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New York Times Reports, Mark Meadows Testified in Trump Grand Jury Probe; U.S. Official Says, Intel Assessing Blame For Ukraine Dam Collapse, Leaning Toward Russia As Culprit; Chris Christie Looks To Take Aim At Trump As He Enters Race For Republican Nomination. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 06, 2023 - 18:00   ET



ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: So to me, it's one more indicator that we're really getting into the end game of both of these investigations.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The endgame. Elie Honig and Tom Dupree, thanks so much.

Our breaking news coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer in a place right next door I like to call it the Situation Room. I'll see you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, the breaking news we're following, a new report that former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has given grand jury testimony in the special counsel's investigation of Donald Trump. Stand by. We have new details.

And we're standing by also for the next big announcement in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. The former New Jersey governor and Trump critic Chris Christie is kicking off his campaign this hour. We'll have live coverage.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in The Situation Room.

Let's get right to the breaking news on the special counsel's investigation of former President Donald Trump. Our Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid is joining us right now. Paula, tell us about this New York Times report and why potentially it is so significant.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: An incredibly significant development in the special counsel investigation. The New York Times reporting that Trump's former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has testified before the grand jury that Special Counsel Jack Smith has been using in both of his investigations both into January 6 and also into the possible his handling of classified documents down at Mar-a-Lago.

Now, according to The Times' reporting, it's unclear if he has testified in just one of those investigations or in bulk, but he is arguably the most significant witness that the special counsel could speak to, certainly in the January 6 investigation. But it could potentially also have valuable information in the classified document probe as well.

Now, in recent months, folks around former President Trump have expressed some concern, some puzzlement about exactly what was going on with Mark Meadows, because they told us that they didn't have any communication with his legal team. They were unclear what exactly was going on with him. They've even said on our air that there was no communication between Trump's legal team and Meadows' legal team, which raised a lot of questions about whether he was indeed cooperating with investigators.

Now, in terms of what he could offer in January 6, the House investigation into January 6 basically concluded that all roads led to the former White House chief of staff. All the communication to the former president that day, including from his own family, went through Mark Meadows. He would have an incredible number of questions to answer before investigators.

Now, also, though, on the Mar-a-Lago probe, we learned from our exclusive reporting in recent weeks that investigators have an audio recording, a really key piece of evidence where Trump refers to being in possession of a classified document. And that recording was made by Meadows' autobiographers, who were recording in the room.

Now, in a statement Meadows' lawyers provided to The Times, they said, quote, without commenting on whether or not Mr. Meadows has testified before the grand jury or in any proceeding, Mr. Meadows has maintained a commitment to tell the truth where he has a legal obligation to do so. Wolf?

BLITZER: And I want to just point out that one well-placed source has now confirmed to CNN this report about Mark Meadows testifying before this grand jury. What does this tell us, Paula, about where the investigation is right now?

REID: Well, as we've been reporting over the past several weeks, it appears that this investigation is in its final phase, based on the types of witnesses, the request that they have, the fact that they're bringing people back. But the thing that we've said repeatedly on air, including on your show, Wolf, is we just don't know about Mark Meadows, right? That is such a significant witness. Once they talk to him, then we can say for certain that this is definitely in the final phase and likely wrapping up.

But, of course, we know that the investigation continues. Investigators are expected to speak to at least one more witness in Florida later this week. But the fact that they have talked to him, that this has finally been confirmed, this is something we've been waiting for to really understand whether they are indeed wrapping up this investigation. It appears, again, this is one of the most significant witnesses they would speak to. This is someone that it appears that they've likely spoken to in this final stage that we're entering now, and they contemplate whether they will indeed bring any charges. BLITZER: Yes. Let's not forget this is a criminal investigation of Donald Trump that we're watching right now. Paula, stay with us. I want to dig deeper with our legal and political experts who are standing by. Elliot Williams, let me start with you. How critical is this Mark Meadows testimony before this grand jury?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's very critical, Wolf, and for a big reason. Let's look at the role that Mark Meadows would have played in the Trump White House. As chief of staff, he would have had access or insight into political questions in the White House, but also substantive ones. And so look at the two different inquiries that are happening here.

To the extent that he could provide insight as to January 6, he could talk about what the president said, what the president knew.


