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House Democrats Considering Extreme Measures For Whistleblower's Security; Pentagon And Office Of Management & Budget Get Subpoenaed; Trump Gets Backlash Over U.S. Troops Pulling Out Of Syria; Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) Is Asked About The Whistleblower Security And Subpoenas Given To Pentagon And The Office Of Management & Budget; Former Vice President Joe Biden Is Facing A Two-Front Challenge; One NBA General Manager Posted A Simple Tweet Over The Weekend Expressing Support For The Protesters In Hong Kong. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired October 7, 2019 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The good news is that we finally found some 2019 foreign interference in the U.S. that Republican senators find intolerable. Follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @jaketapper. Tweet the show @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Witness protection. CNN has learned that lawmakers are considering extreme measures to protect the whistleblower who complained about President Trump. Should that person testify before Congress, including giving secret locations and even disguising the person's voice?

More demands, the impeachment inquiry expands as House Democrats subpoena the Pentagon and the Office of Management and Budget and threatens to subpoena associates of Rudy Giuliani, all this as a second whistleblower now comes forward.

Abandoning allies, President Trump draws rare Republican criticism over his decision to pull U.S. forces from northern Syria, clearing the way for a Turkish attack on America's Kurdish allies, a critical partner in the war against ISIS.

And calling foul, the NBA under attack for apologizing to China for a general manager's tweet supporting Hong Kong protesters. Is one of America's favorite sports leagues now putting money over principle? I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in "The Situation Room".

We're following breaking news including some fast-moving new developments in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump. Sources are now telling CNN that the House Intelligence Committee and lawyers for the whistleblower who filed a complaint about the president, they are now discussing what are being described as extreme measures to protect the individual's identity due to growing safety concerns.

Also breaking this hour, House Democrats are now threatening to subpoena three associates of the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. And they're expanding their probe to the Pentagon and the Office of Management and Budget issuing subpoenas for documents about the freezing of aid to Ukraine.

We'll talk about that and more with Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi of the intelligence and oversight committees. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by. First, let's go straight to Capitol Hill. Our senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju is on the scene for us. Manu, what's the latest? What are you picking up?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight Democrats and the lawyers for the whistleblower who made that complaint against President Trump's conduct have been discussing what is being described as "extreme measures" to protect the whistleblower's identity in case that individual were to come and testify before the House Intelligence Committee.

Now, Democrats are concerned that the president -- President Trump's attacks against this whistleblower raising concerns about his or her credibility could mean that this individual could be in harm's way if his or her identity is ultimately leaked.

So, what they're discussing behind the scenes, there are a range of options including potentially disguising the voice of this individual, potentially hiding the person's image, potentially doing this off site, and also limiting the number of staff and members from actually going and interviewing this person.

Perhaps even not doing it on Capitol Hill because this person's identity may be seen even though there are many ways to enter the Congress or enter the Capitol without being seen by the press. But nevertheless, this all underscores the dramatic stakes ahead of what would be significant testimony by this individual to come before this committee.

Of course, it would be done behind closed doors, but remember Wolf, Democrats are going to set their sights on other individuals they want to bring forward first. Hope to finish those interviews and then at that point, see if they could bring this whistleblower forward, but at the moment, no deal reached to bring this person yet. One reason why, they are trying to protect this person's identity, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Manu, thanks very much. Manu, with the latest up on Capitol Hill. Let's go to the White House right now. Our Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta is there. Jim, the president continues to rail against all of this.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And the president just wrapped up some comments a few moments ago talking about his trade agreement he just announced with Japan. The president once again called the impeachment inquiry up on Capitol Hill a scam.

At one point, he told reporters just a few moments ago that you shouldn't be able to impeach a president for doing a good job, but of course, the impeachment inquiry continues up on Capitol Hill.

And the president is behaving even more unpredictably as the impeachment inquiry ensnares more top officials in the administration. The president is whipping up another fire storm by the way.

He just talked about this over Syria, announcing he's giving the green light to Turkey to wipe out Kurdish forces that had helped the U.S. defeat ISIS and Republicans are pushing back against that idea, pushing back against the president when it comes to Syria, but not so much on Ukraine.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump was all smiles in front of the cameras as his top aide showered him in applause. But the Trump administration is sinking deeper into the impeachment quick sand on Capitol Hill.

