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After Scolding by American Legion, Trump Issues Terse Statement on McCain, Orders Flags to Half-Staff; North Korea Accuses U.S. of Plotting War While Negotiating With "A Smile"; Was Paul Manafort Looking for Deal?; Interview With Arizona Senator Jeff Flake; Interview With Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired August 27, 2018 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:03]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Is he leaving Congress out of the loop and Canada in the lurch?

"I'm next." Trump ally Roger Stone suggests he may be indicted by Robert Mueller soon in an urgent new appeal for donations to his defense fund. What does Stone know about the special counsel's next move?

And criminal plot. Kim Jong-un's regime resumes its war of words, accusing the United States of plotting a war against North Korea while negotiating with a smile. Has Kim joined the ranks of people who have turned on Mr. Trump?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

We're following breaking news on President Trump's deafening silence about Senator John McCain. Two days after his death, Mr. Trump still won't talk publicly about the Republican or his legacy, but he just issued a statement saying he respects the service of the war hero he frequently mocked.

This comes out after a leading veteran's group admonished the president publicly for failing to honor Senator McCain beyond a perfunctory tweet. The struggle within the White House over all of this very evident, as its flag was lowered for McCain, then raised, then lowered again.

This hour, I will talk with two of McCain's Senate colleagues, Republican Jeff Flake and Democrat Chris Van Hollen. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, we heard the president talk about trade, but not much about John McCain.

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

It was as if President Trump was still feuding with John McCain, refusing repeatedly throughout the day to say a kind word about the late senator in front of the cameras. Now, as you said Wolf, over the weekend, first, the flags over here were lowered and then raised this morning, only to be lowered again this afternoon when Mr. Trump finally issued that proclamation showing some respect for John McCain.

Asked what changed in terms of releasing a statement, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders just told me a few moments ago, it was the president's decision and that that statement speaks for itself.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

QUESTION: Mr. President, any comment on John McCain, sir? Mr. President, why won't you call John McCain a hero, sir?

ACOSTA (voice-over): They are the two words capable of hitting the mute button on President Trump: John McCain.

At five different photo-ops, the president was asked to comment on the late senator. And each time, Mr. Trump greeted the question with stone-faced silence. The president's harsh feelings for McCain have been hard to miss even in the days since the senator passed away.

Instead of a full statement from the White House, Mr. Trump posted just this short tweets: "My deepest sympathy these and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you."

A longer statement was drafted by staffers, but not used. The flags at the white asked which were brought to half-staff on Sunday returned to full-staff Monday morning, only to be lowered again in the afternoon. Then finally the president issue to statement, brief, though in keeping with White House tradition, ordering the flags be flown at half-staff and saying: "Despite our differences on policy and politics, I respect Senator John McCain's service to our country."

This came after the head of the American Legion released a statement to the president, saying: "On behalf of the group's two million wartime veterans, I strongly urge you to make an appropriate presidential proclamation noting Senator McCain's death and legacy of service to our nation."

For Mr. Trump, it's a continuation of his verbal assaults on the senator and former prisoner of war.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He is not a war hero. He is a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured, OK, I hate to tell you.

ACOSTA: McCain rarely fired back, but did so to C-SPAN, referring to the bone spurs that kept the president out of Vietnam.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: One aspect of the conflict, by the way, that I will never, ever countenance is that we drafted the lowest income level of America, and the highest income level found a doctor that would say that they had a bone spur. That is wrong.

ACOSTA: The president nursed a grudge against McCain for voting against the GOP effort to repeal Obamacare with a memorable thumbs- down.

D. TRUMP: We had a gentleman late into the morning hours go thumbs down. That was not a good thing he did. That was not a good thing for our people, for our country, whether you're Democrat or Republican.

(BOOING)

ACOSTA: And in stark contrast with her father, Ivanka Trump praised McCain in a speech, calling him a hero.

IVANKA TRUMP, ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: The nation is united in its grief, and the world mourns the loss of a true hero and a great statesman.

ACOSTA: Even as Trump loyalists defended the president's refusal to pay tribute to McCain.

[18:05:00]

MARC SHORT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: If the president put out a flowery statement about John McCain's life, the media would criticize it and say it is not consistent with the other things he said in the past.

