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Trump: Sessions Safe for Now; Trump Lashes Out at Critics Via Twitter. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 30, 2018 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:05] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: Special moment for the country. Dana Bash, thanks very much. Our coverage continues right now with Wolf Blitzer. He is in THE SITUATION ROOM.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Safe for now. As questions swirl about the fate of the attorney general, President Trump says in a new interview that Jeff Sessions is safe for now, at least until after the midterm elections.

Trump unleashed. In a Twitter tirade, President Trump unleashes on his critics and attacks news networks, books and Google. The president both denies and confirms the firing of his White House counsel. Is he creating his own version of reality?

Catch and kill. Donald Trump reportedly wanted to buy from "The National Enquirer" all of the damaging stories on him going back decades. He was caught on tape discussing such a catch-and-kill tactic with then fixer Michael Cohen. Are former Trump allies now giving more details to federal prosecutors?

And McCain memorial. Arizona bids farewell to Senator John McCain as former vice president Joe Biden delivers a moving tribute to his friend and a lament for the lost bipartisanship and harmony that Senator McCain cherished.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news. President Trump says his beleaguered attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is safe, at least until after the November midterm elections, telling Bloomberg News -- and I'm quoting the president now -- "I just would love him to have him do a good job."

That comes as the president is lashing out in all directions in yet another extraordinary Twitter rampage. The president is focusing in on the looming exit of his White House counsel, insisting Don McGahn's departure is not linked to what he calls the Russia witch hunt. But McGahn's 30 hours of talks with Robert Mueller's special team seems to be weighing in on the president's mind right now.

I'll speak with Congressman Eric Swalwell of the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. And our correspondents and specialists are standing by with full coverage.

Let's begin with our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, as the president heads to a campaign rally, he's been attacking on all fronts.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, and there is no shortage of speculation about the fate of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions was over here at the White House earlier today for what we're told was just a regular meeting with officials here. But it seems Attorney General Jeff Sessions will be staying on, as you said, staying at his post at least for now.

President Trump told Bloomberg News this afternoon that Sessions won't be leaving the administration until at least the November midterm elections. The president is now on his way to a rally in Indiana.

And while he didn't talk to reporters on his way out, we already know some of what's on his mind. He is still fixated on the departure of his White House counsel, Don McGahn, and that is despite the fact that he said to us yesterday that he wasn't worried at all about what McGahn told the special counsel, Robert Mueller, in the Russia investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump is on a rant, his latest fixation: his outgoing White House counsel, Don McGahn. In a morning tweet storm, the president insisted, "The rigged Russia witch hunt did not come into play, even a little bit with respect to my decision on Don McGahn." Mr. Trump's complaints about the coverage of McGahn's departure comes one day after he claimed he wasn't worried about what his longtime aide told Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team in the Russia probe.

(on camera): Any concern about what he said to the Mueller team?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, never. I knew he was going also. As you know, I had to approve it. We didn't claim executive --

ACOSTA: And you were aware of what he said?

TRUMP: No, I don't have to be aware. We -- we have -- we do everything straight. We do everything by the book. And Don is an excellent guy.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president tried to knock down reports about McGahn's exit, tweeting, "I like Don, but he was not responsible for me not firing Bob Mueller or Jeff Sessions." And "Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner had nothing to do with the so-called pushing out of Don McGahn."

TRUMP: We're doing record business.

ACOSTA: The president, who is suddenly running low on West Wing lawyers during a critical time in the Russia probe, is widely expected to tap White House attorney Emmett Flood to replace McGahn

One sign that the president is feeling the pressure: his attacks on the news media. Mr. Trump tweeted, "I just cannot state strongly enough how totally dishonest much of the media is. Enemy of the people."

TRUMP: This was an excuse.

ACOSTA: The president is falsely accusing NBC of fudging an interview with Mr. Trump from last year, when he admitted that he fired former FBI director James Comey because of the Russia investigation.

TRUMP: In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, "You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story."

ACOSTA: The next firing for the president could be Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Not only is Mr. Trump discussing that prospect behind the scenes, his allies are talking up the idea.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think he wants an attorney general that he has a better working relationship with. I like Jeff Sessions. But I mean, how smart do you have to be to understand this is not working?

[17:05:07] ACOSTA: Adding to the sense of angst, sources close to the White House tell CNN some of the president's advisers have explained to him that Democrats are chomping at the bit to hold hearings and possibly impeachment proceedings, should they win control of the House of Representatives in the midterms.

