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White House Refuses to Participate in Impeachment Hearing; President Trump Heads to NATO Meeting; Interview With Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA). Aired 6-7p ET

Aired December 2, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news: reviewing the report. The House is moving closer to impeaching President Trump this hour, as a key committee begins reviewing its report on the investigation. We're learning about new witnesses, crucial moments in the days ahead.

Trump's GOP defense. Republicans aren't waiting for the Democrats' report to reject the allegations against the president. They have written a 123-page rebuttal declaring Mr. Trump not guilty.

No proof of call? There are new questions tonight about President Trump's supposed conversation with his E.U. ambassador insisting there was no quid pro quo in his dealings with Ukraine. But did it really happen?

And willing to cooperate. One of Rudy Giuliani's indicted associates is offering to help impeachment investigators, as we're learning about electronic evidence connected to the Ukraine scandal. Is the president's personal lawyer in greater legal peril tonight?

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.

Right now, House Intelligence Committee members are starting to review the panel's report on the Trump impeachment investigation. We're standing by to learn more about the findings and recommendations for moving forward.

This is a very, very busy high-stakes week as the process moves to the House Judiciary Committee. That panel just released a list of witnesses for its first impeachment hearing on Wednesday. The White House is refusing to participate in that hearing.

But Republicans already are rushing to the president's defense with a new report claiming Democrats have not proven Mr. Trump abused his power.

I will get reaction from Democratic Congressman John Garamendi. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our congressional correspondent, Lauren Fox.

Lauren, the House Intel Committee starting to review its impeachment report. First of all, what are you learning?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, this is the first opportunity, Wolf, that Republicans and Democrats will have to review that report, basically laying out the basis for potential articles of impeachment.

This report could stretch hundreds of pages' long, Wolf, and we will know tomorrow what exactly is inside of it, because, tomorrow, the House Intelligence Committee is expected to vote, likely along party lines, to release it to the House Judiciary Committee.

That comes just one day before the House Judiciary Committee will have its first public hearing with four constitutional law experts, where they will go over exactly what the basis for impeachment would be, Wolf.

And I also can tell you that, tomorrow, sources are telling me that the House Judiciary Democrats are going to hold a mock hearing basically to prepare for exactly how to run their hearing on Wednesday. This is an important factor, because, of course, Democrats feel like they are coming off the momentum after a couple of weeks of blockbuster hearings in the House Intelligence Committee.

They want to keep that going in the House Judiciary Committee. But, of course, the president's lawyer saying that they will not participate Wednesday. We will know by Friday whether or not the White House plans to participate in the rest of the Judiciary's proceedings -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lauren, Republicans, they have just released their own report. How are they defending the president?

FOX: Well, essentially, Wolf, they're saying the president has done absolutely nothing wrong.

A few highlights. They're arguing that that July 25 phone call between President Trump and Ukraine's President Zelensky was fine, that there was nothing inappropriate about the call. They're also saying that the president was right to be skeptical of Ukraine and corruption, arguing essentially that this is a country that has a history of corruption, and, therefore, it's in the president's full rights to not release that nearly $400 million in U.S. military aid unless he was fully sure that everything that they were doing would help combat corruption.

So those are just a few highlights, Wolf. They're also saying that the president was right to be concerned about Hunter Biden's involvement in that country. So those are just a few highlights, but, basically, Republicans coming out swinging before that public House Intelligence Committee from the Democrats is released tomorrow -- Wolf. BLITZER: Lots of swinging going on, there's no doubt about that.

Thanks very much, Lauren Fox, for that.

As Democrats are pushing forward with impeachment this hour, President Trump has arrived in London for a NATO leaders meeting.

Our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is on the scene for us.

Jim, the president overseas right now, but he remains focused on what's happening in the impeachment inquiry.

[18:05:00]

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

And right now, the White House is saying no way. The president and his lawyers will -- they will not be participating in the next impeachment hearings set for Wednesday.

And a White House official saying this evening that they are all but ruling it out altogether in the House, telling CNN the Democrats are nowhere near meeting their demands for White House involvement in these proceedings in the House.

The president is slamming the process, calling it a hoax once again, doing it just a few moments ago in a tweet posted as he was arriving here in London for these NATO meetings. The president will be spending the week meeting with NATO leaders here in London, but he's also latching on to comments made this week by the leader of Ukraine, saying that those comments really exonerate him in this impeachment process.

