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Interview With Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ); Interview With Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA); Full House To Vote On Impeachment Inquiry Thursday; Trump Blasts Former White House Chief Of Staff; Defense Official Says, U.S. Raid On Baghdadi Began At 5:01 P.M. Eastern Time Saturday; New Blaze In L.A. As California Wildfire Crisis Spreads. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired October 28, 2019 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're getting new information about a secret source who helped the U.S. track down Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and confirm his identity ahead of the attack on the ISIS leader that left him dead.
And spreading inferno. Another fast-moving wildfire is threatening homes and lives in California. An arson investigation is under way, as the state's fire emergency is impacting millions of people.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news.
A full House vote to affirm the impeachment inquiry now is planned for Thursday. Democrats are taking a step they initially resistant to push back on Republican claims that the investigation of President Trump and Ukraine isn't legitimate.
House members will vote on procedures for going forward with public hearings that could begin in just a couple of weeks.
I will get reaction from Congressman Eric Swalwell. He's a Democrat who serves on the Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, up on Capitol Hill.
Manu, tell us more about the impeachment vote and what it means.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a significant vote and a sign that this investigation is moving quickly to the next phase of this probe, as Democrats gear up to take votes that could eventually lead to the impeachment of President Trump.
This is the third time an American president has been impeached by the U.S. House. What this vote will do later this week is to formalize procedures to essentially ensure that public hearings -- lay out the ground rules for public hearings that will take place first by the House Intelligence Committee, but also how evidence that the Intelligence Committee and two other panels have gathered can be shared with the House Judiciary Committee.
And that committee is critical, because it's the one that will vote to actually impeach the president, vote on articles of impeachment, which would then go on to the full House, which would consider articles of impeachment.
Now, in taking this step forward, Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker today, sent a letter to her colleagues detailing exactly what she's thinking.
She said this: "This resolution establishes the procedure for hearings are open to the American people, authorizes disclosure of deposition transcripts, outlines procedures to transfer evidence to the Judiciary Committee as it considers potential articles of impeachment and sets forth due process rights for the president and his counsel."
Now, I talked to Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, about this. He told me that they still plan to finish up with their depositions. They plan to have several people in this week, including members of the White House National Security Council, people who serve in the State Department, and then next week that likely -- they have already set out subpoenas to bring in individuals who serve in the Office of Management and Budget and the State Department.
They're preparing for potential depositions next week. We will see if those individuals comply. But, nevertheless, we probably are expecting some more depositions.
We are expecting more depositions before they move into that more public phase, which will include the report, public hearings, and then eventually that key vote that will lead to the -- potentially lead to the impeachment of the president, but the first vote this week to set the ground rules, the process, something that the Democrats have not been willing to do so far, but now indicating they're going to take this step at a critical juncture of this investigation -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, it's going to be a very dramatic moment.
Manu, how much of this is a reaction to President Trump's challenging the legitimacy of the entire impeachment inquiry?
RAJU: Well, to some extent, Democrats are saying that is part of the reason why. The White House has said that it would not comply with all these requests because they believe this is a -- quote -- "illegitimate and invalid inquiry."
That's something that actually has been rejected by a federal judge in a case on Friday, but, nevertheless, the White House even today stepping forward and preventing one witness from coming forward who would have testified, a former National Security Council official who has separately sought a judgment from a court to determine whether or not he should comply with the congressional subpoena.
But Democrats want to say -- are essentially trying to call the president's bluff on this. And Pelosi alludes to this in her statement. She said: "We are taking this step to eliminate any doubt as to whether the Trump administration may withhold documents, prevent witness testimony, disregard duly authorized subpoenas, or continue obstructing the House of Representatives."
Now, in talking to Republicans today, they're already pushing back on this, saying this is not a legitimate vote that would authorize the inquiry. Democrats even say this is not authorizing the inquiry, just setting procedures.
But, nevertheless, that process argument will probably still continue, no matter what. Democrats say they don't even need to take a vote. They're doing this simply to set some ground rules for the next phase of this investigation.
But the fight over exactly what this inquiry is still going to come down long party lines, and that vote, I suspect, later this week also very likely to come down along party lines -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Lots going on.
Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill, thanks very much.
Let's head over to the White House right now, get reaction to plans for this House impeachment vote.
Our Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us.
So, Jim, what are you hearing from the Trump administration tonight?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, the White House just reacted to the House speaker's announcement of a vote affirming the impeachment inquiry.
