstructive that the White House would attempt to actually prevent witnesses from testifying. However, it is a really effective one and until Congress can adjust their strategy to figure out how to deal with these kinds of hostile witnesses, how to deal with the stonewalling, this will continue to be a challenge. That said, even though we saw a lot of petulance and sneering, Gloria is right.

Corey Lewandowski confirmed that the Mueller report is accurate; confirmed facts that are absolutely devastating to the president, that was the job that the House Democrats needed to do today to get him on the record to admit this all occurred, it is one of the central obstruction allegations in the Mueller report.

BLITZER: But he admitted that in the course of 20 hours of testimony before other panels and before Mueller and his team as well.

[17:00:00]

HENNESSEY: Sure, but this is a new phase of the inquiry, this is the House building a case related to the president's individual conduct, pulling all of these various threads into one place, confirming the president of the United States is lying to the American public.

This episode related to the president directing Lewandowski to pressure Sessions, to limit the scope of the Mueller probe, that is one of the elements of obstruction of justice for which there is no defense.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: They have to decide how tough they're going to be because if they get this guy in there at the beginning and he's refusing to cooperate, they need to tell him you're gone and we're going to arrest you.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Well, let me ask Bianna, why haven't the House Democrats done more to fight back on this so-called executive privilege claim that the White House has made on behalf of Lewandowski?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Or why haven't they stayed on the same page?

Look, I agree with the panel in the sense that from one perspective, Corey Lewandowski did confirm the Mueller report in that regard. The Democrats did get what they wanted. The issue is it would have been much more powerful if we had heard from Corey Lewandowski, despite how combative we knew he was always going to be, back in April, back in March as soon as we got that Mueller report out.

Again, I'm going to say you can't overstate the significance of what Bill Barr did in that four-page summary for the American public that doesn't pay attention to this on a daily basis.

We are months now after the fact that that report was released. American public sees that the Democrats are still willing to work with the president on issues like USMCA and other factors.

So if, in fact, they think that this is so alarmist that this president should be impeached, why, A, have we not heard that language from Nancy Pelosi?

And why are we seeing Corey Lewandowski so many months after the fact?

He may be confirming what Democrats want to hear but time does matter and for the Democrats that are not there yet, it is a chicken and egg kind of situation. They need to hear from their constituents that they believe that the president should be impeached.

And they are not hearing that and I think, given the fact where Democrats are on the calendar, this is not going to help them going forward.

SHAWNA THOMAS, WASHINGTON, D.C. BUREAU CHIEF, VICE NEWS: The point of this is to make a public case, right. That is why they called Mueller in to testify. They ran into some of the same media problems with the Mueller testimony that they are running into this one.

It is not that he was a hostile witness. I don't believe that. But he's like, I'm going to stick to the confines of my report and you're not going to get that much more out of me. The most success anyone had in that Mueller hearing was when they asked him yes or no questions to reconfirm things that he had already written in the report.

That was some of the stuff that was most successful with Corey Lewandowski as well. But in the end, if they were looking for a show that was going to once again convince the American public that they should impeach, based on that testimony, based on what it said about the Mueller report, I'm not sure they got that today because they did not get Corey Lewandowski saying the words that he apparently said to Mueller behind closed doors.

The report itself we -- they think does not sell itself to the United States already.

So what else are they going to do?

The other thing is the report lays out a case for impeachment, right. If they want to impeach him, impeach him. But until Nancy Pelosi gets 218 and a member of Congress has told me this in the last week, until she gets 218 Democrats who are willing to say we will impeach, she's not going to do it.

GOLODRYGA: And I would argue that the Republicans all of this time later made an effective case for revisionist history. We have now seen Republicans, a number of them, say that it was actually the Democrats and President Obama who didn't do anything when we knew that the Russians were attacking our elections and our democracy.

And you heard Corey Lewandowski say, of course, I would have said something had we known. But we were private citizens, as was the president at the time, and they're throwing the onus now on the Democrats when obviously we know what happened back in 2016, when President Obama's then intelligence chief had gone to Senator Mitch McConnell and told him, listen, let's approach this from a bipartisan perspective.

He said absolutely not but now we're so into the thick of things and in the woods, I think that, from a voter's perspective, they may just be tuning all of this out.

BLITZER: All right, everybody stick around. There is a lot more on this right after a quick break. [17:30:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back with our analysts and our experts. And, Gloria, the President tweeted that he loved Lewandowski's opening statement. He said it was beautiful.

BORGER: Yes.

BLITZER: Clearly, Lewandowski was performing for him, but a lot of Republicans think they won this day.

BORGER: Sure, look --

BLITZER: That they came out looking better than the Democrats.

BORGER: Well, first of all, Lewandowski was performing for the President. As we were talking about before, he was performing for -- performing for Republicans in the state of New Hampshire if he decides to run for the Senate.

And Republicans did get an opportunity today as, you know, Bianna was saying before, get -- got an opportunity to sort of shove it back to the Democrats and say, look, you know, you guys, Barack Obama knew about, you know, the Russian meddling, why didn't you tell us, why didn't you -- and Lewandowski was like, why didn't he tell me? I certainly would have been concerned about it.

