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Trump Lashes Out at Report He's Under Investigation; Scalise in Critical Condition, Doctors Perform Third Surgery. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired June 15, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now. Obstructing justice, a probe? New signs that the special counsel is considering an expanded investigation into allegations the president obstructed justice by trying to quash an FBI investigation. Sources say Robert Mueller's investigators will talk about that with key intelligence officials.
[17:00:23] "Phony" and "made-up." The president unleashes barrages of tweets complaining that the obstruction report is phony and that he's the target of a witch hunt. And just now, he complains that Hillary Clinton destroyed phones with a hammer, adding, "and they talk about obstruction?"
Tough shape. Congressman Steve Scalise is in critical condition, undergoing a third surgery after being shot when that gunman attacked a congressional Republican baseball practice. Amid vows of unity, Republicans and Democrats will go ahead with their charity game this evening.
And no excuse. Doctors say American Otto Warmbier suffered severe neurological damage during his 17 months in North Korean detention, and his family rejects the regime's explanation, saying there's no excuse for such treatment.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news. President Trump is lashing out at the growing investigation by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, calling it, quote, "the single greatest witch hunt in American political history, led by some very bad and conflicted people," closed quote.
And he just unleashed another tweet barrage, complaining that Hillary Clinton is the one who should be investigated. This follows a "Washington Post" report that Mueller's investigation is expanding to look at whether the president obstructed justice. The president calls that a phony story, but a source tells CNN that Mueller's investigators will talk to intelligence chiefs about alleged attempts by the president to quash the FBI investigation into former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
Behind closed doors today, the Senate Intelligence Committee heard from director of national intelligence Dan Coats, who refused to say publicly last week if the president pressured him on the Russia investigation. The intel panel won't look into the obstruction question, but the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman is not ruling out an obstruction probe.
The harsh comments on the investigation come just a day after the president appealed for unity, following the shooting attack on a Republican congressional baseball practice that badly wounded Congressman Steve Scalise and a lobbyist. The charity game between Republicans and Democrats will go ahead, as scheduled, tonight.
And the White House is picking up where the president left off, calling it a chance for a great moment of unity. I'll talk to Democratic Senator Chris Coons, of the Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees. And our correspondents, specialists and guests, they're all standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.
Let's begin with the investigation into Russia's election meddling and its contacts with Trump associates, which may now be expanding to include the president's behavior. That led to a fresh round of tweets from President Trump.
Let's go to our senior Washington correspondent, Brianna Keilar. Brianna, what are you learning?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Special Counsel Robert Mueller is considering launching a full-scale investigation into whether President Trump obstructed justice. And CNN has learned that investigators will soon talk to key intelligence officials. It's the clearest sign yet that Mueller's probe into Russian interference in the U.S. election is expanding.
KEILAR (voice-over): Tonight, the president of the United States under investigation for possible obstruction of justice. According to the "Washington Post," Special Counsel Robert Mueller is looking into whether Trump asked the FBI director, James Comey, to drop the investigation into fired national security adviser, Michael Flynn, before firing Comey.
Trump admitted to NBC News that the FBI investigation into his campaign's ties to Russia was a factor in the termination.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, "You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story."
KEILAR: But Ken Starr, former special counsel, whose investigation of President Clinton ultimately led to his impeachment, says it's a tough case to make.
KEN STARR, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL: Obstruction of justice is really a very hard crime to make out. It's not just, you want the investigation to go away, you suggest that the investigation goes away, you've got to take really affirmative action.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth?
KEILAR: Comey says Trump did suggest it, saying he hoped Comey could let the Flynn investigation go.
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I took it as a direction. I mean, this is the president of the United States.
KEILAR: The president denies it.
TRUMP: I didn't say that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So he lied about that?
TRUMP: Well, I didn't say that. I mean, I will tell you, I didn't say that.
[17:05:00] KEILAR: The president also reportedly bragged to Russian officials, "I just fired the head of the FBI. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off," according to "The New York Times."
As early as this week, investigators will interview the nation's top intel official, director of national intelligence, Dan Coats. He met with the Senate Intelligence Committee today, a week after promising a closed-door discussion on whether the president pressured him to push back publicly against suggestions that the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia as it meddled in the 2016 election. Last week, Coats declined to talk about it publicly.
DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I do not share with the general public conversations that I have with the president.
KEILAR: Mueller's team will also interview NSA director, Michael Rogers, and is seeking information from former deputy NSA director, Richard Ledgett. Ledgett wrote a memo, according to a source, about a conversation in which the president allegedly asked Rogers to help the FBI to, quote, "lift the cloud" of the Russia probe.
