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2020 Democratic Presidential Candidates About To Debate Against Backdrop Of Impeachment Probe; Democrats Ponder Impeachment Vote; Interview With Democratic National Committee Chairman, Tom Perez; Interview With Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA). Aired 6-7p ET

Aired October 15, 2019 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: For the first time, 12 candidates will take the stage here in Westerville, Ohio, a key battleground state, among them, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, who are now locked in a very tight battle to be the front-runner, and Bernie Sanders returning to the campaign trail after suffering a heart attack.

Also breaking, very fast-moving developments in the impeachment inquiry. We're awaiting a statement from the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, who is meeting with Democrats right now to discuss their impeachment strategy.

Also, President Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and the Office of Management and Budget defying House Democrats' subpoenas for Ukraine-related documents.

Meanwhile, State Department expert George Kent is testifying in the impeachment inquiry.

Let's first go straight to Capitol Hill.

Our Congressional Correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty, is on the scene for us.

Sunlen, with a deadline tonight, the president's lawyer is refusing to comply with that congressional subpoena.


Rudy Giuliani, who, of course, has emerged as a central figure in this impeachment inquiry, he now is officially in defiance of that congressional subpoena. House Democrats had wanted documents and information related to Rudy Giuliani's role, the role that he played in President Trump's own efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate Joe Biden and his son, but Giuliani today announcing he's not going to comply, tweeting -- quote -- calling it an "illegitimate, unconstitutional and baseless impeachment inquiry."

His lawyer -- in one of his lawyer's last acts before parting ways with Giuliani, announcing officially that he will not comply with the House Democrats' demands. Now, this comes as House Democrats on the investigatory committees are

pushing ahead and keeping pressure up, bringing in under subpoena today George Kent, the State Department official in charge of Ukraine policy -- Ukrainian policy, now for nine hours behind closed doors, still going tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very dramatic stuff, indeed.

Meanwhile, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is getting ready to hold a meeting. I understand it is supposed to be beginning right now with her Democratic Caucus. And she's already said she will have a statement following that meeting.

What are you hearing?

SERFATY: That is right, Wolf, potentially a big and significant change is afoot tonight with House Democrats' impeachment strategy.

Nancy Pelosi right now is huddling with her entire House Democratic Caucus behind closed doors. They have, of course, been mostly out of Washington for the last two weeks, first time that they're able to huddle together since there's been rapidly moving developments in this impeachment inquiry.

But, notably, Pelosi herself signaling that there could be potential changes, most notably when it comes to if House Democrats will actually hold a full House floor vote to open up an official impeachment inquiry.

Now, this is something that Pelosi has been very hesitant to do in the past. She's not ruled it out, but she says she does not think it's necessary to do.

But we do know that Pelosi, who now will be speaking to press after that meeting now in the next 30 minutes, potentially signaling that she's going to potentially announce a new strategy. We will, of course, wait and see what she says, Wolf.

But this comes as her whip, James Clyburn, behind the scenes has been taking the temperature of the members of the House Democratic Caucus to see if there's support for this vote. It would be a very significant development in the House Democrats' impeachment inquiry -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly would be very significant indeed. We will see what she announces. We will have coverage of that. That is coming up.

Sunlen, thank you very much.

Let's get some more now on the latest closed-door testimony in the impeachment probe.

Our senior national correspondent, Alex Marquardt, is working the story for us. Alex, lawmakers are learning more about what is being described as

rogue shadow diplomacy in Ukraine by Rudy Giuliani and the concern it raised inside of the Trump administration.


This impeachment inquiry really has shifted into a much higher gear with this testimony to those various congressional committees, particularly that of Fiona Hill, the former top White House adviser on Russia.

Her stunning comments not only made clearer that there were these duelling Ukraine policies, if you will, but she was so disturbed by it that her boss, the former National Security Adviser John Bolton, told her to report it to the NSC's lawyer.


MARQUARDT (voice-over): It is explosive testimony that shows the president's most senior foreign policy advisers were against what they felt was a rogue drug deal-type operation in Ukraine, that operation led by Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, this according to multiple senior officials, the whistle-blower and hours of testimony from multiple witnesses in front of three House committees.

Fiona Hill, the White House's former top expert on Russia, telling lawmakers Monday that former National Security Adviser John Bolton called Giuliani a hand grenade who, according to a source, was going to blow everybody up.

Giuliani's operation bothered Hill and Bolton so much that Bolton told her to speak with a White House lawyer, a source telling CNN: "She saw wrongdoing related to the Ukraine policy and reported it."


REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): The Intelligence and Oversight and Foreign Affairs committee are gathering a far more detailed and fine-grain portrait of everything that was taking place in Ukraine with Giuliani and with his henchmen.

MARQUARDT: Giuliani, with the help of two men who have now been indicted on conspiracy and campaign finance violations, has been widely accused of running a shadow diplomacy operation in Ukraine, even pressuring President Trump to recall his ambassador to Ukraine, who is known for her anti-corruption work.

Lawmakers are hearing today that these concerns over Giuliani's work to get the ambassador recalled go back to at least March, when top State Department official George Kent, who oversees Ukraine, came to the ambassador's defense over the conspiracies that were being pushed, before the July 25 phone call between President Trump and the Ukrainian president, when Trump asked for a favor, that President Zelensky work with Giuliani and help investigate the Bidens. REP. STEPHEN LYNCH (D-MA): The ask that Mr. Giuliani is making to the Ukraine government is to basically put a political hit on Mr. Trump's main opponent, Joe Biden, to help him in the upcoming 2020 election. You cannot do that.


MARQUARDT: Fiona Hill told lawmakers that this confusion over the American policy in Ukraine made for a corruption, she said, in the U.S.

Now, what made Hill go to the lawyers was a meeting that she had in July in which the ambassador to the European Union -- his name is Gordon Sondland -- and he talked about investigations, which Hill understood to mean investigating the Bidens.

Gordon Sondland is expected to have to answer to that and more when he testifies on Thursday -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm sure that will be very dramatic as well.

Alex Marquardt, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on all of these dramatic developments.

Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly of Virginia is joining us. He's a member of both the Oversight and the Foreign Affairs committees.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA): My pleasure.

BLITZER: As you know, we're waiting to hear directly from the speaker, Nancy Pelosi. She's meeting with the Democratic Caucus.

I know you're going into the meeting momentarily. First of all, any sense of what she is going to tell us following that meeting?


I have had no hint of what she might say. Obviously, she's called a caucus just before votes, which is a little unusual. I assume the topic is whether or not to proceed to a formal vote in the House.

I'm, frankly, agnostic as to whether we need one or not, or, in fact, should pursue one. I believe the House can set its own procedures, as provided by the Constitution, that does not require a formal vote.

But if she decides that would be better in terms of proceeding, I will certainly support that.

BLITZER: There was a formal vote on the House floor that opened up impeachment proceedings leading to Richard Nixon's -- the investigation of Richard Nixon, and similar vote leading to the Bill Clinton impeachment probe.

And so some are suggesting, why not do that now? What is the downside?

CONNOLLY: Well, one of the downsides, I suppose, could be that it does allow for the minority to have subpoena power.

But it also could be read implicitly as acknowledging that we actually have to do that in order to proceed. And that is not the case under the Constitution or the law.

And so I'm a little wary about that part of it. But if a formal vote provides the kind of protection for the inquiry going forward that we think we need, then it is a necessary or useful measure.

BLITZER: Do you see any evidence, Congressman, of criminal wrongdoing by Rudy Giuliani or by President Trump?

CONNOLLY: Well, I think that is what we're looking at right now.

Let me say that with -- I attended part of the deposition today with State Department official George Kent, who absolutely focused on the rather shadowy activities of this parallel foreign policy operation run by Giuliani, and at the direct expense of the people who actually got paid to protect and carry out U.S. foreign policy, namely, the embassy in Kiev.

And he was bothered by it and felt that the demands on the Ukrainian government to provide dirt on a prospective political opponent, what he said was undermined 28 years of U.S. efforts to persuade successive Ukraine governments to abide by the rule of law.


I thought that was a pretty strong statement.

BLITZER: Rudy Giuliani says he won't be providing documents to your committees, despite all the subpoenas.

The Office of Management and Budget also says it won't hand over subpoena documents. That could be a key to understanding why aid to Ukraine, millions of dollars, was frozen. That is the issue right now.

Does that hurt your ability to build a case?


I think we are hearing from a number of witnesses. And Rudy Giuliani may decide he doesn't want to cooperate. I suppose that decision was made a little easier by the indictment of his two close associates on federal election campaign law violations and their shadowy activities, both in Ukraine and here in the United States, in raising sums of money for political figures.

BLITZER: Your committees are getting a lot more -- a lot clearer pictures right now, as more witnesses come forward.

Fiona Hill, the Russia adviser, former Russia adviser, gave more than 10 hours of testimony. You heard from George Kent today. He served in Ukraine during the Obama and Trump administrations.

