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Judge: Trump Can't Block People on Twitter for Political Views; U.S. Worker in China Suffers Brain Injury from Sound "Sensations"; Interview with Rep. Chris Stewart; U.S. Disinvites China from Participating in Military Exercise in South China Sea; Interview with Rep. Chris Stewart; Mueller Team Asks Court to Start George Papadopoulos Sentence Process. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired May 23, 2018 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Hadas, take us through this ruling. It's pretty significant. The president, he has about 50 million followers on Twitter.

HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly, Wolf. This is a very significant ruling, and surprising. The judge in this case, from the southern district of New York, a federal judge, ruled the president cannot block people on his Twitter feed. He would block people that maybe he disagreed with, and some of these people who were blocked, along with the First Amendment Institute, sued. And a judge has agreed with them and said that the president cannot block them because Twitter is, what she said, a public forum.

Let me read from the decision. She said, It's a public forum. "In blocking from the forum based on their political speech constitutes a viewpoint discrimination that violates the First Amendment."

As the defendants tried to argue that President Trump had his own First Amendment issues here and, as a result, he should be allowed to block these people on Twitter. But the judge said because it's a public forum, part of the government, they cannot do that. And here's an interesting note that sort end the introduction of this ruling. She says that, "No government official, including the president, is above the law." Meaning the First Amendment.

We reached out to the White House. We have not heard back from them yet, whether he will unblock all of these people on Twitter.

Clearly, the First Amendment Institute, on the Columbia University, is celebrating this judgment.

This is a big deal for the Internet and how the Internet is treated when it comes to the First Amendment law, pretty much declaring that Twitter and other places are social media re public forums.

BLITZER: Everybody else who is on Twitter, they can block anybody they want. But the president of the United States in a different category, at least according to this federal judge.

GOLD: That's right, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Hadas, for that.

Right now, there are other developments unfolding, including some deep concerns that a possible sonic attack targeted a U.S. government employee stationed in China.

Let's go there. Our international correspondent, Matt Rivers, is joining us from Beijing.

Matt, the State Department issued a health alert to all U.S. citizens in China. Tell the viewers what it said.

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this e-mail alert came out to lots of different U.S. citizens in China midafternoon on Wednesday. It warned citizens about experiencing symptoms like one of their government employees in southern China says that person experienced. This employee apparently reported abnormal sensations of sound and pressure from late 2017 through April 2018. Went back to the United States, Wolf, and was diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury. That, according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who just talked to a congressional panel, is very similar to what we saw happen last year in Cuba. Remember, there were about two dozen diplomats and families that experienced similar symptoms similar diagnoses, and they did not -- the State Department still to this point does not know exactly what happened there. They say they're going to investigate. The Chinese are helping them apparently. But it's a serious concern at the State Department, and something they don't have an answer to at this point.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Matt, there seems to be a deterioration in U.S.-China relations. All of a sudden, the U.S. has disinvited China to allow them to participate in a military exercise with the U.S. in the South China Sea. Tell our viewers what happened.

RIVERS: Yes, this is an exercise called RIMPAC. It's held biannually, led by the U.S. They invited China in 2014, 2016, but thanks to China's ongoing militarization. A U.S. official tells CNN, they've deployed missiles on islands they built up. They landed a bomber on one of the islands for the first time on one of these airstrips they've built. That made the U.S. very unhappy. So according to a U.S. official, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, in conjunction with the White House, decided China cannot come to those exercises this year but the U.S. is going to make a point about how unhappy they are-- Wolf?

BLITZER: It comes at a time when the president keeps referring to China, maybe blaming China if there's not going to be a meeting between the president and Kim Jong-Un. He said something happened as far as the North Koreans are concerned, following the second Kim meeting with President Xi of China. We'll follow that as well.

Matt Rivers, in Beijing, thank you.

Coming up, more breaking news. Look at this. The volcano threat in Hawaii. Lava bombs and toxic gas, as officials worry about a nearby power plant. We're going live to the big island.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [13:38:34] BLITZER: President Trump on the attack today, against the Justice Department. Look at this, the tweet from the president. Quote, "Look how things have turned around on the criminal deep state. They go after phony collusion with Russia, a made-up scam, and end up getting caught in a major spy scandal, the likes of which this country may never have seen before. What goes around comes around." That ends the quote from the president.

Joining us from Capitol Hill, Utah Congressman Chris Stewart, a Republican, a key member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

Let me get your reaction to what the president just tweeted, saying that there's now a criminal deep state that exists in the U.S. federal government, that is out to get him. Do you believe that?

REP. CHRIS STEWART, (R), UTAH: I don't know that we know the answer to that yet, Wolf. Look, there's some things we're concerned about. I've never used the word "criminal" with the exception sometimes we haven't had honest testimony before our committee, or at least some of these senior people have told the committee one thing and said publicly something very different. So I don't know if I would use the word criminal, but I guess we'll see, like with the Mueller investigation, I guess we'll see where the both end up.