Did the president ever convey that he knew he lost the election? What was in the president's mind? What was his state of mind around the statements he made on January 6th and other activity there? So, there's plenty to be gleaned from him there.

With respect to documents, it's an entirely separate investigation. But he could also provide insight into what did the president know was being packed up in boxes on the final days of the administration and being sent down to Mar-a-Lago? What did the president say about his right to declassify documents or that he knew was in his possession? There's plenty that can be asked of Mark Meadows, again, as both a substantive and political aide. He was clearly a critical witness.

BLITZER: He certainly was. And, Carrie Cordero, he was key -- he was well known in the White House, obviously the White House chief of staff, but he was key to various aspects of both of these investigations, presumably. That's why they want to question him, the January 6th insurrection, as well as the classified documents that were lying around Mar-a-Lago.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That's right. And as Elliot and Paula explained, because he had so much access, because he was in the position that he was, he just had firsthand knowledge. I think the fact that he has testified now before the grand jury and one of the big questions I have, Wolf, is did he actually testify from a substantive perspective, in other words, answer questions substantively, meaningfully, for what amount of time, how many hours was he in there, or were there a circumstance where he would have been in a position to invoke his own Fifth Amendment right?

I mean, I think one of the big questions is whether or not Mark Meadows faces any criminal liability in these broader investigations himself. I don't know the answer to that question, but it would certainly affect the length of time that has gone before he testified, whether or not he entered into any kind of deal with the government, whether or not he had a motivation to testify extensively in his own interests and therefore how truthful and how forthcoming he would be in his answers with respect to whether or not they could implicate him in anything as well. So, there's his own personal interest, and then there's also the relevance to the broader investigation.

BLITZER: Let me go back to Paula. Meadows was also linked, as we know, to that important piece of evidence that you and the CNN team reported on, specifically, the audio recording of Trump discussing those classified documents at Mar-a-Lago.

REID: Such a critical piece of evidence for investigators. We learned that on this recording, not only does the former president suggest that he is in possession of a classified document but he also appears to acknowledge the limits on his ability to declassify documents once he left the White House.

Now, those comments are significant because they really undermine a lot of the public defenses that Trump has put forward. But in reporting that story, one of our big questions was, okay, who was a recording in this room and why?

And through our reporting, we learned that during that time, the former president was in the habit of having journalists, writers, and anyone working on books record what he said, in addition to his aides as well. We learned that in the room during this critical conversation were two people who were working on an autobiography for Mark Meadows.

So, again, he is tied into this specific case now, very clearly, other questions about what other types of recordings they could have related to Mark Meadows' book. Also, oddly, in Mark Meadows' autobiography, he suggests that he was in this meeting, though our reporting suggests, in fact, that he was not. So, I think investigators would have quite a bit to ask Mark Meadows about in the Mar-a-Lago documents investigation.

BLITZER: And, David Chalian, how big of a blow potentially is this to former President Trump?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, that all depends on what Mark Meadows told the grand jury, but it could. I think back to sort of Mark Meadows trajectory in this whole notion of investigations into Donald Trump.

Remember when Mark Meadows was initially very cooperative with the House select committee looking into January 6th, and then he totally pulled back from that after he had shared a bunch of very helpful material to the committee? We know his closest aide in the White House, Cassidy Hutchinson, who gave the very powerful testimony to the January 6 committee that completely helped them make their final arguments here of what they were saying Trump did or did not do in the lead up to January 6 and on that day.

So, Mark Meadows has been this central player all throughout, at times actually helping investigators, at times pulling back from that and not helping investigators. I thought the statement that Paula read from the Meadows team about when he's obligated to do so, by law, he will have this commitment to the truth. Well, that suggests to me that perhaps he may have some very valuable information that he provided in this testimony, Wolf, but we simply don't know.


We will find out, I guess, fair really soon. Dana Bash does all this new breaking news we're reporting hit home for people in the former president's orbit?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I mean, there was nobody closer inside the orbit than Mark Meadows at the time, of course, for all the timelines that we're talking about, particularly January 6 and up till when the President left and took some of those documents.

One of the questions, and I think David is exactly right, that statement, I think it's very telling. Yes, he started to negotiate or started to cooperate, potentially, with the January 6 committee pulled back. That wasn't something he was obligated to do.