But that's not really the case.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): With the clouds of impeachment hanging over his every move, President Trump all but accused Democrats of sabotage, as he is set to sit down with NATO leaders in London.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Democrats, the radical left Democrats, the do-nothing Democrats, decided, when I'm going to NATO -- this was set up a year ago -- that, when I'm going to NATO, that was the exact time.

This is one of the most important journeys that we make as president. The whole thing is a hoax. Everybody knows it.

ACOSTA: Scrambling for a headline that will help him, the president is seizing on comments made by the leader of Ukraine about their infamous July 25 phone call.

TRUMP: If you notice, there was breaking news today. The Ukrainian president came out and said very strongly that President Trump did absolutely nothing wrong. That should be case over. But he just came out a little while ago. And he said President Trump did absolutely nothing wrong. And that should end everything.

ACOSTA: But that's not quite what the Ukrainian president said, as he complained to "TIME" magazine he believed Mr. Trump wasn't exactly treating him like a true ally when the U.S. held up military aid to his country, stating: "Look, I never talked to the president from the position of a quid pro quo. I don't want us to look like beggars. But you have to understand we're at war. If you're our strategic partner, then you can't go blocking anything for us. I think that's just about fairness."

The president will be in London for NATO meetings, so he won't be participating in the latest round of impeachment proceedings in the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. Neither will White House attorneys, who told committee Chairman Jerry Nadler in a letter: "Under the current circumstances, we do not intend to participate in your Wednesday hearing."

Democrats are accusing Republicans of hiding behind arguments about the process.

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA): I think the White House has put itself in a straitjacket of its own making by questioning the legitimacy of the constitutional process. And by questioning that legitimacy, it makes it very difficult for them to participate.

ACOSTA: Some of the president's top defenders are going further than that, fueling bogus conspiracy theories pushed by the Russians that Ukraine was meddling in the 2016 election.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): I think both Russia and Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election. I think it's been well-documented.

ACOSTA: Louisiana GOP Senator John Kennedy has twisted himself into a pretzel on the issue, resurrecting the Ukraine talking point after he seemed to back away from it last week.

KENNEDY: I was wrong. The only evidence I have -- and I think it's overwhelming -- is that it was Russia who tried to hack the DNC computer.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: That's what the consensus is.

KENNEDY: I have seen no -- yes, I have seen no indication that Ukraine tried to do it.

ACOSTA: That was enough to earn some presidential praise where it counts, on Twitter.

"Thank you to great Republican Senator John Kennedy," the president tweeted, "for the job he did in representing both the Republican Party and myself."

(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: And the White House has until the end of the week to decide whether or not administration lawyers will play any part in these House impeachment proceedings.

One White House official questioned whether the White House even needs to respond to the House hearing set for Wednesday, as it includes constitutional scholars, not witnesses, who could shed light on the president's dealings with Ukraine.

At this point, Wolf, the White House appears to be closing the door on any participation in this impeachment process in the House. White House official speculated earlier this evening, well, perhaps they might be enticed to respond and participate if, for example, the whistle-blower were to take part in these impeachment proceedings.

That is a nonstarter for Democrats, Wolf. So it sounds as though the White House is very much closing the door on any participation in this process -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly does.

All right, Jim Acosta in London for us, thank you.

Joining us now, Congressman John Garamendi, a Democrat who serves on the Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA): Sure.

BLITZER: As you heard, House Republicans, they have now released a 100-plus page document, their counter-report, in which they repeat the president's claims of no quid pro quo.

What's your response to their strong defense of the president?

GARAMENDI: Reminds me of the three monkeys, hear no evil, see no evil and, in this case, don't listen to the information that's been given.

There is absolute certainty from all of the witnesses, from all of the evidence that we been able to acquire that the president did engage in bribery. It's there. The Republicans don't want to have an impeachment.

[18:10:09]

And, therefore, they're throwing everything they can against the wall, hoping that something will stick. It won't. And we're going to go forward. There will be an impeachment vote soon.

And the evidence is overwhelming with regard to what the president did, trying to extort, to bribe the president of Ukraine to assist him in his election in a way that, in and of itself, would be illegal.

BLITZER: But the Republicans do have the right to submit their own minority report, their rebuttal to what the Democrats are about to release.