BLITZER: Because Mike Pompeo, former CIA director, and secretary of state, a colleague of yours in the House of Representatives, he didn't think there was a deep state at the State Department or at the Justice Department, or the CIA, I should say, and he used to run the CIA. Yet, the president keeps talking not just about a deep state, but a criminal deep state. Sure, there are disgruntled employees, there are employees that go wrong, but to suggest that there's a criminal state, that takes it a whole further step. Do you agree?

[13:40:20] STEWART: Well, you know, we're using a couple things here. One is deep state, which is something no one has ever heard about. At least I never heard about it until the last year or so. I'm not sure there's a solid definition by what we mean by that.

Look, Mike Pompeo is a good friend. There's no one I respect more. But I think he and I do agree that there are some individuals that have demonstrated over the last year, and they work in the U.S. government, that they were opposed to this president and are using, in some cases, their official positions to oppose him and his policies. And if that's the definition of a deep state, I would agree that's the case.

Now once again, Wolf, coming to your question about criminal, I don't know that we know the answer to that. I don't know that we know whether any of this activity is criminal. But the Department of Justice I.G., and others, Mr. Rosenstein, have said that they will look into it. I encourage them to. And once again, we'll see what they come up with.

BLITZER: There's an inspector general report to see if any of the actions of this confidential source, you know, led to any improper activities on the part of the U.S. government. But this is among the most-sensitive issues, as you know, a member of the Intelligence Committee, sources and methods. That's supposed to be a briefing tomorrow over at the White House for two of our Republican colleagues, Trey Gowdy and Devin Nunes. But the Democrats want in now. And they say if this is so sensitive, there's a formula to do it, the Gang of Eight, four top Republicans, four top Democrats. They get the same briefing. Is that a good idea or should Republicans only be briefed?

STEWART: No, no. I don't know that anyone has said this should only be available to Republican leadership. How can we say we want transparency and then say we only want Republicans to see the information? I don't know of anyone that suggested that. I would disagree if anyone did. Absolutely, they should be invited. The thing is, they haven't requested to see this information. Like, there's been other information at the Justice Department that we've gone down and looked at that was available to them, but many of them, and to my knowledge, none of them wanted to go down and look at. But if they want to come see this, of course, they should be --


BLITZER: There's a letter just released -- sorry for interrupting -- from Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer saying they want in, the want the full Gang of Eight to be briefed, not just these two Republicans who are scheduled to meet with top officials tomorrow at the White House. But you say it would be better to have the Gang of Eight get this briefing rather than two Republicans, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee and the chairman of the Oversight Committee?

STEWART: Absolutely. And if there's information as troubling as we think it might be, Mr. Schumer and Ms. Pelosi should be a part of that. Hopefully, we can find a solution and a bipartisan solution on how to resolve that.

But, Wolf, you said one other thing I want to mention as well. And I've thought much about this over the last months, frankly. It was particularly highlighted in the last week, and that was on a Wednesday we were told by the Department of Justice and FBI, this is so sensitive we can't show it to you. This will endanger human lives and national security. Two important thoughts on that. Number one, we are the Select Committee on Intelligence. We are designed and created just for this exact purpose. Of course, we can protect that. And the second thing is, they told us that they couldn't show it, it was too sensitive on a Wednesday. And yet, before we had seen the information, because we have not seen it yet, and yet that information was leaked out on Thursday and Friday. It must have come from someone in the Department of Justice, and it's very insincere to claim it's too sensitive to show Congress or congressional leaders, but it's not too sensitive to leak? I don't know how you reconcile those two things.

BLITZER: It's always very sensitive when we talk about confidential U.S. sources, whether they work for the CIA or the FBI.

Here's what the former FBI Director James Comey tweeted today: "Facts matter. The FBI's use of confidential human sources, the actual term, is tightly regulated and essential to protecting the country. Attacks on the FBI and lying about its work will do lasting damage to our country. How will Republicans explain this to their grandchildren?"

You're a Republican. Explain this to your grandchildren.

STEWART: Mr. Comey has come across has incredibly partisan and protective of his own actions at the FBI. We're not attacking the FBI. I love these agents, these brave men and women, and many reached out to me and said thank you for what we're doing. We're only trying to hold certain members of leadership of the FBI and the Department of Justice accountable.

Look, Wolf, you can't give the Department of Justice unfettered power and the FBI. You can't say go ahead and surveil people. You have to have all that authority to for secret surveillance, to wiretap, to listen to phone calls and read e-mails. You have the ability to bump (ph) people and call them. Have all of that authority but don't ever tell us what you're doing? It's too secret. We don't want to know. I think that's a nutty proposition that some people are saying that we'll give people that kind of power, but we won't hold them accountable, even to select members of Congress. That's why we're here is to provide that oversight. If you take us out of this picture and give them that authority, how long before we're living in what is essentially a Russian state. And the American people don't want that.

[13:45:42] BLITZER: Very quickly, because we're out of time, but Mike Quigley, a Democrat, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, he was on this program just little while ago. He said, and he was very blunt, he thinks what the president is doing now, talking about a criminal deep state, represents potentially a greater threat to the U.S. democracy than what the Russians did and are still doing. Your reaction?