We can put this up on screen the statement coming in from the White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham.
It says: "We won't be able to comment fully until we see the actual text. But Speaker Pelosi is finally admitting what the rest of America already knew, that Democrats were conducting an unauthorized impeachment proceeding, refusing to give the president due process. And their secret, shady closed-door depositions are completely and irreversibly illegitimate" -- that from the White House press secretary.
Now, President Trump continued his touchdown dance after the killing of the leader of ISIS over the weekend. The president's boast may not be backed up by the facts.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA (voice-over): One day after the mission that took out ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, President Trump is giving himself another pat on the back.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's dead. He's dead as a doornail. And he didn't die bravely either. I will tell you that. He should have been killed years ago. Another president should have gotten him.
ACOSTA: The president is going to great lengths to brag that he's outdone his predecessor, Barack Obama, complete with his own Situation Room photo.
TRUMP: Osama bin Laden was very big. This is a man who built a whole, as he would like to call it, a country, a caliphate, and he was trying to do it again.
ACOSTA: But as for a key element of the president's original account of the mission, that Baghdadi was whimpering in his final moments:
TRUMP: They should see how he died. He didn't die a hero. He died a coward, crying, whimpering, screaming.
ACOSTA: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley told reporters he wasn't sure about the source of that claims, adding, video from the operation may be released in the coming days.
GEN. MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: I know the president had planned to talk down to the unit and unit members. But I don't know what the source of that was here. But I assume it was talking directly to unit members. I have not talked to unit members. No, that's correct.
ACOSTA: The president defended his decision not to notify Democratic leaders about the mission by slamming the impeachment inquiry, claiming the White House had released a precise transcript of his conversation with the leader of Ukraine.
But that's not true. The White House only issued a rough transcript.
TRUMP: It was an exact transcription of the conversation. So, in a nutshell, a whistle-blower wrote a false narrative of the conversation.
ACOSTA: The president is also standing by the White House response to former Chief of Staff John Kelly, who emerged over the weekend and said he once warned Mr. Trump that he'd be impeached if he surrounded himself with yes-men.
JOHN KELLY, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I said: "Whatever you do, don't -- don't hire a yes-man, someone that's going to tell you -- won't tell you the truth. Don't do that, because, if you do, I believe you will be impeached."
ACOSTA: Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham lashed out in a statement.
"I worked with John Kelly," she said, "and he was totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great president."
Mr. Trump said he thought Kelly just wanted his old job back.
TRUMP: Oh, I don't think it's aggressive at all. I would be surprised if he made those comments in a negative way.
ACOSTA: Vice President Mike Pence is also ducking questions in the impeachment inquiry and whether he was aware of a quid pro quo with the leader of Ukraine.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm telling you that all of my interactions with the president, all of my conversations with President Zelensky were entirely focused on issues of importance to the American people.
ACOSTA: Former Vice President Joe Biden is knocking Mr. Trump's response to Russian interference in the 2016 election.
JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's an idiot in terms of shame that. Everybody knows this. Everybody knows it. Nobody doubts.
ACOSTA: As for the foul reaction the president received at the World Series, White House officials claimed there were plenty of fans in the crowd.
HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I didn't talk to him about it. I know that there were some people here cheering as well. But, listen, it's Washington, D.C. It's a pretty liberal town.
ACOSTA: Now, the White House was asked why the president didn't share details about the Baghdadi mission, apparently going against a tradition of briefing key members of Congress from both parties about critical national security operations.
A White House spokesman again accused Democrats of leaking information. But when pressed for examples of when White House Speaker Nancy Pelosi leaked details about a counterterrorism operation, the White House could not provide any.
Now, we should point out there is one piece of good news that everybody can agree on that we can leave you with, Wolf. The president left his mark on the news cycle just a short while ago, tweeting out this photo of the dog that was involved in the Baghdadi operation.
The hero dog's name is classified at this point. They're not releasing it. They're saying that's to protect both the dog and the people who work with the dog. But there's no question that we have to recognize all of the heroes in that operation, not just the ones with two legs -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Good point. Thanks very much for that, Jim Acosta, at the White House. Joining us now, Congressman Eric Swalwell. He's a Democrat, serves on
the Intelligence and Judiciary committees.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): It's my pleasure, Wolf.
BLITZER: As you know, Democrats, they have been resisting a formal vote on impeachment, a full vote in the House of Representatives.
So, why hold this vote now?
