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Trump Warns of Violence If Republicans Lose Midterms; CNN: North Korea Warns U.S. Nuclear Talks "May Fall Apart"; Jeff Sessions in Danger?; Interview With Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta; Interview With Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired August 28, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Warning of violence. The president is now predicting dangerous consequences if Republicans lose the midterm elections and control of Congress. Stand by for his truly stunning remarks to religious leaders.
And falling apart. Kim Jong-un's regime warns the U.S. that talks on denuclearization may collapse, as the Pentagon chief says American war games will resume in the region. We're getting new information about nuclear tensions now on the rise again.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news on Republican support for Jeff Sessions after the attorney general and the president took their feud to an ugly new level.
Tonight, the Senate GOP leader is expressing total confidence in Sessions, as some other GOP lawmakers are suggesting he may be gone soon. This as Mr. Trump looks for new outlets to vent his anger and frustration after a week of stewing over the criminal convictions of Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort.
Mr. Trump now picking a fight with Google, as he tries to distract from his problems and the cloud of the Russia investigation.
This hour, I'll talk with Senate Judiciary Committee member Senator Richard Blumenthal and former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, the president is threatening multiple social media sites right now.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
President Trump started some new firestorms today, warning Google it better be careful, accusing the search engine of discriminating against conservative voices, including himself. The question is just how far the White House is willing to go. One top adviser said the White House may start investigating Google.
ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump has just taken his battle against the news media to the next level. Now the president is warning he may be coming after social media companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think what Google and what others are doing, if you look at what's going on, on Twitter, if you look at what's going on in Facebook, they better be careful because you can't do that to people. You can't do it. We have tremendous -- we have literally thousands and thousands of complaints coming in.
They're really treading on very, very troubled territory.
ACOSTA: The reason behind the president's rant? He doesn't like the news reports he sees when he searches Google, tweeting: "Google search results for Trump news shows only the viewing reporting faked news media. In other words, they have it rigged for me and others, so that almost all stories and news is bad. They're controlling what we can and cannot see. This is a very serious situation. Will be addressed."
White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told reporters the administration may investigate the practices of social media companies.
LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: We will let you know. We're taking a look at it. We will let you know. We're just going to do some investigation and some analysis. That's what we do.
ACOSTA: Google released a statement denying it's politically manipulating its search results, saying: "Search is not used to set a political agenda and we don't bias our results toward any political ideology."
The president's social media fixation shouldn't come as a surprise. At a rally in West Virginia last week, Mr. Trump began echoing the complaints of some conservatives who claim they're treated unfairly on social media.
TRUMP: There's too many sources. Every one of us is sort of like a newspaper. You have Twitter. You have whatever you have, Facebook. But everyone -- you can't have censorship.
ACOSTA: Even with this new crusade, the president hasn't given up on one of his oldest rallying cries, his demand that Mexico pay for a wall on the border.
TRUMP: We will build the wall. And who's going to pay for the wall?
TRUMP: One hundred percent.
ACOSTA: One day after he announced the new trade deal with Mexico, he insisted the Mexican government will one day fund that wall.
TRUMP: Yes, the wall will be paid for very easily by Mexico. It will ultimately be paid for by Mexico.
ACOSTA: Another unresolved issue for the president, the fate of his attorney general after a top Republican senator, Lindsey Graham, suggested the end may be near for Jeff Sessions at the Justice Department.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The president's lost confidence in Jeff Sessions. And I'm telling you what everybody in the country knows. This is a dysfunctional relationship. We need a better one.
ACOSTA: The Senate majority leader made it clear he disagrees.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: I have total confidence in the attorney general. I think he ought to stay exactly where he is.
ACOSTA: Now, as for the wall, Mexico's foreign minister tweeted this out to the president.
We can put it up on screen. You don't have to read between the lines here. It says: "We just reached a trade understanding with the U.S. and the outlook for the relationship between our two countries is very positive. We will never pay for a wall, however, and that has been absolutely clear from the beginning."
Wolf, the president said today it's very easy to make Mexico pay for the wall. He hasn't explained it to us -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It's interesting because within the past hour or so we have learned that the president had some truly stunning remarks to evangelical leaders last night behind closed doors over at the White House. Tell our viewers what we have learned.
ACOSTA: That's right, Wolf, startling, but not surprising.