And so, as much as the Democrats were questioning and trying to get, you know, water from a stone here in Lewandowski, Republicans could just spout off. They had no questions basically for Lewandowski at all.

[17:35:07]

So I think it's a -- it's a risk. And again, if the Democrats are going to be tough and they're going to want to be Mr. Tough Guy, then be Mr. Tough Guy. And they weren't. They wanted to be reasonable and -- come on.

BLITZER: Because, Susan, during the hearing, the viewers were watching -- I'm sure there were a lot of viewers watching these. The Democrats, they had their opportunities. They made their points. But the Republicans had equal time to go against the Democrats.

And they were making very strong points. Not asking many questions, just making points, as Gloria and Bianna said, going after the Obama administration.

HENNESSEY: Yes. We've seen this in the past, sort of these, you know, alternate realities that the Democrats and Republicans are living in currently sort of playing out at these hearings. That said, you know, I would sound sort of a note of dissent with my, you know, esteemed fellow panelists --

BORGER: What?

(LAUGHTER)

HENNESSEY: -- which is that not everything is a made for T.V. spectacle, and the job of the Democrats today was not to get Corey Lewandowksi to deliver up that perfect sound bite.

The job for the Democrats today was to remind the American people that the President of the United States directed an individual to attempt to apply pressure to the Attorney General of the United States to limit the Mueller probe, itself potentially an act of obstruction of justice.

To have Corey Lewandowksi confirm in open testimony that the White House has directed him not to speak about that, what is the President hiding? That stuff is really, really damaging.

BORGER: Do you think that was clear? Do you think that was clearly stated, that it was obstruction that they were talking about and that -- you know, Lewandowski said it wasn't illegal, but do you think it was clear to the American public watching that hearing today that what they were talking about was obstruction?

HENNESSEY: So certainly -- you know, certainly, the Democrats now have a job to do. They need to package that up. They need to explain what happened.

But not all Americans sat there and watched that hour of -- hours of testimony today. They're listening tonight. They're going to be listening over the next couple of days. They're going to be listening to what the Democrats -- explain this (ph).

BLITZER: So where do the Democrats go from here? Because a lot of Democrats in the House, they think it's a mistake to begin these formal impeachment hearings. They think it's time to move on and get to some other issues like health care or infrastructure, national security.

THOMAS: Or even other ways that you could possibly impeach the President, like through the emolument's clause and that kind of thing, that there is more concrete stuff behind that.

I think you do have a point that they have to package this a little bit better. And what I think the Democrats do is they go on television tonight, and they tell the people how they saw it, try to get people to play sound bites, do that.

But one of the things we know in this country is the country is divided and where they get their news is divided. And so, the -- what you are going to hear on Fox News is going to be different than what you're going to hear on MSNBC. Right here at CNN, it'll be down the middle. You'll hear everything.

But -- but -- no matter what, people are going to hear what they want to hear. And right now, the Democrats are also holding these hearings to do something methodical, like you said during the break, but also to convince the American public that it is worth it to put the country through an impeachment process that we know will not result in this president being removed.

BLITZER: All right.

GOLODRYGA: And Republicans were picking up on that as well --

THOMAS: Sure.

GOLODRYGA: -- by saying, listen, if you're going to impeach, impeach. Why are we continuing to go down this road where you, as a party, seem to be divided as to where you want to go? If you think that the President broke the law, if you think that the President should be impeached, then just impeach. So you have the Republicans highlighting what continues to be more and more of a division that we're seeing amongst Democrats.

BLITZER: All right.

BORGER: It's kind of a game of dare. They need to do this (ph).

BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. There is more news here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Exit polls now project a close result as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tries to hang on to power. Stand by, we're going live to Israel for an update on the vote counting.

[17:38:32]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Breaking news. We're following the vote-counting in Israel where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to hang on to power. Exit polls are projecting a very close result.

Let's go to CNN's Oren Liebermann. He's joining us right now. Oren, we know we need to read these exit polls with certain caution, but what are you hearing at this hour right now?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: All three exit polls from the main T.V. stations in Israel projected this race is too close to call. And it's a race that not only Israelis are watching and of course, the main candidates here, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival, former Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, but also world leaders because Netanyahu has been on that world stage for so long. Especially, of course, President Donald Trump who considers Netanyahu one of his best friends, his closest allies, when it comes to international relations.

All three of the exit polls suggest it is a very tight race. One of them has a tie at 32 seats apiece, the other two suggest that Gantz, the rival here, has eked out a tiny lead but that lead is within the margin of error.

And yet here at Likud headquarters, they remain optimistic. Why? Because exit polls have been wrong in the past, as you rightly point out, and they are merely projections. Crucially, from Likud's perspective, those exit polls have

underestimated the Likud's performance and Netanyahu's performance in elections.

And they're waiting to see the actual results as they begin to be counted. They hope to see a swing in the numbers, and it is the Likud that takes the lead and Netanyahu has the strongest claim to be the next prime minister, Wolf.

BLITZER: Oren, what does tonight's result mean for the corruption investigation facing Prime Minister Netanyahu?