SWALWELL: Wolf, we're continuing to do our investigative stages.
As you know, there was no special prosecutor, as occurred in Watergate or the Clinton impeachment trial. Our attorney general, who should have been recused, punted on this. So we're doing the investigative stage.
But this resolution signals that there will be a public hearing, that we have learned enough information, at least this early on, to warrant the public knowing, and that it sets forth not only rights for the president and his counsel, but also for both parties to be a part of public hearings and opening this to the public and asking questions.
So it shifts -- it shifts -- it signals a shift, where people will start to learn what is so concerning about the president's conduct.
BLITZER: Will you be granting more powers to House Republicans?
SWALWELL: Well, they get a lot of power now, Wolf. They get equal time and questioning. About 50 of them are allowed in the room.
There's unlimited time in questioning. So, we go on hour Democrats, an hour Republicans, 45 minutes Democrats, 45 minute Republicans. We could go for three days. They could ask questions in any language that they like. It's unlimited, Wolf.
Now, whether they choose to show up and participate, I will let the transcripts speak for themselves when they're released.
BLITZER: What they complain about is the Democrats can issue subpoenas. What about the Republicans?
SWALWELL: There's nothing that prohibits the Republicans from asking -- from asking for a subpoena to be issued. Under the rules of the House, they can do that, and a vote would be called.
BLITZER: But the Democrats are the majority. And, presumably, they will reject a lot of that.
SWALWELL: Well, the voters in 2018, as you know, Wolf, voted for us to put accountability on the president. But I don't think that means that Democrats wouldn't be open-minded. But the Republicans have chosen to ignore the underlying act, that the
president has extorted -- or allegedly has extorted the Ukrainians. And they don't want to face that. Instead, they have these just insane conspiratorial process attacks.
BLITZER: Will all Republicans be able to go back now and read the transcripts of the depositions?
SWALWELL: Right now, nearly 50 Republicans are able to read the transcripts of the depositions. We're keeping it to the members who are on the three committees doing the interviews.
But the intent is for these transcripts, to the extent they don't release classified information, will be made public also.
BLITZER: Your committees, they were supposed to have a deposition today with Charles Kupperman, the president's former deputy national security adviser, but he's refusing to testify until a federal court weighs in on all this.
How badly do you need his testimony?
SWALWELL: Well, Wolf, first, the White House is refusing to let him testify, which has provoked this, I think, frivolous lawsuit that he's brought.
He would corroborate evidence that we believe we already have. But, again, in the spirit of giving the president a fair process, we invited Mr. Kupperman to come in.
But we're not going to take this as an invitation to go to the courts for years on end to fight the president. We are going to see this as a consciousness of guilt by the White House. If Mr. Kupperman could offer evidence that would clear the president, we're sure the White House would send him. We assume that he can't help the president. In fact, he would probably hurt the president.
And we will consider whether this should be articles of impeachment for obstruction of Congress.
BLITZER: On Thursday, in addition to the full House vote, you're scheduled also to hear from Tim Morrison. He's on the president's National Security Council, was listening in on that July phone call with the Ukrainian president.
Do you expect him to fill in some gaps that haven't -- that you haven't heard yet from other witnesses?
SWALWELL: Well, first, we expect that he will join the nine other witnesses who have followed lawful subpoenas and have shown up.
Second, we do expect that there will be corroboration, based on what we have heard, you know, from other witnesses. But I don't want to really telegraph where we're going to go with his interview, other than to say, we're not wasting anyone's time here.
We're only bringing in relevant witnesses.
BLITZER: Thursday is -- going to be a very dramatic week. I think all week will be very dramatic.
Congressman Eric Swalwell, thanks so much for joining.
SWALWELL: My pleasure. Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, we're going to have more ahead on all the breaking news on the just revealed plans for a full House of Representatives vote on the impeachment inquiry.
Will it change anything, as Democrats push ahead with their investigation of the president?
BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories.
The full House of Representatives is now set to hold its first formal vote on the impeachment investigation of President Trump. That's planned for this coming Thursday.
Also breaking, CNN has learned an ISIS informant led U.S. forces to the hiding place of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Joining us now, Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
I want to get to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a moment, but give me your quick reaction to the decision by the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, to hold a formal vote this Thursday on the impeachment inquiry.
SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D-NJ): Well, Wolf, we always knew there was going to be a public version of this. Investigators investigate privately, before they go with their case publicly.