[17:05:02]

As House Democrats have issued new subpoenas to Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the acting head of the Office of Management and Budget for information about the president's phone call with the leader of Ukkraine that included a request for dirt on Joe Biden.

The letter doesn't mince words, insisting each subpoena compels you to produce the documents by October 15, 2019. With a second whistleblower coming forward, White House allies are trotting out shifting explanations for the president's comments with some in the GOP claiming Mr. Trump was only joking when he asked China to investigate Biden.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): You really think he was serious about thinking that China is going to investigate the Biden family?

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS HOST: He said it right there in public.

JORDAN: I think he's getting -- I think Senator Rubio said a couple of days ago, I think he's getting the press all spun up about this.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Though economic adviser Larry Kudlow wasn't sure about that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was the president joking or in any way not serious when he suggested the Chinese should investigate the Bidens?

LARRY KUDLOW, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISER: I don't honestly know. I don't honestly know.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But the president is also claiming Energy Secretary Rick Perry urged him to turn to the Ukrainians.

RICK PERRY, U.S. ENERGY SECRETARY: Absolutely. I asked the president multiple times, Mr. President, we think it is in the United States and in Ukraine's best interest that you and the president of Ukraine have conversations, that you discuss the options that are there. So, absolutely, yes.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Even though Perry insisted Biden didn't come up. PERRY: Not once. As God as my witness, not once was a Biden name, not the former vice president, not his son, ever mentioned.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The preside and his defenders sounded unhinged at times over the weekend with Mr. Trump tweeting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was guilty of treason and that Utah Senator Mitt Romney is a pompous ass.

GOP Senator Ron Johnson, chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee stood by Mr. Trump by saying he doesn't trust parts of the intelligence community.

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: Do you believe the FBI and the CIA (inaudible) agencies?

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): -- John Brennan -- No, I don't trust any of these guys in the Obama administration. I don't trust any of them.

TODD: Okay.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president offered up a new distraction from the impeachment drama announcing he will allow Turkey to sweep into Syria, withdrawing U.S. forces and jeopardizing Kurdish fighters who have helped in the battle against ISIS.

But Mr. Trump warned if Turkey does anything that I in my great and unmatched wisdom consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the economy of Turkey.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took issue with the president stating a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran and the Assad regime and it would increase the risk that ISIS and other terrorist groups regroup -- a rare moment of dissent from inside of the GOP.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): ISIS is not defeated my friend. The biggest lie being told by the administration, that ISIS is defeated. This impulsive decision by the president has undone all the gains we've made, thrown the region into further chaos.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president was asked why he is siding with autocratic leaders over the nation's Kurdish allies.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I'm not siding with anybody. We want to bring our troops back home and I got elected on that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (on camera): Now there is one more Republican senator to add to the list to emerge to criticize Mr. Trump's phone call with the president of Ukraine. Ohio Senator Rob Portman told the "Columbus Dispatch" the president should not have raised the Biden issue on that call period.

That's in the words of Senator Portman. But the senator said the president's actions do not warrant impeachment so he's not there at that point yet, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House. Thank you.

A lot is going on. Let's get some more now on the president's truly stunning decision to abandon Washington's main ally in the war against ISIS by clearing the way for a Turkish attack on Kurdish forces in northern Syria. Let's bring in our national security reporter Kylie Atwood.

Kylie, there's a lot of concern not just from Democrats but a lot of Republicans as well. What the president has announced could cause a massive slaughter of Kurds.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: That is right. We have seen opposition throughout the day as you said, not just from Democrats and regional experts, but also from Republicans. Senator Lindsey Graham is calling this a short-sighted and irresponsible decision by the president.

We also heard from Senator Ted Cruz saying that reliable allies do not abandon their friends. Now the Kurds have been fighting alongside the U.S. forces in Syria for the greater part of the last few years. They are our allies there.

And so, therefore, if the U.S. does allow this Turkish offensive, which the White House statement said they would be allowing yesterday, it abandons the people that have been fighting alongside the U.S. for years, the people that have helped the U.S. to defeat ISIS in Syria. And that is why you're seeing these Republicans come out and say we cannot be doing this right now.

BLITZER: Kylie Atwood with that. Thank you very much. Let's get some more on all of these truly dramatic developments. Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois is joining us. He is a member of both the intelligence and oversight committee. Congressman thanks so much for joining us.

