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Washington Post: U.S. Denying Passports to Americans Along the Border, Accusing Them of Phony Birth Certificates; McCain Casket Arrives in DC Area Soon After Arizona Service; Will Trump Fire Sessions?; Interview With Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro; Interview With Stormy Daniels Attorney Michael Avenatti. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired August 30, 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: 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.
The president setting the stage for potential moves to thwart the Russia investigation. In a new interview with Bloomberg News, he says he used the Mueller probe as -- quote -- "illegal" and he's leaving the door open to defying a subpoena from the special counsel.
The president also suggesting that he might fire or force out Jeff Sessions in the coming weeks. He says the attorney general's job is safe until at least after the Election Day in November. After that, it seems all bets are off this.
This hour, I will speak with Stormy Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, and House Intelligence Committee member Joaquin Castro. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. He's in Indiana, where the president has an event, a campaign rally later tonight.
Jeff, new comments by the president with lots of implications for the Russia probe.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they certainly do.
As the president flies here to Indiana to rally Republicans for the midterm elections, he is certainly answering at least a few questions about the Russia investigation, first and foremost about the attorney general, Jeff Sessions.
Of course, he has been the president's punching bag for several months now, but now, of course, he is saying his job is safe until at least November. But he's also still fuming about the Russia investigation. He called it today an illegal investigation.
ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump airing a long list of grievances today, agitating about the departure of the top White House lawyer.
A day after praising White House counsel Don McGahn...
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's a good man, very good man. Don, excellent guy. Yes, Don McGahn is a really good guy.
ZELENY: ... the president suddenly turning defensive over why another top aide is heading for the exits.
"I liked Don, but he was not responsible for me not firing Bob Mueller or Jeff Sessions," the president saying on Twitter, referring to the special counsel leading the Russia investigation and the embattled attorney general who recused himself from it.
After acknowledging he didn't know exactly what McGahn had told Mueller's team during a combined three hours of testimony...
TRUMP: No, I don't have to be aware. We have -- we do everything straight. We do everything by the book. And Don is an excellent guy.
ZELENY: ... he tweeted this today: "The rigged Russia witch-hunt did not come into play even a little bit with respect to my decision on Don McGahn."
The president making clear through his own rapid-fire tweets what was weighing on his mind today. Responding to reports that his daughter and son-in-law wanted McGahn out, the president saying: "Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner had nothing to do with the so-called pushing out of Don McGahn."
And blasting his favorite target, the media, he added: "They love to portray chaos in the White House, when they know that chaos doesn't exist. Just a smooth-running machine with changing parts."
But that smooth-running machine is under the microscope, as the president hits the road for a campaign rally tonight in Indiana, where Republicans are trying to pick up a Senate seat.
CNN has learned Republican senators are privately pleading with the president to wait until after the midterm elections to fire Sessions, fearful of the political fallout. The president is still fuming about Sessions recusing himself from the Russia investigation, but that's not all.
He's now openly dismissive of his attorney general's personality and accent, with Politico reporting the president is complaining Sessions talks like he has marbles in his mouth.
JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Make America great again.
ZELENY: Harsh words for the first Republican senator to endorse Trump's presidential bid.
For now at least, Sessions is standing his ground.
SESSIONS: The president ordered me to focus on dismantling transnational criminal organizations. And every day at the Department of Justice, we have been faithful to that order.
ZELENY: Not answering questions about his future.
QUESTION: Mr. Attorney General, can you explain why you're still on the job after being attacked by the president so much?
ZELENY: But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell making his view clear.
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.
ZELENY: All this the president seemed to have the firing of FBI Director James Comey on his mind once again today, trying to backpedal on comments last year where he tied Comey's dismissal to the Russia probe.
TRUMP: This Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse.
ZELENY: The president offering no evidence, but accusing NBC News of "fudging my tape on Russia."
It comes as the Mueller probe escalates and now includes potential obstruction of justice.
ZELENY: So, there is no question that the president has made very clear what's on his mind today, tweeting throughout the morning at the White House and certainly giving that interview with Bloomberg news, indeed making news about Jeff Sessions, saying that he will keep him on until at least November.