Meanwhile, investigations could be multiplying. Chuck Grassley, the powerful chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has oversight of the FBI, has not ruled out a request from Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein to open a separate probe into possible obstruction of justice.
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: We're going to leave that to a conversation with Feinstein.
KEILAR: Today in federal court, CNN filed a lawsuit, trying to force the FBI to turn over the memos Comey wrote about his conversations with President Trump. The memos are not classified and the FBI has not explained its refusal so far to release them, despite a ruling from the Justice Department that it should expedite a Freedom of Information Act request to do so.
KEILAR: All of that according to CNN's lawsuit filed in the district court for the District of Columbia. It alleges that this is a violation of the Freedom of Information Act and that the FBI should be required to release these memos, unredacted, and without further delay. And it's worth noting, Wolf, that the FBI also has not responded to requests for comments.
BLITZER: Well, let's hope they release those memos. Thanks very, very much. Brianna Keilar reporting.
While the president is personally responding harshly to the latest twist in the Russia investigation, The White House is not responding at all. Let's go to Jeff Zeleny for the very latest -- Jeff.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The White House is standing by its policy of not answering any questions about the Russia investigation. That, apparently, though, does not apply to the man in the Oval Office.
President Trump has been tweeting up a storm this morning and this afternoon, using a variety of descriptions, calling it a witch hunt, calling it phony, even tonight, he's dragging Hillary Clinton back into the fray.
ZELENY (voice-over): As an obstruction of justice inquiry moves closer to the Oval Office, one question above all hangs over the West Wing tonight.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, do you believe that you are under investigation now?
ZELENY: President Trump had nothing to say about that after signing an executive order today at the White House.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you want to respond on camera?
ZELENY: But it didn't stop him from venting about the Russian investigation on Twitter. "You are witnessing the single greatest witch hunt in American political history, led by some very bad and conflicted people."
Unclear if that missive was directed at special counsel Robert Mueller, who's leading the investigation into Russia's role in the 2016 election, or his investigators.
The probe is expanding and now examining whether the president attempted to obstruct justice, according to "The Washington Post." That bombshell sparked another blistering reaction from the president. "They made up a phony collusion with the Russia story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice."
Despite the president's bombastic tweets, his White House remains silent. At the daily White House briefing, held off-camera again today, spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined eight times to explain the president's tweets or discuss the investigation. She referred questions to the president's personal lawyer, who issued a statement that did not address whether Mr. Trump was under investigation for obstruction of justice. He, instead, took aim at leaks, calling them "outrageous, inexcusable, and illegal."
Mueller is now under fire by Trump loyalists like Newt Gingrich, who has urged congressional Republicans to shut down the independent counsel.
NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: But I do think the congressional Republicans ought to look into this. Mueller's first four hires were all Democrats. These are bad people.
ZELENY: Few Republicans on Capitol Hill seem to agree. Senator John Thune, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, called Mueller a man of integrity.
SEN. JOHN THUNE (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: He needs to be able to do his work, and I think it's better for all of us if that -- that work continues and it's -- obviously, he's going to get to the bottom, and he's going to find the facts. And I think that's -- that's his role.
ZELENY: Even as Trump stews over Mueller and the Russia investigation at the White House, he struck one unusually sunny note today at the press, often the object of his disdain.
TRUMP: And everybody in this room, including the recorders, God bless you. God bless America.
[17:10:08] ZELENY: Now, a couple hours after that, Wolf, the president was back at it again, talking about that investigation. Something, again, his White House will not talk about.
Now, keep in mind, it's been 219 days since election day. Clearly, today, he still has Hillary Clinton on his mind. She was the subject of two afternoon messages he sent out. Let's take a look at them.
The first one was, "Why is Hillary Clinton's family and Dems dealing with Russia are not looked at, but my non-dealings are?" After that, he said, that Hillary "destroyed phones with hammer, bleached e-mails, and had husband meet with A.G. days before she was cleared, and they talk about obstruction?"
So Wolf, that is a sign, again, trying to change the subject here, but clearly it is focused squarely on him. And Wolf, we are now getting late word, a few moments ago, the vice president is also retaining a personal lawyer to represent him in any matters, as well.
Let's take a look at this statement that is just in from the vice president's office. It says this. It says, "I can confirm that the vice president has retained Richard Cullen of McGuire Woods, a firm here in Washington, to assist him in responding to inquiries by the special counsel. The vice president is focused entirely on his duties in promoting the president's agenda and looks forward to a swift conclusion of this matter."