When you are called before the grand jury and the Department of Justice, it is, from his perspective, very different. Maybe just like Mike Pence. I mean, Mike Pence did fight going to the grand jury. They lost in court and then he ended up going. But it seems as though Mark Meadows might be following that playbook to sort of go and say what you want, but we don't really know what the subject in.

I will tell you that there has been concern, and I'm sure Paula is hearing this as well, from some in the Trump orbit, that Mark Meadows is maybe making a deal or giving something in order to getting something in order to give something. Again, we don't know. But that is why one of the many reasons why this testimony is so significant, because of the question marks and because of the jitters that it leaves in Trump world.

BLITZER: Good point. We're going to, of course, continue to monitor this breaking news standby for that. Also coming up, we'll go live to Ukraine where a massive dam failure is unleashing a flood disaster. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy blaming Russia for the breach.

Plus, we're also standing by for former Governor Chris Christie to formally announce his run for the White House. We'll have live coverage. Stay with us. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, the former White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, testifying before a federal grand jury in the special counsel's investigation, the criminal investigation of former President Donald Trump.

Joining us now, Congressman Jason Crow, he's a Democrat who serves on both the Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committees. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

Let me get your quick reaction to the news that Mark Meadows has now testified in the special counsel's criminal investigation of Trump. REP. JASON CROW (D-CO): Well, Wolf, this is the way the justice system works. There's a process here. This process is being followed. The special counsel is calling witnesses that were close to the president that had information about what happened on January 6 and the events surrounding it. And we just have to let that process play out.

BLITZER: Do you expect the former president potentially could soon be facing criminal charges.

CROW: Well, we're just going to have to wait and see. What I've always said is that when the justice system in America works best, justice is blind. It should be blind. And it shouldn't matter whether you're the former president of the United States or any other person in America. Nobody is above or below the law.

That is what we are about here in the United States of America. And we have to let that process play out. And we have to make sure that we are supporting rule of law and justice. And that means not politicizing the process. That means not jumping to conclusions. Donald Trump is entitled to his day in court. And the special investigator, the special counsel is going through the process of gathering evidence.

BLITZER: Congressman, I want you to stand by. I want to turn to what's going on in Ukraine right now, serious developments. The Kyiv government is now doubling down on accusing Russia of destroying a vital dam and unleashing a flooding disaster. This as we're told the U.S. is making its own assessment of who's to blame and leaning toward the conclusion that Moscow was in fact behind the collapse.

CNN Sam Kiley has a full report from Ukraine.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A new phase in Russia's war on Ukraine, a dam under Moscow's control burst. Soon, vast areas downstream were flooded, including parts of Kherson City. Ukraine and its allies blamed Russia for the breach, but that may have backfired.

He escaped. But according to a Ukrainian officer who commands a team in the area, many Russian troops who hold the east bank of the Dnipro did not.

ANDRII PIDLISNYI, CAPTAIN OF ARMED FORCES OF UKRAINE: Their positions were fully destroyed. They are full with water. They have a lot of wounded people and died people. For now we see them all because they're just running and they try to evacuate themselves. They left not only positions. They left all their weapons, equipments, munitions and vehicles, including armored vehicles, too.

KILEY: But if this is to Ukraine's advantage, can you be sure that Ukraine didn't destroy the dam?

PIDLISNYI: No, Ukraine didn't destroy the dam because, first, we haven't control of it. That's a problem for us too. And the main problem is about civilians, because a lot of them need evacuation now.

KILEY: All Ukrainian drone footage of the area has been held back by the government amid a campaign of secrecy surrounding its planned counteroffensive. Satellite imagery shows that the dam suffered structural failure at the end of May as the lake waters above it broke through. It has been under Russian control since March last year.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: It was mined. It was mined by the Russian occupiers and they blew it up.

KILEY: Russia says Ukraine did it to offset battlefield losses in the east. But, again, Ukraine's civilians suffer 80 settlements and tens of thousands of people face flooding.


Clean water and power systems have been destroyed in Kherson again.

SERGIY, KHERSON RESIDENT: Everything is going to die here, living creatures, all the birds, everything will die, and people will be drowned.

