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U.S. Soldier Allegedly Suggested Bombing News Stations; Trump Under Fire Over Ukraine Call; Interview With Rep. John Garamendi (D- CA). Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 23, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:02]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news: Trump's admission.

The president is at the center of a growing scandal after confirming he did talk to Ukraine's leader about Joe Biden. Mr. Trump now suggesting there would be nothing wrong with pushing a foreign leader to investigate his potential 2020 opponent.

Subpoena warning. Three House committees are now threatening legal action to learn more about the Ukraine call, this as Democrats are said to be nearing the brink of formally launching impeachment proceedings.

U.S. car bomb threat. A U.S. army soldier is now in custody tonight, accused of offering bomb-making lessons over the Internet. The feds revealing very disturbing details of potential targets, including a major news network.

And Warren's big move. The senator is surging in Iowa, according to an exclusive new CNN Democratic presidential poll. As Elizabeth Warren makes gains against Joe Biden, could she soon become the new front-runner?

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: Breaking news: Democrats are amping up pressure on the Trump administration to reveal more about the president's dealings with Ukraine.

Three House committees now threatening to issue subpoenas, after Mr. Trump admitted he discussed Joe Biden and his son with Ukraine's president. Tonight, calls for impeachment are clearly growing, as Democrats warn Mr. Trump may have improperly used his office to dig up dirt on a potential 2020 opponent.

Also breaking, a U.S. soldier just appeared in federal court, charged with sending instructions to build car and cell phone bombs over social media. Authorities now say he suggested multiple targets, including a major American news network and a local news station.

I will get reaction from Democratic Congressman John Garamendi. He is on the Armed Services Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins. She's over at the United Nations, where the president is wrapping up a day of meetings.

Kaitlan, while Mr. Trump was talking to world leaders, the scandal over his July conversation with Ukraine's president was clearly intensifying.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, it was one of the first things President Trump talked about as he arrived here at the United Nations headquarters this morning.

He's defending his actions during that phone call with the president of Ukraine, while leveling unsubstantiated accusations against the former Vice President Joe Biden, all the while maintaining he didn't tie that Ukrainian military aid package to a corruption investigation into Joe Biden, but saying, if he did, it would be OK.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everybody's looking for that call.

COLLINS (voice-over): President Trump's place on the world stage overshadowed tonight by questions about his conduct during a phone call with a foreign leader.

TRUMP: We had a perfect phone call with the president of Ukraine.

COLLINS: Trump insists he didn't cross a line with the president of Ukraine, after confirming he did bring up former Vice President Joe Biden and his son during the call.

TRUMP: The one who has got the problem is Biden.

COLLINS: Aides denied reports he pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rival, though Trump is publicly accusing the former vice president of corruption tied to his son's business activities.

TRUMP: If a Republican ever did what Joe Biden did, if a Republican ever said what Joe Biden said, they would be getting the electric chair by right now.

COLLINS: Biden says Trump is abusing his power to smear him and should release the transcript.

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Trump is doing this because he knows I will beat him like a drum.

COLLINS: Trump's admission has reignited Democratic calls on Capitol Hill for his impeachment, warnings Trump dismissed today. TRUMP: It's just a Democrat witch-hunt. Here we go again.

COLLINS: He may not be worried, but he also hasn't committed to releasing the whistle-blower's report to the Intelligence Committees, as the law mandates.

QUESTION: Are you willing to clear this up by releasing the whistle- blower report, sir?

TRUMP: Quiet.

COLLINS: Instead, he questioned the patriotism of that whistle- blower, asking if the person is on our country's side.

One question surrounding the call is whether or not Trump threatened to withhold millions in military aid if Ukraine didn't investigate Biden and his son.

MARIA BARTIROMO, FOX NEWS: Did the president threaten to cut off aid...

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No.

BARTIROMO: ... to the Ukraine?

GIULIANI: No. No. That was a false story.

BARTIROMO: One hundred percent?

GIULIANI: Well, I can't tell you if it's 100 percent.

COLLINS: His attorney may not be sure, but Trump insists he didn't.

TRUMP: I put no pressure on them whatsoever. I could have.

COLLINS: Critics say the question could be cleared up if the White House released the transcript of the call.

TRUMP: Perhaps you will see it. Perhaps you won't see that. It depends on what we want to do.

