Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Corey Lewandowski Appears Before Congress; Trump's Ex-Campaign Manager Stonewalls, Clashes With Democrats In Impeachment Hearing; Interview With Rep. Steve Cohen (R-TN). Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 17, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:03]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We have new forecasts for multiple storm threats that are intensifying tonight.

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 brazen stonewalling and bitter partisanship, as the House Judiciary Committee holds its first official impeachment hearings.

Former Trump campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski in the witness chair, refusing to answer many key questions about potential obstruction by President Trump. When he wasn't clamming up or clashing repeatedly with Democrats, Lewandowski did confirm that Mr. Trump asked him to try to help limit Robert Mueller's investigation.

This hour, I will talk to House Judiciary Committee Democrat Steve Cohen, who questioned Lewandowski. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our Senior Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju, up on Capitol Hill.

Manu, the House Judiciary Committee's hearing was combative from the very start.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No question about it, Wolf.

A partisan fight broke out moments after this hearing started, as Republicans objected to the Democrats' handling of this, and Democrats objected to the White House moving to limit Corey Lewandowski's testimony and block two other former White House officials from testifying today.

And, Wolf, just moments ago, the Judiciary Committee chairman, Jerry Nadler, warned that he may have hold Corey Lewandowski in contempt for not answering certain questions, something the Republicans call a charade. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI): You're not going to stonewall me and my questioning.

RAJU (voice-over): Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski sparred with House Democrats during a contentious impeachment hearing today and confirmed an element of the Mueller report, that the president urged him to intervene in an attempt to limit the investigation.

After initially asking for time at the hearing to read the Mueller report...

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Congressman, I'm just trying to find in the Mueller report where it states that.

RAJU: -- Lewandowski said the report accurately portrayed the president's 2017 directive that Lewandowski deliver a message to Sessions, that he unrecuse himself from the Mueller probe, and then limit the investigation to only include future elections.

Democratic Congressman Hank Johnson read from the note that the Mueller report said Trump wanted Lewandowski to deliver to the then attorney general.

REP. HANK JOHNSON (D-GA): "As I note that I recuse myself from certain things having to do with specific areas, but our POTUS is being treated very unfairly. He shouldn't have a special prosecutor counsel because he hasn't done anything wrong."

Now, that's what he wanted you to deliver to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, correct?

LEWANDOWSKI: I believe that's an accurate representation.

JOHNSON: And he wanted you to deliver it to Jeff, so that Jeff could say it to the people, right?

LEWANDOWSKI: I believe so.

RAJU: And Lewandowski confirmed that he wanted to meet with Sessions at a neutral place, and not on the Justice Department's turf.

LEWANDOWSKI: That's right. I wanted to have a private conversation in a more relaxed atmosphere.

RAJU: The report also said that Trump warned that Sessions would be fired if he didn't meet with Lewandowski. The message was never delivered to Sessions.

REP. STEVE COHEN (D-TN): Either you were willing to break the law for politics and Mr. Trump, or you're some kind of a Forrest Gump relating to corruption.

So maybe let me ask you this. Did the president pick you as enforcer, he thought you would play whatever role he wanted because it was illegal? Is that possibly why he chose you to take this message to Sessions?

LEWANDOWSKI: That'd be a question for the president, Congressman.

RAJU: But Lewandowski repeatedly defended the president.

LEWANDOWSKI: And the president didn't ask me to do anything illegal.

REP. TED DEUTCH (D-FL): When the president asked you to specifically go in there and ask him to deliver a speech which was contrary to that, forget about being a lawyer. Did it strike you as off in any way? Were you concerned in any way?

LEWANDOWSKI: No, sir.

RAJU: And Lewandowski fired back at Democrats.

LEWANDOWSKI: I think they hate this president more than they love their country.

RAJU: And said he was following White House orders to not answer questions about confidential conversations with the president.

LEWANDOWSKI: The White House has directly me that I not disclose the substance of any conversations with the president.

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): When you refuse to answer these questions, you are obstructing the work of our committee. And I will remind you that article three of the impeachment against President Nixon was based on obstruction of Congress.