KILEY: Ukraine evacuated civilians in trains as the waters rose, and they now face an ecological and humanitarian disaster, but one that may offer a military advantage.


KILEY (on camera): Now, Wolf, the Ukrainian military said that they anticipated a disaster of this nature and that it wouldn't affect their plans for the counteroffensive. And, similarly, the civilian administrations in towns that would normally get their water from this reservoir have also made plans to do without it, and in many cases, are managing to cope remarkably well, Wolf.

BLITZER: Sam Kiley, thank you very much. Stay safe over there.

I want to bring back right now Democratic Congressman Jason Crow. He's a key member of both the Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committee.

So, Congressman, do the signs based on everything, you know, indicate that Russia did, in fact, attack this dam?

CROW: Well, this is an awful tragedy, Wolf, and the people of Ukraine continue to suffer really unimaginable suffering. And, yes, looking at this, I haven't been briefed on any of this, but this certainly fits the pattern of practice of Russian brutality, right? They have raped women and children. They have engaged in mass executions. They have kidnapped thousands of Ukrainian children and sent them to the camps in Russia. And they have targeted, over and over again, civil and infrastructure. So, this is right out of Vladimir Putin's playbook.

And there's no reason why the Ukrainians would do this. Of course, they're not inflicting suffering on their own people. They're fighting for their own freedom and for their own people. So, it wouldn't certainly wouldn't make any sense for them to be involved in any way in this. So, what we don't know is whether this was a purposeful targeting or whether it was Russians actually just not keeping in good repair critical infrastructure that was under their control.

BLITZER: If Russia was, in fact, behind this, Congressman, how should the United States respond?

CROW: Well, one thing that I've done, Wolf, is I'm actually leading an effort in the House to push the administration, the Biden administration, to release critical intelligence information to the International Criminal Court for the prosecution of Russian war crimes. In December, I supported an effort to authorize the administration to share intelligence with the ICC for those prosecutions. They have not yet done that.

So, I just, today, actually released a bipartisan letter that I led with over 20 of my colleagues, Republicans and Democrats, that encourage the administration to use that authority because perpetrators of these crimes must be held accountable, starting with Vladimir Putin. He's already been indicted by the ICC, actually, for targeting a civilian infrastructure.

But every other rank and file member of the Russian military that is engaged in these crimes moving forward requires accountability for those who have committed crimes throughout all of history. You can't move forward and you can't remedy these things without accountability.

BLITZER: Congressman Crow, thank you so much for joining us.

CROW: Thank you.

BLITZER: The former governor, Chris Christie, is about to officially jump into the Republican presidential race. We're going to bring you his announcement live. That's coming up right here in The Situation Room.

And we'll also have more on the breaking news we're following, Mark Meadows, the former Trump White House chief of staff, testifying before the federal grand jury investigating Donald Trump. We'll have more on that coming up.



BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. A source now telling CNN the former Trump White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, has testified before a federal grand jury in the special counsel's criminal investigation of the former president. All of this as the field for the Republican presidential nomination is set to grow again when former Governor Chris Christie jumps into the race just moments from now.

CNN's Omar Jimenez is joining us live from the site of the announcement in Manchester, New Hampshire. Omar, you have some new reporting, I'm told, on what we're going to hear from Governor Christie just moments from now. What are you learning? OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. Well, for starters, former Governor Christie has officially filed to run for president. We're expecting that formal announcement here to happen in a town hall format at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire. He's going to take questions from the audience.

And as for what he is going to say, we are learning that he is expected to talk about laying the foundation of his campaign. He believes that the country is at a crossroads over who it wants to be moving forward. Also, he's expected to be authentic and in the sense of willing to admit past mistakes. Likely he's going to talk about past associations he's had with former President Donald Trump, who he has not been shy about being critical of.

And along those lines, when we get to the campaign, he is expected to take the tone of being a happy warrior who is not afraid to shy away from Donald Trump's attacks, and along those lines as well, making the case why choosing Donald Trump means choosing an America the country will no longer recognize.

Now, obviously, the context here that Christie is jumping into what has been a growing GOP field here and polls have shown that he has a lot of work to do. And when you look back at 2016, he held a lot of town halls in New Hampshire and still ended up finishing 6th in the primary voting here.