But, Wolf, this is a -- it underscores the point that this investigation is widening, this investigation, we do not know the end or how swiftly this will be brought to a conclusion. But the vice president campaigning in Miami today, also retaining a separate lawyer -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, he's a former -- the lawyer retained a former U.S. attorney...
ZELENY: He is.
BLITZER: ... who is based in Richmond, Virginia. So clearly, he has a lot of experience. So now the president has a private outside attorney. The vice president also now has a private outside attorney. Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much for that report.
Joining us now, Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. He's a member of both the judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, so let's review. The president tweeted this morning -- I'll put it up on the screen again -- "You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT" -- in all caps -- "in American political history, led by some very bad and conflicted people."
He's obviously calling this a witch hunt, bad and conflicted people. Now, later this afternoon, he started tweeting with attacks against Hillary Clinton, Democrats. I want your reaction.
COONS: Well, Wolf, I have family ancestors from the Boston area, and I think the Salem witch hunt has to be the greatest witch hunt in American history.
One of the things that President Trump is going to run into here as we tries to change the subject is the fact that Bob Mueller commands very wide bipartisan support here in the Senate and in Washington, generally. He's one of the most respected federal law enforcement leaders, former FBI director, and someone who I think has a lot of sustained support here.
And although he may try and change the subject to Hillary Clinton and the investigation into her e-mails during last year's campaign, the fact that there is a significant investigation moving forward, led by former FBI Director Mueller, is what I would encourage the president to focus on. If he truly has nothing to hide, he should be welcoming this special counsel investigation. He should be encouraging them to interview all witnesses and get to the bottom of this, as quickly as possible, so that from his perspective, he could be cleared and we could move on.
There is bipartisan support in the Senate for moving ahead. The Intelligence Committee, the Judiciary Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee, have all had hearings and today, by an overwhelming vote of 97-2, the Senate adopted a bipartisan package of sanctions against Iran and restrictions on President Trump's ability to waive sanctions against Russia without congressional consent. BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about the chairman of your Judiciary
Committee, Chuck Grassley. He said your committee will pursue investigations into any efforts to influence FBI investigations. Do you consider that, Senator, an investigation into obstruction of justice?
COONS: Yes. I think an ongoing investigation into whether or not there was inappropriate political influence over an FBI investigation, either during the presidential campaign, following the presidential campaign, or this year, by definition, touches up against or covers the topic of obstruction of justice.
BLITZER: Why didn't he explicitly say that?
COONS: Well, I think Senator Grassley, Chairman Grassley is being careful in his language. Obstruction of justice is a legal conclusion that a prosecutor ought to reach. But an investigation into inappropriate political influence into an FBI investigation will cover all the same territory that would be required for a prosecutor to reach that conclusion.
BLITZER: The special counsel, Robert Mueller's, investigators will talk to the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, the national security agency director, Admiral Mike Rogers. At a hearing last week, as you well remember, they both said they didn't feel they were pressured by the Trump administration to do anything illegal but wouldn't say much more. Do you expect they will to Mueller?
[17:15:20] COONS: I would expect that both of them, who are honorable men and good public servants, will disclose completely to Mueller whatever was or wasn't said during the course of their conversations with President Trump.
It's been reported that President Trump pressured them to take inappropriate action, to try and deflect public attention from the ongoing investigation into potential collusion. That may or may not be the case. And I have confidence in Bob Mueller, and in his investigation, and I think it's important that they have the support for this investigation to move forward. And it's important for both the director of national intelligence and the head of the NSA to be forthcoming, truthful, and complete in their testimony to Bob Mueller.
BLITZER: Investigators are also seeking information from a now- retired NSA deputy director, Richard Ledgette, who according to a source, wrote a memo documenting a conversation in which President Trump allegedly urged Admiral Rogers to help get the FBI to lift the cloud of the Russia investigation. How key could that be to this investigation?
COONS: Well, that memo and several other of the memos that have been referenced, because they were contemporaneous evidence recorded by professionals, could well be decisive evidence, of exactly what it was President Trump was trying to do, what those conversations were about. That could be a really decisive piece of evidence.
I'll remind you, going back to Watergate days, the saying was, it's not the crime, it's the cover-up. And if the president was personally involved in action to try and thwart or redirect the investigation by the FBI, that's a significant matter.
BLITZER: Will your committee talk to any of these individuals?