Now, that, of course, is going to be something that is going to make Republican senators and indeed House members very pleased. They were worried about the fallout from any firing that could happen, but, Wolf, we will we will see what the president says here tonight in Indiana.
This is part of his midterm election push. Republicans trying to win this Senate seat. Of course, now it's held by incumbent Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly. It's one of those red states the White House is hoping Republican will pick up in November.
We will see what the president addresses tonight. He certainly make clear the Russia investigation is weighing heavy on his mind -- Wolf. BLITZER: As it should.
Jeff Zeleny in Evansville, Indiana, Jeff, thank you very much.
Let's talk about the breaking news on the president's timetable for potentially firing Jeff Sessions.
Our political correspondent, Sara Murray, is here with me.
Sara, Mr. Trump says Sessions' job is safe until Election Day in November. What are you hearing?
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he is saying that Sessions is safe until Election Day.
I think the caveat here is that obviously Trump has been a very unpredictable president, and who knows if he will wake up tomorrow or in a week or say something differently. But we know that there are a number of people around him, both other Republicans on Capitol Hill, as well as other allies from his campaign days, who have urged him to wait, to wait on getting rid of Sessions.
They have said, you're completely within your rights to do that. You can do that. But let's wait until after the midterm elections. Let's get through one thing at a time. And let's not do something that may act as a rallying cry for Democrats.
And it does seem like that message is sinking in with President Trump, although I do think it's telling that in that Bloomberg interview where he says Sessions is safe, at least until the midterm, they asked, well, what about after November, and President Trump declined to comment.
BLITZER: So let's say he's fired, he's done after the November midterm elections. Is that a blow to the Mueller investigation?
MURRAY: Well, on its face, Wolf, the attorney general has been there for two years. His relationship with the president has obviously deteriorated.
It wouldn't be crazy in a different situation for the president to get rid of his attorney general and replace him. I think the question is, what do you do next, President Trump, after you have replaced Jeff Sessions? Do you use that as a way to try to end the Russia investigation? He said today that he believes essentially it's an illegal investigation.
Do you try to get rid of Rod Rosenstein, who's overseeing it? Do you try to fire Robert Mueller? And I think that's really where the alarm bells begin to start going off, is if he's getting rid of Jeff Sessions as a way to essentially end the Russia investigation.
And right now, we're not really sure what the president may do next.
BLITZER: Yes. Certainly, that's an accurate point.
Thank you very much for that, Sara.
Joining us now, Congressman Joaquin Castro. He's a Democrat. He serves on the Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committee -- committees.
Congressman, thank you so much for joining us.
Let me get your reaction. The president of the United States now telling Bloomberg News that he views this entire Russia probe by Robert Mueller, in his words, as an illegal investigation.
How troubling is that to you, and how do you think he's going to act on that conclusion?
REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: Obviously, it's very troubling. It's been troubling for a long time.
This president has never liked the fact that there's an investigation going on into how he conducted himself, how his family members and his campaign team conducted themselves in the 2016 elections, and how closely they worked with the Russians who interfered with our presidential elections in 2016 and congressional races.
So it's not a surprise that he's still very much antagonistic towards this thing. But he just better not do anything to take away the power of Bob Mueller to complete this investigation. And that includes firing Jeff Sessions to take control of the investigation.
BLITZER: It sounds like President Trump understands the risks of taking any action before the November midterms, but he wouldn't comment on whether his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is safe after November 6.
Would you view any effort to replace Sessions as a first step in his effort to try to end the Russia probe?
CASTRO: Well, I mean, because of his past statements, then, yes, I would think that firing Jeff Sessions would be an attempt to have some -- a new attorney general come in and get back the power to oversee the Russia investigation.
The problem with that is that President Trump is most likely to pick somebody who is completely loyal to him and who is essentially willing to bury that investigation, I think. So that's the concern of millions of Americans.
And Congress should pass a bill to protect Bob Mueller's investigation. Unfortunately, in this Republican-led Congress, that legislation hasn't gone anywhere.
BLITZER: The president also today said in a tweet that it wasn't his outgoing White House counsel, Don McGahn, who convinced him not to fire Mueller or Sessions.