COLLINS: While the White House debates releasing it, aides are struggling to explain how Trump can attack the international business dealings of his rival's children, when his own children profit from businesses he still owns.

[18:05:05]

STEVEN MNUCHIN, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: I'm not going to speculate on that.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: I don't understand. So it is OK for Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump to do business all over the world. It's OK for Ivanka Trump to have copyrights approved all over the world while President Trump is president, but while Vice President Joe Biden was vice president, his son shouldn't have been able to do business dealings?

MNUCHIN: Again, I don't really want to go into more of these details.

COLLINS: Amid the firestorm, Trump abandoned plans to skip the climate summit at the United Nations today.

QUESTION: He's not going to be there?

STEPHANIE GRISHAM, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You know, he -- I wouldn't be surprised if he popped in and stopped by.

COLLINS: Instead, sitting in for just under 15 minutes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Wolf, our reporting shows that not that long ago the president wasn't that interested in engaging with the Ukrainian president, believing he was just like his predecessor who dealt with President Barack Obama.

But that changed as Rudy Giuliani and others ramped up those accusations against people like Joe Biden.

And now the president's Wednesday meeting with the Ukrainian president, Zelensky, is going to be one of the most watched meetings while he's here at the United Nations summit.

BLITZER: It certainly will be.

Kaitlan at the U.N. for us, thank you.

Let's get some more on the new subpoena threats coming from House Democrats.

Our congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty, is up on Capitol Hill.

Sunlen, so what are you learning about these three House committees demanding answers about Mr. Trump's dealings with Ukraine?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a very strongly worded statement and letter sent today by the chairs of the House Intel, Oversight and Foreign Affairs Committee, sent to the State Department today.

They're demanding again information and documents related to President Trump and Rudy Giuliani's conversations and efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden. Now, they want this information by Thursday of this week.

And they say if it is not received, then they will start issuing subpoenas. Now, this, of course, comes as behind the scenes this long-simmering debate among Democrats about impeachment, whether to proceed or not, has essentially kicked into overdrive, almost to the point of a boiling point. And certainly significant that sources tell CNN that, in the next few days, potentially more House Democrats will now come out in support of impeachment proceedings due to all of this and this specific controversy involving President Trump and Ukraine.

Certainly, it was very significant over the weekend that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi came out with a notable letter to House colleagues in which she went farther than she has before.

She, of course, has been very reluctant to go down the impeachment path, but she ratchets up her own language significantly, saying -- quote -- "If the administration persists in blocking this whistle- blower from disclosing to Congress a serious possible breach of constitutional duties by the president, they will reveal -- by entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness, which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation."

And Pelosi and House Intel Chair Adam Schiff, they were talking over the weekend. They spent time in close contact. And Schiff, who has been too very reluctant in embracing in impeachment, going down that path, notable this weekend, Schiff saying that there may no longer even be a choice for impeachment, Wolf.

He says that may be the only remedy.

BLITZER: Sunlen Serfaty up on Capitol Hill, thank you.

There's more breaking news this hour, a very disturbing development. A U.S. Army soldier is now charged with delivering bomb-building instructions over social media and suggesting high-profile targets, including a major news network.

Our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider, is joining us right now.

Jessica, the defendant was in court just a little while ago. What are you learning?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: He was, Wolf.

And he will be held in detention at least until his detention hearing on Thursday. The FBI says that 24-year-old Jarrett William Smith repeatedly shared bomb-making techniques on Facebook and other online platforms.

And an FBI bomb tech who was later consulted on this said if one of those bombs was properly constructed, well, it could have detonated.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tonight, a 24-year-old U.S. Army soldier is accused of share bomb-making instructions over Facebook and talking about blowing up an unidentified major news network.

According to two sources, the network he named was CNN. He also talked about killing members of the far left group Antifa and destroying cell towers or a local news station, according to the affidavit.

Prosecutors say Jarrett William Smith, while stationed at Fort Bliss in Texas and Fort Riley in Kansas, was discussing building bombs and conducting attacks. The FBI began tracking Smith on Facebook in March, but soon discovered Smith's conversations on social media discussing desires to fight and engage in violence dated all the way back to 2016, before Smith enlisted in the military.