GARAMENDI: Of course they have the right to do it. They have had the right to participate in all of the hearings on equal time to the Democrats in the closed-door depositions, as well as in the hearings.

They have just refused to see the facts that were presented to them. They don't want to have it happen. And, therefore, they turn their back on the facts.

And the reality is, the American public listened to what was going on. They will hear more as the Judiciary Committee moves forward. The Americans are going to learn what impeachment is all about on Wednesday, a very, very important foundational meeting.

And when the president says he doesn't want to participate in it, that's because he has no defense. In his own words, he is convicted.

BLITZER: The ranking Republican, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Doug Collins, he's criticizing the committee chairman, Jerry Nadler, writing this: "This ad hoc, poorly executed impeachment inquiry will provide the Senate with ample justification for expeditiously disposing of it."

What do you say to that?

GARAMENDI: Well, that's exactly what Nunes was saying in the Intelligence Committee hearings. That's their mantra. They're going to keep on doing it.

The reality is, this has been most open process. Keep in mind, the depositions, as is normal in an investigation, are done privately, two weeks of hearings from not participants -- not partisans, but, rather, key government officials that were involved in the Ukraine situation, all of them testifying that there was something very, very wrong that the president was doing.

We can go down through that testimony, Taylor, Hill, on and on, all of them confirming the fact that the president engaged in an attempt to bribe the president of Ukraine in what is clearly within the Constitution. It's treason, bribery, other high crimes and misdemeanors.

We have a clear case of bribery, and, if you care, extortion.

BLITZER: The Republicans are asking the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Adam Schiff, to testify. He's the one who led the House Intelligence Committee investigation.

Should he?

GARAMENDI: No, he should not.

He's not a witness. All he did was to carry out his responsibilities as chairman of the committee gathering the information. And the Republicans did have an opportunity to bring their own witnesses to those two weeks of hearings. The fact of the matter is, they didn't, probably because the president

has continued to stonewall. Information that may have been exculpatory was not available because the president wouldn't release any documents and would not release any of the White House witnesses.

Why? Probably because they had nothing to provide any exculpatory information to the committee. The Republicans simply didn't bring a witness of their own to the hearing.

BLITZER: The independent counsel Ken Starr, who investigated Bill Clinton that led to his impeachment, he was willing to testify before Congress. So, the Republicans now say the guy who led the investigation into Donald Trump, Adam Schiff, he should testify as well.

What do you say to that argument?

GARAMENDI: Apples and oranges.

Ken Starr was a special counsel appointed to carry out the task. Keep in mind that the current Department of Justice refused to investigate. And, in fact, the attorney general, in his own, covered up information, refused to do what a normal attorney general would do, and that is to appoint a counsel.

And, by the way, we did have a special counsel. His name was Robert Mueller, two years of investigation, more than a half-a-dozen obstruction of justice charges in his testimony -- excuse me -- in his written report.

So, yes, we did have. You want a special counsel? Bring Mueller back. But Adam Schiff's job was not a special counsel job and, therefore, his testimony would add nothing.

You want to bring those additional witnesses that testified during the Intelligence Committee open hearings? Bring them back and let them testify. Add others.

[18:15:03]

And by the way, let's get the documents. And where is the tape? We had the Nixon tape. Where is the tape of the conversation that the president has his oh-so-perfect conversation with Zelensky? Why hasn't he released that if it's oh so perfect?

BLITZER: Well, is there a tape? Do you know for sure there is a tape?

GARAMENDI: Presumably, somewhere in the super secret server, which, by the way, is not in Ukraine. It happens to be in the White House.

BLITZER: Congressman John Garamendi, thanks so much for joining us.

GARAMENDI: Good to be with you. Thank you.

BLITZER: All right, just ahead, we could learn more about the House Intelligence Committee's impeachment report at any moment, as members are now reading the fine print.

Also, an indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani may provide new evidence to impeachment investigators as he offers his cooperation.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:20:43]

BLITZER: All right, there's more breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now, some eye-opening details emerging right now in the newly released documents from the Mueller grand jury.

Let's quickly go to CNN's Kara Scannell, who is reviewing these documents.

Kara, so, was Michael Cohen, the president's former personal attorney, pressured to actually lie to Congress?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf.

I'm losing you right here, but I can tell you that what we did learn from some of these documents is that Michael Cohen had told the investigators to the special counsel's office that he had had extensive conversations with Jay Sekulow around the time of his -- he was preparing his congressional testimony.