And I have heard not one member of Congress really defend the president's actions. They have done what we normally say about lawyers. When you have the law, you argue the law. When you have the facts, you argue the facts. And if you don't have either one of them, you bang on the table and create a diversion.
They have been in the midst of creating a diversion on process. So, I think the speaker is calling their bluff, and we will now have a vote. And we will see what the administration will now use to not continue to ultimately follow and obey the subpoenas, not cooperate, as they have not been cooperating.
[18:20:10] What will be their next excuse? And what members will say, at the end of the day, if they wanted to vote, here's a vote. And if they want to know what really happened here, then they should be voting for the resolution to proceed.
BLITZER: Yes, I suspect, pretty soon, we're going to be seeing televised hearings of all that's going on in the House of Representatives.
Let's get to the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Senator.
You did not thank President Trump in your official statement, public statement, reacting to the raid. Does President Trump deserve credit for -- at least some credit for the successful mission?
MENENDEZ: Well, listen, the world is better off without al-Baghdadi not in it anymore.
He led a horrific movement that terrorized millions across the region and ultimately supported rape and beheadings and all types of horrific acts. And so what I give the credit to is the extraordinary men and women who executed a flawless action against al-Baghdadi.
The president deserves credit for calling and for putting an OK in proceeding in such an action. I will give him that much credit. But the execution of this action goes to the men and women of the Special Forces, who just did an extraordinary job and have rid the world of someone who was the leader of a terrorist movement, for which we still, however, have a challenge.
This is my one concern. The president likes to say mission accomplished far too quickly and far too easily. We still have a challenge with ISIS. We saw, when we executed al Qaeda's leader, that, in fact, that didn't bring the end of al Qaeda.
And we shouldn't think that ISIS is going to suddenly disappear. We need to keep at it. And we need to have allies. And the Kurds once again were a tremendous ally in this operation.
BLITZER: Yes, they certainly were.
As you know, the president of often attacks the U.S. intelligence community, which clearly played a very important role in this operation. Do those attacks hurt the ability to actually carry out future missions?
MENENDEZ: Well, these attacks seek to undermine the very individuals who not only are sworn to protect the nation, but who do extraordinary work in giving us the intelligence to go after a terrorist like al- Baghdadi.
And when he demeans them, it ultimately creates, I think, a crisis in confidence in other countries in the world that we are sharing intelligence with. If he doesn't believe in his intelligence agencies, why should other allies join with us and give us intelligence to the very entities that he demeans. And so I think it puts the intelligence community in a weakened position, one they don't deserve to be in. Overall, they get it right more often than not.
And so I applaud the work that they did to bring the information, to have our Special Forces be able to execute flawlessly, and ultimately rid the world of one of the most significant terrorists that we have had.
BLITZER: Yes, the intelligence community, the U.S. military, working closely with allies on the ground, they did an extraordinary job in this operation.
Senator Menendez, thanks so much for joining us.
MENENDEZ: Thank you.
BLITZER: We will have much more on the breaking news coming up on the plan for a full House of Representatives vote on the impeachment inquiry this coming Thursday.
Will it do anything to discourage White House stonewalling?
BLITZER: We're following major breaking news in the impeachment investigation.
The full House of Representatives will vote on the inquiry for the first time this Thursday, Democratic leaders offering a resolution on procedures to move forward with open hearings, and backing off their initial reluctance to hold a formal House vote.
Let's bring in our team of experts to discuss.
And, Gloria, Democrats have been resisting this for a long time. So what's the rationale for going forward with this vote now?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think this was surprising even to a lot of Democratic staffers on the Hill.
I think the rationale was twofold. One is process, that this makes it easier for them to streamline a process in which members don't have five minutes to ask questions and it can be more digestible to the American public.
But there's a lot of politics here, which is that Nancy Pelosi is effectively calling the Republicans' bluff and saying, OK, you wanted this, we're going to give it to you. And she said in her statement -- let me just read a little bit of it -- she said: "We're taking steps to eliminate any doubt as to whether the Trump administration may withhold documents, prevent witness testimony, disregard subpoenas, or construe obstructing the House -- or continue obstructing the House of Representatives." So this was her explanation to fellow Democrats, some of whom, I might say, particularly the moderates, are a little wary about this.
BLITZER: Because what it's going to do -- and we all assume it's going to vote rather easily, because there are a lot more than 218 Democrats in the House of Representatives.