The feds say Smith sought out another man who had traveled to Ukraine to fight with the Right Sector, a violent paramilitary group. That man allegedly mentored Smith and prepared him to fight.

[18:10:05]

The criminal complaint shows Smith stressed his desire to fight in Ukraine one year before he enlisted with the U.S. Army. Smith said: "No formal military experience, but if I cannot find a slot in Ukraine by October, I will be going into the Army. To fight is what I want to do."

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: This case shows a level of motivation that we don't always see in investigations. And that is someone who is so intent on causing harm and loss of life, he doesn't care where it's going to take place, either here domestically or internationally. This person was looking for a target to kill.

SCHNEIDER: Smith joined the U.S. Army one year later in June 2017. But his plans to fight or blow up something only seemed to intensify. In a Facebook group chat in December 2018, Smith allegedly said: "I got knowledge of IEDs for days. We can make cell phone IEDs in the style of the Afghans."

The FBI used a confidential source and an undercover employee to talk online with Smith in August and September of this year. Smith allegedly discussed targeting the headquarters of an undisclosed major American news network with a large vehicle bomb. An FBI bomb tech who analyzed his plan says the bomb would not have worked.

Smith also elaborated on his plans to build weapons from everyday materials, saying: "Making AK-47s out of expensive parts is cool, but imagine if you were going to Walmart, instead of a gun store, to buy weapons."

He allegedly gave very specific instructions for constructing an explosive device, which the FBI says would have been viable if correctly built. And he referenced presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke when asked by the undercover agent if he could think of any politician who would be a good target in Texas, according to prosecutors.

Smith allegedly asked, "Outside Beto?"

CAMPBELL: The FBI brought in bomb technician, who were apparently so concerned with his level of sophistication, they wanted to run to ground exactly what he was capable of doing, again, in order to stop a potential threat to the public. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: And Beto O'Rourke says his campaign has been working with the FBI on this case. The U.S. Army also says it cooperated with the FBI leading up to Smith's arrest in Kansas this weekend.

And that 24-year-old U.S. Army soldier faces up to 20 years for the charge that he distributed those bomb-making information online -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jessica, thank you, Jessica Schneider reporting.

Joining us now, Congressman John Garamendi, a Democrat. He serves on the Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA): Sure.

BLITZER: So, let me get your immediate reaction to what we heard from Jessica, her report.

How concerned are you that this threat came from a soldier inside the U.S. military?

GARAMENDI: Very, very concerned.

Obviously, he knows what he could do. And he is also corresponding with others. It is a very, very serious threat. Unfortunately, it is not the only threat.

We had a problem with the U.S. Coast Guard just a couple months back with a similar situation.

We are living in the age of Trump. We are living in the age where these kinds of activities within the United States seem to be ever- increasing, without the president condemning it.

So, we have a problem not only of the highest part of our government, but also in the ranks of the military. It has to be ferreted out. The command down through the ranks, all the way to the sergeant that is taking care of the platoon, has to be on top of these things.

They have to understand what their troops are doing, and they have to call attention to any problem.

BLITZER: Well, let me just press you on that.

You seem to be suggesting President, what, Trump is responsible for what this U.S. Army soldier is accused of doing?

GARAMENDI: I am saying Trump is responsible for not putting down the kind of violence that we have seen.

We saw this in Charlottesville. We see this in his own rallies where he is saying, beat that person up and I will back you up. I will make sure I will pay for your legal costs.

These are things that Trump has said repeatedly over the last three years. I'm not saying he is specifically responsible, but for creating an atmosphere in this country with this kind of activity seems to be approved -- excuse me -- where the kind of activity at his rallies, beating up reporters and others, seems to be approved by the president.

BLITZER: All right, let's move on to this whole issue of Ukraine right now.

I understand, Congressman, you are going to be traveling to Ukraine later this week to meet with military and political leaders there.

GARAMENDI: Yes.

BLITZER: What are you hoping to learn about President Trump's July phone call with President Zelensky?

GARAMENDI: Well, this is a rapidly unraveling or raveling story.

It's not at all clear what we will -- what the news will be at the end of this week, when we do arrive in Ukraine. So much of what you have just asked is to be -- we just don't know.

The original purpose of our trip was to look at what the American government is doing in Ukraine with the $250 million that originally was supposed to go to Ukraine, then withheld by the president, and just recently released to Ukraine.