ACOSTA: The Trump-McCain split had always been a sign of the times for the GOP As Mr. Trump falsely claimed that Barack Obama was not born in the U.S., it was the senator who took the high road and told the truth.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's an Arab. He's not...

MCCAIN: No, ma'am. No, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No?

MCCAIN: No, ma'am. No, ma'am.

ACOSTA: Instead of taking time to praise McCain, the president phoned the leaders from Mexico.

D. TRUMP: And I believe the president is on the phone. Enrique?

ACOSTA: As the White House tried to change the subject, pointing to a new trade deal with Mexico that's aimed at replacing NAFTA.

D. TRUMP: And I think NAFTA as a lot of bad connotations for the United States because it was a ripoff. It was a deal that was a horrible deal for our country.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: Asked earlier in the day why more had not been done to honor John McCain, a senior White House official said, well, the president did issue that tweet.

As it turns out, the White House realized that tweet was not enough

But, Wolf, make no mistake. The president and his team had every opportunity to get this right. It took nearly 48 hours for the White House to do what could have been done on Saturday, issue a full, respectful statement honoring McCain, along with a proclamation that orders the flags over here to be flown at half-staff.

Wolf, at the end of the day, the president did not refer to John McCain as a hero, but we didn't need him to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.

Tonight, the Senate has reconvened for the first time since John McCain's death, his colleagues joining together to remember him and praise him in a rare moment of bipartisanship.

Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly.

Phil, the tributes to Senator McCain are just beginning, with multiple services now planned in the immediate days ahead.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, that's exactly right.

Just a short while ago on the Senate floor, senators coming back to Washington for the first vote for the week, many of them stopping, placing their hand on Senator John McCain's desk, now draped in black with flowers on top, a recognition not just of a man who meant so much to the institution, that was also a close friend to many of the senators themselves.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY (voice-over): The U.S. Senate preparing to say goodbye to one of their own.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: It's tough. I'm going to miss him.

MATTINGLY: Arizona Senator Jeff Flake with a view shared by nearly every one of John McCain's Senate colleagues.

FLAKE: I have admired him, like I said, my -- my entire life. And it's -- it's tough to imagine the Senate without him. It's tough to imagine politics without John McCain. But we need to go on.

MATTINGLY: McCain, a tribute to his three decades in the Senate, will lie in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, an honor bestowed on just 30 people before him.

His close friend and former campaign manager Rick Davis reading his final message to the world. RICK DAVIS, FORMER JOHN MCCAIN CAMPAIGN MANAGER: "We weaken our

greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe. We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been."

MATTINGLY: Funeral preparations are under way with a five-day journey from McCain's home state of Arizona through Washington and a final resting place at the U.S. Naval Academy.

JOSEPH BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Courage and loyalty, I can think of no better description of the man we're honoring tonight, my friend John McCain.

MATTINGLY: Former Vice President and longtime Senate colleague Joe Biden to eulogize McCain at a service Thursday in Arizona. Biden lost his son Beau to the same cancer that claimed McCain's life.

In Washington, a service at the Washington National Cathedral, where the mavericks senator, who meticulously planned his own funeral, asked the men who bested him in his two quests for the presidency to speak for him, former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and a final private burial next to his Navy classmate and best friend in Annapolis on

Sunday.

For members of the U.S. Senate, a chance to honor their friend.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: For his colleagues here, the time confirmed a sad, but obvious truth. The Senate won't be the same without John McCain.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: You don't meet many great men as you go through life. John McCain was

one of them.

MATTINGLY: The Democratic leader introducing a resolution to rename the Russell Senate Office Building for McCain.

SCHUMER: He could put the temper in temperament. He was a brave and honest man. He was a patriot.

MATTINGLY: The Democratic leader introducing a resolution to rename the Russell Senate Office Building for McCain.

SCHUMER: I want generations in the Senate and in the world to remember him.

MATTINGLY: And remembering McCain not just as a colleague, but a mentor.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I think this is a part of John McCain that a lot of people don't know about, is that he took younger senators under his wing.

MATTINGLY: One who pushed senators in a way that only McCain could.