[17:09:57]

I want to start with the breaking news that the House Intelligence Committee is now considering taking what are being described as extreme measures to conceal the whistleblower's identity including limiting the presence of staff and members during testimony and disguising the individual's image and voice. Do you think all of that is necessary?

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL): Well, we're kind of in an unusual situation where the president is basically threatening the whistleblower. We've heard the various pieces of rhetoric that he's directed toward the whistleblower.

He wants to know the identity of the whistleblower. And so this extremely unusual situation unfortunately demands extreme measures in terms of protecting the security of the whistleblower.

We cannot allow the president to somehow get to the whistleblower or threaten him or discourage him or her from telling their side of the story and us learning what exactly is the extent of the alleged scheme displayed in his complaint.

BLITZER: Do you trust Republican lawmakers to protect this official, this whistleblower, from exposure?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I'd like to trust the secrecy of our, you know, identities of whistleblowers and other important facts to all members of our committee.

However, the fact of the matter is that we can't guarantee 100 percent assurance or safety for this whistleblower in the current situation using normal methods or measures. And so that is why we have to resort to these extreme measures which you described.

BLITZER: Do you think this person, this whistleblower's life, is actually potentially in danger?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I don't know about that and I can't comment on that. That being said, you know, what the president has said in terms of calling him or her a spy or their associate spies and that they would be handled a certain way in the past, would suggest that, you know, even their personal safety is something that we have to be concerned about right now.

BLITZER: As you know, there is now a second whistleblower who claims to have what is being described as firsthand knowledge backing up the complaint filed by the original whistleblower. Do you know anything else about the information this official is prepared to disclose?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I do not -- I do not know this whistleblower's identity. However, based on what the inspector general has said in the past, there are other individuals who corroborate the first whistleblower's complaint. That is what led the inspector general to call the whistleblower's complaint both credible and urgent.

And so, you know, all I know is what I've read in the press from the attorney for this second whistleblower. And so I would just commend this person for coming forward.

And hopefully this person will be allowed to follow the process as it was intended namely, file a whistleblower complaint with the inspector general. The inspector general then investigates it.

And then in this case, if it happens, I hope that the acting director of National Intelligence, Maguire, forwards that complaint to us if it is judged to be credible and urgent unlike what happened before.

BLITZER: As you also know, House Democrats, they want to know a lot more about the freezing of foreign aid, economic and military assistance to Ukraine.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Yes. Yes, sir.

BLITZER: How do these latest subpoenas to the Pentagon and the Office of Management and Budget fit into the overall impeachment probe? KRISHNAMOORTHI: Yes. So, basically according to press reports, the

White House instructed Mr. Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget and also the acting White House chief of staff, to basically then instruct the Defense Department and the State Department to freeze the aid and to convey to Congress that the aid was being frozen because of "inter-agency process."

Again, according to press reports officials at the State and Defense Department were alarmed at this prospect and they actually tried to get that directive reversed. And so we need to understand why that aid was being frozen, what was actually conveyed to Mick Mulvaney, but also to officials at the State and Defense Department. And whether these other supposed reasons for freezing the aid were given.

It doesn't sound like they were and I think everybody is right now quite puzzled on Capitol Hill given the fact that we appropriated this aid in September of 2018, a whole year ago and it still hasn't reached Ukraine.

BLITZER: Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, thanks so much for joining us.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you Wolf.

BLITZER: Still ahead, President Trump draws bipartisan criticism as Republicans find their voices and slam his decision to abandon Kurdish forces who have helped the U.S. defeat ISIS.

[17:15:04]

Also, Joe Biden and his campaign try to cope with dual threats, President Trump's attacks and the surge in the polls by Senator Elizabeth Warren.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:20:00]

BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories including new subpoenas and demands for documents in the rapidly expanding impeachment investigation of President Trump.

This comes as we're learning attorneys for the House Intelligence Committee are discussing what are being described as extreme measures to protect the identity of the original whistleblower if that person does testify.

Let's get insight from our political and legal experts. So Jeffrey Toobin, do you think these extreme measures to protect this whistleblower are really necessary.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I sure do. And let me give you three words why. Christine Blasey Ford. Think about that woman who was you could say the whistleblower in the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, whose life was turned upside down, who was harassed; who has at least for many months couldn't live in her house. And that's minor league baseball compared to the world series of an impeachment situation. So, this person, and it maybe more than one person, is going to be an enormous target and every security precaution should be taken. I wonder if it's going to work, but certainly they should try.

