Return to Transcripts main page


WAPO: Trump's EU Ambassador Plans To Tell Lawmakers Ukraine Quid Pro Quo Denial Was Dictated By Trump; Source: Trump's Former Russia Adviser Had High Praise For President's Ousted Ukraine Ambassador; Rep. Denny Heck (D-WA) Discuss About The Deposition That He's Been With Fiona Hill Behind Closed Doors; WSJ: Federal Prosecutors Examining Rudy Giuliani's Financial Dealings With Ukraine And His Bank Records; Biden Releases Ethics Plan After His Son Says He Won't Work For Foreign-Owned Companies If His Father Wins The Election. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired October 14, 2019 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: .. an investigation into the cause is currently underway. Let's hope for the best. And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next breaking news, Trump's former top Russia adviser testifying behind closed doors, pushing back against Trump's attacks on his former Ambassador to Ukraine. Plus, more breaking news, new details about what exactly federal prosecutors are looking into when it comes to Rudy Giuliani. And we are just about 24 hours from CNN's Democratic Presidential Debate right here in Ohio. Let's go out front.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett live tonight from Otterbein University in Ohio site of tomorrow's Democratic Presidential Debate here on CNN. We're going to have much more on that in just a moment. But first, OUTFRONT tonight, the breaking news, Trump's former top Russia Advisor, Fiona Hill, still behind closed doors as I speak. She has been there for more than nine hours. Nine hours.

She is the first person who worked in the White House to be deposed in the impeachment probe. Now, one thing we know that Hill told Members of Congress today according to a source, she passionately defended the former Ambassador to Ukraine. Keep in mind, this is the same Ambassador who says she refused to push Trump's agenda of an investigation into Joe Biden.

Hill says that that Ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, was a true professional. The exact opposite of what Trump said.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why did you recall the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine? Was She a problem? Why did you recall her?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I heard very bad things about her. And I don't know if I recalled or somebody recalled her, but I heard very, very bad things about her for a long period of time. Not good.


BURNETT: This comes as The Washington Post is reporting new and damning details about what Trump's Ambassador to the European Union plans to tell lawmakers this week. Gordon Sondland is expected to reveal that Trump dictated his response to Senior U.S. Diplomat Bill Taylor after Taylor texted, "As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign."

Now Sondland who, of course, is a Trump appointee replied, "Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump's intentions. The President has been crystal clear; no quid pro quo's of any kind."

Now, quid pro quos of any kind, none. I mean, this is really important because apparently, these words were dictated by President Trump to Ambassador Sondland. This revelation shatters, what has been President Trump's defense.


TRUMP: The text message that I saw from Ambassador Sondland, who's highly respected was there's no quid pro quo. He said that. He said, "By the way," it's almost sounded like in general. He said, "By the way, there's no quid pro quo."


BURNETT: It's funny, the texts that I saw will be incredible if the reality is that the President of the United States dictated it told Sondland to say that, that will be a pretty stunning thing. Manu Raju is out front live on Capitol Hill tonight. So Manu, what more are you learning about Fiona Hill's testimony nine hours and counting?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. She's been behind closed doors for more than nine hours now. We do expect this to wrap up sometime soon. But the questions have been all about what Democrats have been probing here. The run-up to that call with the President Trump and President Zelensky of Ukraine that efforts by the President of the United States to urge the Ukrainian president to investigate the Bidens, discussions about why military aid for Ukraine was withheld and also the aftermath as well.

Now, we are told that she was involved in the pre planning of that call that now fateful July call. So there has been a lot of questions about that. Also, we're talking from multiple sources familiar with the matter that she did, in fact, raise concerns about the ouster of Marie Yovanovitch. The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine who was ousted from that position who, of course, was targeted by Rudy Giuliani and Rudy Giuliani associates, who's bad mouthed by President Trump, according to that White House rough transcript.

And she's offered high praise for Yovanovitch in that role. The circumstances around her ouster also key for this Hill's testimony. Now, Erin, this all comes as Democrats are pressing ahead at a very full week of hearings.

We are now learning that one key witness will come on Wednesday, that's Michael McKinley, who was a top Pompeo advisor who has now resigned from that post. Democrats are bringing him into question him about the circumstances involved in this call, Pompeo's role as well.

So while they're not getting cooperation from the other elements of the Trump administration, they're issuing subpoenas like they did today. They're getting people to come in to answer questions.


Ultimately, we'll see what they're ultimately able to reveal as they decide how quickly to impeach this president, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Manu, thank you very much. And I want to go to the White House now on our Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan, we didn't actually see the President today, so what are you hearing from the White House?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, we haven't seen him because it's a holiday. No public events for President Trump. But we've heard plenty from him on Twitter and his frustration is pretty clear. And one thing he's doing, Erin, is renewing that call for the identity of that whistleblower to be exposed.