The president last night met with a group of evangelical leaders over here at the White House, had dinner. This was the event where you saw the president finally say something kind about John McCain, saying he respected the late Arizona senator.
But once the cameras were pushed out of the room, moved out of the room, the president had some other remarks and he used some very incendiary language to talk about the stakes for the Republicans in the upcoming midterm election.
We can put this up on screen and show you what he said. Here's a quote from what he said. "I think we're popular, but there's a real question as to whether people are going to vote if I'm not" -- and going on here with this statement -- "on the ballot, and I'm not on the ballot. A lot of people think I don't like Congress, people say," the president goes on here in this statement, "I'm not voting because the president doesn't like Congress. It's not a question of like or dislike."
The president continuing here with this statement: "It's a question that they will overturn everything that we have done and they will do it quickly."
And here's the part that's very concerning. The president goes on to say, "and violently, and violently. There is violence when you look at Antifa. These are violent people."
So, Wolf, the president there conflating Antifa, which is a far left group, with the Democrats who might potentially take over in Congress. The president saying there could be some kind of violence.
of course, Wolf, we have been settling our elections in this country very peacefully for a very long time. It unclear exactly what the president meant there when he made those remarks -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, it's pretty stunning indeed. Very ominous. Jim Acosta, thank you very much.
Let's talk a little bit more about Jeff Sessions' future and whether he has the support he needs among his former Republican colleagues in the Senate.
We're joined by our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly. He is up on Capitol Hill.
Phil, we heard Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, express his total confidence in Sessions.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it was a very strong statement. It was a statement with an intended audience, that audience being the man who inhabits the Oval Office.
I want you to take a listen to it again, because, as you know, Wolf, better than anybody, the Senate majority leader doesn't mince words, he doesn't waste words. This is what he had to say about Jeff Sessions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: There seems to be renewed interest, including by some members of your conference, in the job that Attorney General Sessions is doing. Does he still have your confidence? Do you still think he's doing a good job in that role?
MCCONNELL: Yes, I have total confidence in the attorney general. I think he ought to stay exactly where he is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: Now, Wolf, let me give you some behind the scenes to that based on several aides that I have been talking to.
There's a recognition amongst Senate Republican leadership that a firing of Jeff Sessions would set off kind of a trail of what one aide told me would be epic disasters over the course of the next couple months, obviously leading into the midterms.
There's every recognition that, as Senator Lindsey Graham said, the damage to the relationship between the president and attorney general is likely irreparable.
But the damage to Republicans politically going into a midterm election, firing Jeff Sessions, given his relationship, given his recusal from the Russia investigation, is both very real and a very real concern.
Wolf, I will tell you this. There's also the procedural issue that the fact that Senate leaders don't think they would be able to get a new attorney general confirmed, not because Democrats would be so opposed to things, but also Republicans as well. So while you have seen several Republicans come out and perhaps mention the idea of a new attorney general, I'm told explicitly and you heard from the majority leader explicitly top Republicans, right now, Wolf, they don't want any part of it.
BLITZER: Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill, thank you.
We're also following new developments in Robert Mueller's prosecution of Paul Manafort. There's been a delay in the former Trump campaign chairman's second trial. The judge now granting a request by the defense to push back opening statements a week to September 24.
Let's bring in our justice correspondent, Evan Perez.
Evan, what else came out of today's hearing?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that was the big news, is the fact that the defense wanted this trial delayed. They ended up just getting another week.
So instead of September 17, which is when the jury selection process is going to begin, they're going to begin opening arguments in this case on September 24, which buys them another week. Obviously, Paul Manafort just came off another trial, he was convicted on eight of 18 counts.
And so that was the concern of the defense, is that essentially they said we're just coming off one trial and we need time to prepare for the next trial. The jury -- I'm sorry -- the judge, Amy Berman Jackson, here in Washington had a little bit of sympathy for that argument. In the end, though, a lot of this hearing today was focused on trying
to refine some questions, some 49 questions that jurors here in Washington are going to be questioned about before they decide whether they can sit and be unbiased and hear this case against Paul Manafort here in Washington.
In the end, one of the things that -- the discussion today in court was whether or not jurors were going to be asked whether or not they voted in 2016, whether they had any thoughts about Ukraine and the former government of Ukraine, which is, of course, who Paul Manafort was working for.