FLAKE: I was getting beat up at home by the press and by local elected officials for challenging spending. And John McCain made his way back to me on the plane. And I thought, oh, no, he's going to go after me too. And he put his finger in my chest and just said, "Don't back down."

[18:10:15]

He said, "You're in the right, and they will come around." And it was all that I needed.

MATTINGLY: And with that distinct sense of humor.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I have had so many people say such nice things about me recently, that I think some of you must have me confused with someone else.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN: I appreciate it, though, every word, even if much of it isn't deserved.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY: Wolf, I think most reporters, yourself included, have been on the receiving end of some of that humor.

Look, I think one of the most interesting elements, as we have seen senator after senator start to go to the floor and give their memories of Senator McCain, is that a lot of these senators battled with him in rather caustic ways over the course of his legislative career.

And yet and still, he still had an impact, there was a bigness to him in the Senate. I think one of the interesting elements, though, as senators reflect on the senator, on the man, is what it also means for the institution.

I want to leave you with something that Senator Jeff Flake just said on the floor. Wolf, I know you're going to talk to him in a couple minutes.

He left with this: "We would do well to allow this moment to affect us in ways reflected not merely in our words, but also in our deeds."

Something for all senators to keep in mind over the course of the week ahead -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point, indeed.

Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill, thank you.

Let's bring in our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, right now.

Dana, you have covered Senator McCain for many years. I have as well. But you got in recent days before he passed away some

unique insight from Hillary Clinton on Senator McCain's legacy.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

These are obviously two very high-profile politicians, two people who ran for president twice. Each of them lost at first their respective primaries and then the general election, but they actually bonded in the Senate, Wolf.

When Hillary Clinton first ran for the U.S. Senate after she left the White House's first lady, she arrived. She got to know John McCain pretty much right away. They served on the Armed Services Committee together. And they traveled a lot together.

We talked a little bit about their -- their globe-trotting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Seeing John with soldiers was really seeing him in his element. They knew his story. They respected him. He felt very protective toward them.

He would go up and down lines and say, hey, private, what do you think, or what's going on?

He and I went to Fallujah together, which, as you know, was one of the biggest battles in Iraq, one of the great Marine-led battles in recent history. And he wanted to know everything. He wanted to know what the strategy had been, where our American troops were, how did the Iraqis respond.

It was a real lesson in military strategy and history. So every time I went anywhere with him, I learned something. And we had fun. We really did have fun.

BASH: He's also said that you were just one of the guys, which I think for him is probably extremely high praise.

CLINTON: He was really intent upon going places and getting there quickly. John likes to move fast. So if we were in Iraq, and we were trying to go from the embassy anywhere in the country, we had to get on a Black Hawk helicopter, we had to fly with an escort, we had to maybe get into an armored vehicle, a really big, cumbersome armored vehicle.

So, but we had to move quickly, so getting in and out, moving, not holding him up. So I think that's part of what he means. Like, I kept up with him. I was able to go wherever he went. That was important, because he would tell me occasionally -- and I won't share any names -- but, I took so and so, both men and women, from the Senate, and they just couldn't keep up.

And so I knew it was important to keep up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Also, interestingly, when Secretary Clinton was really criticized, as you remember, in a very strong and extended way by Republicans for the attacks in Benghazi that resulted in the loss of life of the U.S. ambassador and three others, John McCain criticized a lot of the operation and the things that went wrong, but always was reluctant, never criticized Hillary Clinton personally.

And she remembered that. And she said, it's because he knows me and he had established a relationship with me and knew that I did everything that I could.

Really, really noteworthy. And I will just leave you with this. She also talked about the vodka shots that they did. They were in Estonia, but she also was clear to say that what goes to Tallinn stays in Tallinn.

BLITZER: He had a very excellent relationship with Hillary Clinton, but he also -- it was the same with so many others, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. That's what made him such a great, great senator.

[18:15:07]

Excellent reporting, Dana.

BASH: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

Joining us now, Senator Jeff Flake, who served alongside John McCain representing Arizona. He's a member of the Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

FLAKE: Thank you.

BLITZER: You just gave some very moving remarks on the Senate floor.