That coming after the House Intelligence Chairman said yesterday they may not have this whistleblower testify in person in order to protect their identity, because people like President Trump and his allies are calling for their identity to be revealed.

Now, that all comes as the President has been making his frustration really clear on all of this going as far as to quote a conservative Fox News radio host saying that serial killers get more due process than the President is getting from Democrats right now regarding this impeachment inquiry, continuing to lash out of the fact that Democrats have not held a vote on the floor to make this formal which Democrats have said they don't need.

But Erin, all of that comes behind the scenes. They're still searching for a new spokesperson on this impeachment front back here at the White House after things with Trey Gowdy did not work out because of lobbying rules for former Members of Congress. But so far, based on our reporting, they have not found someone who is willing to take that job yet.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Kaitlan. And I want to go now to Democratic Congressman Denny Heck who sits on the House Intelligence Committee. He's been part of today's deposition.

Congressman, literally, I know you just came out of the deposition. You've been in there for hours today.

REP. DENNY HECK (D-WA): Nine hours, Erin.

BURNETT: What have you been learning?

HECK: Nine hours.

BURNETT: Nine hours is a long time. That's a lot of questions. What have you learned?

HECK: Without a lunch break. Obviously, we're not going to comment on the specifics. As we've indicated with prior witnesses. I will give you my impression of Dr. Hill, however. I've been in Congress seven years and I can say in all candor that after thousands of hours of hearings I've never had a witness that came across this as substantive per minute as she did. There was an amazing amount of information provided and I think it will be very helpful.

Number two, if the woman doesn't have an idyllic memory, a total recall, then she's close to it. And thirdly, she had every bit as much energy in the ninth hour of her testifying today as she did in the first minute.

BURNETT: So it's incredible, one thing that you pointed out. You're saying if she doesn't have, basically, a photographic memory, it's close to it. After hearing from the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine on Friday, you described her testimony, Ambassador Yovanovitch, as powerful and impactful. Those were your words, Congressman Heck. Did that occur today as well? Was this as important, as crucial set of testimony as the Ambassador's?

HECK: Well, yes, I would say that, Erin. And I would say that we're into the synergy zone here, by which I mean one plus one doesn't equal two anymore, it adds up to more. When you begin to add these pieces together, it becomes extremely important so there's an amazing amount of information being developed, an amazing body of knowledge being developed about what went on here.

BURNETT: And in terms of the questioning, I'm just curious how it's breaking down, you've got staff, experts as well as people like yourself, the Congress people, how it sort of breakdown? We're talking about nine hours out of curiosity.

HECK: Well, we share time, 50 percent, with the minority party and it rotates back and forth. These are staff led depositions by professional attorneys with ample opportunity for members to chime in and they do and ask their questions.

BURNETT: All right. Well, that's very helpful. I think for a lot of people to understand, especially this point of view that's shrouded in secrecy is coming out that you're laying out, it's 50 percent split. You've got expert - attorneys leading the process.

I want to ask you also, Congressman, about Gordon Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the EU. Of course, Trump's appointment. He is scheduled to meet with Congress Thursday for the impeachment inquiry after the White House blocked him from doing so last week.

Now, just to remind everyone, Sondland was the one that the senior U.S. Diplomat to Ukraine texted to say, "As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign." Sondland's text reply was quite formal. It was, "I believe you are incorrect about President Trump's intentions. The President has been crystal clear, no quid pro quo's of any kind."

Now, we're learning that the President may have literally told him to say that on a phone call, that they may have been a conversation about how to respond to that text. How significant is that if true?

HECK: Well, if true I think it's going to be very significant. But the truth of the matter is, Erin, based on the last three witnesses that we've talked to, we have a lot more questions to ask than just that one, namely, did the President dictate or instruct them specifically how to respond in that text so as to avoid responsibility.


But as I said earlier, we're accumulating, frankly, a vast storehouse of information and knowledge about how this happened, how this developed, how it is that the President got himself in a situation where he literally violated clearly federal law when he asked for assistance from President Zelensky of the Ukraine to assist in the election.

BURNETT: Is it more black and white than it was in the transcript? I mean have you gotten information that made you say it's more damning than what you and the American people read in that transcript about a favor?

HECK: I obviously can't reveal specifics again, Erin. This is, in fact, an exercise in depositions. They're not hearings and we're attempting to follow best practices, best investigatory practices, that's what's at operation here. But I think an awful lot of the information that's available on open sources and that you've been reporting upon, whether it is what the President said in the call, whether it is the text that were released or the indictments of the two Ukrainian Americans who were tied up with Rudy Giuliani and are a part and parcel of all of this.