COONS: I'm not in control of the scope of the investigation by the Senate Judiciary Committee. It's my hope that Chairman Grassley and Ranking Member Feinstein, representing the whole committee, will be requesting a wide range of witnesses. It's my expectations these are the sorts of witnesses that would be included.
There is a subcommittee meeting next week to make sure that we fully understand how to make sure that the special counsel investigation and any Judiciary Committee hearings don't run afoul of each other to make sure they're moving forward in appropriate ways. This is a tricky matter, but I am confident that Chairman Grassley and Ranking Member Feinstein can have the Judiciary Committee take its appropriate role here and that we can conduct oversight here, as well.
BLITZER: I need you to stand by, Senator. We have some more information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll take a quick break. We'll resume all of this right after that.
[17:22:22] BLITZER: We're back with Senator Chris Coons. Senator, I want you to stand by. We're getting some new details right now about the condition of congressman Steve Scalise. He's been in surgery again, a third time, as doctors try to repair the damage caused by a rifle shot while he was practicing for the congressional baseball game.
CNN's Brian Todd is over at the hospital for us. Brian, what are you learning?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, just a short time ago, we learned that Congressman Scalise remains in critical condition after what a source told us was a third surgery earlier today.
Also tonight, we have new details on the investigation, new information on the shooter's background and new video of the attack.
TODD (voice-over): This new surveillance video from inside a nearby coffee shop shows police officers exchanging fire with the gunman during Wednesday's attack on members of Congress. Two officers in dark uniforms can be seen taking cover behind their SUV, as the gun battle rages.
Tonight, investigators are using that footage, along with this cell phone video, taken by a witness, to piece together a timeline of the shooting.
Today, police continue to canvass the D.C. suburb of Alexandria for information about the gunman, James Hodgkinson, examining a cell phone, a computer and a camera recovered from his white van found parked at the ball field. Police believe he had been in the area since March.
WILLIAM EULLE, FORMER ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA, MAYOR: It looked like he was living out of the bag, because he had clothing and books and everything.
I said, well, maybe he's living at the homeless shelter.
TODD: Police say there's no evidence Hodgkinson's .9 mm handgun his high-powered rifle were illegal.
A next-door neighbor back in Illinois once called police about Hodgkinson for shooting his gun in his own backyard.
WILLIAMS SCHAUMIEFFEL, GUNMAN'S NEIGHBOR: I said, don't shoot over there, and we've got little kids in the backyard. And he didn't really acknowledge my presence.
TODD: Surveillance video shows the power of Hodgkinson's gun. Watch as the window of a parked SUV is blown out by a bullet.
Tonight, Congressman Steve Scalise remains in critical condition an after being shot in the hip. A source tells CNN he underwent a third surgery earlier today.
REP. CARLOS CURBELO (R), FLORIDA: There was no exit wound, so it makes sense that there was some internal damage, and -- and multiple surgeries is normal around a situation like this.
TODD: Overnight, President Trump visited Scalise.
TRUMP: It's been much more difficult than people even thought at the time. It's been -- he's in some trouble. He's a great fighter, and he's going to be OK, we hope.
TODD: This morning Vice President Pence also went to the hospital, where he saw Capitol Police Officer Crystal Griner, who was shot in the ankle, but is recovering.
TODD: And some other news we're getting tonight. We've just learned that former Hill staffer, Matt Mika, who was shot multiple times in the chest and arms, has just been upgraded from critical condition to serious condition. We're told that he remains -- he is alert tonight, but still needs help breathing and will need more surgery.
Also, Hill staffer Zack Barth was released earlier today, and he is back at work. So Wolf, some good news tonight on those two victims.
BLITZER: Let's hope Congressman Steve Scalise and everyone gets back very, very quickly to normal. Thanks, Brian Todd, for that.
We're back with Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. He serves on the Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees. Actually, we're going to take a quick break, resume all of our special coverage right after this.
BLITZER: We're back with Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. He's a member of the Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees.
We're following the breaking news, President Trump taking to Twitter late this afternoon to complain once again about reports he's under investigation by the special...
[17:30:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM HOST: We're back with Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, he's a member of the Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees. We're following the breaking news, President Trump taking to Twitter late this afternoon to complain, once again, about reports he's under investigation by the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, for possible obstruction of justice. As you know, Senator, The Washington Post is also reporting that investigators have been looking for any evidence of possible financial crimes among Trump associates. What can you tell us about that?
SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE), FOREIGN RELATIONS AND JUDICIARY COMMITTEE MEMBER: Well, that's right, Wolf. That was a striking piece of The Washington Post story that I don't think it's been widely covered. My hunch is that the financial crimes, they might be investigating would relate to Russian money. There are reports that a significant number of Trump's development projects have involved investments or financing from Russians or from Russian banks. Now, that would be my hunch as to how it would possibly be connected to an investigation that's also looking into Russian interference in our 2016 election and the possibility of complicated relationships between Trump's inner circle of advisers and business partners, and Russia and the Russian regime.
There is no more detail in The Washington Post story, and it's not yet clear exactly what sorts of financial transactions might be under investigation or under scrutiny, but it would seem common sense to me, that the intersection between Russian investment and Trump's complex and still yet undisclosed business holdings would be a likely target of that consideration.
BLITZER: So there's a lot that you guys need to investigate right now. Does it seem like it's exploding right now? What's the status of this investigation?
COONS: Well, I'm encouraged that we continue to have strong work being done by the Senate Intelligence Committee. I believe the Senate Judiciary Committee is going to re-engage and will investigate further. We've also seen action in a subcommittee of appropriations and on foreign relations. So, I'm encouraged that you've got Republicans and Democrats working together, across a range of issues, and that there is broad support for Bob Mueller, as special counsel.
So I think this is going to continue to move forward. There's a great deal of smoke, and there is not yet, clearly, fire. But the fact that the President has gone back onto Twitter and is now dedicating his time to trying to distract the American people or to denigrate this investigation is really not wise. Any criminal defense counsel's first piece of advice is to shut up, to folks that they represent. And so, I'm sure that President Trump's personal lawyer is probably frustrated at the frequency with which he's taking to Twitter to express his views on this ongoing investigation.
BLITZER: Senator Coons, thanks for joining us.
COONS: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Let's bring in our political and national security specialist. And Chris Cillizza, talking about those tweets, he's been -- there are at least four tweets today on these issues. Let me read one of them once again, "They made up a phony collusion with the Russian story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice."
Do you believe the President does understand the seriousness, potential gravity of this investigation?
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR AT LARGE: No. Because I think he has one frame, one lens through which he sees everything, Wolf. Which is, basically, the lesson he learned in New York tabloid, back and forth media politics, which is, this is a story. I knock it down. I put my version of the story out, I declare victory, and I move on. It worked for him, for a long time. He was good at it, frankly, but this is not that. This is a special counsel. This is now, according to The Washington Post, an investigation that involves obstruction of justice, not of a Trump aide, not of a Trump ally, not of a Trump former staffer, but of Donald Trump.
I don't think he has a gear that isn't the one gear he always puts things in, often expressed via Twitter. So, no, I don't think he understands the seriousness of it. Yes, I am certain people have tried to emphasize the seriousness of it to him. And one other quick note on that tweet you showed. The number, I thought, that was interesting there, 80,000 likes, essentially, for that tweet. Because there's a group of people -- now, he has tens of millions of Twitter followers, but there's a group of people who will support anything he says or does. The problem for Donald Trump is those people who aren't Bob Mueller are the investigators he's hired.
BLITZER: Yes. And there - just a little while ago, Gloria, two more tweets. I'll put about on the screen. "Why is that Hillary Clinton's family and Dems dealings with Russia are not looked at, but my non- dealings are? And Crooked H - referring to Hillary Clinton - destroyed phones with hammer, bleached emails, and husband meet with A.G. days before she was cleared, and they talk about obstruction?"
So, he's going backwards in history right now, going after Hillary Clinton.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And, you know, that last point is on talking points that were distributed to surrogates for Donald Trump, which of course, talks about the Hillary Clinton team and the destruction of e-mails and talks about this double standard here that he wants. I do believe he understands the seriousness of this.
[17:35:05] I do believe that's why he's tweeting nonstop about it. I think what he also understands is that he can't control it. And that's what's driving him, you know, crazy. We can debate whether he understands the seriousness. I would think he does. I would think his lawyers have told him.
CILLIZZA: He certainly should, Gloria, you're right.
BORGER: But I think that his -- the problem for him is, is that this is totally now out of his control. He believes if Jeff Sessions were there, he might have been able to control it to a certain degree, because maybe Jeff Sessions would have prevented the appointment of a special counsel. But now, there is nothing he can do about this short of firing Mueller. And the firing of Mueller, everyone has told him, would not be good for him, but you can -- in these tweets, you can see his sense of frustration and anger here over this.
BLITZER: He certainly is.