RAJU: The White House also taking the extraordinary step of blocking the testimony of two former White House aides, Rob Porter and Rick Dearborn, who refused to show up, despite being subpoenaed by the committee.

GOP said Democrats were putting on a show.

REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA): Because they can't sell what's inside. They can't sell the product. So they just keep packaging it differently.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RAJU: Now, the ultimate question, Wolf, is, where do Democrats go from here?

While they did get some confirmation about what was in the Mueller report, they didn't get any new evidence that they may have been seeking, a range of questions that Corey Lewandowski did not answer.

[18:05:03]

Also, they have struggled to get fact witnesses, people who have been central to the Mueller report, to come before their committee, including White House counsel Don McGahn.

A fight to get McGahn's testimony still wrapped up in court. So, Wolf, whether they move forward with impeachment proceedings, impeachment -- articles of impeachment still a very open question, as a number of Democrats, including the House speaker, have yet to embrace that effort -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A very important point.

Manu Raju, thank you.

Tonight, President Trump is praising his former campaign manager's appearance on Capitol Hill.

Our White House Correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, is in California for us right now, where the president has some events later tonight.

Kaitlan, the president apparently was watching Lewandowski very closely and gauging his loyalty.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, all the TVs on Air Force One, we are told, were turned to Corey Lewandowski's testimony earlier, up until the minute that the president landed here in California for a slew of fund-raisers over the next several days.

And sources say the president was watching closely. He wanted to see how his former aide was going to testify, whether or not he was going to be combative enough for the president with these Democrats and whether or not he was going to defend the president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LEWANDOWSKI: He's already very rich.

K. COLLINS (voice-over): Tonight, Corey Lewandowski was performing for an audience of one, who was watching closely.

"Such a beautiful opening statement by Corey Lewandowski," President Trump tweeted, less than an hour into his former campaign manager's hearing.

Lewandowski was following through on orders from the White House.

LEWANDOWSKI: I will not disclose any conversation I have had with the president, Congresswoman.

K. COLLINS: After it instructed him not to discuss his conversations with the president outside what's in Robert Mueller's report.

The White House has stopped former aides from testifying before by invoking executive privilege, but it's typically reserved for government employees. Lewandowski has never worked in the White House and hasn't worked for Trump since the 2016 campaign.

LEWANDOWSKI: It was not my idea to provide this letter. K. COLLINS: Trump watched his former a testify as he flew on Air

Force One to San Francisco for a fund-raiser. During that flight, Trump told reporters he'd rather not meet with the Iranian president in New York next week, as the White House continues to point the finger at Iran for the weekend attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And the United States of America will take whatever action is necessary to defend our country, our troops and our allies in the Gulf. You can count on it.

(APPLAUSE)

K. COLLINS: Vice President Pence didn't definitively confirm it was Iran, but he warned, the U.S. could take action.

PENCE: The secretary of state is traveling to Saudi Arabia today to discuss our response.

K. COLLINS: Trump's trip West comes as he's trying to woo Hispanic voters ahead of the 2020 election.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Hispanic Americans, they understand.

K. COLLINS: During a Monday night rally in New Mexico, a state he lost by 8 percentage points in 2016, Trump singled out one longtime supporter.

TRUMP: He happens to be Hispanic, but I have never quite figured it out, because he looks more like a WASP than I do.

K. COLLINS: Steve Cortes is a CNN contributor who was in the audience.

TRUMP: Nobody loves the Hispanics more. Who do you like more, the country or the Hispanics?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

K. COLLINS: Now, Wolf, the president is still going to be in California tomorrow when his administration makes a move to revoke one of this state's signature environmental policies, its ability to set those tailpipe pollution standards stricter than the federal rules, something that is not only going to be a blow to the state of California, which, of course, you note the president has feuded with several times.

But, Wolf, it's also going to be a blow to his predecessor's signature environmental policy, something that the president will surely like -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kaitlan Collins in California for us, thank you.

Let's get the latest evidence right now implicating Iran in the attacks on the Saudi oil facilities.