Clearly, the amount of evidence is building just counting that which is in the open source.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Congressman Heck. I appreciate your time tonight.

HECK: You're welcome.

BURNETT: And breaking news next, The Wall Street Journal reporting now that federal prosecutors are digging deeper into Rudy Giuliani's past. What they're looking into now, we've got more on those details. Plus, Hunter Biden breaking his silence on Ukraine and Trump's attacks, but why now, just hours before his father takes the debate stage? And the top Senate Republican slams Trump on Syria, saying he's gravely concerned about the President's decision to pull troops out of the country. Will it lead to ISIS resurgence?



BURNETT: Breaking news, we are now learning new details about what federal prosecutors are looking into when it comes to Giuliani's work in Ukraine. The Wall Street Journal at this hour reporting that prosecutors in Manhattan are looking at Giuliani's finances, meetings in Ukraine and work for a city mayor there.

So they're down to a level of specificity here. Investigators, apparently, this is very important, have been talking to witnesses about Giuliani since at least August. This comes just days after Giuliani told CNN he was unaware of being the target of federal investigators.

And two associates who were helping him dig up dirt on Joe Biden in Ukraine were arrested at the airport with one way tickets out of the United States. Out front now CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash, the host of CNN SMERCONISH, Michael Smerconish, and former Counsel to the Watergate Special Prosecutor Philip Allen Lacovara.

Dana, look, Giuliani has been refusing to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry, sort of defiant and mocking of much of this. But this is now - there's a lot of wagons circling.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: A lot. Look, this talk about tables turning. I mean he was, for so long, the dogged prosecutor. He was for so long the person who went after individuals who he thought were more corrupt and so forth and now he is on the other end of that and not really knowing how to deal with that.

And as you said, he told our colleague, Michael Warren, that he didn't know anything about being the target of any crimes, any potential - anything beyond just what he did politically but actually committing a crime.


BASH: But the fact that these two people who he worked so closely with were arrested shortly after they were actually sitting with him and it looked like they were actually trying to flee the country. I mean, it doesn't - the wagons you use to your phrase don't get any closer to that circle.

BURNETT: No, they don't. I mean, Michael, look, they're having lunch together at the Trump International Hotel because, of course, where else would Rudy Giuliani have lunch. I'm not even saying it facetiously in Washington, then they go to the airport to leave the country and now here we are with this new reporting that this is at a level of detail too. They've been looking at him for months he was seemingly unaware.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST, SMERCONISH: I think that the whole defense of the impeachment probe thus far has been rudderless. I'm shocked that there's not a war room, I'm shocked that no one has been brought in. Apparently, it can't be Trey Gowdy, because of the limitation on the timeline for lobbying.

But the President needs a seasoned hand, but the President also needs to be willing to listen to whomever that might be, someone skilled in this process in particular. There is a defense out there. Unlikely though it may be, but there's a defense out there to the consistent charges that seem to be coming from what the diplomats are saying, which seems to mirror what we've learned from the complaint, which seems to mirror what we've learned from that telephone call and it is, in short order, to own the quid pro quo and to say I wasn't motivated through personal interest, I was holding up those monies, so ...

BASH: The President has done that. He said, "OK. I did it, so what?"

SMERCONISH: But not consistently. Yes, but that's not the same. I mean I think you can really articulate something that at least is debatable, but they have yet to do that.

BURNETT: No. That's for sure. And Philip, look, it comes as President Trump and his allies have been repeatedly slamming Democrats. But their defense, to your point, is not been to defend so much the acts which are in black and white and perhaps only increasingly so will they be but to just point the finger at others, here is how they've done it.


REP. ANDY BIGGS (R-AZ): What we're seeing here is an absolute miscarriage of justice and miscarriage of process that demeans the body.

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC): Listen, hardened criminals have better protections than the President of the United States right now.

REP. LEE ZELDIN (R-NY): There should be a process. The minority party should have subpoena power. The President should have counsel present. He should be able to cross-examine witnesses. He should be able to present evidence.


TRUMP: They can't win an election day, so they're pursuing an illegal invalid and unconstitutional bull---- impeachment.


BURNETT: Philip, what do you say to that? Look, it's the House, it's more of a grand jury investigation is how it's been described. This isn't about you get to have a lawyer and counsel present and all of those things, but this is how they're going to play the game. They're going to say it's unconstitutional, it's a miscarriage of justice. Is there any truth to any of it?