It will result in televised public hearings fairly soon, plus the release of all of these secret depositions, the transcripts of everything these witnesses so far have said. They may black out some very sensitive intelligence-related information.
But we're going to learn a lot more.
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: We will. And they may even recall witnesses who testified behind closed doors before. So not just the actual transcript on paper, it's actually speaking about and talking about this.
Remember, that was very powerful in the Nixon impeachment hearings, and, of course, you've had somebody go behind doors and say, actually, the president did know that there was actual recording device in the office, then came up publicly to do just that. So it does have that part of it.
Also you have the enter the courts here, Wolf. Because there is right now, because someone decided not to show up, the courts are now involved to say, well, which one is right? Is it Congress telling me or is the executive branch telling I can't go because of privilege? Tell me who is right so I can forward? This actually gives them more power to now say, we are exercising only our oversight function but our impeachment power in the Constitution. So, of course, here is more power to buttress our own credibility, that's why we're doing it.
BLITZER: Jeffrey, will this take away a key Republican taking point?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it will but that assumes that the logic has a big part in this. I don't think you're going to see the Republicans say, well, gosh, we've got a good point. We asked for this resolution. So now, we're going to start cooperating.
The White House is not going to cooperate with this inquiry under any circumstances. But I think in a political setting, this will give the Democrats an additional talking point in terms of following an orderly process and it will put some moderates of both parties on the spot about whether they are going to support this. Because this is not a vote to impeach the president, this is a vote to have an orderly process.
And the Democrats not only get to win, as they certainly will, because nobody counts votes like Nancy Pelosi, but they will get to set up a procedure whereby the impeachment process in the Intelligence Committee and the Judiciary Committee will go forward in a smooth way and perhaps result in a vote in the full House by the end of the year.
BLITZER: Phil, the president praised Republicans today publicly for attacking Democrats on the process of this inquiry, but he wants them to go much further. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: I'd rather go into the details of the case rather than process. Process is wonderful. Process is good, but I think you ought to look at the case. And the case is very simply. It's quick. It's so quick. I had great conversation with the Ukrainian president.
It was nothing. They tried to take that conversation and make it into a big scandal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So what do you think, Phil? Are the Republicans going to start defending the president when it comes to the substance of that phone call with the Ukrainian president?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Heck no. That was a Pinocchio statement by the president. I smell a rat here, not on substance but on the process.
Look, every time we take a step here, whether it's from the first perfect phone call to when we saw the transcript, to when the whistleblower memo comes out, to when the diplomat shows up and says, everything you thought was hearsay. Actually, it wasn't. Everything in that memo was true. The Republicans don't have a chance on substance. The president is lying to us about process.
Look, I think what's going to happen Thursday, obviously, is you're going to get the vote by the Democrats. Immediately, I think what's going to happen is the president is going
to do the same thing he did to the Russia inquiry. This is clearly a witch hunt. It's only Democrats. It's dirty Democrats, like they did in the Russia campaign. No Republicans want that. They're going to attack this as a partisan process. They can't stand on the substance, I don't think, Wolf.
BLITZER: Susan, in addition to the full House vote on Thursday, the committees are also going to hear from a witness with firsthand knowledge of that July phone call with the Ukrainian president, Tim Morrison, still serving on the National Security Council. How important is his firsthand account?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. So, obviously, firsthand accounts are really important. We've seen this with the testimony of people like Bill Taylor, Gordon Sondland and Kurt Volker.
Now, to the extent that it matters that he was actually on that Zelensky call, even that the White House has itself published this relatively detailed call memorandum in which it has basically confessed to the core of the wrong doing, we can see right there in black and white the president of the United States pressuring a foreign leader to investigate the family of a political rival, pressuring a foreign leader in order to substantiate this conspiracy theory designed to politically help the president by undermining the Intelligence Community, assessment of Russian interference in the 2016 election. That is abuse of office. That is impeachable, full stop.
People like Morrison are going to be able to come in and fill in the details about what has happening, what was the surrounding context. We know that John Bolton told Fiona Hill to contact an attorney, the National Security Council attorney, because he was concerned about criminal wrongdoing.
Was Morrison concerned that the president had committed a crime either on that call or anything else that he was seeing? Were there other White House officials that were worried about this? And so, really, this is someone who is going to be able to come in and help the House paint as complete and full a picture as possible, so when they move to that crucial impeachment vote, they have as much of the story as they could obtain.