"Every news story is going to instigate a subpoena. It would be really miserable," said one source.

"A perfect storm," said another.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GRAHAM: And as for the president's legal team, his outside lawyers are telling reporters that they will be releasing their own report to counter the one issues by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, at the conclusion of his investigation.

And as for a time line on when that report from the Trump legal team should be expected, Wolf, we are told by a source on that legal team that that will not be coming anytime soon. So it seems sometime before we get the dueling reports from the special counsel and the Trump legal team -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lots going on, indeed. Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.

Let's dig deeper right now. Our justice correspondent, Evan Perez, is here with me. Evan, the president sent mixed messages today on McGahn's impending departure. What do we know about how all of this actually played out? EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: You're right, Wolf. There was

definitely some mixed messages today from the president himself.

Look, for months, we've heard from people close to Don McGahn that he'd been telling friends and some of his colleagues inside the White House that he was planning to leave later this year. Certainly, that timeline got extended a little bit once we had the vacancy on the Supreme Court. And of course, now with the Kavanaugh nomination, which we expect is going to be voted on in October, it was -- it made sense that he would start making plans to leave the White House.

The president, however, took to Twitter this morning and sort of changed the -- at least the message that the White House -- the talking points that the White House had been putting out. If you put up the tweet, you'll see it says, "The rigged Russia witch hunt did not come into play even a little bit with respect to my decision on Don McGahn." And an emphasis there is on the words "my decision," which seemed to suggest, perhaps, that the president has indicated that he helped push Don McGahn out. So it's now an open question of whether or not Don McGahn was leaving on his own accord at this time or whether the president helped usher him out the door.

BLITZER: Certainly, the way he says "my decision" sounds like he fired him.

PEREZ: It sounds like that.

BLITZER: Obviously, he wasn't very happy with the 30 hours of testimony that McGahn provided to Robert Mueller and his team.

Jeff Sessions potentially could be the next person out. Now the president, in his new interview in Bloomberg, says not until after the November midterm elections. What are you hearing?

PEREZ: Well, right. That's, by the way, what we've heard for some time. Privately, a lot of people who talk to the president had said that they had counseled him to make sure that, look, we know he wants to get rid of Jeff Sessions. But to wait until after the midterms.

But it is clear that something has changed in the last few weeks with regard to the support that Jeff Sessions has on Capitol Hill. And a lot of that, we're told, has to do with the fact that Sessions has been dead set against any criminal justice reforms which some very important senators on Capitol Hill are behind. People like Rand Paul, who had an event today with Jared Kushner, to whom this issue is very, very close to, by the way.

So Sessions outmaneuvering all of these senators and including the president's own son-in-law, I think, is one indication -- one explanation of why Jeff Sessions finds himself on such thin ice.

BLITZER: And all of a sudden the president is bringing up Lester Holt's interview last year with the president. In that interview, all on tape, all on video, seen multiple times over the past year plus, the president says he fired James Comey because of his involvement in the Russia investigation. All of a sudden today, the president is tweeting these words: "When

Lester Holt got caught fudging my tape on Russia they were hurt badly."

There was no fudging of the tape. What is he talking about?

PEREZ: Surreal. Because really, this came out of nowhere. We know that he was attacking other members of the media, other parts of the media today. But it's not clear why -- what was on the president's mind and why he brought this up today. Let's take a listen to his interview -- or part of his interview with Lester Holt, in which he addresses this very question. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey knowing that there was no good time to do it. And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, "You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PEREZ: And it's clear, Wolf, that this idea that there was a fudging of the tape, there is no proof whatsoever of that, no evidence that NBC did anything to this tape. As a matter of fact, they have posted a transcript of this interview in its entirety, and it does not show that there's anything that's missing.

So again, it's a mystery what the president was talking about today and why today, of all times.

We do know that this is a very important part of this Russia story, the idea that it contradicts what the president and the White House said for the reasons to fire Comey. It certainly is a big part of why this obstruction of justice investigation is something that is looming large for the president and the Mueller investigation.

[17:10:15] BLITZER: Yes, the president has got some explaining to do on this specific issue. Thank you very much for that, Evan.

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California. He's a member of both the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. We've got lots to discuss. Let's begin with our top story. The president now saying the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is safe at his job, at least until after the November midterm elections. What does that say to you?