You call Senator McCain a beacon to what we can be when we are at our best -- your words. And you also are a co-sponsor of the resolution to rename the Russell Senate Office Building. What would it mean to you, Senator, to walk into the McCain Senate Office Building?

FLAKE: Well, I think it'd be a wonderful thing. He had his office here during his entire time. And it still remains. It's on the second floor right near mine.

I want to make sure that that is what the family wants, first and foremost. i think it would be a great honor. But there are other ideas that are coming to the fore as well. So -- but I think that this would be a good one.

BLITZER: Do you think the resolution, assuming the family is on board -- do you think the resolution will pass? And what would it say about the Senate if it doesn't pass?

FLAKE: Well, I want to make sure -- like I said, I don't want to get out in front until I have discussions with the family and with some of my colleagues, but I think he needs to be honored.

I think there is a desire to honor him in a big way. And this would be certainly a good way to do it, I think.

BLITZER: Senator McCain left a very moving farewell message that was delivered by his former campaign manager Rick Davis earlier today.

I want you to listen to a few lines from that statement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVIS: "I have tried to serve our country honorably. I have made mistakes, but I hope my love for America will be weighed favorably against them."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What does that say about his character?

FLAKE: Well, modesty.

I mean, if you go through his speeches, and I have been going through a lot of this weekend, that's one consistent theme you will hear is modesty, if I have done this, if I have done that, always noting that he was an imperfect servant.

And so that what, frankly, I think, made him so appealing. If you read his books, you find that through out. It's just that I'm trying to serve my country, I hope I'm doing well, I know I'm not perfect.

BLITZER: What do you make of how President Trump has handled Senator McCain's passing?

FLAKE: I was on a flight for much of today. So I missed the -- everything that went on with regard to the flag.

But I'm glad it's flying at half-staff. I think that that's the right thing to do.

BLITZER: Now, he was repeatedly asked, I think five times, at various photo opportunities by reporters at the White House to say something, to say something about Senator McCain, and it was stone silence every time. He wouldn't say anything publicly.

And then only under enormous pressure, at the end of the day, did he announced that he was signing this proclamation to lower the flag to half-staff.

But I'm wondering what that says to you about the president of the United States.

FLAKE: Well, I'm just grateful that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and people across the country are speaking the way they are.

I have had issues, as you know and as everyone knows, with the president and his statements with regard to John McCain for the past couple of years. That was one of the things that I addressed the first time I met the president during his campaign was the comments with regard to John McCain.

But I'm glad that the flag is flying at half-staff now. I think that that's a great honor for the senator.

BLITZER: Your Republican colleagues Senator Jim Inhofe says that Senator McCain, in his words, is partially to blame for the president -- for the president not initially ordering the flag lowered to half- staff until Senator McCain's burial, because he says they were both very strong-willed people.

What's your reaction to that?

FLAKE: Oh, I don't -- I don't think that is -- that John McCain is to blame for this at all.

I think it's significant that, at the funerals, you will have -- you will have the two last opponents John McCain in presidential elections speaking on his behalf. That's the kind of guy John McCain is. So that's the kind of legacy he leaves.

BLITZER: Your governor in Arizona, Doug Ducey, won't be naming a successor to Senator McCain until after he's buried, which will be this coming Sunday at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

What qualities would you like to see in that person?

FLAKE: Well, this is the governor's choice, and I am big fan of Governor Ducey. He will do the right thing.

But I will I will stay out of this one.

BLITZER: Any final thoughts about Senator McCain?

FLAKE: No, I just -- as I just mentioned on the Senate floor, I hope that we can follow his example, in particular in how we view our opponents.

[18:20:08]

And if he can forgive the North Vietnamese for the torture they inflicted on him, then surely we can forgive each other for some of the petty things that we argue about endlessly here.

So I hope that we can take his example.

BLITZER: That's a good point though. Well said, indeed.

Senator Flake, thanks so much for joining us.

FLAKE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead: Why are so many Democrats eager to praise us Senator McCain, when the president of the United States can't bring himself to speak out about a leading member of his own party? I will speak with Senate Democrat Chris Van Hollen. That's coming up

next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:25:12]

BLITZER: Breaking tonight, after refusing to offer any praise of Senator John McCain, President Trump is now bowing to enormous pressure and backtracking, at least slightly.