Now, I'm going to read a line from what Cohen had told the investigators. He said that he had told them that he recalled more conversations with the president, who was then the candidate, about the plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, and that he also recalled additional conversations with Russians about the plans to build Trump Tower in Moscow.

And he says that those were not included in his statement to Congress. Here's what Cohen told investigators.

He said that the president's attorney Jay Sekulow said it did not matter and Cohen should not contradict Trump, and that it was time to move on.

So those statements were not included in Cohen's congressional testimony. He then later pleaded guilty for lying to Congress by not including statements that he had had a conversation with Putin's press secretary's assistant and that he had also had conversations with the president during this process of the campaign, when the president was publicly saying that they were having no business deals in Russia and that they had no contact with the Russians -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What are you learning, Kara, about Michael Cohen's asking for a pardon?

SCANNELL: So, what we have also learned from these documents and the interview notes that Cohen gave when he was interviewed by the FBI, he said that after -- it was not long after his apartment hotel room was raided in April of 2018 that there were reports in the air about possible pardons. And so Cohen had said, according to this FBI interview, that he had

contacted Jay Sekulow, noting that he had been loyal and asking what was in it for him. That's all that the interview there says.

And we know, of course, that Michael Cohen later pleaded guilty to multiple charges, including campaign finance violations relating to hush money payments to women who had alleged affairs with the president, and Cohen is currently serving a three-year prison sentence -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He certainly is.

All right, Kara Scannell, thank you very much.

We're joined now by CNN senior legal analyst the former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara.

So, Preet, you just heard the breaking news. What's your reaction?

PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's interesting that there's other evidence that we didn't know about before.

At the end of the day, though, remember, the special counsel's office, Bob Mueller leading it, decided to spin off the case with respect to Michael Cohen to my former office, the Southern District of New York.

And they made a determination about what they should charge him with, including those false statements to Congress that Kara Scannell was referring to, and did not proceed any further, and on top of that made the determination, presumably based on the totality of the circumstances and all the evidence and the reliability or lack of reliability of Michael Cohen, that they wouldn't actually sign him up formally as a cooperating witness.

And he ended up going to prison, as you said, for three years. So it's interesting additional detail. Michael Cohen is a little bit of a problematic witness. The Southern District chose, it seems, not to make more of that information that was just revealed that it already has.

So until we have other sides of the story and even more information, it's hard to know what to make of it.

BLITZER: Well, what does your gut tell you and your experience, your background? Is this potentially more troubles down the road for the president?

BHARARA: I guess potentially.

But, again, I want to caution everybody to remember that the special counsel's office has closed its doors. The Southern District allowed Michael Cohen to proceed to sentencing.

I think there has been reporting that he has been attempting to continue to cooperate after being sentenced while he's in prison, which, in rare circumstances, can suffice to get you a reduced prison sentence even after you have gone to serve your time, if you have good actionable information against other people.

And it sounds like this information that Kara is revealing to us that has been made public was known to prosecutors at the time, and they didn't do more about it. So is it something that people can talk about and argue about? And will Jay Sekulow, who appears on television on a regular basis, have to answer questions about it? Probably.

[18:25:03]

I don't know if it creates any additional legal jeopardy for anyone, though.

BLITZER: Also emerging right now, the Justice Department has just released the Mueller team's notes from interviews with several witnesses, including from former Trump by 2016 campaign aide Rick Gates, former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, former Trump adviser Hope Hicks, former campaign aide Corey Lewandowski.

What do you think we can learn from these documents?

BHARARA: I haven't read them yet.

But, presumably, you will get a narrative of who knew what and when, and what kinds of information was transmitted and how many people were enabling the president. Again, it seems like a lot of this has been put to bed with respect to legal consequences.

It has not all been put to bed with respect to political consequences and any action or accountability that Congress wants to take measure of with respect to some of these people. And there have been some folks who have said -- who've been saying things in public.

I'd be curious to see how many of those things are contradicted by what is said behind closed doors when they know that there's a potential criminal penalty for lying.

We have seen this before. Corey Lewandowski has said things that are different when he gave information and gave testimony to Mueller's team than he said otherwise. And he said on television with a straight face, I think, when he was testifying before Congress that he doesn't know any obligation to tell the, I guess, biased media, in his view, the truth, even though that's the way that you get information to the public.