PHILIP ALLEN LACOVARA, FORMER COUNSEL TO WATER GATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: No, there's no truth to it. It's a constitutionally unsound argument. Well, one of the things I learned in law school is if you don't have the facts on your side you argue the law and if you don't have the law on your side you argue the facts. And if you don't have the facts or the law, you appeal to fairness or equity or something, and that's basically where they are.

So they're complaining about process even though it's clear the House does not have any constitutional obligation to use any particular process. The other point one might make is that there's plenty of process going on. These are hearings where people are testifying under oath and as was said by the congressman in your prior segment, the minority party, the Republicans have equal time. So the President's defenders are having ample opportunity to probe any of the evidence that's being developed.

BURNETT: And yet, Dana, President Trump keeps saying he did nothing wrong. And whether he's getting fully to, yes, there was a quid pro quo, but there should have been because this is about corruption softer ...

BASH: Not getting (inaudible) ...

BURNETT: ... not getting quite that far even if he tries to go there. Look, here are the polls, Dana, which matter so much.

BASH: Yes.

BURNETT: Fifty-three percent of Republicans say it's acceptable for the President to ask a foreign leader to investigate a political rival. By the way, it's not OK but this is their opinion. I mean it's technically not OK, but that's how they feel, 86 percent of Republicans and 50 percent of Independents say that asking a foreign leader to investigate a political rival is not a good enough reason to impeach a president and impeachment, of course, is at its heart of political process. Do these numbers surprise you?

BASH: Not really, for a couple reasons. One is we know how much support the President has among Republicans. I mean it's almost unprecedented for a sitting President, particularly in the Republican Party to have this much support because it tends to peel off because people get disenchanted not with this president.

What the campaign and people, his political advisors have been arguing to me since day one of this the situation is that the people who support him and supported him in the election still do say he is just fighting corruption and that's how he's going to play it and he is so adept early on at setting the narrative.


BASH: He didn't go that far, but he set the narrative that he didn't do anything wrong. The people who like him, want to believe him and that is why that was so important for him to do that and he understand that.

BURNETT: He says it and they believe it.

BASH: Exactly. BURNETT: I mean, Philip, you and other prosecutors from Watergate

recently wrote an op-ed where you make the case for Trump's impeachment and in it you write, "In 1974, it was a group of Republican senators who put national interest over party loyalty and informed Nixon that his conduct was indefensible and would compel conviction by the Senate and removal from office. We hope the current Senate would similarly put honor and integrity above partisanship and personal political interest."

Do you have any confidence they will do so given the polls, Dana, just talking about?

LACOVARA: Well, I think there a couple of things to be said about that, Erin. One is I hope we're not being naive in thinking that if the House does impeach and the matter goes to the Senate for a trial, there will be some Republicans who will put country before party as a number of senators did during the Watergate era.

But I think what you're beginning to see even with the willingness of some of the witnesses to testify despite President's instructions not to testify and increasing criticism of the President over his actions in Syria, I think the facade of absolute loyalty on the part of people in the administration and people in the Senate may begin to crack.

And once like with a dam, if you get a crack in it, that water is going to rush out and everybody is going to be running for the exits. And I think that maybe what we see in 2020 if there's a House impeachment vote.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you all very much. And we are just about 24 hours away from our Democratic presidential debate here on CNN. Joe Biden is now fighting back and trying to take aim at Trump and his family. Plus, after Trump's win in 2016 some Democrats here in Ohio are growing a little bit more optimistic about their chances in 2020.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think that they're making a mistake by underestimating what is happening in your kitchen and in kitchens across Ohio?





BURNETT: Tonight, the Bidens fighting back. Former Vice President Joe Biden taking aim directly at President Trump, releasing a new plan today that will prevent any future president from abusing the powers of office. This comes, of course, after his son Hunter says he will step down from the Board of a Chinese company, vowing that he will not work for foreign owned companies if his father is elected president.


Dana Bash and Michael Smerconish are back with me along with Paul Begala, Democratic Strategist, Alexandra Rojas, executive director of Justice Democrats, Andrew Gillum, former Democratic nominee for Florida governor, and Astead Herndon, political reporter at "The New York Times".

So, Paul, in an interview tomorrow, apparently it has been taped, we do not yet know what is in it. We're going to hear from Hunter Biden for the first time since this whole thing exploded with Ukraine. Biden says that they are aware of the interview but they didn't arrange it.

So, you got Hunter Biden -- you know, I guess I don't know freelancing is the right word or not. You know all these individuals, this is good or bad for Joe Biden?

BEGALA: You don't want more Hunter Biden in the press if are you the Biden campaign. The truth is Joe Biden has nothing to apologize for, right? He's got a long record, he's never had a hint of scandal. He was a part of the Obama administration, which was pristinely ethical. The biggest scandal was the president wore a tan suit.