Is that an admission, though, that he tried to get rid of both of those men? CASTRO: I mean, I think, based on reporting, consistent reporting, it seems like he's been entertaining this idea for a long time.
It'll be interesting to see what -- when we find out eventually what Don McGahn told Bob Mueller's team in terms -- most specifically in terms of issues with obstruction of justice, and the president and the Russia investigation.
BLITZER: The president is also now trying to diminish his own words in that NBC interview last year in which he admitted that firing James Comey was done because of the Russia investigation.
You think the president is now realizing how damaging that admission that he delivered on videotape with NBC News and Lester Holt could be for him in the Russia investigation, how damaging it could be potentially as confirmation of obstruction of justice?
CASTRO: Yes, I think that's exactly it.
Look, I think the president went into an interview with Lester Holt and was basically too honest, honest in a way that his lawyers probably told him afterwards could give him real legal trouble and real political trouble.
And so, yes, I think he's trying to backtrack now. But his honest reaction back then, of course, lives on forever on videotape.
BLITZER: When he says Lester Holt and NBC News fudged that videotape to make it look different than it actually was, what's your reaction when you hear an accusation like that, which has no basis in fact?
CASTRO: It's -- I mean, it's just ridiculous.
It's the president really, I think, trying to convince his political base, trying to get them to believe what he wants them to believe, so that they will continue to support him, because it's not based in fact, what he said.
BLITZER: In another tweet, President Trump directed the U.S. Supreme Court now to investigate the FISA court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court. How concerning is that to you?
CASTRO: It's extremely concerning. That's obviously a very -- I'm limited in what I can say about it, but obviously a very important function to make sure that we keep the United States safe.
So the president messing with that process is extremely concerning.
BLITZER: Well, explain what you mean. I know you're on the Intelligence Committee. You can't release classified information, but why are you limited in discussing what the FISA court is all about?
CASTRO: Well, you're right, because the information is classified. They're -- basically what they do, a lot of that is classified.
But suffice it to say that that's part of the process that makes sure that the United States is not vulnerable to people that would -- foreign actors that would do ill will. And so if the president is going to weaken that process somehow or take away powers from it, then that is a very serious thing.
And it's something that needs to be vetted carefully by the Congress, and not just changed on a whim.
BLITZER: If Democrats do win back the majority in the House of Representatives in November -- and you're a member of the House -- what investigations do you plan to pursue? What sort of information will you pursue? You will, as the majority, have subpoena power.
I mean, I think, obviously, it's still early to discuss what exactly which investigations will take place. I believe that, over the last two years or so, or really since the president took office, the majority has not conducted robust oversight.
As you know, the Intelligence Committee investigation in the House, for example, on the Russia investigation didn't issue a single subpoena for any travel records, bank records, phone records, absolutely nothing. And so what you will see is Democrats actually putting in the hard work and the thorough work of going in there and doing real investigations.
And we will not only, I think, investigate the Russia issue and the interference in our election, but also investigate the issue of the 500 or so kids who still have not been reunited with their parents, the kids at the border that were separated and how all of that came about, and, of course, other things that are important to the American people.
BLITZER: Well, let's talk about one other thing that is very significant right now.
I want to get your reaction to this truly stunning report in "The Washington Post" that the Trump administration is now denying, denying passport renewals for U.S. citizens along the U.S.-Mexico border on the basis of their birth certificates, with they're now accusing these American citizens, including military personnel, law enforcement personnel, of having fraudulent birth certificates.
They're now saying, if you're Hispanic, Hispanic American, you live along the border, and you want to get your passport renewed, you're going to have trouble getting it renewed. What's your response? Because it is truly a shocking story.
CASTRO: Yes, I mean, I was just shocked when I saw -- when I read the article, the investigation about this.
And this is basically a president and an administration targeting Americans, U.S. citizens, based on their ethnic heritage, going after a group of people and challenging their full rights of citizenship.
This is something that every American should be concerned about, because, in this country, over immigration, we often have debates over undocumented immigrants, now, under President Trump, over the number of legal residents that should be here.
This is not about that. This is about a president coming after American citizens based on the color of their skin and their ancestry.