CILLIZZA: Wolf, just very quickly on those tweets, just a quick fact check. Number one, there's no evidence that's come up that Hillary Clinton directed Bill Clinton to get on the plane with Loretta Lynch. My guess is Hillary Clinton was super annoyed that he did it. He should not have done it, clearly.
Number two, the phones were smashed. That was in the FBI report on their findings of the investigation, but it was done by staff, not by Hillary Clinton, and following protocols. Again, broad strokes are not wrong, but those specifics are just not totally accurate.
BLITZER: A fair point. He also, Mike Rogers, and you once worked at the FBI, he called this investigation by the FBI, they're the lead investigators right now, a witch hunt led by, "very bad people." What message does that send to the men and women of the FBI?
MIKE ROGERS (R), FORMER HOUSE INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: Well, not a good one for a whole host of reasons. First of all, these are the men and women who are defending us against terrorist attacks and they're going after spies and they're also putting criminals in jail and gangsters and everyone in between. And this personal attack between the President and really anyone, Hillary Clinton, the FBI in a broader sense, to me, is so unpresidential. If he wanted to learn how to control this, he uses the power of the presidency to do big things and have big sets of conversation with the American people, well beyond what he thinks of Hillary Clinton or what he thinks of the FBI agents doing the investigation -- very harmful. And the reason we talk about this every day is President Donald Trump.
CILLIZZA: That's exactly right.
ROGERS: He cannot leave it alone. He would be so much better off to take Chris Coons' advice and shut up. BLITZER: You know, Bianna, as someone who's covered Washington now for a long time, the last thing a politician should want to do is irritate the men and women of the law enforcement community, the FBI, for example, or the intelligence community, like the CIA. You don't want to irritate them.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO NEWS AND FINANCE ANCHOR: Well, nobody wants to, unless, obviously, it's Donald Trump and the President of the United States. I mean, you have somebody like Bob Mueller, who's received accolades and praise from both sides of the aisle, and yet the President attacks him via Twitter, as well. The past couple of weeks, every major newspaper has been publishing stories about those surrounding the President, urging him not to fire him. And it's just turned into a game of will he or won't he? And the President, ultimately, and we always conclude with this point, but it's so important to make, is his own worst enemy. He's the one putting these tweets out. He is the one who's making his attorneys sweat and work that much harder. And he is the only one talking about Hillary Clinton right now. No one else is.
BORGER: You know, Wolf, he's always been his own spokesman, even when he masqueraded as John Miller or John Barron, he was his spokesman. And what these tweets do, or I'm speaking for myself. The problem is, as Mike points out, he needs to change the subject back to his agenda. Because that's what can get him out of this, you know? And they need to kind of separate the White House and have the damage control team and the agenda people. And the President needs to be with the agenda people.
CILLIZZA: And they're trying to do that. To Gloria's point, they have said, you know, we're referring everything to Marc Kasowitz, when you ask --
BORGER: Who's never speaking.
CILLIZZA: He's not speaking. And guess who - guess who is speaking? Donald Trump. That's always the problem. He gets in the way of their --
ROGERS: And just quickly - and just real quickly, an investigation is not guilty.
ROGERS: It doesn't mean he's guilty. They could go through this investigation and come out and say, you know what, we found nothing.
BORGER: No obstruction, yes.
ROGERS: And I argue if -- Mr. President, if you passionately believe you've done nothing wrong, then stop talking about it.
BLITZER: Bianna, very quickly. GOLODRYGA: And his hurting the people that have been most loyal to him right now. Case in point, the story about the Vice President hiring outside counsel, a defense attorney, a noted defense - criminal defense attorney. This Vice President has stuck his neck out defending the President and has been burned twice when it came to the Russia investigation. And now, clearly, is trying to distance himself from the President of the United States.
[17:39:57] BLITZER: Yes, it's not cheap to hire a former U.S. attorney who's now in private practice, either. That's the new attorney, the private outside attorney for Vice President Mike Pence. Everybody, stay with us. There's a lot more coming up. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: We're back with our political and national security specialists. Bianna, very interesting, the Russian President Putin today spoke, actually spoke at this event that he had about the FBI Director, James Comey. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[17:44:59] VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): What makes the FBI Director different from Mr. Snowden, then? It seems to me that in this case, he's not so much the head of the FBI as an activist with his own particular point of view. By the way, if he faces some sort of prosecution for this, we're prepared to give him political asylum, too. He should know that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BORGER: Oh, come on!