[18:15:03]

We also wanted to look at what was going on in Eastern Europe with the European Deterrence Initiative. The president has withheld $770 million of money for our NATO allies to build critical infrastructure, everything from roads and transportation systems to military bases and airports and the like.

All of those things are very, very serious problems, Ukraine being one of several series issues that we have to investigate. We have got to find out what the impact is of that $770 million not being available.

Will we learn more about it Ukraine? Possibly. I simply can't say now.

BLITZER: Well, you're on the Armed Services Committee. Do you know exactly when, Congressman, and why the U.S. military aid to Ukraine was put on hold?

GARAMENDI: We're trying to find out the exact date.

It appears as though the hold occurred slightly before the July 25 phone call that the president made to Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, or right in that period of time.

Interestingly enough, the money was released just about the time that the whistle-blower incident became known probably at the White House and then publicly.

So these dates seem to match and raise even more concerns about what is going on and the leverage that the president appears to be willing to have used to pressure Zelensky into carrying out the -- the investigation into Biden's son's involvement in Ukraine.

Now, that's extortion, and clearly a violation of the campaign laws and who knows what beyond that. We are going to find out. The committee is asking for that information.

I'll tell you, if I were chairman of either of those committees, I would have the subpoena ready for signature on the 26th, when the information is supposed to be delivered. And if it's not, I would sign that, and we would get under way.

BLITZER: Do you believe that this does represent a tipping point right now for House Democrats when it comes to impeachment?

GARAMENDI: Yes.

I thought we reached the tipping point some time ago. And, clearly, we're beyond the tipping point. The president acknowledges that the discussion took place with Zelensky, that he did talk about Biden during that discussion.

We do know that there's a whistle-blower that was so upset about this incident that he went through the proper channels. We do know that the White House and the Department of Justice are stonewalling, contrary to the clear letter of the law.

Frankly, both the White House and the Justice Department are breaking the law by not allowing the DNI to come forward with the information, the national defense director -- intelligence director.

All of that is readily known. So, once again, the president and the Department of Justice are breaking the law by withholding the information. There's no ambiguity about this process of the whistle- blower and that information going to the DNI, and then, from there, directly to the appropriate Intelligence Committees.

That's the clear letter of the law. And the president and the Department of Justice, by stonewalling, are breaking the law. Chalk that up to one more indictment for impeachment.

BLITZER: Congressman John Garamendi, thanks so much for joining us.

GARAMENDI: Thank you.

BLITZER: There's more breaking news just ahead.

President Trump clearly on the defensive over his dealings with Ukraine, lashing out at Joe Biden and talking about the electric chair.

And we will have the latest on the Democratic presidential race, as Elizabeth Warren gains on Biden in Iowa, according to CNN's exclusive new poll.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:23:43]

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the growing pressure to impeach President Trump after he admitted talking to the Ukraine president about Joe Biden and his son.

Three House committees now threatening subpoenas to get more information. Democrats demanding to know if the president abused his power to hurt his potential 2020 opponent.

Let's bring in our analysts.

And, Susan Hennessey, I want to you listen to the president's evolution on this from Friday until now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Did you discuss Joe Biden, his son or his family with the leader of Ukraine?

TRUMP: It doesn't matter what I discussed. But I will say this. Somebody ought to look into Joe Biden's statement, because it was disgraceful.

The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, was largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place, was largely the fact that we don't what our people, like Vice President Biden and his son, creating the corruption already in the Ukraine.

If you don't talk about corruption, why would you give money to a country that you think is corrupt? One of the reasons the new president got elected is, he was going to stop corruption. So it's very important that, on occasion, you speak to somebody about corruption, very important.

There was no pressure put on them whatsoever. I put no pressure on them whatsoever.

I could have. I think it would probably, possibly have been OK if I did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[18:25:03]

BLITZER: All right, Susan, over the course of just a few days, has he essentially admitted to what we have been reporting over these past few days?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, he has essentially admitted to it.

And let's face it. We have seen the playbook before, where the president initially denies something, then slow-walks an admission, and then finally ends up with saying, yes, I did it, and it's no big deal. It's not wrong that I did this.

We saw it with the offer of Russian dirt during the election. We saw it with the Stormy Daniels payment. We saw it with him telling Jim Comey to drop the Flynn investigation. We have seen this playbook over and over again.