In the end, the judge decided, Wolf, that jurors will not be asked whether they voted in 2016. The question, of course, is whether or not they can find a jury here in Washington which voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton, whether they can find an unbiased jury.
I think that's the big question that the defense is raising. The other question that came up today, Wolf, was whether or not this trial even stays here in Washington. The defense raised the possibility that they might want to try moving this case out of Washington. Of course, they failed do that in the case in Virginia, which, of course, was the one that just concluded last week in Alexandria -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Suburban Washington, D.C., Alexandria, Virginia.
Evan, thank you very much, Evan Perez reporting.
Joining us now is Senator Richard Blumenthal. He's a Democrat. He serves on both the Judiciary and the Armed Services Committees.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: I want to get to all that stuff in a moment, but let me get your reaction to what we just learned that the president said behind closed doors last night.
CNN did hear an audiotape what the president said. And among other things, he told these evangelical leaders, once again captured on an audio recording -- quote -- "They," meaning the Democrats -- if they become the majority, "They will overturn everything that we have done and they will do it quickly and violently," and he repeated, "and violently. There is violence when you look at Antifa. These are violent people."
Senator, your reaction?
BLUMENTHAL: My reaction is that Donald Trump seems to be taking another page from his Charlottesville playbook, demagoguing and fear- mongering, equating two completely different sides of a political equation. And, in fact, if he's interested in stopping violence, he ought to be talking to law enforcement agencies like the FBI and Department of Justice, rather than degrading and demeaning them.
BLITZER: Because when he says there will be violence, there is violence, they will react quickly and violently, it sounds so ominous.
And this is the president of the United States delivering that kind of warning.
BLUMENTHAL: It's more than ominous. It's designed to achieve a political result, which is to suppress turnout, to create fear and apprehension, and to undermine our democracy.
Very simply, it's totally reprehensible and irresponsible. And I think it is unworthy of the office of president of the United States.
BLITZER: It is pretty startling to hear the president speak, even though it was closed to the press, it was to evangelical leaders. But once again, CNN did hear an audiotape.
BLUMENTHAL: And thank you to CNN for reporting it, because everything the president of the United States says speaks for the presidency.
BLITZER: Those are pretty ominous words indeed.
Let's get your reaction. Senator Lindsey Graham, he now says it's basically a done deal, that these two men, Sessions and the president, the attorney general, they really can't work together. The president has a right to have anyone in his Cabinet he wants to have.
You heard Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, disagree. He thinks -- he has total confidence in Sessions.
Here's the question, though. If Sessions is gone after the midterm elections, you have confidence the Mueller investigation will continue?
BLUMENTHAL: That's really the pivotal question, Wolf, because the only reason to fire Jeff Sessions is as a precursor or a path to fire Rod Rosenstein and the special counsel, Mueller.
And that's why there would be, as Lindsey Graham said, a year ago in July, holy hell to pay.
BLITZER: Well, he's changed his mind now. But he also says anyone nominated to replace Sessions must promise during Senate confirmation hearings, and including in your judiciary hearing committee, that this individual promise not to interfere, allow Mueller to get the job done, finish his investigation.
BLUMENTHAL: That may be a hope, but I think it is somewhat unrealistic to expect the president of the United States, who says that his major complaint about his attorney general is in effect he failed to protect him, failed to stop an investigation -- he would not tolerate an attorney general who then would allow that investigation to proceed.
And I think, for the sake of American justice and the investigation, allowing someone who is right now an unindicted co-conspirator, as the president is, in very serious criminal wrongdoing, in fact, law- breaking relating to corruption of his own election, would be a grave mistake.
And I agree with the majority leader that Jeff Sessions ought to stay where he is. And I think that a number of my colleagues -- I can tell you this point very bluntly -- I have talked to a number of my Republican colleagues. I think there would be holy hell to pay. It's a red line.
BLITZER: Well, do you think, if Sessions is gone, one way or another, either he resigns or -- under pressure -- or the president fires him, a new attorney general could be confirmed by the Senate?
BLUMENTHAL: Never say never, but confirming an attorney general in this United States Senate, I think would be near to impossible, because not only is their personal sympathy for Jeff Sessions having followed the Department of Justice rules.