And so, right now, my office is helping a Marine veteran who is not able to get a passport, who's been denied a passport. And so there are other cases like this. And the president, I believe, is intensifying this, because, I mean, we have had cases in the past where this has happened.
In fact, there was a 2009 settlement to fix this. But the Trump administration seems to be ignoring that settlement and targeting Hispanics in Texas along the U.S.-Mexico border.
BLITZER: So what, if anything, can you do to fix this? And if the administration goes ahead and starts denying passport renewals to U.S. citizens, people who were born here in the United States, have birth certificates to confirm that, what, if anything, can you do about that?
CASTRO: Well, we have reached out -- many of us have reached out to the State Department to get an understanding of the scope of this, how many people are affected.
My office had other offices had a call with the State Department today. They couldn't give us an exact number, but said that they would get us that information.
Look, this has to be investigated by the Foreign Affairs Committee that has jurisdiction over the State Department or the Government Oversight Reform Committee. It's got to be investigated in the U.S. Congress.
And if this is egregious, and it's widespread, which we believe that it may be at this point, then we need to do everything possible to stop it.
BLITZER: And you're a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. And keep us up to speed on this development. Appreciate it very much.
CASTRO: Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead: Did the president try to buy off "The National Enquirer" to prevent decades' worth of his dirty secrets from going public?
We're going to talk about new reporting on payments he discussed with his former fixer, Michael Cohen.
Stormy Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, there you see him. He's here. He's live. We will discuss when we come back.
BLITZER: Breaking tonight: President Trump won't say if he'd comply with a subpoena to testify in the Russia probe, telling Bloomberg News he views Robert Mueller's investigation as illegal, his word, illegal.
Also tonight, there's new reporting that Mr. Trump's efforts to bury negative stories about him were more extensive than we previously knew.
"The New York Times" says Mr. Trump and his then lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, hatched a plan to buy decades of dirt collected by "The National Enquirer." The taped conversation between Cohen and Mr. Trump obtained by CNN seems to hint at that plan.
Let's go to our national correspondent, Brynn Gingras.
Brynn, this would go beyond the hush money payments at the center of Michael Cohen's plea agreement.
BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, I mean, this goes back all the way to the '80s, when we're talking about the salacious information, according to this "Times" report.
And we're talking about affairs, lawsuits and much more. And it gives you a sense of the relationship Trump had with AMI chief David Pecker, who many times would buy these and then make sure they don't see the light of day.
It also shows you Trump's mind-set, right, how he worked to control negative information about himself long before he became president.
GINGRAS (voice-over): Tonight, "The New York Times" reporting that Donald Trump and his former personal attorney Michael Cohen once discussed a plan to buy all stories "The National Enquirer" had collected on Trump going back to the 1980s.
That discussion was strongly hinted at in a secret audio recording made by Cohen and released exclusively to CNN by his lawyers in July.
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY/FIXER FOR DONALD TRUMP: It's all the stuff.
GINGRAS: On that tape, Trump and Cohen heard discussing setting up a payment system to American Media, Inc., "The National Enquirer"'s parent company.
COHEN: I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David.
GINGRAS: David is David Pecker, the head of AMI.
Pecker had a cozy relationship with Trump. And to protect him, Pecker would dig up the dirt on Trump, often paying for the stories, and then bury them in a practice called catch and kill. The Associated Press reports unsavory stories were kept in a safe at AMI. And according to "The New York Times," that safe contained decades of material on Trump, like his marital woes and lawsuits, lists of sensitive sources, and tips about alleged affairs.
Cohen and Trump even discussed a backup plan just in case Pecker, the holder of the secrets, was no longer around.
COHEN: it's all the stuff.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, I was thinking about that.
COHEN: All the stuff. Because -- here, you never know where that company -- you never know what he's...
TRUMP: Maybe he gets hit by a truck.
GINGRAS: Trump and Cohen also mentioned Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg in their plans to pay for the information.
COHEN: And, I've spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with...
TRUMP: So, what do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?
COHEN: ... funding.
GINGRAS: "The Times" reports that Trump never did buy all of the stories from AMI.