Our National Security Reporter, Kylie Atwood, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM with us.

Kylie, what are investigators learning right now?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well, a U.S. official tells CNN that Saudi has actually recovered a fully intact circuit board from one of the weapons that was used in this attack against the Saudi oil fields.

What they're hoping to do with the recovery of this is be able to track where this attack came from. Assuming that it came from Iran, they will be able to know that. What we do know, what U.S. official are telling us is that this was a very sophisticated attack.

It avoided areas where there's high -intensity U.S. intelligence. It went around it, so they were trying to do something secretive here. They were trying to hide certain things. And in the coming days, we are going to learn more, as U.S. officials have promised to provide more information.

BLITZER: As you know, Kylie, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is on his way. He's flying to Saudi Arabia right now.

What do we anticipate from this visit?

ATWOOD: That's right.

[18:10:00]

So, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been sent by the president to Saudi Arabia and to the United Arab Emirates to discuss the situation that is unfolding. We have heard from the president now on multiple occasions that he wants to coordinate with Saudi Arabia to determine a way forward.

That is what the secretary of state is going to be discussing. He's going to be talking about, according to the State Department, the way to put pressure on Iran in a way that is cohesive with the U.S. and Saudi Arabia hand in hand.

This doesn't seem to be an incident where the U.S. is willing to go at it alone. They want to do it with Saudi Arabia, because, as the president said, this was a strike on Saudi Arabia. He said it was not a strike on the U.S.

BLITZER: Very important development. Kylie, thank you very much, Kylie Atwood reporting.

Joining us now, Congressman Steve Cohen. He's a Democrat. He serves on the House Judiciary Committee. He took part in today's questioning of the former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

Congressman, thank you so much for joining us.

We watched the hearing very closely. Did the Democrats get what you wanted out of Corey Lewandowski today? COHEN: I don't think we did at first, because he simply tried to

stonewall and kill time and avoid answering questions. And he didn't answer a lot of questions that we would have liked to have had him answer.

But when the attorney Barry Berke has taken him on -- and he's doing it now -- Barry Berke has shown him to have told falsehoods on television, falsehoods on different programs, lying about his involvement -- relationship with the president and asking him to convey information to Sessions.

And when caught in it, and he said, well, I didn't have -- wasn't under oath and I don't have a duty not to lie basically to the media and claimed the media lies all the time, so whatever he did was OK.

He's under oath right now. And he was caught lying. He first didn't admit he was lying, but basically admitted it by saying he thinks the media lies, so it's OK to lie to the American people on television.

BLITZER: Yes, he's being...

COHEN: Corey Lewandowski is not a -- he's not a good human being and he's not a good witness.

BLITZER: He's still testifying up now. As you point out, the Democrats, the Democrat attorneys are now questioning him about what was going on, what was in the Mueller report, and all of that.

But bottom line right now, did the American public really learn anything new today watching these hours of this hearing?

COHEN: They might have. I mean, not too many people read the Mueller report. I don't know how many people watched our -- intently our Mueller investigation -- testimony.

But the fact is, the president asked Lewandowski, who was not even working for the president, after McGahn, after Sessions had told him they wouldn't do what he wanted him to do to get Sessions to back off, he dictated a letter to him, asked him to deliver that to Sessions, asking Sessions to back off, make the investigations on future presidents, not this president, and to claim that Trump ran the greatest campaign in the world.

He did that, even though he knew he wasn't supposed to get involved with the attorney general. He found Lewandowski, who was his pit bull, his enforcer, as he was called in many articles, and as he himself more or less said is a loyal soldier, to do it.

And the reason he did that is because he knew it was against the law. And he found somebody that would do it. At the last minute, Lewandowski got cold feet and chickened out and didn't do it. And he passed it off to Dearborn, who also didn't do it.

But Lewandowski has been shown by the questioning in just Mike Wallace fashion that he lied. BLITZER: We have heard from sources, Congressman, that Democrats

weren't necessarily fully prepared for Lewandowski to stonewall today the way he did. If that's the case, why go through with this hearing?