BORGER: He is the one who was quoted as saying the call could have gone better, if you will recall, so we'll have to see what he meant by that.
But also we might learn who was actually the person who said, deep six it. Was it John Bolton, really, who made that decision? Was it Morrison himself who thought this was really bad? Why did they do it? Were more and more people looking at it? I mean, these are interesting things that we might learn sort of the quantity of people inside the Intelligence Community who might have been looking at this and going, oh, my God, this is a problem.
BLITZER: It opens up this full House, a major opportunity for the Democrats to really impact public opinion.
COATES: They do. Because of the hearing they -- remember, for the impeachment, they have to convince the Senate who acts as jurors. But for the impeachment hearings, it's a public opportunity to convince the public that the president of United States either has been involved in impeachable offenses and/or should be removed. They have to bring the American people along before they even get to the Senate.
It's an opportunity to kind of have two bites of the apple to do just that and to influence public opinion, not to try to persuade people to the wrong thing, but to say, here is what's out there. We have conspiracy theories. Now, here is literal, of course. This is now telling the information, not just done secretly in trying to cope something out of somebody, but here is what they're saying too under oath.
It's very, very powerful. The power of television, the power of hearing it, the power of being able to see the person and assess once own credibility. We are all really jurors in the impeachment inquiry process even before it reaches the Senate.
BLITZER: Jeffrey, even as the Democrats are pushing ahead with the impeachment inquiry, the attorney general of the United States, Bill Barr, he said today that they're making, quote, great progress in investigating the origins of the Russia probe. Barr says, the FBI is working closely with the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, John Durham, who has been charged with looking into allegations, spying and all that kind of stuff.
Is Barr using all of this potentially as a political boost for the president?
TOOBIN: Well, let's see what the ultimate conclusions are. But, certainly, it's important to point out, as John Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, who has looked into this as closely as anyone, has said there is nothing to see here. That the origins of the Russia investigation are well known, they are appropriate, there is no conspiracy here and this is just part of the fevered Fox News, Breitbart, Gateway Pundit world of ideas about how things started, which have no connection to reality.
I mean, remember, the Mueller investigation showed how the Russians have tried to affect this election. I mean, in the hacking, in the social media. The idea that somehow the CIA really started it is the stuff of nuttiness.
BLITZER: Hold on one second. I just want to get Phil's reaction to what we heard over the weekend from the former White House chief of staff, John Kelly. He warned the president before leaving his job of being surrounded by yes man. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KELLY, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I said, whatever you do, don't hire a yes man, someone that's going to tell you -- won't tell you the truth. Don't do that. Because if you do, I believe you'll be impeached.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Phil, go ahead.
MUDD: Man, that is worth about three hours of conversation that we'll cover in 30 seconds. A four-star general is serving the commander-in- chief, and he comes out and clearly takes a scalpel and dissects the commander-in-chief by saying, not only does the commander-in-chief have questionable judgment, you need somebody, Mr. President, to tell you you're not that bright, but also the president's judgment is so bad that he won't just make mistakes in places like North Korea will do something impeachable.
In like 20 seconds there, John Kelly just took the president apart in a way only a four star general can do. Awesome.
BLITZER: (INAUDIBLE) by a retired general. White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham responded by saying, quote, I worked with John Kelly and he was totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great president.
BORGER: Your leader. That's such a dear leader line.
BLITZER: Stand by, guys. We're going to have a lot more on all of these breaking news.
We're also going to go to California for a live update on the extremely dangerous wildfires that have forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate.
BLITZER: We're getting more breaking news this hour on the U.S. raid targeting ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Let's go to our Pentagon Correspondent, Barbara Starr. Barbara, what are you learning?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are learning that the SDF, those Syrian Kurdish forces that the U.S. partnered with had an informant deep inside Baghdadi's circle. That informant had a piece of Baghdadi's underwear and U.S. forces were able to use it to get a DNA sample to be ready to make a positive identification when Baghdadi died. All of this as we are learning additional details of the raid.
STARR: U.S. aircraft using bombs, missiles and rockets to destroy Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's compound.
After Special Forces used the cover of darkness, eight helicopters carrying as much as 100 U.S. Special Operations forces landed at a compound in northern Syria. They entered after blowing holes on the side of the building, believing the front door might be booby-trapped.
The president said the special ops teams were met by local gunfire on the ground that was quickly squashed. At least two ISIS fighters were captured.