And let's be clear about why he's doing this. It's an order to allow the right-wing media ecosystem and his enablers in the United States Congress to organize themselves around a message. The president can't have these people going out and saying, this would be an egregious abuse, of course, it would be a terrible violation, and there's no way that the president did it, because he needs those very same people to be the ones who are defending his conduct when the American people find out that, actually, no, he did do it.

What we have on the record right now is impeachable conduct. Congress doesn't need new information. It doesn't need to find additional wrongdoing. It does need to establish its own record.

That said, it doesn't need to find some kind of new quid pro quo, something that's going to make this even worse. It also doesn't need to somehow find proof that it did happen, because the president of United States has gone on television and told us himself that he actually did it.

What we have on the current record, based on the president's admission, is enough information not just to warrant impeachment, but to actually demand impeachment.

And if we as a country cannot agree on the idea that it is intolerable for a United States president to pressure the leader of a foreign country, an allied nation that relies on the United States for military support, pressure that country in order to dig up dirt on a political opponent, an American citizen, in violation of their civil liberties and of the requirements of the United States Constitution, then God help us, because a nation that cannot agree on that is a nation that is at risk of losing the things that tie a democracy together.

BLITZER: You know, Phil Mudd, what stood out to you when you heard those shifting explanations from President Trump?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, it reminded me of going back to when we heard there were no contacts with Russians during the campaign.

And then we discovered not only are there extensive contacts, but there's one, for example, with the son of the president, and it includes the son, Donald Trump Jr., anticipating he's going to receive dirt.

And then we have the president, as you know, in an interview saying later on about Russia, not only do we have contacts, not only did we want dirt, but I think that's perfectly appropriate. It's shifting sands when the facts change.

I think there is one significant issue that I'm looking forward to watch those sands change even more. It's not the document of the exchange between the president and the Ukrainian leadership. It is when -- and I think it is when -- the whistle-blower shows up in Congress for a hearing, because that's when you start to get into questions like, who else knew, who tried to stop you from talking about this?

Were there other incidences of this? The most significant question in my book, was there a trade envisioned on this issue of military aid to Ukraine?

This ball is rolling. The president sees it's rolling, and that he can't stop it. The real question is, when the whistle-blower shows up and whether there was an exchange for the president's request for an investigation.

This is going to go ugly.

BLITZER: Yes, I'm sure it will be.

Everybody, stand by.

There's a lot more we need to discuss, much more on all the breaking news, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:30:00]

BLITZER: We're back with our experts.

And, Samantha Vinograd, you heard the president question why the United States would give money to a country it thinks is corrupt. Is that an indication that the president may have linked military aid to Ukraine with this request to go ahead and investigate the Bidens?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Wolf, if he didn't do so privately before, he certainly just did so publicly with the world watching. He linked U.S. foreign assistance and military assistance to whomever he determines is or isn't corrupt. The most corrupt man running this country should not be the arbiter of where our foreign assistance funding goes. To say that this is hypocritical is to put it quite mildly.

Furthermore, the federal budget is not the president's campaign fund. Congress has a constitutionally mandated power of the purse and we have experts that determine where foreign assistance is issued.

And finally, Wolf, I can hear the collapse coming from Moscow already in light of the president's statements. The bulk of our foreign assistance to Ukraine is delivered so that Ukraine can counter Russian aggression.

The president is again publicly establishing a quid pro quo whereby if Ukraine or any other countries don't do his political bidding, if they need his definition of corruption because they won't investigate his political rivals, he's willing to cut them off no matter if that means that that will open the door for Russia or other rivals of the United States to gain ground.

BLITZER: David Swerdlick, just think about the context that we're talking about here. Robert Mueller testified on Capitol Hill back on July 24th. Then the very next day, President Trump got on the phone and apparently asked a foreign power to dig up damaging information on one of his main 2020 presidential rivals. So what does that tell you?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, Wolf. I mean, it certainly suggests that once the Special Counsel Mueller testimony fell flat, the president may have -- if this reporting is true about what took place in the July 25th call, the president may have transitioned from taking a wait and see attitude to sort of popping the clutch and proactively heading toward finding additional dirt or trying to find additional dirt about a potential rival, former Vice President Biden.