In a new statement, he says he respects the former prisoner of war's service to his country, despite their political differences. That's about as far as he's apparently willing to go, other than formally ordering flags to be flown at half-staff in Senator McCain's honor.

Joining us now, one of Senator McCain's Democratic colleagues, Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

What does it say to you about Senator McCain that so many of his former colleagues would like to preserve -- preserve his memory in the form of a McCain Senate Office Building?

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: Well, Wolf, it's a testament to the fact that he touched the lives of everybody in the Senate, more importantly, lives of people around the country, and, indeed, around the world, as a voice for human rights and democracy and freedom.

And naming a Senate building in his honor is one way we can remember the example that he has set.

BLITZER: You think this resolution will pass?

VAN HOLLEN: I do. I'm very hopeful that we will be able to come together and pass it quickly.

And the sooner the better, because nobody should have to think very long about this particular resolution and honoring Senator McCain in this way.

BLITZER: How powerful was his example of bipartisanship?

VAN HOLLEN: It is a model for all of us. I'm a relatively new member of the Senate. I came here.

And, of course, Senator McCain had a reputation of being gruff from time to time. I did not experience that. He gave me a very warm welcome. And I listened very carefully whenever John McCain spoke on the Senate floor. And he obviously played a pivotal role in the health care debate.

I worked with them on the issue of trying to stop Russia from interfering in our elections. But he was always someone who called the shots as he saw them, a straight talker. And that model -- that model of bipartisanship is one that we really do need to get back to solve the problems of this country.

BLITZER: You say that Senator McCain's moral compass was unfailing, your words.

What lessons do you think you and your Senate colleagues can take from Senator McCain?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, it is that determination, that understanding that we have that North Star. And certainly when it comes to America's role in the world, he was unflinching.

He understood that we played an indispensable role in the fight for freedom and human rights around the world. And it kind of came from our sort of special origins, the fact that we are based on the idea, the idea of human rights for all, and that we have a special responsibility.

And he was unfailing in standing up for democracy and freedom around the world. And I hope we will do that, because, as you know, that whole idea is coming under attack in so many quarters today.

BLITZER: It certainly is.

What does the president's handling of all of this tell you about the president's character?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, Wolf, you're right. We're talking about John McCain, who was a model of integrity, someone who always had a hard fight when it came to politics, but treated his adversaries with honor and respect.

And the fact that the president is so grudging in his praise for this great American hero really is a reflection the president. John McCain used to say that what gave life meaning and purpose was being involved in causes greater that himself, greater than ourselves.

And, unfortunately, when it comes to President Trump, it seems to be all about himself. I think he believes the greatest cause is himself. And that's a very cramped view of what the presidency should be all about.

It should be about standing up for America and American values. That's what John McCain did. And that's why he's so beloved across the country.

BLITZER: Senator Van Hollen, thanks so much for joining us.

VAN HOLLEN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, there's more breaking news we're following, this on Paul Manafort. After his conviction on eight felonies, was he hoping to strike a deal in his next trial with the special counsel?

And has Rudy Giuliani heard back from Robert Mueller as they negotiate a possible presidential interview? CNN has new information from Mr. Trump's lawyer. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: There's breaking news tonight on Paul Manafort's legal wrangling after the former Trump campaign chairman's conviction. "The Wall Street Journal" is now reporting that Manafort actually sought a deal in his next trial here in the District of Columbia, but the negotiations broke down.

[18:39:45] Let's bring in our analysts. And Jeffrey Toobin, this would be quite different than the Manafort legal strategy we've seen heretofore.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, he is in a terribly perilous and very unusual situation. Because remember: he has ten counts outstanding where there was a hung jury, broke 11 to 1 for conviction in his first trial. And if, of course, he has the other trial coming up next month in September.

In normal circumstances that would certainly be resolved in a plea, but the government almost certainly would require some sort of cooperation to give him any sort of deal. And I don't know the details of what broke down between them, but that would certainly be one candidate. Is that, if we are going to let you plead to less than what you're facing, we want something in return. And Manafort's bargaining power has gone way down since he's been convicted.