So, they are trying to build on, of course, what happened in that 2016 campaign, make sure that things are different this time around, kicking things off with what has become a signature type of town hall here in New Hampshire.


And then when we get to the actual speaking portion of things, he will make remarks and then take questions from the audience as well, as he lays out again these very first steps for his campaign, and more importantly, sets the tone for what this campaign will be and if it's able to stand out from what has become an ever growing pack in the GOP field, Wolf.

BLITZER: Anxious to hear what he has to say. Omar Jimenez on the scene for us in Manchester, New Hampshire, thank you very much.

I want to bring in our political experts right now. And, Dana Bash, let me start with you once again. Christie is angling to be Trump's sharpest critic in this campaign. Does this breaking news on Mark Meadows testimony give Christie even some more fodder?

BASH: It could, certainly, because it sort of feeds into the arguments that he's going to make, not just for his candidacy, but against Donald Trump, which, of course, are one and the same.

I just have to say, looking at that picture, I was inside the gym at Livingston High School back in 2015, the 2016 campaign cycle, when Chris Christie first announced that he wanted to be president of the United States, Livingston, New Jersey, of course, and just how different this kind of event is. Where is it? It's in New Hampshire. He certainly staked everything on New Hampshire in 2016, but this time, he's even starting there.

And the approach when it comes to his campaign is also very, very different. He is coming at it having been in private life for several years, even though he's been a television commentator. Last time he was governor of New Jersey, coming off of a big scandal. So, there are a lot of differences. Of course, the biggest is his main reason for getting in, which is to try to, from his perspective, save the party and maybe even the country from somebody he knows personally that now he believes is quite dangerous.

BLITZER: Yes. He's become a very, very sharp critic of Trump over these past year or two.

Scott Jennings Christie's background as a former federal prosecutor seems to put him in a unique position to hit Trump on these legal issues that Trump is currently facing. Doesn't that -- isn't that true?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely. I mean, he's going to know more about this and be able to explain it to the average voter, probably better than anybody else in the field.

The trouble for Chris Christie is, are any Republicans going to be listening? He gets into this race with the highest unfavorability rating of any of the Republican candidates. He's polling at 1 or 0 percent, depending on what poll you look at. And so when you're launching a campaign, you could have all the expertise and credibility on a topic in the world, but if there's no audience for what you're saying or there's no credibility, political credibility among the electorate among which you're vying, it really does limit your reach.

He would be most effective in this campaign if he were able to qualify to get onto the debate stage with Donald Trump and use those federal prosecutorial skills that he's famous for to try to make the case. But I'm not sure what his path is to even qualifying for the debate. So, that's something I'm sure his campaign is going to have to focus pretty hard on. Otherwise, I'm wondering what's the purpose of this campaign if you can't get into the venue in which you'd be the most effective.

BLITZER: And, David Chalian, you're our political director. What's your analysis?

CHALIAN: Well, we had a poll that showed Republican and Republican- leaning independents as recently as a few weeks ago, 60 percent of them don't even want to consider Chris Christie as an option. Don't -- that's a hard place to start a campaign for the Republican nomination. I'm not saying impossible.

And it seems that Chris Christie understands that. Because if the mission first is to damage Donald Trump and make him unacceptable to the Republican primary electorate, then perhaps the overall dynamics of the race would shift if that were to happen. It's just very hard to see in this Republican primary electorate what Chris Christie is able to sell that matches up with them, especially if the main focus of what he's selling is anti-Trump.

BLITZER: It's interesting, Karen Finney, that Democrats are certainly be watching what Christie has to say as far as how much damage he can do to Trump, right?

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Sure, absolutely. But the other thing we're going to be watching, right, is the tone with which Chris Christie actually does this, because the more he hits him directly, sort of punch on the nose, the more likely we'll see voters, I think, harden their support for him. What are the hits that will work will probably be how do you peel off some of those voters who are willing to be peeled off? I suspect it's more likely to be him talking about his own journey, having once been a Trump supporter and creating that permission structure for voters.

BLITZER: You see him walking in. He's getting ready to make his statement, announcing he's going to be a Republican presidential candidate.

David Chalian, as Omar pointed out, he came in sixth the last time he tried this.