According to the president, Baghdadi was chased into a tunnel by military dogs while bringing three children with him. The tunnel came to a dead end where he eventually detonated a suicide vest that killed him and the children.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's dead. He's dead as a door nail.
STARR: Baghdadi's remains were disposed of at sea by a U.S. military aircraft, according to two defense officials. But the world may see even more of what happened during the two hours U.S. commandos were on the ground.
GEN. MARK MILLEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: We do have video, photos. We're not prepared at this time to release those. They're going through declassification process.
STARR: Iraqi officials say, two months ago, they captured one of Baghdadi's closest collaborators. He has said to have provided information about one of the couriers that Baghdadi used. That courier was killed but documents led to his wife who then led them to more paperwork with Baghdadi's location.
Baghdadi who had been on the run for more than five years was eventually tracked down with the help of intelligence from the Kurds.
The withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria had a major impact on the operation, according to one U.S. official. U.S. troops now are moving back into Syria's oil fields to keep ISIS from coming back and selling oil to finance its operations.
But for the first time, a specific nod from the defense secretary that U.S. troops could find themselves defending against other military forces.
(on camera): Does that include denying access, preventing Russian or Syrian forces which now have changed the battle space?
MARK ESPER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: So the short answer is yes, it presently does.
STARR: Yes, it does. Consider what the defense secretary just said there. U.S. troops could find themselves going up against Russian or Syrian forces in the Kurdish oil field.
Now, late today, President Trump tweeted a photo. This is the dog that accompanied the Delta Force commandoes on the raid. The dog was injured with some electrocution injuries, we are told, but is recovering. But because the dog is a member of Delta Force, the identity of the dog, even the gender, is still classified -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very interesting indeed. See what you can find out and we'll report that.
Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you.
CNN is near the scene of a new wildfire disaster. We're going to tell you who is in danger as multiple infernos rage across California.
BLITZER: We're following California's rapidly spreading wildfire crisis. A new blaze erupting in Los Angeles today threatening thousands of homes, including celebrity mansions.
CNN's Stephanie Elam reports.
STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thick smoke and fierce flames cover canyons in southern California, as a new fire, the Getty Fire, burns furiously. Consuming more than 500 acres of hillside across the west side of Los Angeles, the fire forcing highway patrol to close parts of a major freeway, the 405.
More than 10,000 structures are under mandatory evacuation, including the campus of Mount St. Mary's University just north of the Getty Museum.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God.
ELAM: Students at that college running out of their dorm rooms in middle of the might.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look how close fire is. It's literally right there.
ELAM: Officials warning of extreme shifts in weather that can happen in seconds.
MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI, LOS ANGELES: Don't think that you know because of past experience how quickly a fire can move.
ELAM: In northern California, a similar scene playing out in Sonoma County, where crews are battling the Kincade Fire for a sixth day. More than 66,000 acres have already burned in Wine Country, nearly 200,000 people forced to flee their homes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's on fire. The road is on fire. I'm getting over.
ELAM: officials say the Kincade Fire doubled in size Sunday as winds gusted to hurricane force. Firefighters are taking advantage of a brief break in winds Monday but forecasters warn it's temporary.
RYAN WALBURN, NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE: We've got a quite 24 hour window right now and we'll go into another critical period Tuesday night into Wednesday.
ELAM: Those not forced to evacuate are dealing with power outages put in place for nearly one million people in the Bay Area by the local power company, all part of an effort to prevent the fire from spreading.
ELAM: And fire officials telling me that they have lost eight homes and there are five homes with major damage. I just want to show you one home here. This one we've been watching. It looks like most of it is standing but what we understand is from the back side it's completely burned occupy.
And we were here as firefighters were breaking through the windows and still fighting those flames, because as those winds pick up, Wolf, there is concern that any of those embers could blow into another home and that is why they are watching that so closely, Wolf.
BLITZER: Awful situation indeed.
All right. Stephanie Elam, thank you for that report.
Just ahead, a very surprising moment at the World Series that happened off the field.
BLITZER: An incredible moment for one Washington Nationals fan during game five of the World Series. Look at this as Astros left fielder Yordan Alvarez hits a ball in his direction, the fan Jeff Adam was faced with a very tough choice -- catch the home run ball or keep holding his beers in both hands. He chose both, stopping the ball with his chest while holding and managing not to spill his beer.
Unfortunately, the Nationals lost. Three tough games here in D.C. Game six tomorrow in Houston. Go Nats.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.