BLITZER: I guess he's got a political sense of humor, as well. But on a serious note, you had a chance to speak today with the retired Admiral William McRaven, who led - who led the bin Laden raid. What was -- what were his thoughts about how Russia is dealing with all of this right now?
GOLODRYGA: Well, I asked him if Russia was laughing at us. And he said, I mean, given this clip you just saw, that's classic Putin trolling. And I would argue that it was emboldened by what he saw play out in Washington, the day after he fired the FBI Director to have his foreign minister and ambassador be told that the President had a huge burden lifted off his shoulders, because he fired a nut job.
The Admiral said that he thought that Russians were, in fact, giggling at us, because they look for every opportunity on the global stage to be a power force player, and they got that opportunity in large part in the Middle East, and obviously, in our election here at home, and other elections throughout the Western world.
BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Mike Rogers, if Putin thought that President Trump and his administration were going to ease sanctions against Russia, they got a rude awakening today when the Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill - overwhelmingly that not only keeps the sanctions, but says if the administration wants to ease some of those sanctions, Congress has the authority to review it first.
ROGERS: Yes, I don't -- I'm not even sure they're giggling. I think they're drinking vodka by the gallon over there celebrating how effective an information operation was conducted against the United States of America. If they would have gotten the sanctions relief, my God, he probably would have fell over dead, Putin himself, right? I think that would have been the, you know, the brass ring. But what they did do is cause massive disruption and it's still ongoing. So, they're going to go back and put this in their playbooks. And what else it does is it gives them stature in other places in the world, especially developing nations, that the Russian intelligence services can punch way above their weight. It makes them -- they'll recruit better. They're using this -- the way that we're playing it out in America, they're going to use this to recruit people all over the world, to continue to do what they do. It's like I said, I'm not sure there's any giggling. I think there's a little celebration.
BLITZER: What's amazing is that the only one who really seems to still have doubts about Russian meddling in the election is the President of the United States, Mike. How do you explain that?
ROGERS: I don't know. I think everybody -- all of the intelligence services -- well, not all of them, but the ones that would make these determinations have come out and have said, yes, they've determined it. Both Republicans and Democrats have said, yes, they've tried to do it. I think where the President makes his mistake, is that when they say that, he believes that that means that means he didn't win the election. And that's his mistake. He did win the election. I don't think there's anyone that disputes that. The Russians didn't change votes, but what they did do is cause some disruption and the lack of trust in the electorate. That's the biggest problem that we have. So he would be good to come out and say, yes, I won, and I won because I was right on all my issues. Oh, by the way, we're going to make sure the Russians never do this again. He would be well ahead of the game.
BORGER: You know, the most stunning part of the Comey testimony, to me, is when he was asked the question, to your point, about whether the President had really been interested and asked multiple questions about Russian hacking into American Democracy. His answer was no. That the President's lack of interest was stunning, and what he was interested in was self-interest was, what about me? No collusion. Am I clear? And all the rest. But as far as the country is concerned, no. And that was back then --
BLITZER: Didn't seem like the attorney general -- hold on one second. Chris, the Attorney General Sessions, he didn't seem very interested in that, either.
CILLIZZA: I was just going to add, we know that Jeff Sessions from, I believe in his recollection from February 9th, the day after he was -- became the Attorney General, all the way until he officially recused himself, hadn't asked any questions about it. I mean, that's the issue, Gloria, I think, nails it. Why was Donald Trump so interested in finding out from James Comey the assurance that he was not being investigated, when, in fact, what we were doing, if you take one big step back here to the Congressman's point is a foreign power had a meddling operation of considerable success. (INAUDIBLE) all through the results of the election but considerable success. That can be walled off. They are not -- they are mutually exclusive. Yes, Donald Trump can have one and yes Russia could have hacked the election and we need to address that.
BLITZER: Bianna, go ahead.
GOLODRYGA: Well, there are reports today that the Attorney General may have lied once again in his testimony if this report is actually factual. And the report states that the Attorney General may have met with a powerful and a known Russian lobbyist for dinners over the past year. Obviously, that wasn't disclosed in what we heard from the testimony from the Attorney General.
[17:50:06] But once again, just to highlight what Gloria had said, the Attorney General seemed to say so nonchalantly that, no, he hadn't been briefed by intelligence officials on Russia's investigation or an investigation into Russia's meddling in the U.S. election, the number one crisis facing the country, and he seemed to shrug it off along with the President.
BLITZER: Yes, we've seen that report. I think it was in The Guardian. We haven't confirmed it independently here at CNN but we're looking into it, obviously. It could be very, very significant. You agree?