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Good evening, Wolf.

You know, right now Americans are honoring a statesman, John McCain, someone of integrity, independence, who sought to collaborate. And I think most people wish the president would just put his Twitter account away this week and honor the service of John McCain, rather than, you know, create these distractions.

And as it relates to Attorney General Sessions, it's "he loves me, he loves me not." We really don't know at any hour what will happen to Attorney General Sessions.

But I think what the Senate could do right now is to make it clear to the president that, if you fire your attorney general, that they will only confirm somebody who will continue the Mueller investigation.

So when I hear Senator Graham say, well, President Trump should have an attorney general he could work with, that's fine. But on policy issues, Attorney General Sessions is aligned with Donald Trump. The only issue they don't agree on is that Attorney General Sessions won't make the Russia investigation go away. So another attorney general that would satisfy Donald Trump would only be someone that would make that investigation go away, and the Senate should make it clear they won't allow that to happen.

BLITZER: Yes, well, I just want to be fair to Senator Lindsey Graham. He did also say anyone who would replace the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, anyone that the president nominates would have to promise to protect the Mueller probe. Lindsey Graham is on record the other day as saying that, as well.

SWALWELL: And that's Jeff Sessions. So what would the difference be between the next attorney general and Jeff Sessions, if they're promising to protect the Mueller probe?

The only thing Donald Trump doesn't like about Jeff Sessions is that he won't -- that he is protecting the Mueller probe. So to me it just seems the real issue is the Russia investigation. And absent, you know, someone that would make that go away, you have essentially Jeff Sessions.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the president saying that the Russia investigation had nothing to do with his decision to part ways with the White House counsel, Don McGahn. Actually, he's sending some mixed signals on that, as you just heard. How do you see it?

SWALWELL: Well, the president tweeted that it was not Don McGahn who prevented him from firing Bob Mueller or, you know, Jeff Sessions. And so the question is, well, who did prevent you from firing those individuals? Because it's clear from the president's tweets, from his statements that he would like to get rid of them and that that is probably a line of inquiry in Bob Mueller's investigation.

Wolf, the best thing that Donald Trump can do is to just sit down and interview with Bob Mueller. He's actually been given the questions. And nothing would wrap this investigation up sooner than sitting in that witness chair, answering the questions and coming clean with Bob Mueller and to the American people.

BLITZER: White House insiders worry that Democrats could launch a lot of investigations that could be very damaging to the president if they become the majority, they have the subpoena power following the midterm elections. Are there issues that you would like to see Congress look into that are currently being ignored by the Republican majority?

SWALWELL: Absolutely, Wolf. We want to scrub out the corruption that prevents us from doing the work we need to do on protecting health care, protecting paychecks, protecting our environment. And we connect the dots that it's the money in politics. It's dirty deals, dirty maps, dirty money that affects our ability to get things done.

And so when it comes to the Trump administration, we see Republicans unwilling to look at a president who's cashing in on the Oval Office, a president who won't turn over his taxes, a president who won't be straightforward about his prior personal, political and financial contacts with Russia. And of course, we want to know, you know, what this president -- what was said with Vladimir Putin when he met in Helsinki, what promises were made.

So there's a lot that we'll do that Republicans have been unwilling to do.

BLITZER: Yes, the Democrats --

SWALWELL: And by the way, Wolf, circulating around Washington right now, Republicans have put out a list of what they think we'll investigate, which I think is interesting that they've identified what is concerning. But it shows that they're unwilling to do it themselves.

BLITZER: Yes. There's a lot that you guys, if you're the majority, the majority can issue subpoenas that the Republican majority clearly are not doing right now.

Earlier this morning, as you heard, the president tweeted without providing any evidence at all that Lester Holt of NBC News, in the president's words, fudged a tape where the president admitted to firing FBI Director James Comey over the Russia investigation.

Do you think this is a sign that the president has some serious concerns about his exposure to obstruction of justice charges?

[17:15:05] SWALWELL: Yes. And Wolf, I believe that this president has a very difficult time being straightforward with the American people. And this is somebody who has shown and demonstrated a willingness to just color the truth. and this is another example of that.

This also shows the lack of respect that he has for a free media that he would just try and, you know, undermine the credibility of a media outlet by saying that there is something that they're keeping from you to the American people.