CHALIAN: He did. He tried it last time. It was totally unsuccessful. Let's (INAUDIBLE) he gets it --

BLITZER: Here he is.

FMR. GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NH): -- that we have to play Springsteen, right? A guy from New Jersey comes up to your New Hampshire, we got to remind you about what you're going to get tonight. You're going to get some straight talk from New Jersey. I'm glad to be back here.

And I have to tell you, it was not a layup that I'd be here, far from it. If you had asked me a year ago whether I would be up here to talk to all of you about the future of our country and where we would go, I probably would have said to you, you know, life is pretty good in New Jersey. And I think I'll stay down here and let you all fight it out up here, like you always do, every four years and get a new crop of folks come up here and talk to you.

But I have to tell you, as I've watched the last year evolve, there's been just one question that kept going back and back and back into my mind, and it was about our country and its future. And I wondered what our choice was going to be. Were we going to be small or are we going to be big?

And let me tell you what I mean. I've watched our country over the last decade. It seems to me get smaller and smaller and smaller in every way, smaller in the way we talk to each other, smaller in the way we look at each other, smaller in the things that we talk to each other about, smaller in the issues that we cared enough to get angry about, the issues that we cared enough to get involved in.

And I thought to myself, why do I continue to get this feeling that America, for the first time in its history, is getting smaller? And what I concluded is because we've had leaders who have led us to being small, small by their example, small by the way they conduct themselves, small by the things they tell us we should care about, smaller and smaller.

And they do it in other ways, too. They're making us smaller by dividing us into smaller and smaller groups. And they sell to you that we should get into these smaller groups because we'll be more comfortable.

See, because the smaller and smaller group you get into, then you're probably not going to hear anything you disagree with. The smaller group you get into, you just watch the news that you want to hear. The smaller the group you get into, the less chances you'll ever be offended by anything.

See, this is not just a right problem. This is a right and a left problem. We just go about it from different ways. I'm not just talking about the leadership of my own party. I'm talking about the leadership of both parties. Barack Obama made us smaller by dividing us and trying to make sure that his party was divided into smaller pieces so that he could lead the small pieces that he wanted to.

And Donald Trump made us smaller by dividing us even further and pitting one group against another, different groups pitted against different groups every day, and by definition, making those groups smaller. Because even when you're talking to those small groups, you're going to say something that offends them, and the leader, instead of trying to bring people together, says it's okay to leave. It's okay to go, move to another group that you agree with even more, which, by definition, will be even smaller.

And now Joe Biden is doing the very same thing just on the other side of the political divide. He ran promising us that he was going to bring the country together, that he was going to unite us, that he was going to bring a new sense us of unity to the United States. And instead, what he decided to do was to take his groups and divide them even smaller and actively pit them against Republicans, to paint all Republicans with just one brush, even though all of you in this room who may be Republican like me knows that there isn't just one brush to paint our party with.


So, what's the problem with that? You know, in some respects, maybe you feel a little bit better. You turn on a new show and you hear things that come back to you that you agree with. You probably smile, maybe a nod. You go to dinner parties where only the people that you agree with are around the table. There's no arguments, everybody agrees. You go to a college or a university where you see people who only agree with you, professors who only agree with you, and you learn only the things that you already know. See, that's not the America that I grew up in. And if you look back at our history, when we have had great leaders at every pivotal moment in our history, there was a choice between small and big. And America became the most different, the most successful, the most fabulous light for the rest of the world in the history, because we always picked big.

1776, there were so many people in the Continental Congress who argued against independence, said, let's just make a deal with the king. I'm sure he'll lower those taxes a little bit. Maybe he'll let us elect a few people who can say some things. We don't have to go to for our independence.

But thank God for all of us who are sitting here right now that George Washington and John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Rush said, no, we're going big. We want a country of our own.

We know that true liberty is a gift for from God, and the only way to accept that gift is to be independent, to be able to govern ourselves, to have the miracle that so few people in this world have ever had to choose for themselves their own form of government, how they were going to be governed.

Imagine if we had gone small. We'd all have British accents, everybody. We'd all have British accents today. Some of us watched the coronation of King Charles III. All of us would have been required to if we had gone small.