BLITZER: Yes, they should obviously try. You know, John Kirby, Democrats also now want the impeachment probe to go forward with new documents. They're subpoenaing new documents from the Defense Secretary Mark Esper. What sort of information might the Pentagon have to be relevant to the impeachment probe?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: I'm sure there will be internal correspondence particularly on the classified e-mails system about, you know, the back and forth over these decisions though probably want some policy analysis about the systems that were going to be applied and what the benefits of supplying those systems were.

And then I think some budget documents too in terms of the cost of providing these systems and the maintenance and upkeep of them. And I think that all of that will be fairly simple and straightforward for the Pentagon to provide.

BLITZER: And now, supposedly, we're hearing that there is a second whistleblower who has firsthand information about what happened during that phone call and other relevant information. How valuable might this second whistleblower be?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well, Wolf, it is what you said, firsthand knowledge, right? So, the knock on the first whistleblower was, well this is all secondhand and hearsay. I will note by the way, that's the Trump spin.

I will note everything that we know in the whistleblower complaint jives with what we know about the Ukraine call and everything else thus far despite Donald Trump's claims to the contrary, but firsthand knowledge, intelligence community confirmation affirmation, a stronger foundation on which Democrats will look to probe the president.

BLITZER: If, Nia, the second whistleblower was listening in on that phone call, saw the transcript, you know, sort of rough transcript that even the White House says it wasn't an official transcript, saw it and it has complaints about what was in that so-called transcript or other relevant information, that could be very significant if that person has that firsthand kind of knowledge.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right. Very significant and hard for Donald Trump as well as his Republican allies to keep attacking this first whistleblower, right, because again, you have somebody else who is corroborating what the whistleblower said in addition to everything that the Democrats already have.

Like the text messages that came out of the Volker testimony, some of the other witnesses that likely came out of the I.G., of the I.C. testimony as well, in addition to the memo of the transcript and in addition to just the road map that the whistleblower complaint provided.

So, yes, the more people you get in on this in terms of showing that they have problems with what the president said in those conversations, I think the harder it is going to be. I think that the Republicans and certainly Donald Trump will still try to tear down the credibility of everyone who comes out.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Deep state.

HENDERSON: The deep state. I mean, that is their whole criticism of this thing, that there is this whole plot beginning from when the president ran for office to bring him down.

BLITZER: You've heard some of the president's supporters in the Senate and elsewhere say, you know, he was just joking when he said that China should investigate the Bidens as well. He wasn't really serious, although when we look at tape he was obviously very, very serious. We've got an important column on cnn.com in which you said the president has tried this routine before.

"If past is indeed prologue, as they say, the joke alibi will remain. After all, it has worked before for Trump when staffs have had to do clean-up after his outrageous comments or claims. Consider these greatest hits. Remember when candidate Trump said, Russia, if your listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 Hillary Clinton e- mails that are missing. When asked about it by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Trump's written answer was essentially, lighten up.

BORGER: Right. That's what his lawyers -- I have. I just happen to have his written answer here and it says that was done, "in jest and sarcastically as well as apparent to any objective observer." Of course, of course it was.

But that is the excuse, the joke excuse, they seem to use for everything. Did you promise pardons to people who might break the law on immigration policy on building the wall. Oh, yes, that was joking. I really didn't do that.

[17:25:01]

So they use that time and time again and over the weekend of course, we saw it repeatedly starting with Senator Marco Rubio who said he wasn't -- the president wasn't serious. He just loves to drive you guys crazy.

And then Congressman Jordan and down and down the list of people who finally had something else to kind of glom on to as if it made any sense. As if the president was standing there on the lawn and talking to China while involved in trade negotiations and was kind of joking. I mean, that's absurd.

BLITZER: He's clearly wasn't joking when he said that.

CILLIZZA: Let's say he was joking, which he wasn't, to Gloria's point. Is China aware that he was being sarcastic? I mean, this is the problem. Did they talk to the Chinese and say, oh, FYI, he was joking. BORGER: Because he's such a comedian and a cut-up.

CILLIZZA: And he's clearly not -- by the way --

BLITZER: Let me let Jeffrey. Jeffrey -- let me get Jeffrey in and then Nia. Go ahead, Jeffrey.