COHEN: I think we knew that he would stonewall. I think we knew he would use the opportunities to claim he had some executive privilege that the White House and the counsel had written to not go beyond the four corners of the Mueller report.

We didn't know he would do some kind of -- have to want to get the Mueller report and look at it to confirm that he was even there. And that was obviously just trying to kill time.

That was beyond anything we have seen from any witness the whole time I have been in Judiciary in 13 years. This witness was beyond stonewalling. He was just trying to kill time and not to be cooperative.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: So, what, if anything, can you do about that?

COHEN: Well, I think we could hold him in contempt of Congress --

BLITZER: Will you?

COHEN: -- for refusal to answer questions.

I don't know that we will. I think we should. And I think we should have done it before. I suggested it months and months and months ago that we should have done it with the attorney general, Barr, for refusing to show up and others.

We need to get tougher, because the Republicans play tough. They're playing it to the nth, because they know that there's information to be gained from seeing information from the grand jury testimony and from documents that we have subpoenaed and from witnesses we have subpoenaed.

And they're trying to stop it as much as they can. Trump knows what's in there, and Trump is scared to death of the truth coming out.

BLITZER: So why do you believe, from your perspective, the Democrats have been ineffective or weak in dealing with these subpoenas and the noncompliance?

COHEN: I think the decision was made to go through the courts in the most traditional way as possible, and that's what they have been doing.

[18:15:07]

We think we will get a ruling on McGahn at the appellate level in October. And, of course, that will go to the Supreme Court. That will take more time. I think the idea of doing this in the most traditional fashion has

proven to be not the right choice, because this is an untraditional presidency that will do anything, because they know what's at the end of the rainbow.

BLITZER: This was the first big hearing of the formal impeachment investigation in the Judiciary Committee. Corey Lewandowski was mostly non-cooperative.

Do you worry he set a precedent for other witnesses?

COHEN: Well, I hope that the other witnesses will be more cooperative.

Lewandowski, of course, is considering running for the Senate in New Hampshire. And part of this was him appearing for his audience of one, Donald Trump, to get his support, which I'm sure he will have when he runs for New Hampshire senator and wanting to impress the people of New Hampshire.

So he had different issues at play than the other witnesses I think we will have.

BLITZER: Well, what's to stop other witnesses from refusing to cooperate fully?

COHEN: Well, there's not a good reason not to cooperate, although the president finds reasons. His attorneys give him reasons, saying they have got some privilege.

Lewandowski wasn't even employed by the White House. He never was. He was just an adviser who showed up on occasion. We think will win in court, but that's going through court.

And to physically have somebody arrested, I guess, is just a decision that our Democratic team has decided not to pursue.

BLITZER: What comes next for this impeachment investigation? Because, as you know, the Democrats in the House, they're divided.

Many of them, a majority, want to go forward with formal impeachment proceedings, but there's a whole bunch of others, including some of the leaders, who say, you know what, it's better, especially going into an election next year, to focus in on other issues right now, like health care, infrastructure, national security.

COHEN: We're doing those things too. And we have passed health care bills. And we have passed bills concerning cleaning up government and corruption and cleaning up the election process and trying to get people more opportunities to have the vote and all.

But McConnell won't schedule any of those bills. And we have sent a lot of bills over there of substance, and McConnell will not schedule. Nothing we can do about that.

But we can do two things at once. And we're going to continue to work on health care and try to lower prescription health care, lower prescription health care costs, to pass an infrastructure bill, and to clean up the corruption that's here and present in this administration, and pass better laws on ethics that we need to have improved.

We're going to be working on those bills, but we also need to investigate the president in our impeachment hearing. We're going to have an emoluments hearing in my subcommittee, I think it's the 24th of this month. We're also going to have a hearing coming up in October on impeachment in general.

And I'm sure there will be other fact witnesses coming forth as well.

BLITZER: Congressman Steve Cohen, thanks so much for joining us.

COHEN: You're welcome, Wolf. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we will have more on Corey Lewandowski's testimony today, including his claim he may not have told the truth to the media because he doesn't necessarily have to.