And then you had 1861, when the country and many people in it literally wanted to make it smaller. They wanted to divide it in half because we disagreed. We disagreed on some fundamental issues, like slavery, like how the federal government interacts with the state governments and who should really be in charge.

And if we had had a small leader and sitting in the White House in 1861, we would not have become the greatest continental country the world has ever seen. And who knows? Who knows how that would have ended?

But it would not have ended with a country as vast and great and rich and free as it is now. Because Abraham Lincoln said a house divided against itself cannot stand. And he knew when he said it that he was going to cause the death of citizens all throughout this country, the greatest loss of life in any American war, the civil war, when we killed each other.

But Lincoln knew that in the choice between a smaller America and a bigger America, that any sacrifice was worth it to make America bigger. He made that choice and he gave his life for that choice. That's a great leader.

And in 1917, when Europe was at war and dictatorships were taking over, the entire continent and America had followed the admonition of George Washington since its founding to stay out of foreign entanglements, Woodrow Wilson said no. [18:45:12]

If America allows Europe to go under dictatorship, we will be next, and we don't want to do this. But if we want America to be big, and influential, and free, we need to do it.

And Franklin Roosevelt said the same thing 24 years later. When Hitler and Mussolini, and Hirohito decided that dictatorship was going to rule the world, and Roosevelt and the rest of America said no, and sent hundreds and thousands of our men to Europe and to the Pacific because they said America is better than this. And we're going to help the world be better than this.

Again, imagine what would've happened. We know what would've happened if America had pulled away and decided to go small. Europe would've been dominated by Germany, by totalitarianism, and Holocaust, and who knows what would've happened next to the United States with a Germany that ran all of Europe. We said no. America would go big.

And 20 years later, John Kennedy stood in a speech and said -- with absolutely nothing to base it on other than his belief in us -- that we're going to the moon. And we're going to the moon before the end of the decade.

We didn't have a rocket. We didn't even know what an astronaut was. I'm confident he didn't.

So how could he possibly have been so audacious to do it?

He was that audacious because he was an American leader who watched all of those examples before him, and knew his history, wrote a book called "Profiles in Courage", about courageous leaders in this country.

And what did he do? He put us on that path, even though he wasn't there to see it to its conclusion. We would have never gotten there if John Kennedy would've fought small, would have not believed in the American people, would have not believed in our ingenuity and our industry, and our faith, and our hope.

And then 20 years after that, there are those who said, that the United States should just coexist with the Soviet Union, that we shouldn't care that they dominate Eastern Europe. We shouldn't care that they kill their own people. We shouldn't care that they starve them. We shouldn't care that they do that to everybody else that they dominate in Eastern Europe. We should just survive.

And Ronald Reagan said, they are an evil empire. And America stands up against evil. We fight evil anywhere in the world to prevent evil from becoming a part of us. And it was Ronald Reagan, who in eight years, went from pronouncing that on the front of the Capitol, in his inaugural address, to watching from his home in California, as the Berlin wall came down. And all of Eastern Europe was made free again.

All throughout our history, there have been moments where we've had to choose, between big and small. And I would tell you the reason I'm here tonight, is because this is one of those moments. And you see it everywhere.

We have candidates for president who say we shouldn't care about what's happening in Ukraine. We shouldn't care that Russia wants to take a free and freedom-loving country, and put it back under its thumb. That that's not America's concern.

We have candidates for president, who are talking about issues that are so small that sometimes it's hard to even understand them.


But let me tell you why they are talking about those small issues. For the very same reason that leaders who are pretenders have always talked about small issues -- to divide you further, and to make it easier for them to rule over you. The more divided we are, the more likely we are to be dominated by a single leader. We fought against that 245 years ago.

And as I sat in our home in Mendham, New Jersey, living a very comfortable existence -- now, I want to make clear, that after eight years of being a Republican governor in New Jersey, any existence would be comfortable. So this is not a high standard, but it was a bar that we were clearing every day.

Mary Pat and I said to each other, we can't sit by and watch this. We cannot sit by and watch this happen.

There's a big argument in our country right now about whether character matters, and we have leaders, who have shown us over and over again, that not only are they devoid of character, but they don't care, and they tell you you shouldn't care.