But in his guilty plea last week, Cohen admitted to working to buy the silence of Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, two women who alleged affairs with Trump. Cohen also said the payments were directed by then candidate Donald Trump. Trump denies those affairs.
Both Pecker and Weisselberg helped the government with its case against Cohen in exchange for immunity. With the immunity deals, it's unclear what other secrets they may now be sharing with federal prosecutors.
GINGRAS: Now, it's unclear if attorneys in the Southern District or the special counsel have any interest in this trove of other negative Trump stories that have not been reported. But we did reach out to comments -- for comment to AMI, and they
declined to give one -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brynn Gingras reporting for us, thank you very much.
Joining us now, Stormy Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti.
Michael, thanks so much for joining us.
MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: Good afternoon.
BLITZER: So what do you make of this new reporting that we just heard?
AVENATTI: Well, this is just more evidence, Wolf, of the relationship that existed between David Pecker and Donald Trump for years, it appears over a decade.
And what's amazing to me is, frankly -- and this is another example of someone that was close to Donald Trump, and yet did not trust him. You have Michael Cohen, who was at the right hand of Donald Trump for the better part of 10 to 12 years, felt it necessary to tape their conversations, maintain evidence against Donald Trump in the event that it was needed.
Now we find out that it appears that David Pecker did the same thing. At the same time that he was supposedly friends with Donald Trump, he knew better than to trust him entirely. In fact, it appears that he knew that he could not trust him. And that's why he maintained this information.
And this -- this process or this standard, if you will, Wolf, is ultimately going to be the downfall of Donald Trump. I mean, here's a guy that demands 100 percent loyalty from everyone around him, but gives loyalty to no one, and ultimately it's going to come back and bite him.
BLITZER: But the president apparently never followed through on this plan to purchase all that so-called dirt. If he did, but if he -- is there anything illegal about that, if he used this own money? Let's say he did do that, used his own money. It never did happen.
AVENATTI: You would have to know more about the context in which the payments were made and the flow of the money, Wolf.
There may be money laundering concerns. There may be bank fraud issues that could arise, depending on what accounts were set up, what banks were told relating to those accounts, the purpose of the accounts. You would have to have no -- you would have to have much more information in order to give an opinion or arrive at a conclusion relating to that.
But it would not just be as cut and dry as perhaps Donald Trump would want it to be, namely, if he used his own money, there'd be nothing wrong with it. It would also depend on the timing associated with the election, of course. BLITZER: Do you think of more of those damaging stories going back to the '80s will become public?
AVENATTI: There's little doubt in my mind, Wolf, that we have only scratched the surface relating to the amount of information that's going to come to light.
I know that for a fact. I have been saying for many months now that the disloyalty that Donald Trump showed Michael Cohen will ultimately come back and hurt him. This is an individual that knew where all the bodies were buried for many, many years. You join him with Mr. Pecker, and it's a real problem for the president.
BLITZER: Very quickly, David Pecker, the owner, the chief, the CEO, the chairman of American Media, the parent company of "The National Enquirer," he received immunity in exchange for his testimony.
What about Dylan Howard, the chief content officer of American Media? "The Wall Street Journal" says he also is cooperating, received immunity. What do you know?
AVENATTI: I'm not aware of whether he received immunity or not.
But if you look at the events over the last -- or the reporting over the last week alone, the last eight, nine days, you have got Michael Cohen, David Pecker, Mr. Weisselberg. This is not looking good at all for Donald Trump. The walls are closing in, and it's only a matter of time before additional information surfaces.
And none of it is going to be good for Mr. Trump.
BLITZER: Michael Avenatti, thanks so much joining us.
AVENATTI: Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead: Will President Trump fight a subpoena from Robert Mueller if it comes to that? We're going to talk about Mr. Trump's new remarks about the Russia probe.
And we're also digging deeper right now on new reporting that the Trump administration is refusing to give passports to perhaps thousands of Hispanic American citizens.
Stay with us.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're following breaking news on a new interview with the president in which he's saying that his views on the Russian investigation are very specific. He says it's illegal. He's refusing to say if he'd comply with a subpoena to testify from Robert Mueller.