And in the Democratic presidential race, a just released national poll shows new gains for Elizabeth Warren. Is she closing in on Joe Biden?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:23:17]

BLITZER: There's breaking news tonight.

The House Judiciary Committee chairman is slamming the president's former campaign manager for refusing to answer questions from Democrats investigating President Trump.

Tonight, Chairman Jerry Nadler is calling Corey Lewandowski's behavior completely unacceptable, and he's threatening to hold him in contempt.

Let's bring in our legal and political experts.

David Swerdlick, first of all, did Corey Lewandowski reveal any new information? Or did he simply confirm what was in the Mueller report?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN COMMENTATOR: So, Wolf, so far, from what I have heard, I don't think the Democrats broke the case wide open or anything today.

But they did make some incremental steps, from their point of view. One, they had Corey Lewandowski say in front of cameras that the basic parameters of what was in the Mueller report was right, that he was asked by President Trump to carry a message to Attorney -- then Attorney General Sessions about unrecusing himself or going easy on the investigation.

And that came out in the testimony today. The other thing that I think Democrats sort of discovered, if they hadn't already discovered it, is that they're better off asking leading questions, just saying exactly what they want on the record, and then saying, is that true or is that not true?

Because, otherwise, they were dealing with a hostile witness.

BLITZER: You know, Jeffrey, only moments ago, there was this exchange that Corey Lewandowski had under questioning from the from the committee, a Democratic staffer, the committee lawyer, Barry Berke.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARRY BERKE, COMMITTEE LAWYER: The question is, are you a truth- teller in that interview?

LEWANDOWSKI: I'm a truth-teller every time I stand before Congress or a committee of jurisdiction, and raise my hand and swear to God under oath.

BERKE: My question, sir, is when you said the president never asked you to get involved with Mr. Sessions...

LEWANDOWSKI: I have no obligation to have a candid conversation with the media whatsoever, just like they have no obligation to cover me honestly. And they do it inaccurately all the time.

[18:25:01]

BERKE: You're admitting that, on national television, you were lying there?

LEWANDOWSKI: What I'm saying is, they have been inaccurate on many occasions. And perhaps I was inaccurate that time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you think?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's -- it's -- I'm speechless, obviously.

No. The fact that he feels it's OK to lie to the media, as he said, is a vivid testimony about his ethics. He's correct that it's not a crime to lie to the news media. It's only a crime to lie when you're speaking to a government official.

But it is pretty stupefying to hear a senior aide to a presidential campaign say it's OK to lie to the news media.

BLITZER: What did you think, Laura?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I mean, do you feel comfortable having someone answer a question, do you lie, sometimes, and thinking, believe everything I have had to say here today, knowing full well this is as much covered by the media as it was in a congressional hearing, because it's very hard for the American people, frankly, to parse out, well, is there a distinction about your credibility when a camera red light is on or otherwise?

Honestly, though, in terms of the game of optics, first of all, had they began with this sort of counsel at the beginning, they would not have lost the optics game that Corey Lewandowski indisputably was able to win this early in the afternoon, when essentially said, I'm going to point out the fact that I have already testified multiple times before, this is a repackaging, to cite Representative Collins' words, about what I have already done, and this is an attempt as a part of the -- quote, unquote -- "impeachment party."

Those are the wins that he really, really had. But, ultimately, remember, Nixon's article three of his impeachment was about affecting Congress. And although it's more in the weeds than the American people want to talk about, that's a very important aspect, because it's the White House counsel who told him not to speak.

BLITZER: When he says, under oath, I have no obligation to be honest with the media, Samantha, what do you -- what was your reaction?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Guys, he works for Donald Trump. Donald Trump lies to the media, lies on Twitter, lies to everybody as often as he breathes.

So, the fact that Lewandowski is comfortable lying to the media and is a trusted lieutenant for Donald Trump kind of makes sense.

But, Laura, to your point -- we were discussing this earlier -- a man who's running for Congress is clearly comfortable obstructing it. Lewandowski is running for Congress. He spent today obstructing a congressional investigation.