Just look at what results I produced. While there's some fiction in that, too, and we'll talk about that tonight. But the Greeks said character is destiny.

And if you think about the stuff I just talked about, and every one of those moments, we had men and women of character, to make the big versus small decision.

Whether we agreed with them politically or not, Washington and Adams and Jefferson and Franklin and Hamilton were men of character. As was Abigail Adams, a woman of character, who told John Adams what to do most of the time, if you read their letters.

And if George Washington had not destroyed all of those letters between he and Martha, I suspect we may have found the same thing about him, which just shows you. That's why Washington was the first president and Adams was second, because he was a little smarter.

But whether it's him, those folks, or Lincoln and his team of rivals that ran the government during the civil war, or Wilson, or FDR, or JFK, or Ronald Reagan -- these were men of character. We can't dismiss the question of character anymore everybody. If we do, we get what we deserve. And we will have to own it. So, let's talk about candidates for a second. I just will tell you

this, that if you are in search of the perfect candidate, it is time to leave.


I am not it. And not only am I not the perfect candidate, I'm far from the perfect person.

I've lived a life at 60 years old now that have had enormous, enormous highs. Honors and privileges, that as a child I could've never ever imagined. Meeting the queen of England, traveling around the world to meet leaders and heads of state in the Middle East, and in Europe. To have the opportunity to lead my state, through the worst natural disaster that it ever had, and have people come up to me during hurricane Sandy, when I would see them, and they would say to me, thank God you haven't forgotten us.

Those moments that you have become that significant in those people's lives, that they believed that you could get them out of the worst moment of their lives, is the highest high you could ever have as a public official, and I've had them.


But I also have made mistakes. I've made judgments at times that were wrong. And, I've trusted people I shouldn't have trusted. And it resulted in me being, at one point in my career, admitting that I was publicly embarrassed and humiliated by the things that had happened on my watch. And those are days when you wonder, whether it was worth it to do this.

But I will tell you, there has never been a day where those great moments are the thing that got me out of bed, or those horrible moments, were something that kept me in. What got me out of bed every day was that in public leadership in this country, you have a chance to do something great every day. You give men like me a chance to do something great every day, and that's what gets me out of bed. That's what got me out of bed for those years on the good days and the bad days.

And when I made those mistakes, I admitted them. See, because I think what true leaders do is not try to pretend to view that we're perfect, because we're human just like you, because in our country, in our democracy, we are no better, and no worse, than any of you. We are you, we are you.

And if your leaders are not willing to admit to you that they are fallible, that they make mistakes, that they hurt like you, that they believe like you, and that they suffer disappointments, and letdowns, beware. Beware of the leader in this country who you have handed leadership to, who has never made a mistake, who has never done anything wrong, who when something goes wrong, it's always someone else's fault, and who has never lost.

(LAUGHTER) I've lost. You people did that to me in 2016.


All of you -- and I have two of my children here tonight who remind me of that all the time. They said, you're going back to New Hampshire, they beat you.

But beware of the leader who won't admit any of those shortcomings because you know what the problem is with a leader like that? A leader like that thinks America's greatness resides in the mirror he's looking at.

I believe that America's greatness resides out there, among all of you. And that any of us who get the opportunity to serve are merely temporary stewards of that greatness, who just want an opportunity to make it a little bit greater. And if you can't admit to the people you want to lead that you're not going to be perfect, and if you decide that the people who you've asked to come with you to lead will always be the ones who are blamed when anything goes wrong, that they'll be call names, that they'll be dismissed, and then after they leave your service, they're nothing but idiots.

Beware, because that leader not only will not serve you, they will not be able to find anybody who will serve them. And a lonely, self consumed, self-serving mirror hog is not a leader.

And so now, we have pretenders all around us, who wants to tell you, pick me because I'm kind of like what you picked before, but not quite as crazy. But I don't want to say his name because for these other pretenders, he is for those of you who have read the Harry Potter books, like Voldemort. He is he who shall not be named.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: All right. We're going to continue to monitor Chris Christie, about to make his announcement that he's formally running for the Republican presidential nomination. So far, he's mentioned Trump ones by name, saying Trump made us smaller. His words, Trump made us smaller.

We're going to continue our special coverage. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.