And again, I think this president, if he truly has nothing to hide, he should follow the advice that he gave to Secretary Clinton back in September 2016, when he said only the mob takes the Fifth Amendment. If he wants to show us that he's not running the White House like a mobster, he should sit down with the special counsel, clear all this up and allow himself to govern with the credibility he needs to lead our country. BLITZER: Congressman Swalwell, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

SWALWELL: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Up next, breaking news, with the fate of his attorney general a constant question-mark, President Trump now says in a brand- new interview that Jeff Sessions is safe -- is safe -- at least until after the midterm elections in November.

And in a stunning Twitter tirade, the president unleashes on his critics, once again using the chilling phrase "enemy of the people" to describe the news media.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:20:45] BLITZER: Breaking now, President Trump telling Bloomberg news he views the special counsel, Robert Mueller's probe as a, quote, "illegal investigation." As the Mueller investigation closes, in the president continues lashing out, flailing wildly at this critics via Twitter today.

Brian Todd is here. Brian, take us through this.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The president has gone on a Twitter rampage. Over the past 24 hours, he has lashed out at the Russia probe, at James Comey; he's absolutely blistered the news media including CNN. Those who've chronicled Donald Trump say this isn't just Trump being bored in the dog days of August. This is the president feeling some serious pressure.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: We have greater things to discuss.

TODD (voice-over): Even for President Trump, this was a prolific tirade. In the past 24 hours, more than a dozen tweets, his angriest ones targeting the media. Quote, "I just cannot state strongly enough how totally dishonest much of the media is. The hatred and extreme bias for me by CNN has clouded their thinking. Whatever was left of CNN's credibility is now gone."

CNN's issued a strong statement saying, quote, "Make no mistake, Mr. President, CNN does not lie."

Tonight those who have chronicled Donald Trump for years say they believe he's feeling enormous pressure after a series of body blows in the Russia probe.

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, AUTHOR, "THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMP": It's obvious that the president feels cornered. I think he feels besieged. When the president is cornered, and certainly this was true of him in business, he did lash out angrily. He would use whatever means were at his disposal to attack and diminish those he considered to be enemies.

TODD: It's a trait that biographers said Trump has long had, going back to his days at military school, but which was sharpened by a ruthless mentor, a legendary New York lawyer known for his brawling style.

MARC FISHER, CO-AUTHOR, "TRUMP REVEALED": He learned this lesson from his mentor Roy Cohn, who told him never let others set the stage for you. Always be out there. If you're hit, hit back 100 times harder. If you're under pressure, if you're feeling cornered, you need to be viewed as the aggressor.

TODD: But biographers say they believe Trump is now worse than ever in this regard because of his isolation in the White House, to the point where he's embracing new conspiracy theories. One of Trump's new tweets slams NBC. Quote, "When Lester Holt got caught fudging my tape on Russia, they were hurt badly," a reference to an interview last year after Trump fired James Comey.

TRUMP: Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, "You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story."

TODD: There's absolutely no evidence that NBC's tape was doctored.

Asked to explain, the White House offered no evidence.

The president has done something similar in the past. Take the "Access Hollywood tape."

TRUMP: And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.

TODD: Even though he admitted and apologized for his remarks.

TRUMP: This was locker-room talk --

TODD: The "New York times" reported Trump told a senator, "We don't think that was my voice." So it begs the question, is the president inventing his own reality?

D'ANTONIOa: Either he is losing touch with reality and is no longer reliably present in the real world, or he is cynically manipulating both his followers and the rest of us to consider something that is patently untrue.

FISHER: He wants to sow some doubt among his followers, at least make them question. It could be true; maybe it's not true. It dissipates the impact of that material that has him feeling cornered in the first place.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Tonight Trump biographers are worried, they say, about the future consequences of these tirades, especially ones where the president might distort the facts or outright lie. They say if he pulls that kind of thing during a terrorist attack or another national emergency, it could hurt Americans' ability to get the real and crucial facts about that particular situation at a time when Americans are going to desperately need the facts -- Wolf. BLITZER: Important point indeed. Brian, thanks very much.

Coming up, President Trump says in a new interview that his embattle attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is safe at least until after the November midterm elections.

And the president sends contradictory signals on the departure of his White House counsel, Don McGahn. Is he preoccupied right now by McGahn's extensive cooperation, 30 hours, with the Mueller investigation?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:29:52] BLITZER: Our breaking news, President Trump in a new interview with Bloomberg declining to say whether he'll keep the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, beyond the November midterm elections.