[18:34:18] Let's bring in our analysts. And Jeffrey Toobin, the president tells Bloomberg News the Mueller probe is an illegal investigation. Is he itching to act on that? What's your sense? JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, he's wrong. You know,
both the federal district judges in Washington and in Virginia in the Manafort cases have heard that argument and rejected it rather easily.
All Robert Mueller is, is an employee of the Department of Justice. He -- so I don't even understand the argument that he's -- that there's something illegal about his appointment.
And you know, I think he is itching to get rid of this -- to get rid of Mueller. I think he's been persuaded to put off all decisions about Mueller, about Sessions until after the election, but it sounds to me like close of business on the day of the election, Jeff -- Jeff Sessions will be looking for a new job.
BLITZER: It sounds like that to me, as well. What do you think, Rebecca?
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's what he said, Wolf, in his interview with Bloomberg today in the Oval Office. And it's interesting, because it seems to suggest that the president understands how politically risky firing Jeff Sessions would be, the political implications of that decision, that it would be extremely controversial. And in the context of the midterm elections, it would be like throwing a grenade into a gas station.
But what about after the midterms? Will it be any different? I mean, you have to consider whether the Mueller investigation is ongoing, and then after midterms there's a chance that you might have Democrats in charge of the Senate. It could be a very difficult confirmation process.
BLITZER: The president just landed in Evansville, Indiana. You see him there, just getting into his limo there. You see the arrival. He's going to be giving -- doing a campaign rally later tonight on behalf of the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate who's challenging Joe Donnelly. Right now, I suppose, he will be pretty lively in that campaign rally later tonight, as he usually is.
I'm interested, Jamie, in what you think, Sessions gone right after the midterm elections?
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I think that we have -- you never know. It could change. That's what he said today, but I think that he's been convinced to do that. And one of the people we've seen out there a lot this week is Lindsey Graham, which is a big reversal for Lindsey Graham. Remember, it was not too long ago he said, holy hell before it would happen.
And there are a lot of people wondering why Lindsey Graham is doing this. There's some speculation that he did it to slow-roll it, to keep Trump from doing it for a couple of months. But there's also some speculation that maybe Lindsey Graham might like to be attorney general.
BLITZER: Interesting. Very interesting. David Swerdlick, the president today tried to argue falsely that NBC
and Lester Holt, they played around, they fudged that very important interview that the president gave in which he blamed the Russia probe for the firing of Comey. He tweeted this: "Lester Holt got caught fudging my tape on Russia." That's simply not true.
Let me play the tape. You'll see specifically what the president said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Why is he making up a bogus excuse now, all of these months later, more than a year later?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's the big question, Wolf, why now, right? If you're going to argue that "I was taken out of context," or "That's not what I meant to say," it's a funny way of showing it by bringing it up over a year later.
His comments in that clip you played are not ambiguous at all. And then, of course, there's also the May 9 letter that the president sent to James Comey firing him, saying, you know, "I appreciate that you told me on three separate occasions that I wasn't being investigated by you, but nevertheless, I agree with the Justice Department that you have to go."
BLITZER: Let Jeffrey Toobin weigh in. Go ahead, Jeffrey.
TOOBIN: Well, you know, the president has a history of denying the obvious. Remember, he has also suggested that the "Access Hollywood" tape is somehow not real.
You know, I guess it's an example of magical thinking, that, you know, he can try to persuade himself of these things, but he certainly can't persuade anyone else.
BLITZER: You know, Jamie, he's also not only going after what he calls the fake news media, all of a sudden today he posts a tweet going after what he calls "fake books which come out about me all the time, always anonymous sources and are pure fiction."
Our friend Maggie Haberman of "The New York times" tweeted, quote, "Some anxiety about Woodward?" closed quote. That suggests Bob Woodward, his book is coming out in less than two weeks, a book about what's going on inside the White House. I know from my sources, a lot of White House officials are freaking out about the Woodward book.
GANGEL: Right. I think in two words, Maggie nailed it. I think she's absolutely right.
We know what we've reported about the book is that Woodward spoke to dozens of insiders, that the interviews were tape recorded, that in addition to that, it extensively quotes the president in the book -- in the Oval Office, in the situation room, in the White House residence -- and that in addition to that he was given documents, files, memos, diaries, notes, handwritten by the president.