[18:35:19]

That being said, I still think the bigger issue here is not as much the timing but the fact that, according to reports, this request or this suggestion was even brought up by the president on this July 25th call.

BLITZER: It's interesting, Susan, because the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, says that if the administration continues to withhold this whistleblower complaint from Congress, there will be, in her words, a whole new stage of investigation.

But over the weekend, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted this, and I'll read it to you. At this point, the bigger national scandal isn't the president's lawbreaking behavior. It is the Democratic Party's refusal to impeach him for it.

Do you believe, Susan, there's a growing frustration right now within the Democratic Party?

HENNESSEY: Of course there's a growing frustration within the Democratic Party and they should be. The speaker is absolutely twisting herself.

And it's reaching the point of self-parity, Nancy Pelosi and House Leadership refusal to say the word impeachment, to say that that's what's happening, they are twisting themselves into pretzels. It is impossible to lead from that position.

This is the moment that demands world clarity, it demands real leadership. These nonsense games are not only not leading, they're actively confusing the American public about the gravity of the situation. And so at this point for Pelosi and congressional Democrats to continue to play this game, frankly, is a dereliction of constitutional duty at this point.

And I do think we've reached a moment in which it is so urgent that if Nancy Pelosi is not willing to sort of stand up to this moment to meet this critical moment in our constitutional system, then with admiration and a lot of respect for her service, it is time for her to step aside for somebody who actually is willing to lead.

BLITZER: What was said, Phil Mudd, I want your thoughts as a former U.S. intelligence community official that the president is now suggesting that this current U.S. intelligence official who went through all the proper legal channels, the whistleblower complaint coming through, that the president is now raising questions about his loyalty to the United States, his patriotism to the United States, suggesting he's some sort of political hack.

MUDD: And it sounds like it's an individual, if you look at the press reports, who is actually working, someone in the orbit of the Oval Office, of the White House, I mean. There's a long tradition in Washington. I was part of it 19 years ago where people from the intelligence community are loaned to the White House to work for the White House. I worked for President Bush.

So put yourself in the whistleblower's shoes. You're asked to represent the American people and to serve a president, and before the president even determines your identity, he tries to explain how you're a traitor. That's remarkable.

BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. There's more news we're following right now, including some major political news. Elizabeth Warren's Iowa surge, can she beat Joe Biden in the first Democratic contest of 2020? We're going to break down CNN's exclusive new poll.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:00]

BLITZER: Tonight, Elizabeth Warren may be more of a threat than ever to Joe Biden's dominance in the Democratic presidential race. That's the bottom line of an exclusive new CNN poll that shows Senator Warren surging in Iowa.

Let's go to our Political Correspondent M.J. Lee. She is joining us right now.

M.J., Warren and Biden are now locked in a very tight race in the first contest of 2020.

M.J. LEE, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And we have seen Elizabeth Warren gaining momentum slowly nationally, and now this new poll over the weekend in Iowa showing some good news for Warren in that state as well.

This comes as we saw a show of force in Iowa over the weekend as many of the Democratic candidates are continuing to ramp up their campaigns in that state.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hello, Iowa.

LEE: Tonight, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden running neck-and-neck in the first in the nation caucus State of Iowa. A new CNN/Des Moines Register poll showing Warren at 22 percent and Biden at 20 percent among the state's likely democratic caucus goers, the Massachusetts senator leading the pack on enthusiasm among her supporters and boasting the highest favorability rating in the Democratic field.

WARREN: I don't do polls. We are still months away from the Iowa caucuses.

LEE: The new poll coming as Democratic presidential candidates descended on the Hawkeye State this weekend for the famed Democratic poll county steak fry, the annual tradition featuring an abundance of politics, thousands of attendees and a lot of steak.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've been working on grills since I was a little kid.

LEE: As candidates try to beef up their support with a little more than four months until the caucuses.

For one democratic candidate, a much tougher political reality, Cory Booker signaling a do-or-die moment for his campaign with an urgent appeal for cash.

[19:45:08]

BOOKER: If we can't raise this $1.7 million, we're going to have to make the tough decisions. So, I think any campaign that doesn't have a pathway to victory should make.

LEE: Meanwhile, the political clash between Biden and president Trump growing increasingly personal. The former vice president lashing back at Trump after the president admitted he discussed Biden and the business dealings of his son, Hunter Biden, in a phone call with the president of Ukraine.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He is violating every basic norm of a president. You should be asking him the question, why is he on the phone with a foreign leader trying to intimidate a foreign leader?