STEWART: Once again, why is holding the Department of Justice and FBI senior leadership accountable, why is that counter to democracy? It makes no sense why transparency and asking them to tell us what they did and why they did it, why that is anti-democratic. It's exactly the opposite of what we're trying to do. We're trying to protect --


BLITZER: We want transparency just like you do. And you make a good point. If it's just about transparency, let the Republican leadership know, let the Democratic leadership know. There's a formula for sharing the most-sensitive national security secrets, and that's called the Gang of Eight.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

STEWART: Thank you, sir.

BLITZER: There's more breaking news just coming into CNN. A major development in the Robert Mueller investigation involving the former Trump campaign adviser who pleaded guilty and who officials dismissed as, quote, "a coffee boy." Stand by. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:51:26] ANNOUCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news in the Russia investigation. Word that the special counsel's team is now ready for former Trump adviser, George Papadopoulos, to be sentenced.

Let's go to our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz.

Shimon, what are you learning?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: That's right, Wolf. Potentially, a big development in the sense that it clearly indicates that prosecutors and the special counsel seem to be kind of done with George Papadopoulos. They just filed this within the last hour saying they are ready for him to be sentenced. They're asking the court to order an investigative report. This is standard practice in these kinds of cases where they complete a report that then goes to the judge and the judge will ultimately decide what his sentencing will be. Keep in mind he's been cooperating for some time with the special counsel.

But the fact that now these prosecutors are telling the court that we are now ready for him to be sentenced indicates that his cooperation is pretty much complete. It doesn't mean they're completely done with him, but it seems to indicate that the information he has been providing has now probably no longer needed and he is essentially done with his cooperation.

BLITZER: Let's bring in Dana Bash.

Dana, this is a significant development, if in fact they're ready to sentence him. We have no idea what sentence he'll get.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Not at all. As Shimon was saying, in the past, the prosecutors on Mueller's team came to court and made clear they wanted to delay, which was an indication they were still working Papadopoulos for information. Now that is over. The rules are, once they're sentenced, that's not going to happen anymore. That is not the case yet with Rick Gates, for example, who worked for Paul Manafort and worked on the Trump campaign, the transition and so on and so forth. So we're still waiting for that.

But I think, even bigger picture, with every big moment like this, it is a reminder that Robert Mueller is closer, certainly not there yet, but closer. And a reminder that we still have many other big things out there. The biggest of which is whether the president himself is going to sit down for an interview voluntarily, whether they can come to an agreement, the president's lawyers and Mueller's team, or whether it's going to end up as a court fight.

BLITZER: And we're still waiting for Michael Flynn, the president's national security adviser, who was only national security advisor for about a month, but he had been during the transition and during the campaign. He was very close to the president. He's pleaded guilty already as well.

PROKUPECZ: He as well is awaiting sentencing. That is not ready yet. We have no indication when that will be ready.

BLITZER: He's been cooperating.

PROKUPECZ: He has been cooperating with the special counsel.

BLITZER: Rick Gates is cooperating.

BASH: Rick Gates has been cooperating with the special counsel.

But this is the first person, George Papadopoulos, that's been cooperating that is ready to be sentenced. It certainly signals that Bob Mueller is moving quickly, is getting ready to make some decisions. Perhaps, maybe, there are indictments coming. But whatever information George Papadopoulos has been providing, this would seem to indicate that they're ready to part ways with him, so to speak. That is the special counsel. It doesn't mean his cooperation is over forever, but we'll see what happens in the end.

So they're giving the court about 30 days. They're saying in about 30 days we probably will be reed to go ahead and sentence him?

BLITZER: Do you have any idea at all, Shimon, what kind of sentence he's facing, given the charges --

PROKUPECZ: Given the charges -


BLITZER: -- of pleading guilty to.

PROKUPECZ: He pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI


BLITZER: Which is a felony.

[13:54:58] PROKUPECZ: Which is a felony. He could face jail time. Given he's been cooperating, usually, the judge will take that into consideration. You may see prosecutors write a letter on his behalf, detail how he's been cooperating has been, how he's been cooperating, the level of information he's been providing. Once he's sentenced, we can actually learn so much about what he's been doing these last several months in his cooperation, with the letter they would ultimately file, that is, the prosecutors would.

BASH: As you mentioned, this is the first character in this who we heard about from the investigation, from the Mueller team, as somebody who flipped basically. He's somebody who the president called no more than a coffee boy. He said he couldn't recognize him. That might be true. But at the end of the day, he was at the table with foreign policy advisers, he was on e-mail chains, he did have access to the people who were very much involved in the campaign.

BLITZER: And he was one of those three Trump campaign officials who met with that so-called confidential source.

PROKUPECZ: Absolutely.

BLITZER: We're going to continue to follow all of this.

We'll have much more on the breaking news. The president also escalating a conspiracy theory involving claims of an FBI spy inside his campaign.

We'll be right back.