It wasn't a matter of discretion for Jeff Sessions to recuse himself. Those rules apply to him. He followed them. And the United States Senate isn't going to reward Donald Trump by confirming someone else.
BLITZER: If he were to fire Sessions, the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, would be the acting attorney general. The president has no great love for Rod Rosenstein either. So if he fires him, you move down that chain of command.
Let's talk about Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer. He's trying now -- he's open to the strategy of undermining Mueller and the entire investigation as a witch-hunt, a ruse.
He tells "The New York Times" -- this is Giuliani -- "Mueller is now slightly more distrusted and Trump is a little ahead of the game."
Does this fit into a pattern, the statements he's making and the statements the president has made, of obstruction of justice?
BLUMENTHAL: There is a pattern of obstruction of justice. Right now, there's a credible case of obstruction of justice against the president of the United States. And, of course, the president's implicated in wrongdoing having nothing to do with that charge or collusion.
But Rudy Giuliani has embarked on a pattern of trying to demean and degrade the special prosecutor, try the special prosecutor in the court of public opinion, joining the president's sycophants and surrogates in the United States Congress, some of my colleagues on the House side, who have tried also to discredit the special counsel. It is part of the pattern, and it looks very much like obstruction of
BLITZER: If President Trump doesn't agree to sit down for an interview with Robert Mueller and his team, do you think the special -- how far do you think Mueller will do go in terms of subpoenaing the president, if necessary?
BLUMENTHAL: In my view, this investigation cannot be completed without an interview or some testimony under oath by the president of the United States.
Right now, he's implicated as a unindicted co-conspirator. There are other charges that could be brought against him. And I have said before, we have talked about it, that he could be indicted, even though he's in office, and the trial postponed. But he has to come before the grand jury by subpoena, if he refuses a voluntary interview.
BLITZER: In that Michael Cohen pleading, he pled guilty, he and the prosecutors, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, they said the president was not indicted, the president was certainly not charged with anything, but they did say he did conspire with Michael Cohen and others for those hush money payments to those two women.
As a result, you say he's an unindicted co-conspirator.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Senator Blumenthal, for joining us.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead, will the president fire Jeff Sessions and try to seize control of the Russia investigation? And if he does, will it work?
I will ask the former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. There you see him. We will get his take as a Washington veteran, a former White House chief of staff in the Clinton White House.
Lots more coming up.
BLITZER: We're back with breaking news, conflicting takes among top Republicans about the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and whether President Trump may fire him in the months ahead.
Tonight, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, is expressing confidence in Sessions after Senator Lindsey Graham warned that Sessions' relationship with Mr. Trump is -- quote -- "beyond repair." Joining us now, the former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. He served multiple roles, many roles here in Washington, including White House chief of staff, CIA director, among many others.
Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us.
LEON PANETTA, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Good to be with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: I want to get to all those issues in a moment, but first let me get your reaction, Mr. Secretary, to comments the president made last night beyond closed doors, in a closed-door meeting, with evangelical leaders at the White House.
It was captured on an audio recording which was then subsequently shared with CNN. He urged the ministers, the evangelical leaders, to support Republican candidates, because, if they lose control of the House, the Republicans, to the Democrats, the president said this.
"They will overturn everything that we have done, and they will do it quickly and violently, and violently. There is violence. When you look at Antifa, these are violent people."
Let me get your reaction to the president warning of violence here in the United States if the Republicans lose the majority in the House.
PANETTA: Well, it is cause for serious concern when the president of the United States is predicting violence as the result of a free election in this country.
Our Constitution provides for peaceful transition as a result of elections. And, you know, I was chief of staff to Bill Clinton when he lost both the House and the Senate in a midterm election. But he ultimately came back to work with the speaker, Speaker Gingrich, to be able to get things done.
I think this president has to be willing to accept the will of the American people when it comes to an election and stop threatening the American people that somehow violence will be the result.
BLITZER: Yes, it pretty shocking when you hear those kinds of words, you correctly point out, from the president of the United States.
Let's move on.
If you could, look at today's developments from your perspective as a former White House chief staff to President Clinton. Would replacing Jeff Sessions as the attorney general of the United States allow President Trump to exert more control over the Russia investigation?
PANETTA: Well, you know, I'm sure that's been the argument within the White House, that somehow that could be the result.