Let's bring in our political experts. Abby Phillip, it sounds like Sessions is going to be gone after the November election. Certainly not much of a vote of confidence from his boss, the president.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely not. And in some ways, this could be a little bit of a relief. I mean, I think a lot of people wondered if Sessions could last until the midterms. Now, the President is taking the -- taking what actually is kind of a gift given to him by Lindsey Graham, and saying, OK, we'll hold off until after the midterm elections. The problem though is still the same. I don't think that the politics of firing Jeff Session are going to change all that much after the midterm elections especially when it comes to finding a replacement. But for now, the President is able to say, I'll deal with this after that day so that I can make sure to not create problems for my party before November. And it allows him to kick the can down the road on a problem that he already knows is not going to be good for him even if he wants to fire Jeff Sessions.

BLITZER: You know, Mark Preston, the President has been ridiculing, attacking, making fun of Jeff Sessions for more than a year now ever since he recused himself from the Russia probe, is there any reason to believe that after the midterm elections things could change and improve in terms of this relationship?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, in the Trump world anything can happen, right? You know, we can see a 180 on this, but we're not going to see that happen. And in many ways, I think if you look at Jeff Sessions and you wonder why has he stayed there for so long and being ridiculed, I think you have to say that he has been requested to do so by Republicans in Congress because they know that Jeff Sessions will keep the ship afloat, will keep it straight, will keep Donald Trump in check and quite frankly, will make sure that this Mueller investigation doesn't go away at a snap of a finger. And I think that's critically important. I think Jeff Sessions may have the last laugh because when he gives that going away speech. When he leaves, I'm sure he'll have some interesting things to say.

BLITZER: And Chris Cillizza, I want to read another tweet from the President earlier this morning. He was on a Twitter tirade earlier in the day. "The rigged Russia witch hunt did not come into play even a little bit with respect to my decision on Don McGahn." So, is he essentially saying, you know, to Don McGahn, you're fired?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Yes. I mean, it's amazing. 24 -- the White House including Donald Trump spent the 24 hours prior to that tweet, essentially making the case that this was sort of a mutually agreed upon decision. That McGahn had, you know, it's a very stressful job. McGahn wanted to leave, it made sense he would leave after the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. And so, everybody was sort of on that page until this morning when Donald Trump makes very clear, my decision.

Now, the question here is does he do that just because he doesn't ever like a narrative that suggest he's not the decision guy, right? The guy who's saying you're in and you're out. Or, does he do it for other reasons that accidently reveal that the fact that 11 days before we found out that Don McGahn is leaving as White House Counsel, we found out that Don McGahn had sat down with the special counsel for 30 hours, which Donald Trump didn't know the extent of and still may not know the extent of what they talked about. I don't know why he does things like this. I'm sure his White House doesn't know why he does things like this, he is his own worst enemy. In lots of ways, this is a prime example of one of them.

BLITZER: You know, Bianna, the President says that McGahn's removal has nothing to do with the Russia investigation. But CNN has reported that McGahn's 30 hours of rather intense testimony before the special counsel Robert Mueller unnerved the President when the President found out about the extent of the cooperation. He must be really concerned.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, and that's what analysts were puzzled about. It's either a complete political malpractice or just naivete for the White House and for the President to have even allowed Don McGahn to spend so much time with the special counsel. Remember, this all originated from reporting to the New York Times did when one of their reporters was seated at a restaurant within an earshot of two of the President's attorneys who were questioning some of McGahn's motivations. The report is printed, McGhan reads it, says hey, I'm not going to be thrown under the bus, and here we go some 30 hours later.

I was listening to one of the prosecutors who had been working with Ken Starr into the Clinton investigation, and they said they would have given anything to have this much time with President Clinton's White House counsel. So, yes, whether the President was aware of it at the time, he sure is now. And there's a lot that could have been said in those 30 hours that the President clearly is worried about.

BLITZER: You know, Abby, I just --

CILLIZZA: Just very quickly, the idea that this is a coincidence, I just -- I just find it hard to believe that less than two weeks after Donald Trump gets surprised by this information about something you know is a bugaboo for him, something that drives him nuts, the Russia investigation. Suddenly, the guy who surprised him is leaving on his own terms but then 24 hours later because Donald Trump made the decision for him to leave, it's too convenient.