ROGERS: Let me play devil's advocate for one minute. I can see where the President of the United States, if they're feeling that he is under federal investigation and it's public and every -- all the dogs are out to get him and he knows, because he's been told by the FBI Director that he was not under investigation, I can understand that frustration. As a former FBI agent, when you have the Attorney General's office and a team, a legion of FBI agents causing trouble for you every single day, you can't imagine the stress that puts you under. So, I get that piece of it. And I would think from the Attorney General, who I know personally, if I think that he is just shocked and dismayed that someone would even suggest that he has done something that isn't completely patriotic and loyal to the United States.
CILLIZZA: Which came through, by the way, in his testimony.
ROGERS: And so I think that we're looking at it a little differently. Everybody wants to find the one thing you didn't get right. I'm telling you, I know him personally, I would be shocked.
ROGERS: It doesn't mean that there - the investigation shouldn't make that determination, but I can almost understand their frustration in how they make a decision that under this much scrutiny wouldn't look right to us, but to them, it's probably pretty normal. GOLODRYGA: I agree with you.
BORGER: That part of his testimony was very compelling, I would - I would have to say.
BLITZER: Very quickly, Bianna, go ahead.
GOLODRYGA: I've just got to say that I'm still struck by the fact that the Russian seemed to be so forgettable this past year in this election cycle, and that's the one thing that seems to be the constant out of all foreigners, that it seems to be the Russians that this administration has somehow forgotten that they met with.
BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stay with us. I want to give an important programming note to our viewers for unprecedented joint interview with the House Speaker Paul Ryan and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. That's coming up later today on Erin Burnett "OUTFRONT" during the 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour right here on CNN.
Meanwhile, there are multiple stories breaking right now. Just a little while ago, doctors gave their first update on the condition of Otto Warmbier, the 22-year-old college student held for 17 months by North Korea and returned to the United States Tuesday in a comatose state.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. DANIEL KANTER, UNIVERSITY OF CINCINNATI MEDICAL CENTER: His neurological condition can be best described as a state of unresponsive wakefulness. He has spontaneous eye opening and blinking, however, he shows no signs of understanding language, responding to verbal commands or awareness of his surroundings. He has not spoken. This pattern of brain injury, however, is usually seen as a result of cardiopulmonary arrest where the blood supply to the brain is inadequate for a period of time resulting in the death of brain tissue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, our chief medical correspondent is with us. He's also a neurosurgeon. Sanjay, as you just heard extensive brain damage shows no current signs of botulism. So, what do you think could have happened?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, when you talk about the degree of brain damage that he had and, you know, it's tough to talk about, but it was sort of involving all of his brain, that really indicates that something caused the lack of oxygenated blood to the brain, and usually, in someone who's as young, he's 22 years old, it's usually more likely to be a respiratory arrest. So, for some reason, he wasn't breathing and he wasn't getting enough oxygen into his body, eventually, that caused his heart to probably not pump enough blood to his brain, and that's what caused the sort of cell death in his brain. What - so that seems to be what happened but what exactly caused him to stop breathing in the first place to cause that respiratory arrest? We don't know. They're pretty -- they were pretty certain. They were asked about botulism. There were pretty certain this wasn't botulism that caused this in some way. There was no evidence of that even more than a year later. So - but they just don't know. Was it some other toxin? Was it - was it an injury to the brain that then caused him to stop breathing? They simply don't know at this point.
BLITZER: How much more difficult is it for the doctors to properly ascertain the full extent of his situation given that he was in North Korea for so long?
GUPTA: Well, it's challenging. One thing they said, Wolf, that I think is very important and again sad but, you know, in April of last year, April of 2016, he had an MRI scan that the -- was provided from North Korea when he arrived in Cincinnati, and at that time, there was evidence of extensive damage to the brain and at that point, it appeared, though, it happened just within the previous few weeks, so probably in March at some point.
[17:55:08] But again, that was 14 months ago. So what you can say is you know how he's doing now, you can examine him, they can do all the testing, they get a very good idea of what he's doing now. But exactly, what caused -- what happened in March/April of last year is very hard to tell with the information they have. The state of wakeful unresponsiveness that you hear, they used to call that sort of thing a persistent vegetative state. They don't use that terminology now. And that's where this definition or this description of wakeful unresponsiveness. You can be blinking, you can be looking around. Might even be moving but nothing is purposeful and you're not speaking.
BLITZER: What a sad, sad story (INAUDIBLE) Sanjay, thank you very, very much. We'll have much more on the breaking news right after this.