But my sense is that it could produce nothing but more trouble for the president of the United States. He's been threading very close to obstruction of justice, calling the special counsel a witch-hunt. He's dismissed people that were involved in this investigation.
He has Rudy Giuliani, who has made clear in "The New York Times" today that the whole purpose of their effort is to undermine the credibility of the special prosecutor. And if he were now to take steps to remove the attorney general, I think it would clearly represent a pattern of obstruction of justice.
BLITZER: How far do you think Robert Mueller and his team should go to try to secure an actual interview with President Trump? You think they should subpoena the president?
PANETTA: Well, you know, it just -- it seems to me that the president keeps saying that there's nothing here and that he's innocent.
And my experience is, when people are innocent, they have no problem telling the truth and they want, in fact, to get the truth out. So I think it would be in the president's interest, if, in fact, he is innocent, that he would use the opportunity to be able to have this interview with the special counsel.
It obviously appears that they have been bobbing and weaving on this issue for a long time and that, ultimately, that may not happen, in which case I think the special prosecutor obviously has to make a very important decision here whether or not to seek a subpoena of the president of the United States or whether they can try to work out some approach that would allow the president to respond to questions in some fashion.
I think that's what the special prosecutor is probably trying to focus on.
BLITZER: I'm sure he is.
Let's turn to North Korea while I have you, Mr. Secretary. Defense Secretary Mattis announced today that U.S. military exercises with South Korea will now resume, after President Trump suspended them in a concession to Kim Jong-un.
Is that an admission that the president, at least so far, hasn't gotten anything in return from North Korea after the Singapore summit?
PANETTA: Well, it strikes me that Secretary Jim Mattis took the right step in making clear that we're going to continue now to proceed with exercises with the South Koreans.
That was extremely important to our defense posture in that part of the world. I -- it's hard for me not to describe what happened here as a failed summit. And in many ways, this was probably doomed from the beginning, because the problem was that, while both leaders met and they exchanged words and exchanged handshakes, there was never the preparation and substance that had to be worked on in order to make sure that the North Koreans would, in fact, proceed to denuclearize.
None of that preparatory work was done. There was no agreement as to the steps to be taken. None of the preparation took place. They had a summit, they shook hands, but there was nothing underneath to support what they were trying to agree to.
And I think we're seeing the consequences of that now.
BLITZER: On a different topic, a sad one, Mr. Secretary, the country clearly now remembering and honoring Senator John McCain this week.
Tell us about the relationship you had with him and the legacy he leaves behind.
PANETTA: Well, I knew John for almost 40 years. When he got elected to the House, I was a member in the House from California and welcomed him to the House at that time.
Look, bottom line is that John McCain is an American patriot. He -- he fought for this country. He believes deeply in the values -- he believed deeply in the values that this country is all about, the values of our democracy. And he was someone who was willing to fight in order to make sure that America would be a better country.
[18:30:26] I had a close relationship with him, both in the Congress and as director of the CIA, and then as secretary of defense. And I always felt, as tough as it was sometimes to deal with John, that he truly believed that it was important to do the right thing. And I think that will be his legacy, that whatever -- whatever problems he faced, he continually devoted himself to doing the right thing for the country.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Good point. He certainly did. Leon Panetta, thanks so much for joining us.
PANETTA: Nice to be with you all.
BLITZER: Just ahead, top Republican senators now openly discuss the fate of their former colleague, Jeff Sessions. What would a new attorney general mean for the fate of the Mueller investigation?
And Rudy Giuliani now suggesting the president's team has been effective in discrediting Robert Mueller and his entire investigation. Is that something he should be openly boasting about?
[18:36:06] BLITZER: Breaking tonight, some key Senate Republicans appear to be at odds over whether the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, should stay or go. The Majority leader, Mitch McConnell, insisting he has total confidence in Sessions. Senator Lindsey Graham, on the other hand, sounding open to seeing Sessions fired after the midterm elections, arguing the president's relationship with his attorney general is, quote, "beyond repair."