[17:35:09] GOLODRYGA: And yet again, well, Wolf, remember what we know what happened last year where the President had asked McGahn to fire Mueller, McGahn said no, he threatened to quit. So, even knowing that -- even knowing that that had transpired having Don through that to not bring up a hey, maybe we should question the amount of time and what McGahn is going to be saying when he speaks to the prosecutors. It's a bit, you know, head scratching.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by, there's a lot more news. The President now also telling Bloomberg News that the entire Russia probe -- the entire Robert Mueller probe, in his words, represents an illegal investigation. Strong words from the President. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:40:25] BLITZER: We're back with our analysts and our experts. And Abby, you cover the White House for us, and this new interview with Bloomberg, the President said that this entire probe is illegal. He said this to Bloomberg, he said, I view it as an illegal investigation because great scholars have said there never should have been a special counsel. So, he seems to be ratcheting this thing up. And if it's illegal from his perspective, he's the President of the United States, he's in charge of law enforcement, clean it up if it's illegal.

PHILLIPS: Yes, it's interesting that he said that it's an illegal investigation even though the premise of it is to -- is to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election, which his advisers keep telling us he actually believed happened. So, if the President is speaking out of two sides of his mouth here, but I think more to the point, this is the message that the President is getting all the time from his base, from his supporters, from the shows that he watches all-week long, is that Mueller is illegal and that he needs to do something about it. The question is why hasn't he so far? I think it's because even he knows that doing that could be a huge, huge political mistake.

BLITZER: He was asked in this Bloomberg interview, Mark, if he would comply with a subpoena to testify from Mueller and his team, and he simply said I'll see what happens.

PRESTON: I probably would have answered the same way, right? I mean, I don't know. I mean, I guess I would have answered the same way, but there is a much bigger problem. And I don't want to sound too preachy or what have you, but I mean, I'm not going to speak as a journalist, I'll speak as a father. It's really hard for me to turn to my children, my teenaged children and say, you know, listen to what the President is saying and believe what he's saying when I know that he is flat out lying. And by the way, most of America knows he's flat out lying but nobody really wants to address it. And in itself is frustrating. BLITZER: Plus, he's got a good excuse now to comply. If it's illegal

from his perspective, why come to us?

CILLIZZA: What's hard too, Wolf, is that facts don't get in the way of people, at least a chunk of people believing what Donald Trump says, right? That the NBC tape was altered, fudged. What was fudged?

PRESTON: All of a sudden it was fudged, as in the last --

CILLIZZA: So, he had information that it had been doctored, and yet, it took him 16 months to come forward with this information. But he's not coming forward with this information, he's saying that it was -- again, this is the problem, I would urge people, look, you like Joe Biden, hate Joe Biden, like John McCain in life or death (INAUDIBLE) fine, whatever, go and listen to -- we ran it. Go listen to Joe Biden's eulogy about John McCain. For people who spend their life on Twitter or spend their life one side of cable television. Go -- just go listen to Joe Biden's eulogy about John McCain and have him -- and how he talks about their friendship, what that friendship was based on, and what politics can be. That's all. I mean, it's a 10 minutes eulogy.

BLITZER: I won't be (INAUDIBLE) on this assertion by the President that the whole probe is illegal.

GOLODRYGA: Look, it's something that he has been saying from the get go. It's something that it appears his legal counsel now with Rudy Giuliani thinks will win him appeal from a -- from a voters perspective -- from an electorate's perspective, from media perspective because their biggest fear at least from Rudy Giuliani is impeachment. And thus, it's the voters and it's at least those of his supporters will not even believe him but have a speck of just doubt that maybe there is something to this being rigged or people being against him or the intel community being against him and biased, that in and of itself is a win for the President.

So, if the President and his counsel is convinced there is no legal jeopardy that he's in, that it's perhaps just from a political perspective, then this is the angle they're going down and this is what the President will continue to do. But mind you, he -- before he was President -- was one of the most litigious businessmen in the country, in the world. If you accuse him or say one thing about him, even if you have proof, he'll threaten to sue you. So, the irony is not lost if he can say things on Twitter as the President of the United States that Lester Holt and NBC fudged the tape or what have you, is you know, once again, the President seeming to act completely outside of the norms of what any President has done before him.

BLITZER: Yes. Look at -- check the videotape, as they used to say, Orin Wolf --

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA: It's online.