So he basically said, I have no obligation to tell the public the truth. And then, when he was in closed doors talking to federal agents, he said a different story that was closer to the truth.

So I'd like to see, among other things, if some of these people who are close to the president told one story publicly and told a different story behind closed doors.

BLITZER: Very quickly, I want to just get your thoughts. Wednesday morning, the House Judiciary Committee begins its formal impeachment hearings. Four witnesses have now been identified who will be appearing, well-known legal scholars, Noah Feldman, Harvard Law School, Pamela Karlan, Stanford Law School, Michael Gerhardt, University of North Carolina School of Law, Jonathan Turley from the George Washington University Law School.

What do you anticipate we will learn?

BHARARA: So I think this is going to be less of what we saw, very unlike what we saw in -- with the 12 witnesses who testified before the House Intelligence Committee. Those were fact witnesses. Some of them had firsthand knowledge. Some of them did not.

But they were very compelling witnesses who told a story about what the president did with respect to a shakedown of the Ukrainian president. And it was riveting stuff. And it was something that I think most laypeople could understand, even though there was some knotty stuff with respect to facts.

This is going to be a legal discussion, laying the groundwork for what the articles of impeachment should look like. Does an article impeachment have to state a crime or not? Is bribery something that should be looked at or not? But it's not going to go into the facts. It'll be academic.

BLITZER: Preet Bharara, as usual, thank you very much.

BHARARA: Sure. Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, the breaking news continues next. We're getting new information about a key element of President Trump's impeachment defense, a phone call that may never have actually taken place.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:30:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: We have another breaking story emerging right now, and it's casting some doubt on a key element of President Trump's impeachment defense. Let's bring in our team of experts, including our Political Correspondent, Sara Murray

Sara, the president has touted what he described as a September 9th phone conversation he had with E.U. ambassador, Gordon Sondland, as evidence he did not seek any quid pro quo from the Ukrainians. What are you learning?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He's really held this out as something that essentially exonerates him for ever asking for a quid pro quo, but there are some problems with this. I mean, one, when Gordon Sondland finally did testify in front of the cameras, he said it was absolutely a quid pro quo. Two, the White House was not able to corroborate that this call actually took place. They were not able to provide any documentation for that, which Gordon Sondland said. And, three, there were no other witnesses who are able to corroborate this call that Gordon Sondland said apparently took place on September 9th, which cast a lot of doubt that the call actually took place on that day. And remember, Sondland himself said his memory is not great and he doesn't keep great notes, Wolf.

BLITZER: The officials, they did testify during the course of these hearings about another phone conversation that the president had with the Ukrainian president about all of this, right?

MURRAY: That's right. They remembered that there was a conversation between President Trump and Gordon Sondland about President Zelensky, and this happened on September 7th.

Now, this is a problem for the president because, already, this piece of exonerating information wasn't as exonerating as the President Trump would like to believe. But, secondly, the witnesses who remember this September 7th call and remember it in real-time were alarmed by it. Tim Morrison said he had a sinking feeling. He went and talked to attorneys about it. Bill Taylor said he was also concerned about this and talked to others about it.

So the witnesses who heard it contemporaneously said that this call definitely had to deal with a quid pro quo, it had to deal with investigations even though President Trump said there was no quid pro quo. He said that Zelensky needed to go out there. He needed to make a public statement about these investigations. And people who remember the call in real-time, it didn't feel good about it.

BLITZER: What do you make of this, Susan?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: No, I think that's right. There are, one, questions about whether or not to place in part because calls into the White House are actually logged. The other question is whether or not Gordon Sondland is actually just confused about this call.

Now, if there was really only one call, I agree the additional no quid pro quo call is not exactly exonerating the president.

[18:35:04]

If there was, in fact, one call, that makes it quite clear that what happened was to the extent the president did say the words, no quid pro quo, he then went on to describe and request a precise quid pro quo. So that really does undercut sort of any semblance of a defense here, whatsoever.

BLITZER: Yes, go ahead, Jeffrey.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: What's wrong with these people? Why don't they take notes when they talk to the president of the United States? I mean, is that like a lot to ask? I mean, Gordon Sondland, this hotel guy, is like wandering around the country -- around the world and having conversations and he can't remember and he doesn't remember what the president said, maybe he's mixing up phone calls. I mean, who are these people?