And once that was announced, I think that the president is having high anxiety about what's coming out now.
[18:40:07] Bob Woodward is not Michael Wolf, and he is not Omarosa. He is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning reporter who does meticulous fact checking, and he brought down another president.
BLITZER: Together with Carl Bernstein, as we all remember.
Jeffrey Toobin, a very troubling development today, a different story. The FBI arrested a man who called into the newsroom of "The Boston Globe," made a chilling threat. According to court documents, this individual said, quote, "You're the enemy of the people, and we're going to kill every expletive one of you."
The phrase "the enemy of the people," we know where that comes from. The president saying it, including today in his tweets.
Does the president realize where his angry words, going after the American news media as the enemy of the American people, does he realize that, God forbid, where that could lead?
TOOBIN: I mean, he certainly shows no worry about it, because he keeps talking about the news media that way.
You know, I think when presidents speak, they have sort of a hydraulic effect. It has more power than just the words itself, because the words get so much attention.
And these endless attacks on the news media, even though the president has never called for violence against the people who do the work that we do, you can see how people who are unhinged, who are his followers could take those words and -- and threaten violence or commit violence.
This is why responsible public officials don't talk that way. They talk in a more measured, appropriate way. But Donald Trump got elected president by saying outrageous things, and he is continuing to say outrageous things. And I just hope nobody gets shot or dies as a result.
BLITZER: Yes, it's -- it's a really troubling development, indeed.
Everybody stick around. The U.S. government is now -- this is a truly stunning, shocking story, reportedly denying passports to American citizens living along the southern border with Mexico, accusing them of having phony birth certificates. And Arizona bids farewell to Senator John McCain, as former vice
president, Joe Biden, gives a very moving tribute to his longtime friend and laments the lost values that Senator McCain held so dear.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN (D), FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm a Democrat.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[18:47:04] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Tonight, there's more anxiety on the southern border after a new report that Latino Americans are being denied passports, having their U.S. citizenship all of a sudden questioned.
CNN's Nick Valencia is joining us. He's following the story.
Nick, hundreds of people, reportedly, are being accused of using, what, phony birth certificates?
NICK VALENCIA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It's shocking. And, specifically, the government is cracking down on those who were delivered by midwives in South Texas between the 1950s and 1990s. As "The Washington Post" reports that this is happening with more frequency and that it could affect hundreds if not thousands of Americans, most of them Latinos.
VALENCIA (voice-over): Along the border in South Texas, American citizens are being denied U.S. passports and their nationality is being questioned. "The Washington Post" reports those denied are often Latino, living here along the border. In some cases, legal limbo caused by a denied passport left Americans stranded outside of the U.S., or facing deportation proceedings.
According to "The Post", the Trump administration is accusing hundreds and possibly thousands of Hispanics along the border of using fraudulent birth certificates since they were babies, and that it is undertaking a widespread crackdown. Scrutiny and passport denials for those born near the border began during the George W. Bush administration and continued through the early days of Barack Obama's presidency.
The State Department is not providing current data of the denials, so CNN cannot independently verify they have surged under President Trump. But several immigration attorneys in South Texas paint the picture that it has. One attorney told us that he has dozens of such cases in court now.
Carlos Garcia, another attorney, says he noticed a particular pattern under the Trump administration. CARLOS GARCIA, IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY: There's no doubt that the Latino
community is under attack and these tactics that the government is using throughout their different agencies are direct attack on members of our community.
VALENCIA: The government says their suspicion stems from people born with the help of mid wives, some of whom in years past allegedly provided U.S. birth certificates to babies who are actually born in Mexico, outside of paperwork heavy hospitals. Midwives are a common option in South Texas for families unable to afford the labor ward.
ARTHUR: It's really difficult to try to prove that you were born. I'm American, I have my papers, I have voted.
VALENCIA: Arthur, who requested anonymity because he fears retribution from immigration officials, told CNN he's had his passport renewal request denied twice, once during the Obama administration and again this year. He said he was asked more specific questions this time around.
ARTHUR: They don't trust that you're a citizen.