BLITZER: That's a good point.

SWERDLICK: And it looks like he's going to go to trial.

BLITZER: That's a good point. David Swerdlick, is Paul Manafort clearly feeling the pressure right now?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, in the sense that he's already a convicted felon, he has, as Jeffrey said, those ten outstanding counts in the federal trial in Virginia; now facing the trial in Washington, D.C. Yes, of course, he's feeling the pressure.

On the other hand, if his strategy at all -- and I don't know this -- but if his strategy at all is to get a pardon from the president down the road, then I don't know how it helps him to take a deal at any point in the D.C. trial. Because then you'd have a situation where he'd be asking or hoping for the president to pardon him for something that he admitted to doing.

Right now, he hasn't admitted to anything.

BLITZER: Yes. He's pled not guilty.

Dana Bash, you're getting some new information on these continuing talks between Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer, and the Mueller team on a possible sit-down interview with the president?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And the news is no news. That it's been almost three weeks since the president's legal team sent the Mueller team their latest proposal for any potential sit-down with the president. And they have not heard anything back from the Mueller team. No response at all.

TOOBIN: This is -- Please, Dana, I'm sorry. Didn't mean to interrupt.

BASH: Go ahead.

TOOBIN: No, no. This is so bizarre. What are they waiting for?

BASH: Well, that's the question. That's the question. The question is why, and that is the question that Giuliani and others are asking in a big way, because look, we're right now with -- today is Monday. A week from today is Labor Day. That kicks off the unofficial campaign season.

And so if -- I guess technically, he's not supposed to -- he, Mueller, shouldn't do something overt, at least that's the tradition inside the Justice Department, for 60 days, but you know, we're not really sure where he's headed with this.

So as I was going to say, the guesses -- and they're just guesses. Because they're so in the dark inside the Trump legal team, are No. 1, they're trying to, you know, maybe respond. But that's hard for them to believe, because Giuliani told me the letter that they sent was only five or six pages.

No. 2, they're just going to write a report without talking to the president. No. 3, they're preparing a subpoena, or No. 4, they're just going to put all of this on hold until after the election and then resume the negotiations.

The point is, is that it is crickets. As Jeffrey said, it is completely bizarre, and they're really not sure what to make of it.

BLITZER: His lawyers really don't want him to sit down.

BASH: Of course not. Of course not. They don't want him to sit down. And nobody really thinks that it's going to happen. I mean, let's be honest. It's a real stretch. And I think privately, you know -- well, let's just leave it at that. There's no -- there's nobody who thinks it's a good idea. But the question is how far is Mueller willing to go in order to force the issue? That's what they don't know. They just don't know where Mueller's mindset is. And if I'm Donald Trump waiting for this, I would be a little nervous.

BLITZER: Interesting point.

And amidst all of this, Sabrina, the pressure seems to be mounting on Roger Stone, the president's longtime confidant, and adviser. In a fund-raising e-mail to his supporters, he wrote that he's, quote, "next on the crooked special prosecutor's hit list."

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": It seems to be apparent when you look at the number of associates of Roger Stone who have been subpoenaed by a special counsel that he appears to be a target of this investigation. And I think it's important to kind of take a step back and look at how

Roger Stone factors into the investigation, because he's one of the individuals who sort of connects a lot of the dots. When you look at the fact that Mueller is examining contacts between associates of Trump and with Moscow, when you look at the fact that he's investigating the hacking and leaking of Democratic Party e-mails, and of course, he's prosecuting Paul Manafort, who was a former business associate of Roger Stone's. It was actually Roger Stone who first recommended to the Trump campaign that they bring on Paul Manafort.

We also, of course, know that he had apparent contacts with some of the key players in hacking and leaking those Democratic Party e-mails, both from the DNC and from the former Clinton campaign chairman, John Podesta.

So I think ultimately, what the special counsel is probably looking at is what role, specifically, did Roger Stone play in 2016? Was it legal? And more importantly what, if anything, did his longtime confidant, President Trump, know about it at the time?

[18:40:00] BLITZER: Yes. Good points indeed.