BLITZER: Well, he, himself, testified. If you remember, he said, I'm not a note taker. I don't take a lot of notes. He actually said that before the committee.

TOOBIN: Well, maybe he should have. I mean, like it's just the incompetence and the ridiculousness of appointing this clown in the first place is just so extraordinary. And now, well, I'm sorry, I don't take notes when the president is telling me what to do. I mean, like what is that?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And one of the problems, Wolf, as Sara and Susan suggested, is that this supposed September 9th call was supposedly, at one point in the narrative, a response to Ambassador Taylor raising in a series of text the idea of it's kind of crazy to hold out military aid in exchange for getting this meeting. And if Sondland didn't even have this call, which he then is later supposed to have come back and said, oh, the president said no quid pro quo, it already further weakens the case that there was this clear message from the White House that there was no quid pro quo.

BLITZER: Let me get Jeffrey to react to the Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana. He's been going sort of a little bit back and forth whether there was Ukrainian involvement, interference in the 2016 election, said there was, along with Russia, and then he said, well, Ukrainians didn't, now he's saying they did.

Listen to what he just said a little while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Do you think that the Ukrainians interfered in the 2016 election?

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): I do. I do.

The suggestion has been made that Ukraine's hands were clean and Ukraine's aren't.

It is clear to me that Ukraine did meddle in the U.S. election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. So he's not only doubling down, he's tripling down on that accusation.

TOOBIN: When the history of this period is written, one of the interesting things is going to be all the otherwise distinguished Republicans who have demeaned themselves, who have embarrassed themselves, who are telling Donald Trump's lies for the benefit of Vladimir Putin. I mean, that's the only person who benefits from this other than Trump himself is this fantasy that Ukraine was somehow culpable in the 2016 election.

I mean, just the -- and the argument is based on a Financial Times article which Kennedy has cited in the past, which doesn't even say what he says it does. I mean, it's just so embarrassing and pathetic.

BLITZER: And Putin himself is the one who said shortly after the election that it was probably Ukraine that did it, Russia had nothing to do with it.

HENNESSEY: Yes. So this is one of the astonishing things. We know that there actually is intelligence reporting available for senators who are allowed to see classified materials to access and look at, and yet Senator Kennedy is going out spreading out essentially Russian propaganda and apparently has not even taken the time to review the underlying intelligence that actually Russia is behind this.

BLITZER: And the U.S. Senate, senators were briefed recently by the Intelligence Community, including the leaders who were appointed by President Trump saying this is what the Russians are trying to do, to reverse the accusations against Russia and to blame Ukraine.

SWERDLICK: Right. Senators were briefed yesterday. Senator Kennedy said he wasn't part of the briefing. But either way, Wolf, U.S. senators, members of Congress have access to more information than almost anybody, especially if you're on the relevant committees. The idea that they just have to go online and read these fringe websites to get this conspiracy information is preposterous.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody stick around. There's more breaking news we're following.

One of Rudy Giuliani's allies in the Ukraine pressure campaign is now offering to cooperate with impeachment investigators. What might that reveal?

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:00]

BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories, including new details on the criminal case against associates of the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

Our Senior Justice Correspondent, Evan Perez, is here in The Situation Room.

Evan, one of Rudy Giuliani's associates is apparently now willing to cooperate with Congress in the impeachment probe?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. That's Lev Parnas. And his lawyer has been out there talking about the cooperation that he wants to provide to the House, and especially because they have been asking questions that could be relevant to Ukraine, Wolf.

But he said that one of the things that he's waiting for is for the government to turn over some of the -- discovered some of the documents. There're thousands of pages of documents from subpoenas of phones, banks, internet providers and other things.

[18:45:03]

They have 29 electronic devices that were taken during one of the searches here.

[18:45:04]

The prosecutor said today that they're still contemplating additional passengers not only against Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, the two Rudy Giuliani associates, but against some of the others who are charged as part of this partisan (ph) indictment.

What emerged from the court hearing today is that certainly for Rudy Giuliani, this means that there is going to be a long wait before he learns what the prosecutors are going to do about him. We know that he is certainly in their sights and they're looking into some of his associations with these men but it looks like this is still very early in this investigation, Wolf.

So, Rudy will have to be waiting for some time it appears.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And you're going through some newly released Mueller documents that have just been coming out, including some new information about the firing of then FBI Director James Comey?