Let's bring in our analysts. And David Swerdlick, listen. I want to play the clip. This is Senator Lindsey Graham earlier today talking about the future of the attorney general.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The president's lost confidence in Jeff Sessions, and I'm telling you what everybody in the country knows. This is a dysfunctional relationship. We need a better one. Is there somebody who's highly qualified that has the confidence of the president; will also understand their job is to protect Mueller? Yes, I think we can find that person after the election, if that's what the president wants.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Clearly, the president agrees with Sessions on almost everything except the fact that he recused himself from the Russia probe. David, is that enough for the president to dump him?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Senator Graham has set himself up in this role as the sort of honest broker or marriage counselor between the attorney general and the president. But there's a flaw in that logic.
As you say, on every other issue, Attorney General Sessions is pursuing the Trump agenda. His sort of retrogressive criminal justice reform agenda. Attorney General Sessions has openly articulated President Trump's view on immigration.
It's only on the Mueller investigation, because of the recusal and his deferral to the deputy attorney general, that they are at odds. So there's no point in replacing him unless you're going to get someone who's going to do what the president wants, which is shut down the investigation. But that's not what Senator Graham is saying.
BLITZER: So let's talk about that, Rachael. Rachael Bade is with us.
Jeff Sessions were replaced, Robert Mueller would report to the acting attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who's the deputy. He's still -- that's the guy he reports to right now. He would be the acting. But if there's a new attorney general, how much control would the president then have over the Russia investigation?
RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": You know, I think he wishes it would empower him to control the investigation, obviously. But that's not going to happen. It's easier said than done.
First of all, any new attorney general would have to be confirmed by the Senate. The Senate Republicans have long said that Mueller should basically continue to do his job, and he shouldn't be -- the president should not be interfering with that.
So they would grill any new attorney general in confirmation hearings to make sure he would leave Mueller alone.
That being said, the president could skirt the Senate with either a recess appointment or using this sort of obscure government procedure where he names somebody who's already been confirmed in another position to become attorney general for a short time. For instance, there are rumors that he was going to do this with Scott
Pruitt in -- for the former EPA chief, put him in charge. And if he did that, theoretically, the person could get rid of Mueller; but there would be serious hell to pay on Capitol Hill. And the voters, you know, they could put Democrats in the House and impeach him.
BLITZER: Ron Brownstein -- let me get -- let me get Ron Brownstein first, and then I'll get Jeffrey in.
Mitch McConnell says he has total confidence in the attorney general. But weigh in on the point that Rachael just made: there are these obscure regulations that would allow the president, effectively, to take control.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I wasn't sure if you wanted me or Jeff to jump in. But I think --
BLITZER: Ron, go ahead.
BROWNSTEIN: -- the -- yes. Look, I think the McConnell statement is about November. It's not about Jeff Sessions. I actually think Lindsey Graham is a better predictor of where congressional Republicans' sentiment would be after November.
I mean, there's nothing in the last 20 months, I think, that would lead you to conclude that Mitch McConnell would truly stand up to protect Jeff Sessions after the election, if getting rid of him is still what the president wants to do.
I think they are -- I think Mitch McConnell. who is a very shrewd political operator, you know, he can read the polls as well as anybody, and he knows that there are a lot of traditionally Republican-leaning voters who may like some of the economic policies that have been pursued over the last 20 months but who are very uneasy about the president's commitment to the rule of law, very uneasy about kind of all the windows breaking and norm shattering that's going on.
[18:40:08] And I think he correctly understands that firing Sessions between now and November would really underscore the signal that the president does not believe that he could face any constraints and, indirectly, would highlight the reluctance and the refusal of the Republican Congress to impose any meaningful constraints on him.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Respectfully, I disagree with absolutely every word Rachael said there. I think the Republican senators are a bunch of stooges who will do whatever Trump wants. They will confirm whoever he wants, and if he fires Jeff Sessions, they will all -- I mean, fires Mueller, the new attorney general, they will all say, "Oh, I'm very concerned," and they will do nothing.
This is a Republican Party that is owned by Donald Trump. The senators are owned by Donald Trump, and they will do whatever he wants. He wants Sessions out, Sessions will be gone. Sessions is a dead man walking, and they will install, if they have the majority, which seems likely that they have -- they will, they will install someone. And that person will fire Mueller with absolute impunity. BLITZER: And you think, Jeffrey, that even moderate Republicans like
Susan Collins or Murkowski would go along with that kind of strategy? If the president were to fire Sessions, fire Mueller, fire Rod Rosenstein, they would still go along with that?