And, more broadly, this really points to the fact that President Trump and his minions, frankly, view oversight as something helpful only when it shines a light on something that's politically expedient to them. We see that with this impeachment inquiry.

We see it with this DNI whistle-blower investigation that the administration is impeding. At this point, Congress is really just useful to President Trump when it accomplishes something in terms of his reelection campaign, and not when it's performing oversight.

BLITZER: Why haven't the Democrats, Jeffrey, been more effective, more forceful in pushing back on the White House claims of executive privilege even for someone who never worked in the White House?

TOOBIN: Well, let's first establish the claims of executive privilege that have been made today are absurd.

The notion that a non-government official has a privilege not only to refuse to answer questions about his interactions with the president, but he says he doesn't have to answer questions about his interactions with other government officials, not even the president, which no court has ever held.

But here's the problem the Democrats face. If they want to hold him in contempt, if they want to push this, it means taking a vote in the committee, taking a vote in Congress, going to court, going to the district court, going to the circuit court.

The tremendous advantage that the president has in this process is time, is that he can delay even a losing argument until the momentum is virtually spent.

BLITZER: Do you agree?

COATES: Speaking of time, think about how little Congress has moved the needle. Remember, we heard this from Jeff Sessions, we heard this from Don Jr., the idea of, just in case somebody wants to assert privilege, here, the smoke signal is out there in case anyone wants to do so, I'm going to say it.

He said multiple times today, I know it's not my privilege to assert, but I'm going to do so anyway.

If Congress had not learned the lesson from Jeff Sessions earlier, what, two years ago at this point, saying, listen, just in case the president might want to assert it, I'm going to do it here, they haven't learned a lot in that arena.

However, what is so absurd here is the idea of -- just to stretch your point about this, imagine if the campaign chairman of Senator Harris or Cory Booker or Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders were to say right now, whatever conversations we have right now, none of us actually being the president of the United States, we are all covered. We can never have to reveal it.

That'd be an absurdity here. You have to actually be a part of the executive branch of government. You're not covered because it was Trump.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by.

We have a lot more we need to discuss, and we will right after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:30:00]

BLITZER: We're back with our analysts. We're breaking down Corey Lewandowski's rather testy appearance today before the House Judiciary Committee.

Jeffrey Toobin, were the Democrats prepared for what happened?

TOOBIN: Well, I think the five-minute rule is absurd. And the fact that all of these --

BLITZER: The five-minute rule is that each member gets five minutes, Democrat and Republican --

TOOBIN: Right. And Barry Berke, who is the lawyer who had 30 minutes, actually did a good job, if anything was still watching at the end of the day. He pointed out that all these assertions of privilege, I can't disclose these conversations I had with the president. Lewandowski has written two books where he disclosed these conversations. So the idea that he can disclose conversations with the president in a book but not pursuant to a duly authorized committee of the House of Representatives is just absurd.

[18:35:07]

But I think there was a real -- this five-minute, the only person who really made any progress was Hank Johnson of Georgia, who used the words of the Mueller report which Lewandowski was forced to answer.

BLITZER: And he got Lewandowski to actually answer some questions.

The president was watching on Air Force One. He was flying off to San Francisco. He tweeted it was a beautiful opening statement by Corey Lewandowski. He clearly was pleased.

SWERDLICK: He was pleased. Lewandowski was playing to an audience of one, as so many people in the Trump circle do. I think he -- at one point, he praised President Trump for being super wealthy and how that affected the way he looked at his campaign later in the day with the questioning of Barry Berke.

He all but admitted that he lied to the media to sort of cover for the president or cover on the investigation and generally stonewalled here. As Sam said before the break, you've got a guy potentially running for Senate who made it clear today that he's more interested in carrying water for the president than being a leader. Where I come from, people think of that as sort of you're just a hanger on. You're not a leader. You're not someone worthy of being taken seriously.

BLITZER: What is today's -- let's call it a spectacle, because the first few hours clearly was a spectacle. What does it tell us about future of the House Judiciary Committee's impeachment proceedings?