So you want to attack not defend. It's hard for Hunter Biden to attack, because it does -- it was dumb for him to be at a foreign owned company's board while his dad is vice president, no legal or ethical issues in the law about it, but that's defense. I guess he just feels like he wants to clear the decks.

But for Joe Biden at the debate tomorrow night, always attack. Never defend. You have nothing to apologize for, sir. Go after Donald Trump who is a one-man crime wave.

BURNETT: So, Alexandra, is it good or bad for Joe Biden that we're going to hear from Joe Biden in an interview, televised interview on the morning of his father's next debate.

ROJAS: I mean, I think they're on the defense, right? They're trying to save face. But I think at the end of the day, this is exactly what the GOP and the Republican Party want, and the fight that Donald Trump is trying to pick. He is trying to say that basically everybody is corrupt and basically put aside their own so they can advance sort of an agenda of depressing the vote and painting it that way.

So I think that Joe Biden is right to clear the air but we should call it for what it is and Democrats should see the strategy of Trump and the GOP.

BURNETT: So, Mayor Gillum, you know, Vice President Biden, you know, as Paul says, you got to play offense, go for it. Well, he has been trying to do that, lash out at the president and say, well, look at the Trump children. Here's a taste of what we've seen just over the past 24, 36 hours or so.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No one in my family will have an office in the White House, will sit in at meetings as if they're a cabinet member, will, in fact, have any business relationship with anyone that relates to a foreign corporation or a foreign country. Period. Period. End of story.


BURNETT: So, obviously, he's trying to turn the table, right? Because that's exactly what the Trump children do in terms of the roles that they play. Is it effective or does it draw more attention to --

GILLUM: You know, I actually thought it would have been more effective had he actually named the children, had he actually called them out individually for what they have done and what they're doing inside this White House and inside this administration.

Some of us would have picked up on it. But the truth is, we're talking about the average every day American who needs to understand this stuff much more plainly and much more simply, and to understand the Trumps made in the White House, what, over $80 million last year while serving in this administration?

The other thing, and I agree with my colleagues before me as it relates to this strategy of Hunter Biden speaking. This attempt by the Republicans is to level the playing field, to basically say, look, a pox on both of our houses. And if they could -- if they could have the effect of suppressing the vote by basically saying, you know what, we're all messed up, we're all corrupt, but I'm the one who's actually out there fighting for you.

Now, I don't know if he can make that case. That's probably the one he wants to make, because the voters, quite frankly, they want to replace Donald Trump. They don't want to replicate him. And so, we need to make sure that we've got clear lines between who the Democratic nominee is by contrast what we get the Trump administration.

BURNETT: So, President Trump is taking on Hunter Biden directly, right, because he thinks this works for him. Here's what he said over the past week.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, we're going to discuss where is Hunter? Where is hunter? By the way, whatever happened to him?

I think Hunter Biden is a disgrace.

Hunter, you know nothing about energy, you know nothing about China. You know nothing about anything, frankly. Hunter, you're a loser. Why did you get $1.5 billion, Hunter?


BURNETT: So, look, he got what he wanted. Hunter Biden is going to appear tomorrow morning. That's not necessarily a win for President Trump either, is it?

ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALSYT: Yes. I don't know if that's clear. What we know is that the president uses his bully pulpit, his kind of mass media attention, the power of his office to direct that at his political opponents, to hit them where it hurts. It's one of the things that his voters like about him, but it's also one of the things that has kind of enraged the Democratic field, was trying to stay kind of tailored to their own message, but they have this kind of force in the background that is forcing them to pick up on things that they don't necessarily want to talk about.

He has now gotten Hunter to come out. He is going to have that interview tomorrow. It's going to matter what obviously the substance of that interview is. But I think what we do, though, as we look across the field is Democrats rally around Vice President Biden. They're not going to attack him.

I think it will be very unlikely to see another candidate go after the vice president on this front. What they're going to say is, that's what Trump wants to do, but as Democrats, we're standing together.


That's what we see in the field.

BURNETT: So, Michael, what he wants to do is put it in the rearview mirror somehow, right? And we got a new poll, Warren and Biden are the top, 30 percent for Warren, 27 percent for Biden. And in some polls now, this is a second in Quinnipiac in the roll, she is the frontrunner. Sanders third, Buttigieg and Harris running up the top five.

So, what does he need to do? What does Vice President Biden need to do to get this whole thing behind him?

SMERCONISH: First of all, her ascension is now watching what the betting markets have shown for some time, for those who are interested, which is that she is twice as likely as he is to be the Democratic nominee.