TOOBIN: What would they do? They would do -- I mean, what power would they have? There would be an attorney general who fired them, and they would say, "Well, I'm very concerned. I'm very disappointed by this decision," but then they would do nothing.
BADE: There is a slim majority in the Senate, and so, you know, if Murkowski and Collins were to come out and say, "We're not going to go for this," you know, he wouldn't be able to confirm someone.
However, I understand what you're saying in that Republicans have long said if the president crosses X, Y, and Z line, then we're going to, you know, put him in check; and they haven't done that. However, Democrats could take the House, and the political check would then come in the House with impeachment proceedings. So, you know, there be a --
BROWNSTEIN: And that's why I think the McConnell signal is about November, not really -- I mean, it's written in kind of disappearing ink or it's a check that is, you know, that's going to be postdated.
Because the odds that -- I agree with Jeff, the odds that McConnell and the Republican Senate would truly draw a line in the sand to protect Jeff Sessions and perhaps even Robert Mueller after the election seems to me very problematic. I think before the election, they recognize what a strong signal it would send, this kind of dismissal, not only about Trump and his commitment to the rule of law, but how ineffectual they have been at kind of dissuading him from his most anarchic impulses.
BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. There's more we need to discuss. The president now resorting to a major scare tactic, trying to keep Congress in Republican hands. Does he really believe there will be violence if his party loses the midterm election?
[18:47:33] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We are back with our analysts and a new warning by the presidents. The president saying there could be violence if Republicans lose the midterm elections and Democrats could take control of one or both chambers of Congress.
David Swerdlick, let me read what the president told a closed meeting of evangelical leaders at the White House last night. CNN heard an audio tape that was provided to us of what the president said. Among other things, the president said they, meaning the Democrats, if they're the majority they will overturn everything that we've done and they will do it quickly and violently, and violently, he repeated it. There is violence when you look at Antifa. These are violent people.
Those are startling words from the president, predicting there's a change in control of the House, for example, there will be violence on the streets of the United States.
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Wolf, the president is there addressing evangelical leaders. He has all of these personal corruption leaders and personal scandals surrounding him. He knows if he starts to lose these evangelical leaders, that is not good for his grip on the base.
So, what does he do? Instead of giving them a general message about, look, vote for Republicans in the fall because we are backing your policy preferences, he turns it as he does with so many things into this zero-sum struggle of good versus evil, divide and conquer. That's his way of trying to keep people on his side who are now basically stuck, having endorsed him in 2016.
BLITZER: Rachel, he --
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: But that --
BLITZER: Hold on one second.
Rachel, he's been warning of a lot of disastrous things, for example if he were to be impeached but also if the Democrats take control.
RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Yes. If the Democrats impeach him, the stock market is going to crash and everyone is going to be poor. I mean, he is lashing out. Clearly, he sees it as a serious threat.
And a lot of Republicans that I have talked to on the Hill, especially after last week with the whole Michael Cohen debacle in court, they think they're going to lose the House. And so, he is trying to, you know, send a signal, trying to scare people into turning out. But honestly, if Democrats take the House they can't roll back his policies. They're going to be more of a check on the president. They're going to be there to potentially start investigations and potentially impeach him.
But, you know, they won't be able to pass anything because they still have the Republican Senate and he won't sign any of their bills. So, that's just not true.
BLITZER: Jeffrey, go ahead.
TOOBIN: Let's go clear also about what is going on here. The theme here is, I'm Donald Trump and I'll protect you from the scary, black people. Antifa is widely perceived as an African-American organization, and this is just part of the same story of LeBron James and Don Lemon and Maxine Waters and the NFL players and the UCLA basketball players.
[18:50:04] This is about black versus white. This is about Donald Trump's appeal to racism and it just happens all the time. And we never say it -- we don't say it enough for what it is, but that's what is going on here. BLITZER: What do you think, Ron?
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I don't disagree, but I would frame it more broadly. I mean, I think Trump basically has portrayed himself from the beginning as kind of the last line of defense for his supporters against all of the forces that he suggests are trying to take America away from them. And sometimes it is coastal elites like his attack on Google this morning, and sometimes, often, it is minority leaders like all of the attacks that Jeffrey mentioned.