PEREZ: That's right.

So, Rod Rosenstein was one of the people interviewed early in 2017 at the beginning of this investigation. One of the things he talks about learning James Comey had been fired essentially by e-mail and was not given the courtesy of a phone call from the president or even his bosses at the Justice Department. He said, quote: I was angry, ashamed, horrified, and embarrassed.

Now, it turns out, we learned in this -- in this -- in this 302, it's called the 302 interview with the FBI, we learned that Rosenstein and Jeff Sessions had actually contemplated getting a new FBI director the beginning of the Trump administration, Wolf. They even -- Rosenstein said he even reached out to a few candidates, but they shove it once they learned that the president was speaking very positively about keeping James Comey.

Of course, that all went south by May of 2017 and Comey was fired on May 9th.

BLITZER: Very, very south.

PEREZ: Very quickly.

BLITZER: All right. Evan, thanks for that reporting.

PEREZ: Thanks.

BLITZER: Evan Perez with us.

There's other information just coming in. The former President Jimmy Carter has now returned to the hospital. We have details.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:51:36]

BLITZER: Tonight, another health scare for America's oldest living former president. Jimmy Carter is back in the hospital in Georgia, less than a week after he was released following surgery to relieve pressure on his brain. Jimmy Carter is being treated for a urinary tract infection.

We're told the 95-year-old former president is recovering and hopes to return home to Plains, Georgia, soon. We hope he does with speedy recovery.

Meanwhile, other important news we're following. Anti-government protests in Iran are growing deadlier by the day. Amnesty International now says at least 208 people have been killed during the demonstrations and the Islamic regime security crackdown. The group warns the number may be actually much higher.

Our senior international correspondent Sam Kiley is in the Middle East following the unrest in Iran right now.

Sam, the crackdown on protesters, we understand, has been brutal and deadly.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Brutal and more deadly probably or possibly given the figures coming from Amnesty and other human rights groups that say, Wolf, figures could be much higher. Could be the worst violence internally since the revolution of 1979, and some of the revolu -- some of the revolutionary reactivity that led to deposing of the shah.

Now, over the last couple of weeks when it really kicked off, it was sparked officially by a fuel price hike. But there had been a number of demonstrations building up periodically, really over the last two years. As ordinary Iranians have begun to feel very, very angry at their own government, at their own administration for what they say is mismanagement and their own poverty.

Of course, this has been re-enforced by sanctions imposed by the Trump administration that has effectively or almost effectively isolated Iran from the international trading community, particularly its ability to export oil. And it's for that reason the government has felt obliged to meet its fiscal responsibilities to do this heavy price hike, but as a consequence of that, we're also seeing a danger that President Rouhani, who is a reformer, is now being met with, quote, demands from the street to be deposed. That could, of course, as you know, Wolf, re-enforce hard liners there and endanger the region more widely.

BLITZER: Very dramatic developments unfolding in Iran right now.

Sam Kiley, thanks very much.

We'll continue to follow, of course, this story. We're going to have much more news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:58:46]

BLITZER: Tonight, President Trump is playing up his role as a leader of NATO, as he's now in London to mark the 70th anniversary of the alliance. But as NATO members know all too well, the president is a critic of the mutual defense agreement.

He made his feelings very clear to me in multiple interviews before he took office.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Do you think the United States needs to rethink U.S. involvement in NATO?

DONALD TRUMP (R), THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, because it's costing us too much money.

I was asked on CNN by Wolf Blitzer and I said here's the story, number one, NATO is obsolete.

NATO has not treated us fairly.

NATO has been ripping us.

I said folks, you have to pay up. You're delinquent.

NATO, we're going to have people that aren't paying, they're going to start paying.

It's obsolete and we pay too much money.

NATO is ripping us off.

NATO is obsolete.

NATO has to either be rejiggered, rechained, you know, changed.

It's obsolete, and the United States is paying too much.

TRUMP: You always have to be prepared to walk. But we'll never have to walk. They have to pay up, folks.

BLITZER: What do you say to allies who all watching and they're not happy with what you're saying? What do you say to those allies?

TRUMP: Can't make them happy, Wolf. What? They're not happy. What? We're spending a fortune.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, will the president strike a more conciliatory tone as he faces tensions within NATO and impeachment here at home? World leaders will be listening closely and so will we.

Thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.