Can I just make one Hunter Biden point?


SMERCONISH: The bar has been set so low I'm prepared for him to exceed it tomorrow. It's one issue to question the money that he was receiving from a firm that was under investigation and substantive issues. They've gone personal on him. They've raised some very really treacherous things.

I think there is a negative impression that people have.

And when they tune in and watch this guy and he puts sentences together and he seems --

BURNETT: The bar is low for him to look good?

SMERCONISH: Absolutely. I think it's entirely possibly that tomorrow, people will be saying, wow, that Hunter Biden, more impressive than I expected him to be.

BURNETT: Right, not the, quote/unquote, loser as the president tries to --

SMERCONISH: Right, I didn't want to say it, but yes.

BURNETT: I mean, he's been deeply personal.



BASH: Yes, and it's also -- I mean, because we are on this subject, I mean, these are human beings and this is a family that has gone through, you know, more hell than anybody can even imagine in that Hunter lost two siblings, one when he was a baby and one as an adult, and a mother. And if he -- I'm sure he's not going to say that explicitly tomorrow, but if he comes across as a human not as a nameless, faceless loser as the president calls him, somebody who takes advantage of his father's you know political position as the president and Republicans are trying to put him out there as, it could change the game. But it's a big if.

BURNETT: All right. All of you stay with me, please, and, of course, don't miss the Democratic presidential debate. It is tomorrow night right here on CNN. I'll be moderating along with Anderson Cooper, and Mark Lacey of "The New York Times". The candidates will all take the stage there, as you can see, in the order laid out in front of you, at 8:00 Eastern, live from Ohio.

Next, the fight for 2020 getting personal. .


PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I get it. I mean, he needs to pick a fight in order to stay relevant.


BURNETT: And is crucial battleground state of Ohio up for grabs in 2020?



BURNETT: And you are looking at the stage in Westerville, Ohio, where 12 of the Democratic presidential candidates will square off in the fourth primary debate. It will be the first major campaign event for Senator Bernie Sanders since he took time off the trail to recover from a heart attack he suffered nearly two weeks ago.

Now, Sanders, of course, vows it is not going to be long before he is back to full speed.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's nobody who's run a more vigorous campaign than I did. And we're talking about three or four rallies a day and town meetings and so on and so forth. But I think after a short period of time, we'll probably be able to return to that.

We are ready to go full blast.

We're going to get back into the groove of a vigorous, very vigorous campaign.


BURNETT: And everyone is back with me now here in Westerville.

So, Paul, what does Sanders need to do tomorrow night?

BEGALA: He's got to show up, even that energy. You know, even that interview was -- look, the guy has been through a heart attack.

BURNETT: For sure, yes.

BEGALA: It's almost worse for him if everybody is really ginger and kind to him. Like if I'm Bernie, I want somebody to take a shot at me because that's going to then invigorate him, but he's going to have to show. It is -- three of our candidates in the Democratic Party are 70 or older and this debate, the first 14 hours will be hard and the next are going to be harder.


BEGALA: It goes forever. I don't know how you are going to do.

BURNETT: That was even longer than I was anticipating, Paul.

BEGALA: Highly recommend, energy drinks, containers, I mean, I don't know. But you've got to have a lot of energy.


BURNETT: So, you know, look, he was out this weekend. Look, are you going to cause your support to turn to Warren? And, right, obviously, there are a lot of similarities between their plans and progressivity. But he was very polite.

But he drew a very clear distinction. I wanted to play it for you, Alexandra

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SANDERS: There are differences between Elizabeth and myself. Elizabeth, I think, as you know, has said that she is a capitalist through her bones. I'm not. I am I believe the only candidate who's going to say to the ruling class of this country, the corporate elite, enough with your greed and with your corruption. We need real change in this country.


BURNETT: Is that going to keep people loyal?

ROJAS: I think so. I think that Bernie has to do what you said, I think bring the energy but show what he's been doing for the past 30 years, which is fighting for transformational change from the bottom up.

And the contrast that he draws with Elizabeth Warren there was slight, but I think it was important. He has been carrying I think this movement and consistency on clarity on solutions that match the scale, scope and urgency of the problems that we're facing and when he's on the debate stage, him and Warren still have the opportunity to contrast that with a more moderate status quo vision that Biden and Pete Buttigieg and some of the others are going to continue to represent.

BURNETT: So, Michael, you have a situation here where, you know, people are trying to make the cut for the next debate as well, right?


BURNETT: You got 12. The bar is a little higher for the next one. So, tomorrow is a really important night for a lot of people. Pete Buttigieg did an interview where he, you know, started to say, it was pretty clear, look, I've got some issues with people who are going to be on stage with me.