The key though is -- and what he said to the evangelical leaders really fits into this I think, is that he is presenting himself in effect as a war-time president for red America, only the war is largely against blue America. I mean, we've had presidents who have been accused of sliding voters outside of their base before Trump, I think really is the first one who actively kind of tries to demonize the voters and parts of the country outside of his base as a way of consolidating and mobilizing his own supporters.
Division is essential. It is integral to his entire strategy. And, of course, the price on that is it puts enormous pressure on the less partisan piece of the Republican coalition, mostly white collar suburbanites, and that is where they face the greatest risk this fall, among the very voters who we're talking about before in the last segment, who kind of look at what's happening and say, this is just too much chaos for me. I want more checks and balances.
BLITZER: Go ahead, Jeffrey.
TOOBIN: I don't know, Ron. I think it is black people and brown people. You know, yours is a sophisticated analysis, but I think it is as ugly as it could be. And let's not forget, Donald Trump is -- became a politician by making up a racist lie about the first African- American president of the United States.
BLITZER: But have you ever heard --
BROWNSTEIN: It is an essential part of it, Jeffrey, but it is not all of it, because -- I mean, he does also (INAUDIBLE) the media --
BLITZER: Do you remember -- Jeffrey, I was going to say, do you remember a time when president warned of violence on the streets if his party loses?
TOOBIN: Beats me. I can't remember it.
BLITZER: I don't remember it either.
BLITZER: All right, guys. There's more news we're following. North Korea has just laid out the stakes as nuclear tensions with the United States clearly now ratcheting up again, as the president's understanding with Kim Jong-un now falling apart.
[18:57:09] BLITZER: Tonight, we're learning more about the deteriorating relationship between the United States and North Korea. Right now, sources telling CNN that top officials in Kim Jong-un's regime have warned the U.S. that talks on denuclearization may fall apart.
Let's go to CNN's Will Ripley who has done extensive reporting inside North Korea for us. He is in Hong Kong right now.
Will, tell us more about North Korea's message.
WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, this letter, the existence of it was first reported by our colleague Josh Rogin, and the essence of it was conveyed to me by several sources who say essentially it was the North Koreans letting the United States know that if Pompeo were to go to Pyongyang this week as scheduled, well, he might walk away empty handed yet again unless the United States is prepared to move on a peace treaty to formally end the Korean war that's been in a technical ceasefire since 1953.
The North Koreans want the peace treaty up front because they want security guarantees for Kim Jong-un, their leader. They want to make sure he stays in power for many years to come and they think only a peace treaty will, you know, guarantee that the United States won't essentially invade. But the U.S., Trump administration officials, according to "The Post" feel that the peace treaty is a concession that should come more towards the end of the process, not at the beginning.
And so, the two sides on this one issue have really -- they haven't been able to come to terms and it's putting all of these denuclearization talks in jeopardy right now. Sources also telling me that not only are the talks at stake and they could fall apart, but if diplomacy did fail, that North Korea could very well resume their nuclear missile activities that we saw before this period of diplomacy.
BLITZER: Well, how are the North Koreans likely to react to latest comments today by Defense Secretary Mattis that the U.S. does not plan to suspend any longer those joint U.S./South Korean military exercises?
RIPLEY: Well, it depends how they interpret the remarks because when you listen to Mattis, it sounds like the large-scale exercises that were indefinitely suspended, those remain suspended but they're going to be consulting with the State Department to decide if that decision still holds given what's happening with denuclearization. What he was saying is that, you know, the other smaller joint drills that are ongoing, those are going to continue.
And we know the North Koreans are angry and outraged by those. They even blasted the U.S. last week for joint drills with Japan. They view any military activity with the United States and its allies like South Korea and Japan as essentially a dress rehearsal for an invasion, and they have used that to justify building missiles, enriching nuclear fuel and testing those weapons prior to, you know, late last year when they instituted this pause.
BLITZER: In the meantime, the North Koreans, they still have suspended their nuclear testing as well as their intercontinental ballistic testing, right?
RIPLEY: That's right. And, you know, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, she pointed that out as a positive sign, even given, you know, the difficulty in these denuclearization talks.
So, it seems as if there are some in the Trump administration who are holding on to that as hope that this could still be salvaged.
BLITZER: Will Ripley for us -- excellent reporting, thanks, as usual.
And thanks very much to our viewers for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.