LEE: There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Joe or Hunter Biden. Joe Biden telling reporters that he's not ready to call for Trump's impeachment.

BIDEN: I'm not making that judgment now.

LEE: But some of his colleagues are turning up the heat. SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump

has made clear that he does not respect the rule of law. Congress has one responsibility on this, and that is to initiate impeachment proceedings.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEE: Now, Wolf, just back to that Iowa poll for a second. Yes, there was good news for Elizabeth Warren in that poll. But, also, only 20 percent of Iowa caucusgoers said their mind is made up.

So just another reminder of how fluid this race is as we are more than four months away from the Iowa caucuses. No question that we are going to continue to see the Democratic candidates devote money, time and resources in that critical state -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, M.J., thank you very much. M.J. Lee reporting.

Just ahead, CNN is over at the Pentagon right now, pressing for details about the president's planned deployment of U.S. military troops to Saudi Arabia.

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BLITZER: Breaking tonight: France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, they are all now joining the United States in directly blaming Iran for the attacks on Saudi oil facilities. This as the Trump administration is preparing to deploy U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia.

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

Barbara, is the Pentagon revealing any details about this military deployment?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Not yet, Wolf, even though it was announced Friday night. Still here we are on Monday, and tonight the pentagon, we are told, still looking at exactly what it wants to send. What the exact requirement is.

They talked about sending air and missile defense assets. That could mean fighter jets, it could mean patriot missile batteries to protect, help protect critical infrastructure inside Saudi Arabia. That is a very different mission for the U.S. military than it's been doing in the region. There will be a lot of questions about how all of this will work, and if you are about to try to deter Iran, how will you know when there is success, and those U.S. troops can maybe come home.

BLITZER: You know, Barbara, the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, over the weekend, said it was outrageous the Trump administration was doing this without specific congressional authorization.

How is the administration legally justifying deploying troops to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates in a dangerous situation like this is? STARR: Well, this is what also is being worked on right now. There

is some existing authority under the provisions to conduct the war on terror, to fight al Qaeda. But is al Qaeda really part of all of this?

So, a lot to unpack here about how they will justify it. And the Democratic chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Adam Smith, already today putting the Pentagon on notice that he has plenty of questions about all of this saying, and let me quote in part from the chairman, saying the administration's maximum pressure campaign seems to lack a cohesive strategy.

As such, this campaign will only serve to ratchet up tensions in the region and increase the likelihood of miscalculation that could lead to full-scale armed conflict. That is one of the biggest worries here, as you know better than anybody, Wolf, very easy to get into these military situations, very tough to find an exit strategy.

BLITZER: A few months ago, Barbara, the U.S. began deploying troops to Saudi Arabia. They did it without a whole lot of fanfare, and now they want to deploy more. There's some serious concern about what they call mission creep right now, especially without congressional authorization.

What are you hearing from your sources at the Pentagon?

STARR: Wolf, very quickly, the big change here tonight, U.S. troops are going to protect critical Saudi infrastructure. Very different than anything they've done so far.

BLITZER: But if the Iranians hit those troops, obviously that could further escalate this military situation.

Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you very much for that report.

Just ahead, Prince Harry and Meghan, the duchess of Sussex, on their first foreign trip as a family with baby Archie along for the ride.

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BLITZER: Tonight, the duke and duchess of Sussex of celebrating their new family and her heritage as they begin a 10-day tour of Africa along with their baby son, Archie. Harry and Meghan hit the ground running at their first stop in South Africa. Look at this, they danced with young people involved in a group promoting children's rights and female empowerment.

Royal watchers eager for a glimpse of Baby Archie may have been disappointed. He stayed with a nanny during this event.

But Meghan impressed the crowd with making her connection personal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MEGHAN MARKEL, DUCHESS OF SUSSEX: May I say as a member of the royal family, I want you to know I am here with you as a mother, as a wife, as a woman, as a woman of color, and as your sister.

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BLITZER: Meghan and Harry will spend a few days in South Africa before the prince travels on to Botswana, Angola, and Malawi, and then meets back up with his wife and son. Safe journeys to all of them.

To our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

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