COATES: Well, this was the rockiest start to begin on. It did not really give anyone a lot of confidence that they had this essentially under their belt.

Essentially, the issue here for me is for many people in America today looking at this, had this come around the same time that the Mueller report dropped, had it come prior to that four-page summation letter by Bill Barr that essentially painted the narrative that's been used at this point in time, they may have gained more traction.

But now, you've got more than one opportunity already testified. You now have Barr coming out to say that the president of the United States was unfairly -- was back against the wall about these issues. And it wasn't obstructive conduct. It was just him lashing out at an unfair media.

And remember, Corey Lewandowski said today in response to a question about the Democrats, I think that they hate this president more than they love this country. That's a sound bite that's going to be used again and again to showcase what's happening here. It's not fair one but it's being used. BLITZER: Samantha, Republican after Republican after Republican in the House Judiciary Committee, so many of them use their five minutes to go after the Obama administration. They made the point that the Obama administration at the highest level, President Obama, his national security adviser, all of the top intelligence officials, they knew the Russians were interfering in the American election and never told the Trump campaign about it, never did anything. They said that was the point that they were trying to make.

VINOGRAD: This is the most useful move -- or most used move, I should say, for the Republicans as they play dodge ball with the reality that this administration knows more about Russia's ongoing attack on our country. The Trump campaign was briefed about Russia's attack on our country and they still have been unable or unwilling to stop it.

I don't see this changing as a tactic because the reality is that President Trump continues as president while Russia's attack has expanded, arguably, while he knows about it and while even more intelligence about what Russia is doing.

Well, when was the last time there was a National Security Council meeting on Russia? When was the last time that the president was briefed by his advisers on what Russia doing? This is the only thing that members of Congress can do, Republican, when they're faced with this uncomfortable reality.

BLITZER: You served in the Obama administration, on the National Security Council. During the campaign in 2016, did you know what the Russians were doing?

VINOGRAD: Well, I was actually gone from the White House in 2016. But we do know, Attorney General Barr said this publicly, that the Trump campaign was briefed in the summer of 2016 about Russia's attack on the elections. Corey Lewandowski was asked about this today. But, again, publicly, Attorney General Barr has confirmed that the Trump campaign was briefed.

Fast forward to this election cycle and President Trump has arguably the most classified intelligence about what Russia is doing to interfere in this election cycle and is still unwilling or unable --

BLITZER: What did you think of that Republican talking point?

TOOBIN: Well, the problem with it is President Obama who had this sort of naive belief in bipartisanship in September of 2016 went to Mitch McConnell and said, look, let's do a bipartisan effort to show that Russia's intervention is unacceptable. And McConnell said to Obama, if you go public with this, I will accuse you of politicizing intelligence, I will not go along with this at all.

Obama backed down and issues sort of a bland statement about Russian intervention. But the irony here is that it's Republicans, like McConnell, who stopped Obama or tried to stop Obama from blowing the whistle on --

BLITZER: And as I've often said in the past many times, if the Russian intent was to sow political dissent in the United States of America, they succeeded as witness to what we saw to this very day.

[18:40:06]

Just ahead, the first national poll on the Democratic presidential race since the last debate.

And parts of Texas are on alert right now for life-threatening flooding as Tropical Storm Imelda slam into the coast.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:45:13]

BLITZER: We have breaking news on the first presidential poll taken since the Democrats debate last week. It shows Joe Biden still in the lead with 31 percent, while Elizabeth Warren moves into a solid second place with 25 percent.

The NBC/"Wall Street Journal" survey shows Bernie Sanders with 14 percent, trailing Warren by double digits. The poll comes as many of the 2020 Democrats are in Pennsylvania tonight.

Let's go to Philadelphia. CNN's Ryan Nobles is on the scene for us.