LIEBERMANN: Well, let's remember that he is facing three corruption investigations and possible charges of bribery and breach of trust, pending a hearing that's now only two weeks away. If he got the religious right-wing government he wanted, he would have had the opportunity to legislate for himself immunity from prosecution, which would apply not only to him but other members of his coalition.

[17:44:55]

If these exit polls hold, and again that remains a big if, it appears he will be unable to do so. He will have to head to that preliminary hearing. And if this proceeds, if he is, in fact, charged, tonight's election is not the news he wanted facing those investigations, Wolf.

BLITZER: Oren Liebermann in Tel Aviv for us. Oren, we'll stay in close touch with you. We'll see what happens in the coming hour.

Coming up, why did President Trump just meet with the parents of Otto Warmbier, the U.S. college student who was imprisoned in North Korea, returned to the United States in a coma, and died shortly thereafter.

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BLITZER: Trump administration officials aren't commenting tonight on the President's White House dinner with the parents of Otto Warmbier, the American college student who suffered severe injuries while in North Korean custody and died shortly after being returned to the United States.

CNN's Brian Todd is here with more. Brian, Warmbier's parents, they've been critical of President Trump's embrace of Kim Jong-un.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. There have been real tensions between President Trump and the Warmbier family over the President's diplomacy with Kim Jong-un. Tonight, we have new details on those tensions and that secretive meeting at the White House with the Warmbiers. All of which plays out against the backdrop of an encouraging diplomatic development.

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TODD (voice-over): Tonight, North Korea's dictator seems open to something he had previously brushed off -- working-level meetings between officials lower ranking than he and President Trump, meetings that could jump-start nuclear talks.

Kim Jong-un's Foreign Ministry saying it hopes working-level talks will improve relations but also warns, on the contrary, they may add to the hostility towards each other.

FRANK JANNUZI, PRESIDENT AND CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, THE MAUREEN AND MIKE MANSFIELD FOUNDATION: The message they want to get across is that they are not over-eager for these talks, and that it is the Americans who should bring some concessions with respect to sanctions relief and some softening of the demands on the North in terms of the extent of the denuclearization steps.

TODD (voice-over): The North Koreans' latest overture comes just after the parents of American college student Otto Warmbier went to the White House. Warmbier was a prisoner for 17 months in North Korea after being tried for stealing a propaganda poster.

He went into a coma in North Korean custody and died just a few days after being returned home in 2017. Despite President Trump's embrace of Warmbier's parents, there has been tension between them since Trump said he doesn't hold Kim Jong-un responsible for Otto Warmbier's death.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He felt badly about it. He tells me that he didn't know about it, and I will take him at his word.

TODD (voice-over): The Warmbiers were furious, issuing a statement criticizing the President for making excuses for the dictator. Warmbier's mother later calling Trump's diplomacy with Kim a charade.

CINDY WARMBIER, MOTHER OF OTTO WARMBIER: How can you have diplomacy with someone that never tells the truth? He lies, he lies, he lies all for himself.

TODD (voice-over): CNN has asked the White House, the State Department, and the Warmbiers for information on their weekend dinner at the White House. None of them would comment, but the dinner could have served to remind the President of the Kim regime's brutality.

JANNUZI: Human rights issues have fallen completely off the table. The President has praised Kim Jong-un's leadership. He's praised his integrity as a leader. And he's made no mention of either Otto or the broader human rights concerns that the U.S. has. So this dinner was an opportunity for the parents of Warmbier to remind the President that these issues matter.

TODD (voice-over): Meanwhile, veteran diplomats, tonight, are concerned that President Trump has allowed Kim Jong-un to get the upper hand in other ways, especially by not holding the dictator accountable for conducting at least nine short-range missile tests since May.

NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: This is letting them get away with too much. One of the first objectives of any negotiation should get -- should be to have them freeze these missile tests. The fact that they're conducting them is really, I think, a defiance of the United States.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, this comes against the backdrop of a window of opportunity for a nuclear deal which could be starting to close.

Analysts believe President Trump is getting more eager by the day to reach a nuclear deal with Kim, in part so that Trump can bolster his re-election campaign, and that Trump has been willing to overlook those missile tests, human rights violations, and other transgressions by Kim to get that deal.

The dictator, experts say, is all too aware of the President's eagerness and is trying to play that to his own advantage, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting. Thank you. There's more breaking news coming up next. President Trump's former campaign manager and Democrats on the Judiciary Committee in the House, they square off in a feisty first impeachment hearing.

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BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Stonewalling. Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski spars with Democrats investigating the President and dodges most of their questions. What, if anything, did the heated hearing reveal?

Asserting privilege. The White House ordered Lewandowski not to discuss his conversations with the President. Is the administration making up its own rules for invoking executive privilege?

Drawing a crowd. A new snapshot of Elizabeth Warren's momentum in the Democratic presidential race as she takes selfies with fans for four hours. CNN is with some of the top 2020 contenders tonight.

[17:59:55]

And the next storm. Imelda hits Texas with tropical-storm-force winds and pounding rains that could trigger flash flooding. We have new forecasts for multiple storm threats that are intensifying tonight.