TOOBIN: He's not as funny as I am.

BORGER: Yes. That is true though.

TOOBIN: And so I think it's unlikely. I mean, it's just preposterous. I mean, all you have to do is look at his statement about China. He wasn't joking.

I mean, you know, his whole defense is that there is nothing wrong with asking Ukraine or asking China or Italy or any of the countries that are now involved to help gather dirt. So why is that a joke? You know, it's not a joke. I mean, that's his defense.

HENDERSON: And CNN's reporting shows that he at least brought up Biden while he was on the phone with China, basically brought up Biden as well as Warren. Was that just a joke? Was he telling a joke about Elizabeth Warren or Joe Biden? Unlikely.

And we also know that he did this with Ukraine, right? We're in the middle of a conversation based on a transcript that he basically said Ukraine, please investigate Biden. So, it is utterly believable that he really wants China to do the same thing.

BORGER: Republicans are just looking for something. They're desperate for something to glom on to and as we look at all their talking points, it's about process really. It's not about defending Donald Trump's behavior.

And so one of these defenses, which has been used by people in his press shop over the years. Oh, he was just joking. And so, it's something that members of Republicans have sort of glommed on to, but it won't stick. It can't last. He wasn't joking.

And as Chris points out, it is not a joke if you're the Chinese. It is just not a joke. What does he -- what is he talking about? Does he want us to do this because they're not joking? They're involved in serious trade negotiations and they want to know is this -- is this the way they get in the door?

BLITZER: Stick around. Everybody stick around. There is a lot more we're following on all the breaking news. We'll do that right after this.

[17:30:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:32:34]

BLITZER: We are back with our experts.

John Kirby, you served in the Navy for a long time. You are a retired admiral. What do you make of the president's sudden decision all of a sudden to announce he is pulling U.S. troops out of northern Syria.

KIRBY: Yes, it seems like it is very much based on policy by grievance. If you looked at his tweet, it is about how NATO is not doing enough and the European allies didn't do enough and w have been over there too long but not in the national security interest.

If you believe ISIS is still a threat to American interests and our allies and partners and which it is and the military and intelligence community say that then you have to sustain the victory over them. You have destroyed them on the ground, yes, but you have not destroyed them as a network. That is what the small groups were doing in Syria to help defeat the network and to create a sustainable set of conditions but they couldn't resurge. So pulling them out like that, letting Turkey come in, that is only going it harder for SDF, our allies, our Kurdish allies and friends, to fight ISIS because they are going to be wanting for sure forced to react to Turkish incursion.

BLITZER: Swept bipartisan condemnation of the President's decision, including from -- obviously, Republicans, Gloria. Huge mistake, betraying an ally, disastrous and sure as ISIS come back and short- sighted and irresponsible and a stain on America's honor, catastrophic mistake, terribly unwise, I could go on. These are from Republicans including Republican leaders.

BORGER: You know what I want to know? I want to know if general Mattis will say something at some point because this is why he left. This is why he quit. He said he couldn't agree with policy. It was shortly after the President announced his Syria policy. And I'm sure he agrees with all of the quotes that you just showed up on the screen. And I'm sure the President is kind of stewing because he clearly wanted to change the subject from all of this but he has changed the subject to something that is enormously unpopular.

And Republicans I think don't, you know, they can say this because unlike with impeachment, there is no political price to Republicans for disagreeing with the President on Syria, the way there is on Ukraine and in terms of they have got to support him on that. So here they are.

CILLIZZA: Also, some level of safety in numbers, too, by the way. I mean, one of the things that you will see with impeachment is if they are going to jump, many of them will jump at the same time. You saw all of those statements come out this morning.

But Gloria is exactly right. The difference between coming out in favor of impeachment versus coming out in favor of Syria, the American voter by enlarge doesn't make decisions based on where your senator or even your President's position is, vis-a-vis Syria.

[17:35:08] BLITZER: Go ahead, Jeffrey.

TOOBIN: Isn't it true that the public, not 100 percent, is more with Trump than with the politicians on this one? Do you think there is an enormous desire for us troops to be over in in Syria for years more to be in Afghanistan for almost 20 years. I mean, I think the President may have his finger on the pulse. Now, I don't know if it is in the national security interest, but I don't see this as a political negative for the President at all.