BLITZER: Let's go to the videotape. It was in the videotape, we see what the President actually said in that interview with Lester Holt. Everybody, stick around. There's more news. Today's moving church service for John McCain's Arizona friends and former Vice President Biden honored the senator's legacy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[17:45:00] JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My name is Joe Biden.

(LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: I'm a Democrat.

(LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: And I love John McCain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Tonight, the plane carrying John McCain's family and the Senator's remains will arrive at joint Base Andrews near Washington, D.C. The Senator's casket will lie in state tomorrow in the Capitol rotunda.

[17:50:05] Today, the Senator's family and friends including the former Vice President Joe Biden gathered in Phoenix to honor Senator McCain's legacy and to say goodbye. CNN's Nick Watt is joining us now from Phoenix. Nick, tell us more about this extraordinary service.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there were tears, there was music, and there was just a little laughter all in remembrance of a politician the likes of whom this country might never see again.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WATT: A flag-draped casket, a grieving family, and a Baptist service.

Arizona's final farewell to her favorite adopted son. A eulogy from a political foe and personal friend.

BIDEN: My name is Joe Biden.

(LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: I'm a Democrat.

(LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: And I love John McCain.

WATT: McCain in death keeping bipartisanship alive.

BIDEN: That's who John was. He could not stand the abuse of power. Wherever he saw it, in whatever form, in whatever country. Always about basic values, John, fairness, honesty, dignity, respect, giving hate no safe harbor, leaving no one behind. An understanding as Americans we're part of something much bigger than ourselves.

WATT: Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals also spoke. He and McCain, mutual fans.

LARRY FITZGERALD JR., ARIZONA CARDINALS PLAYER: I'm black, he was white.

(LAUGHTER)

FITZGERALD: I'm young, he wasn't so young. He lived with physical limitations brought on by war. I'm a professional athlete. He ran for President, I run out of bounds. He was the epitome of toughness and I do everything I can to avoid contact. I have flowing locks, and well, he didn't. How does this unlikely pair become friends? I've asked myself this same question. But do you know what the answer is? That's just who he is.

WATT: Readings from two of McCain's seven children, Andrew --

ANDREW MCCAIN, SON OF JOHN MCCAIN: I have fought a good fight.

WATT: And Bridget, adopted as a child from Bangladesh.

BRIDGET MCCAIN: To everything, there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven, a time to be born and a time to die.

WATT: And the recessional.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did it my way.

WATT: How very appropriate. Members of the public invited into the church and lining these streets in nearly 100-degree heat as the motorcade passed. At the airport, a final farewell from the state he loved, the state he made home, courtesy of the Arizona Air National Guard. Then, a final flight towards Washington, a trip McCain made so many times in 35 years representing this state in the nation's capital. On board, 18 family members, among them: Cindy, seven kids, and four grandkids.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATT: Now, Arizona has now said goodbye. Now, it is the turn of the nation, as you mentioned, Wolf, McCain will lie in state in the capitol rotunda tomorrow, there will be a service at the national cathedral Saturday, followed by a private burial Sunday at John McCain's alma-mater, the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Wolf?

BLITZER: Nick Watt reporting for us. Nick, thank you very, very much. It was indeed a very, very moving, moving memorial service. Coming up, breaking news, as questions swirl about the fate of his attorney general, President Trump says in a new Bloomberg News interview that Jeff Sessions is safe for now, at least until after the November midterm elections. And the President tells Bloomberg, he views Robert Mueller's Russia probe as an, quote, illegal investigation. Would he comply with a Mueller subpoena? [17:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, illegal investigation. The President is railing against the Russia probe in a new interview, refusing to say if he'd comply with a subpoena from Robert Mueller, and hinting that Attorney General Jeff sessions could be gone after Election Day.

Trump's tail spin, as his White House Counsel heads for the door, the President tries to downplay the potential impact on the Russia probe, unleashing a barrage of mean tweets that demean his opponents and defy reality.

Decades of dirt? We're learning more about Mr. Trump's efforts to burry ugly allegations against him as he reportedly wanted his fixer, Michael Cohen, to pay for decades' worth of tabloid secrets. Is Robert Mueller inquiring about that?

And dangerous threat, a man is charged with threatening to kill employees of a major newspaper in the United States after he allegedly echoed the President's mantra that journalists are, quote, the enemy of the people.

Tonight, growing fears that Mr. Trump's anti-media attacks are inciting violence. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.