Here he is talking about Warren's plans to shun big money fund raisers if she wins the Democratic nomination.


BUTTIGIEG: We're going to make sure we have the resources to compete because we are going up against the sitting president of the United States. He has tremendous amounts of support and allies at his back and we're not going to beat him with pocket change.


BURNETT: OK. So there's a slam on Elizabeth Warren, and then he took a swipe at Beto O'Rourke. They went back and forth with them recently on their gun plans and here's what Buttigieg said today.



BUTTIGIEG: I get it. I mean, he needs to pick a fight in order to stay relevant.



BURNETT: Ah, ouch.

SMERCONISH: I think that if Elizabeth Warren continues to ascend, there are some individuals on that stage who are going to get a second look, because I do think there will be questions raised about her electability and Mayor Pete is one of the people who I think will get a second look. Amy Klobuchar is someone else who will get a second look. But they've got to stay on the stage for the next debate, because this gets progressively more difficult as you know.

I was just in there. You got a tough assignment tomorrow night. You have 12 individuals on that stage and all fighting for time. How do they make themselves relevant to make sure they come back to the next debate? That's a real challenge.

BASH: And what we haven't seen in any of the debates is Elizabeth Warren take a punch and it's in part because no one's tried. And it's in part because she knows how -- she's fast and she can deflect a punch rhetorically like nobody I don't think I've ever seen. And so, the fact that she has been ascending since the last debate continues to be -- makes it more vital for people to find a way to get at her, but it hasn't worked since --


BURNETT: Mayor Gillum, there is report in "The Daily Beast", of course, that Senator Warren has been in contact with you and the quote was, two sources of talks between Warren and Gillum resemble a courtship that happens when a leading presidential candidate is exploring vice presidential contenders.

Is that how it felt for you?

GILLUM: Are you going to disqualify me from the conversation?


BURNETT: I'm just wondering, is it courtship? How would you describe them?

GILLUM: No, no, no. Listen, I talk to a lot of the candidates, and most of our conversations are about how is it that we win the state of Florida and flip Florida blue for the Democratic -- whoever the Democratic nominee may be. I am looking forward to working for the person that is.

I will say, it isn't that Senator Harris hasn't taken in hits in the race. I think most of the tough questions have come from moderators. And I agree with Dana, she has been, I mean, a prize fighter in the sense that no one has been able to pin her down into a negative spot. For the other candidates, I know we talked about Pete and Beto sort of

going after it. I mean they have to be careful, because if you reflect on how some of these candidates have gone for the king if you will have sort of been dismantled in the process.

BURNETT: Are you referring to Eric Swalwell perhaps?

GILLUM: Well, I would start there and I follow that with Kamala Harris, and I follow that a little bit with some of what we saw with Congressman Castro in the last debate, that the Democrats, while we want to draw distinctions, we have to be very, very careful how it is you want to take on other Democrats. The aftermath of that could mean a really precipitous slide to the bottom.

BURNETT: Final word to you, Astead. What do you think the tone will be?

HERNDON: I think it will be a cordial one. I think that's an important lesson to learn about these debates. Not one moment has to sustain someone through the campaign. You have a moment that's galvanizing, that drives fundraising, that drives interest. But you have to create them continuously so people continue to come to your sustained vision rather than a blip in the single evening.

BURNETT: All of you, thank you.

And next, the 2020 candidates, of course, are gearing up for that performance tomorrow evening. They need to win the state of Ohio.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Truthfully, I didn't think that that would be the outcome.




BURNETT: And nearly 70,000 children tonight are displaced in northern Syria. This has happened in just a matter of days.



BURNETT: Tonight, Democratic presidential candidates preparing for tomorrow's CNN debate here in Ohio. It's a crucial state that President Trump won by eight points in 2016.

That big victory worrying Democrats. They need Ohio to be in play and they're worried. Is it a battleground state? Is it up for grabs in 2020?

Jeff Zeleny is OUTFRONT.



ZELENY (voice-over): And Ohio loved President Trump back. His 2016 victory so convincing, it begs the question whether Ohio has lost its lure as a pivotal battleground.

This week, as Democratic presidential candidates descend on the state for their next debate, all eyes are on Ohio, but will they be by Election Day?

MAYOR NAN WHALEY (D), DAYTON, OHIO: Why would you abdicate Ohio so quickly to Donald Trump?

ZELENY: Nan Whaley is the Democratic mayor of Dayton. She says voters should hold President Trump accountable for his trade policy, promises to restore manufacturing jobs and so far not acting on guns, a key issue here after a mass shooting killed nine people and injured 27.