There's a lot more going on. Everybody, stick around. We're going to have more on Senator John McCain's character and the contrast that we're seeing with the president as Mr. Trump appears to be holding a serious grudge against the senator, even after his death.

Why wouldn't the president answer a single question today about Senator McCain as pressure was clearly building on him to praise the senator?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Mr. President, any thoughts on John McCain, sir?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any thoughts on John McCain?

ACOSTA: Mr. President, any comment on John McCain, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why won't you say anything about John McCain?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Make your way out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:45:19] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We are back with analysts.

And the breaking news, President Trump officially ordering flags to fly half staff in John McCain's honor as Mr. Trump finally issues a formal but terse statement about the death of the Republican senator. It happened only after widespread criticism of the president's silence about an honored former prisoner of war, and public scolding by the American Legion that represents 2 million war veterans in the United States.

Let's get back to Jeffrey Toobin. The president had no shortage of opportunities to say something nice about Senator McCain today, but he stayed silent. Listen to this. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Mr. President, Mr. President, any thoughts on John McCain? Mr. President, any thoughts on John McCain?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

REPORTER: Mr. President, do you have something to say about John McCain?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you.

REPORTER: Mr. President, do you have any thoughts on John McCain? Do you have any thoughts at all about John McCain?

REPORTER: Do you believe John McCain is a hero, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's go. Get moving, let's go. Let's go. Keep moving.

REPORTER: Nothing at all about John McCain?

REPORTER: Any reaction to the American Legion asking for a proclamation of John McCain?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're finished.

REPORTER: Mr. President, any comment on John McCain, sir? Mr. President, why won't you call John McCain a hero, sir?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But after that, Jeffrey, all of the pressure clearly got to the president. He eventually caved, issued a statement saying despite our difference on policy and politics, I respect Senator John McCain's service to our country, in his honor signed a proclamation to fly the flag of the United States at half staff until the day of his internment. What's your reaction?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, what are the odds that Donald Trump wrote that statement opposed to someone in the press office, how about 100 percent this was written by some staffer? Look, I don't think this is complicated. Donald Trump hates John McCain, he resents him because Donald Trump dodged the draft with some bone spurs on a foot he can't remember, and John McCain was, you know -- suffered heroically as a prisoner of war. He's berated him for his vote on health care. I mean, there's no

mystery here. This is a petty and selfish act by someone who simply can't bring himself to say a nice thing about someone he despises.

BLITZER: David Swerdlick, how do you see it?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICLA COMMENTATOR: Yes. When President Trump ran for president, he said I can be more presidential than anyone. Not the case. It is very difficult for him to be presidential, dignified, be the bigger person in a situation like this.

The other thing is that the president has trouble putting the big picture in context. Everything is about himself. This was a situation that really was kind of to what Jeffrey is saying a layup. He didn't have to go back on what he said or call senator McCain a hero.

You write a tweet that says we didn't see eye to eye, he served this country, he sacrificed for his country, my condolences to his family, you put the flag at half staff, and you move on. That's it.

BLITZER: Sabrina, the former Vice President Joe Biden will speak at a special service on Thursday in Phoenix, Arizona, in honor of John McCain. Then former Presidents Obama and George W. Bush will speak Saturday morning at the National Cathedral here in Washington at that memorial service. But the family has made it clear they don't want President Trump to attend.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: And they have every reason to feel that way when you take a look at the fact that president Trump we have seen time and again has shown no deference for time-honored traditions or decorum. In the last few days, he's not only reinforced that aspect of his character, but he hasn't been able to do what's appropriate to honor or pay tribute to a fallen public servant. And it's unclear of course whether or not he will just sit on the sidelines quietly as the memorial services play out this week.

But when you think about the contrast of Senator McCain inviting President Bush and President Obama to speak, these are the two men who, of course, defeated him when he ran for president in 2000 and 2008. It goes back to the idea of being gracious in the face of defeat, of reinforcing this idea of unity, and believing in and having faith in the democratic process. That's something that we haven't seen from this president because frankly he has as others just said not only shown himself to be petty, and to carry on with these feuds, even in a moment like this, but also he frankly believes of himself as the institution.