Ryan, the Democrats are trying to win back blue collar voters who help elect President Trump.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. And today, they were here at a forum, having to do with labor union issues. And that poll you just talked about shows a trend that's continued for some time. It shows Joe Biden with a clear lead, but with Elizabeth Warren surging and Bernie Sanders in the hunt. The rest of the field lagging far behind.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NOBLES (voice-over): Tonight, a crop of Democratic hopefuls making their pitch to one of the most powerful labor organizations, promising to empower unions.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we're going to grow the middle class in this country, it is absolutely imperative that we grow the trade union movement.

NOBLES: And accusing President Trump of offering false promises to their members.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We can do a whole bunch of things. On day one, if I'm president of the United States, you're going to see the end of Trump's tax cut for the top tenth of 1 percent.

NOBLES: This as Elizabeth Warren is making a pledge to protect abortion rights.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let's make democracy work and make Roe the rule of this land in every state.

NOBLES: Warren holding a town hall in New York with members of the abortion rights group, NARAL, a day after one of her biggest rallies yet. Drawing a contrast with Joe Biden's electability argument and making the case that she has what it takes to beat Donald Trump in a general election.

WARREN: We can't just have a candidate we don't believe in because we're too scared to do anything else. And Democrats can't win if we're scared and looking backwards.

NOBLES: Afterwards, the Massachusetts senator spent roughly four hours taking 4,000 pictures with supporters. Tonight, Warren will be making an appearance on late night TV with Stephen Colbert, while Cory Booker stops by "Jimmy Kimmel Live".

And Kamala Harris --

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's time for a leader who leads with their heart.

NOBLES: -- is now the first woman to ever slow-jam the news on "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon".

JIMMY FALLON, COMEDIAN: And that is how we slow jam the news.

HARRIS: Oh, yes.

FALLON: Give it up to Senator Kamala Harris.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOBLES: And back here in Philadelphia, it was Joe Biden who attacked Bernie Sanders Medicare-for-All plan, implying that union members would not have the opportunity to negotiate their health care plans if Medicare-for-All were put into law.

But Sanders used a real world example to push back on Biden, pointing to that issue with the UAW and GM. UAW, of course, pulling the healthcare benefits from those striking workers. Sanders saying that if Medicare-for-All were the law of the land, those striking workers would have their health care benefits while their strike continue -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Ryan, thank you. Ryan Nobles reporting.

There's more breaking news. Coming up next, Tropical Storm Imelda makes landfall in the U.S., threatening to bring almost a foot of rain to some areas. We have a new forecast just out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:53:17]

BLITZER: We're following multiple severe weather threats, including a tropical storm that just hit Texas. It's raising the danger of life- threatening flash flooding.

Our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray is joining us with the latest.

What do we know, Jennifer?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, Wolf, this one just formed this afternoon, and 15 minutes later, it made landfall. This is Imelda impacting Texas. We also have Humberto, as well as Tropical Depression 10.

So, the tropics are lighting up as it should, this is the peak of hurricane season. But you can see Tropical Storm Imelda with 40 mile- per-hour winds, gust of 50, causing a lot of rain across the Houston area and Galveston and all those points in between. You can see the radar right there, some of these areas could see six to 10 inches of rain, isolated amounts even higher. So, definitely flash flooding possible across portions of Texas and Louisiana over the next couple of days.

Humberto as well there, Wolf, and that's going to cause quite a bit of damage possible around Bermuda as it skirts just to its north -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jennifer, thanks very much.

We have more news coming up right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:58:53]

BLITZER: Finally tonight, we remember veteran journalist and trailblazer Cokie Roberts. The ABC News contributor has died from complications from breast cancer. Cokie Roberts knew Washington and politics like few people do. She shared her razor-sharp analysis during a career that spanned more than 40 years in television, public radio and publishing. She was a pioneer for women in journalism, opening doors for generations of young women and men in news.

I was fortunate to know Cokie and to interview her on many occasions. Her insights and her books always made me and everyone smarter. She was also a friend and a truly wonderful person. All of us at CNN send our deepest condolences to Cokie's loving family, including her husband Steve, her children and her grandchildren.

Cokie Roberts was 75 years old. May she rest in peace and may her memory be a blessing.

Thanks very much for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

[19:00:00]