WHALEY: I almost feel like Hillary's loss awakened a group of people that were not interested or willing to do the work of politics that are now completely fixated because they know what's at stake here in 2020.

ZELENY: She's talking about women like Stephanie Pyser, Tiffany Roberts and Lisa Ludwig. Shell-shocked by Trump's victory, they formed a group in the Columbus suburbs called Positively Blue.

STEPHANIE PYSER, OHIO VOTER: This neighborhood tends to be a little bit more Republican. And that was kind of the reason that we started Positively Blue, because we didn't have anybody to talk to.

ZELENY: They're motivated by a sense of obligation and perhaps feelings of guilt.

LISA LUDWIG, OHIO VOTER: I wish I would have been more involved prior to the 2016 election. Truthfully, I didn't think that that would be the outcome.

ZELENY (on camera): You didn't think Trump could win?

LUDWIG: Never. I like to think I'm pretty in tune but I never saw it coming.

ZELENY (voice-over): Winning Ohio will be no small task for Democrats. While Barack Obama carried the state twice, Trump's eight- point victory over Hillary Clinton showed how deeply red Ohio can be.

But the suburbs are changing. Here in Westerville, Mitt Romney beat Obama 53 to 45 percent in 2012, but four years later, Clinton won 50- 45 despite losing the state. DAVID PEPPER, CHAIRMAN, OHIO DEMOCRATIC PARTY: There are areas of the

state that only six, and eight and 10 years ago were reliably Republican. Big population centers that are now blue, and that makes the starting point of the '20 election a lot closer from the get-go.

ZELENY: State Democratic chairman David Pepper said the party should select a nominee who appeals to a broad cross section of voters.

But Jane Timken, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, believes Trump is in a strong position here. She says all of the Democratic candidates are too radical for Ohio.

JANE TIMKEN, CHAIRWOMAN, OHIO REPUBLICAN PARTY: Those messages don't really resonate in Ohio and I don't think suburban voters are going to buy it.

ZELENY: But around kitchen tables like this, at least one thing has changed from 2016, the Trump presidency is motivating Democrats.

LUDWIG: I've talked to people who admitted they voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and will not be doing so next time. So -- and they've always voted Republican.

ZELENY (on camera): Do you think that they're making a mistake by underestimating what is happening in your kitchen and in kitchens across Ohio?




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But don't tell them.


ZELENY: Now, there's no question that the suburbs across Ohio and across America are going to be critical in the general election next year. The question is though how much are Republicans pushing back? Tomorrow afternoon right here in the suburbs outside of Columbus, Trump for Women are having an organizing event as well. So, that is the key here.

This is happening all over Ohio, Cleveland, Cincinnati, here in Columbus. We'll see what happens a year from now. It depends who the nominee is.

BURNETT: They all know. They all know it's a must win.

All right. Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much.

And next, Trump trying to temper the Republican backlash building over his sudden decision to pull troops from Syria. But does it have any chance of working?


BURNETT: Breaking news: President Trump imposing sanctions on Turkey and calling for an immediate cease-fire after tough criticism from his own party. Today, the top Republican in the Senate slamming Trump's sudden Syria troop pullout, saying he's, quote, gravely concerned and it could invite the resurgence of ISIS. That was Mitch McConnell.

It comes as UNICEF says 70,000 children have been displaced in just the past few days.

CNN senior international correspondent Arwa Damon has spent years covering the war on ISIS.

Arwa, are Senator McConnell's fears justified?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, even before this Turkish-led operation into Syria, Kurdish authorities had already been expressing their concern over their capabilities to continue to be able to secure the prisons where ISIS detainees are being held, as well as the various refugee camps where most of the inhabitants are the wives and widows and children of ISIS.

And inside these camps, it is the women who are ensuring that the ISIS ideology does not die. The camps have been described as something of an ISIS academy. Add to that the fact that the Kurds who make up the bulk of the fighting force against ISIS in this area, those key American allies who have now been betrayed, they say, by the U.S., they suspended their operations against ISIS and now have turned their entire focus onto the front lines with Turkey and with the Syrian Arab forces on the ground that Turkey is backing.

All of this has meant that there is a vacuum that has been created. Priorities have been shifted and as we know, only too well, Erin, ISIS is an entity that is extraordinarily capable of capitalizing on these type of security vacuums. Add to that, the fact that there are a number of ISIS sleeper cells that exist across both Syria and Iraq. All of these are good reason as to why we're hearing these various different concerns about a re-emergence of ISIS with one U.S. official saying that with this move, ISIS basically now has a second lease on life, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Arwa, thank you so very much.

And thanks very much to all of you for being with us.

"AC360" begins right now.