HENDERSON: Yes. It is certainly what he ran on, right. I mean, he sounded a bit like Rand Paul as he was running for the Republican nomination and clearly got the Republican nomination and is in many ways governed in this way. You saw Rand Paul come out and say, yes, he agrees with this decision.

A little odd that it comes out at this point as the President is trying to get Republicans to hold the line on Ukraine and not revolt. We have seen very few signs that any Republicans are going to break away from him in any serious way on the Ukraine scandal. But on this, we did see Republicans remember who they are, right, in terms of national security policy and just in terms of being hawks when it comes to national security.

CILLIZZA: And a reminder, I think to, just to Nia's point, a reminder of how radically different Donald Trump's vision -- I don't know if you call it conservatism, but Donald Trump's vision of Trumpism on the domestic and international front is from traditional conservative policy proposals.

Look at what George Bush said and did, George W. Bush, versus Donald Trump. You would think they were not just from different parties but from different planets.

BORGER: That would make him happy to hear by the way. It will -- Trump.

CILLIZZA: Yes, he will love that. And that is to Jeffrey's point. Politically speaking, he is probably right people are stick of it.

BLITZER: You know, John, I used to interview Donald Trump all the time before he became President of the United States, going back 20 years-plus. And on this issue he has been very consistent. Get the troops out of Iraq. Get them out of Afghanistan. At that time there were no troops in Syria. He didn't want -- he didn't even want troops in Japan or South Korea or Germany. Why are they there? The United States is spending too much. He would say that consistently for the longest time.

KIRBY: Right. And, look, I understand, that many Americans are uncomfortable with troops in harm's way for extended periods of time. And troops, they are bearing the brunt of that and they would appreciate a break as well.

But there are some real significant pragmatic reasons for our national security to have them doing certain things. The footprint in Syria hasn't been that big. It has been very specifically targeted against ISIS. And ISIS was and remains a legitimate threat to our interests and those our allies and partners. BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. There is a more news that is

coming up including Joe Biden struggling to find the right response to President Trump's attacks on him and his family as well as rapidly shifting poll numbers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:42:32] BLITZER: Tonight, the former vice president Joe Biden is facing a two-front challenge, responding to President Trump's attacks as well as coping with senator Elizabeth Warren's surge in recent polls.

Our Senior Washington Correspondent, Jeff Zeleny is keeping his eye on all of this.

So what are you seeing, Jeff? How is he coping with the threats.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there is no question Joe Biden wanted one thing all along, that is a head-to-head match-up with the President. Now that he has that, at least in some respects rhetorically, he is struggling to, of course, respond to that. But we have seen over the weekend and in recent days his sharpening his rhetoric against the President, defending himself even more.

Of course the Biden campaign has been getting a ton of advise on how to handle this situation. Did he not want, I'm told, the President to hijack his campaign and his campaign message, but he also wanted to push back forcefully.

But I talked to one senior confidant to the former vice president who said they really are not sure what the politics of this long-term will be. Listen to what this confidant told me.

They said I'm not going to sit here and say there is no concern as this drags on, we don't know. No one knows.

So the Biden campaign is making it clear that they believe this head- to-head match-up with them is good but they of course are keeping their eye on Elizabeth Warren. She has been rising in the polls and of course raising $10 million more in the third quarter here, Wolf. So this combined challenge makes thing very uncertain this presidential race.

BLITZER: The Biden folks a pointing to a new poll in a key state that suggests he has the best chance of beating President Trump.

ZELENY: It does. And that is one thing that really bolsters the Biden argument they say all along. This poll in Wisconsin. take a look at the numbers out today in the brand-new poll.

Joe Biden and Donald Trump, 48 to 39, nine percentage point there. When you go on to Bernie Sanders versus President Trump, Elizabeth Warren right there, 45 percent, 41 percent and then Bernie Sanders 45 percent to 40 percent. So about in the same range there for President Trump. But Bernie

Sanders and Elizabeth warren are still slightly behind Joe Biden. So the Biden campaign making the argument that he is the strongest Democrat to take him on. But, Wolf, again, we do not know where this impeachment inquiry is going. No one knows the politics for this or how it will play out for Joe Biden.

BLITZER: Very intriguing, indeed. \

All right. Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much.

Coming up, the NBA grovels to China as American basketball and Chinese conflicts collide.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:49:46] BLITZER: There is new fallout tonight from a tweet that has landed an NBA team in trouble with China.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us right now.