[18:50:04] It is ultimately about him.

BLITZER: In a statement, Dana, as you know, the president said he's asked the Vice President Mike Pence to attend the rotunda memorial service here in Washington. That's going to take place on Friday and he also says the White House chief of staff, General Kelly, the secretary of defense, James Mattis, and the national security advisor, Ambassador James Bolton, will represent the administration at various events. He won't be there.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No, he won't be there because as you heard he was explicitly -- it was made clear a long time ago that he is not welcome. Neither he nor Mrs. Trump will be there.

But it is noteworthy what you just said. John Bolton, the president's national security advisor, has a relationship with John McCain, a long-standing one. McCain really fought when his nomination as U.N. ambassador during the Bush administration was held up. He fought for him.

Mattis is the defense secretary. John McCain was/is the chairman of the armed services committee. That's a real relationship. And, of course, John Kelly is -- is a retired general but somebody who had interactions with John McCain as well. So, McCain has long-standing relationships with all these people.

I can't -- I mean, I've spoken to some people who have dual loyalties, if you will, today and they were just beside themselves at the president's behavior. I can't imagine what it's like for people who are actually working in the White House who served this country at the highest levels. Both of them are retired generals, to have their commander in chief behave this way about an American hero and a patriot who defended the flag, defended American values to the point where he was tortured pretty intensely for five and a half years.

BLITZER: You think that this motion, this resolution to get the Russell Senate Office Building renamed the John McCain Senate office building is going to pass?

BASH: It might. You know, we've seen a couple of senators talking to our colleagues in the hallways today as they have come back into town saying that they weren't so sure yet. For the most part there's some overwhelming support for it. Mitch McConnell, whose voice matters here, he's been quiet about it. But listen, it's kind of a twofer here because not only is it a way to honor John McCain, Senator Russell, his name has been on that building for a long time and times have changed. He was a segregationist and there's been a lot of push to get his name off of that building --

BLITZER: Very quickly, go ahead, Jeffrey.

TOOBIN: Can I just reaffirm what Dana just said? It was a disgrace that Richard Russell's name is on that building. He was an impediment to any civil rights law and all through the '40s, '50s and '60s, this man was -- represented the worst of southern segregationist thought through his many years of representing Georgia. He needs to go and it's a wonderful idea to add McCain's name.

BLITZER: We'll see if that gets passed.

Guys, stick around, there's more news.

North Korea, yes, North Korea now accusing the United States of negotiating, quote, with a smile while plotting to, quote, unleash a war as President Trump's relationship with Chairman Kim Jong-un already soured.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:57:58] BLITZER: Tonight, North Korea is reverting to hostile rhetoric against the Trump administration. The state newspaper of Pyongyang accusing the United States of hatching a secret plot to unleash war while negotiating with a smile. This comes just days after President Trump nixed a return visit to North Korea by the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, what's behind all of this?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Wolf, clearly, North Korea once again on the rhetoric trail with that statement that the U.S. is secretly cranking up a criminal plot, I think were their words, to launch an invasion of North Korea. That is not happening. They're saying that it's coming from U.S. forces in Japan.

And the spokesman for U.S. forces in Japan said the following: In general, U.S. aircraft and ships operate from Japan every day in support of our commitments to our allies and partners in the region and in the interests of regional peace and security.

So, the official word from the U.S. military, situation normal. We're not doing anything. No indication that the U.S. is planning to invade North Korea.

This is about politics post-Singapore summit. The U.S. feels the North Koreans are not making the commitments to denuclearization. In fact, there's no evidence they're doing it. They are still working on their fuel reactors, on their nuclear fuel and on their missiles.

By all accounts, the president cancelling Pompeo's trip to North Korea believing that the Chinese are also undermining the effort, but fundamentally, Kim Jong-un not making that strategic decision yet to denuclearize and reverting back to rhetoric and perhaps this White House after all these months learning the lesson that other U.S. presidents have learned, that at the end of the day, Kim Jong-un and any North Korean leader will have to make up their mind about what to do. And right now, it does not look like they're making their mind up in favor of what Donald Trump wants -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A sensitive moment indeed. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you very much.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.