VALENCIA: The State Department tells CNN there's been no change in policy, adding the border region is, quote, an area of the country where there has been significant incidence of citizenship fraud.
[18:50:03] Midwives and other birth attendants, in addition to legitimately registering births born in the United States have accepted money and filed U.S. birth certificates for babies actually born in Mexico. The department provided no concrete evidence to support this claim.
GARCIA: I had people walk in to my office wearing a military uniform, come in and basically in tears, telling me that a superior has admitted to them that perhaps they aren't United States citizens. It's definitely present. (AUDIO GAP) a lot.
VALENCIA: Now, many who bear the burden of proving their birthplace are in limbo.
VALENCIA: And some of those in limbo are Americans who have lived in the United States their whole lives, in some cases served in the U.S. military. "The Washington Post" reports in at least another case, one person was a border patrol agent. And really quick, a caveat to all of this, Wolf, is that this is happening at a time when President Trump is lobbying for stricter federal voter ID laws in an area predominantly Democratic and as we mention heavily Latino -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Nick Valencia with that story, thank you very much. I know you'll stay on top of it for us.
Just ahead: A tribute to Senator John McCain and bipartisanship as the senator is remembered by his long time friend, the former vice president of the United States. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: My name is Joe Biden. I'm a Democrat. And I loved John McCain.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[18:56:16] BLITZER: Right now, a final journey for Senator John McCain to here in the nation's capital where he served more than three decades. The late senator's casket is being flown to Joint Base Andrews just outside Washington after a very emotional memorial service in his home state of Arizona.
The former Vice President Joe Biden among the friends and the loved ones who shared memories of Senator McCain's life, his humor, and his character.
Our chief political correspondent Dana Bash reports from Phoenix.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Signs and flags planted on the motorcade route, an organic show of appreciation for the man who represented them for decades. But the man they call senator, McCain's family calls husband and dad.
The emotion palpable.
BRIDGET MCCAIN, JOHN MCCAIN'S DAUGHTER: To everything, there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven.
BASH: Also, lots of levity. John McCain's friends came with classic stories of a man with an unparalleled sense of humor.
TOMMY ESPINOZA, JOHN MCCAIN'S FRIEND: He said, well, with a big smile on his face, watch out when you start your car.
BASH: Grant Woods, talking about his first day as McCain's chief of staff, back in the House.
GRANT WOODS, FORMER MCCAIN CHIEF OF STAFF: All of the staff came out, they were all waving and things. They seem to be very nice. He said, you're going to have to fire half of them.
I said, what? What are you talking about? And he just sped off, and the staff was waving, and about one minute later, we went right back by because he had gone the wrong way, of course.
BASH: The people he chose to speak showed depth and diversity of his friendships.
LARRY FITZGERALD, ARIZONA CARDINALS PLAYER: I'm black. He was white. I'm young, he wasn't so young. He ran for president, I run out of bounds. BIDEN: My name is Joe Biden. I'm a Democrat.
BASH: And, of course, reminders of his willingness always to reach across party lines to get things done.
BIDEN: We both went into our caucus and coincidentally were approached by our caucus leaders with the same thing, raised as a discussion. Joe, it doesn't look good, you sitting next to John all the time. Swear to God. Same thing was said to John in your caucus.
That's when things began to change for the worse in America in the Senate.
BASH: Long time Senate colleague, former Vice President Joe Biden, who lost his oldest son Beau to the same rare form of brain cancer that took McCain's life delivering a moving tribute to his friend of half a century.
BIDEN: I always thought of John as a brother. We had a lot of family fights. All politics is personal. It's all about trust. I trusted John with my life.
BASH: Biden making this promise to McCain's family as they mourn.
BIDEN: But you're going to ride by that field, or smell that fragrance, receive that flashing image, and you're going to feel like you did the day you got the news, but you know you're going to make it. I give you my word. I promise you. This I know. That day will come.
BASH: Dana Bash, CNN, Phoenix, Arizona.
BLITZER: As the memorials continue for Senator McCain and move to here, Washington, D.C., the nation's capital, stay with CNN for complete coverage, including the service at the Washington National Cathedral Saturday morning.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.