Brian, this has to do with the on going protest in Hong Kong.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It does, Wolf. One NBA general manager posted a simple tweet over the weekend expressing support for the protesters in Hong Kong. But because of his team's ties to Chinese basketball and to one of China's most famous athletes and because of the NBA financial stake in China, there's considerable fall out from Beijing to Washington tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[17:50:19] TODD (voice-over): Tonight the National Basketball Association is risk of fouling out in China while also facing boos and backlash from fans back home. It all began when the general manager of the NBA's Houston Rockets, Daryl Morey, posted this on twitter over the weekend.

Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.

But what may have seemed like simple tweet ignited a geopolitical fire storm. That is because Morey's comment was a clear show of support for anti-China protesters who have been out in force on Hong Kong streets for months. Hong Kong is part of China. And to say the Chinese government was furious would be an understatement.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We want to warn people it's not realistic to earn a large amount of money from China while hurting the feelings of the Chinese people.

TODD: Chinese state TV demanded an apology. But what happened next many fans say was an air ball by the NBA. The league, which has stood up for free speech by its players when it comes to U.S. politics backed down saying Morey's views have deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China which is regrettable. The Rockets owner and star players distanced themselves from their own general manager. JAMES HARDEN, HOUSTON ROCKETS GUARD: We apologized, you know. We

love China. We love playing there.

TODD: Even Daryl Morey himself whose original tweet has since been deleted, said he didn't intend to offend anyone in China saying in a follow-up tweet, I have had a lot of opportunity since the tweet to hear and consider other perspectives.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, SPORTS COLUMNIST, USA TODAY: The NBA has lead the way in progressive thought, in ideology and speak your mind and doing the right thing culturally. And to see the NBA cave in this manner is absolutely stunning.

TODD: So why would the NBA, which one senator (INAUDIBLE) called the wokest professional sports league buckle to pressure from a foreign power. Experts say it's because China is a financial slam dunk for the NBA. Worth billions.

The NBA has 25 marketing partnerships and more than 200 stores in China. More than 600 million people watched NBA games on Chinese TV during the 2017-2018 season.

BRENNAN: The fact is that the NBA ratings were actually higher in China. More in China watched the NBA than watched the NBA in the United States. Extraordinary.

TODD: China sports analysts knows its influence on and off the court and immediately started issuing threats. The Chinese Basketball Association led by the iconic Yao Ming, a former Rockets star player said it would suspend cooperation with the Rockets.

The company, Tencent Spots, the NBA's exclusive digital partner for China is suspended live streaming of Rockets games.

THOMAS WRIGHT, THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: China has a long track record of pressure on governments and companies that say things that offend the Chinese communist party.

TODD: But tonight, the NBA's response has led to a Rocket's red glare with members of Congress and others going hard in the paint against the NBA.

Leaders on both side of the aisle from Republican senators Ted Cruz to Mario Rubio to Democrats Chuck Schumer and congresswoman Jackie Speier are calling the NBA hypocritical. Republican senator Rick Scott is demanding a meeting with NBA commissioner Adam Silver.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: But the NBA is not the only powerful American entity to defer to China recently. Sources told CNN that during a call this summer, President Trump promised Chinese president that the U.S. government would not speak out about the pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong while trade talks continue.

BLITZER: So Brian, what is the concern going forward now? TODD: Considerable concern from political analyst and others, Wolf,

going forward. They say between this incident and the NBA, with the NBA and President Trump's deference to Xi Jinping over Hong Kong, will China could now feel emboldened to intimidate any American business into towing their line or the Chinese could feel emboldened enough to send security forces on mass to repress the protesters in Hong Kong. People have been worried about that for a long time.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Let's see what happens on this front. Thanks very much.

There is more breaking news next. Fear about safety has House Democrats weighing extreme measures to protect the whistleblower when and if that person testifies in the impeachment inquiry. We are learning new details.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:59:35] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Under disguise. House Democrats may take extreme measures to protect the intel official who blew the whistle on President Trump. This as a second whistleblower has now come forward and new subpoenas were just issued in the Ukraine scandal.

Rick roll. The President tries to blame his energy secretary for his now infamous call to the Ukrainian president but Rick Perry is pushing back. Why is Mr. Trump pointing fingers when he insists his call was perfect?