As far as the American people are concerned, these are closed-door depositions, but you have been inside. Tell us how powerful all of this testimony has been.

CONNOLLY: Well, there are others who have spent even more time in the depositions.

But it is a sense of just horror that this kind of activity could be countenanced by the highest level of our government, conspiracy theories, disinformation, shadowy characters as sources that no reasonable person would rely on. And yet Giuliani, who relied on those sources, had the ear of the president and was able to get the ambassador to Ukraine, who was trying to do the right thing and keep us from making big mistakes, fired.

And so it is -- the facts as they're unfolding are very disturbing and ought to disturb every American in terms of what has happened here.

BLITZER: Congressman Gerry Connolly, thanks so much for joining us.

CONNOLLY: My pleasure, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: All right, let's get some more now on the other breaking story we're following, tonight's CNN/"New York Times" Democratic debate.

Our Political Reporter, Arlette Saenz, is joining us right now. She's here with all of us.

Set the scene for us, Arlette. What should we expect?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Wolf, as you can see behind me, the audience is starting to take their seats here at the debate, which is just less than two hours away.

You're going to be seeing 12 Democratic presidential candidates on that stage. And front and center at center stage are going to be Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, the two candidates essentially emerging as the duel front-runners in the Democratic race.

But as these candidates have been preparing for the debate tonight, it is Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden who has been in the spotlight, giving an interview to ABC News, where he spoke in depth about his business dealings in China and Ukraine, insisting there was nothing improper in his actions.

But Joe Biden and his son Hunter really at the center of that impeachment inquiry, which is looking into President Trump's efforts to target the Bidens, encouraging foreign governments to investigate the former vice president and his son.

Take a listen to what Hunter Biden had to tell ABC News in that interview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HUNTER BIDEN, SON OF JOE BIDEN: In retrospect, look, I think it was poor judgment on my part, is that I think there was poor judgment because I don't believe now, when I look back on it -- I know that there was -- I did nothing wrong at all.

However, was it poor judgment to be in the middle of something that is a -- it's a swamp in many ways? Yes.


SAENZ: Now, just a short while ago, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar arrived here at the debate hall, even exchanging a hello as they arrived.

And as these candidates, they are going to be trying to focus and bring attention to their issues. But, of course, this is the first debate that is going to take place since that impeachment inquiry launched -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Arlette, thanks very much, Arlette Saenz reporting for us.

Joining us now from here, the site of tonight's Democratic presidential debate, is the deputy campaign manager and communications director for the Biden campaign, Kate Bedingfield.

Kate, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: I want to get to some of these political issues.

But how do you expect, if you do expect, this whole impeachment inquiry issue to emerge from these candidates tonight? What are you bracing for?

BEDINGFIELD: Well, I think the discussion of impeachment will be a piece of the debate tonight. I think it should be.

I mean, I think, over the last few weeks, we have seen Donald Trump take increasingly erratic and desperate steps. He stood on the White House lawn and called for foreign nations to intervene in our election.

But I think something that's important to remember about all this is why we're even having this conversation, which is because Donald Trump doesn't want to face Joe Biden at the ballot box.


He has committed impeachable offenses, has sent Rudy Giuliani and his henchmen to the Ukraine to try to dig up dirt on Joe Biden, because he doesn't want to face him at the ballot box, because he knows he can beat him.


BLITZER: Just to be precise, the vice president, Joe Biden, he not only supports impeachment of the president, but conviction and removal from office by the Senate at the same time?


He has said that the president has indicted himself with his words and convicted himself with his actions. He believes that a president who shreds our Constitution, who openly and knowingly calls for foreign interference in our elections poses an incredible threat to the office.

He likes to talk about impeachment is not just about what a president has done, but also about the potential damage that they could do to the office. And he is worried that, as Donald Trump becomes increasingly desperate, which he has shown that he is certainly capable of doing things that will have real damage and real lasting damage to the country, so, yes, he believes that he should be removed from office.

BLITZER: Tell us about the timing of the Hunter Biden ABC News interview today.

It's hard to believe that it wasn't coordinated between him and his dad, the campaign.

BEDINGFIELD: Oh, Hunter is independent of the campaign.


BLITZER: But wouldn't he -- wouldn't it make sense that he calls up his father and says, you know, I want to do this long interview, I'm getting ready for it, what do you think?

BEDINGFIELD: He makes his own decisions about when and how to tell his story. That's what he did here.

And he sat down. I think you saw he did an interview where he was -- he took every question that was asked of him. He showed that he's not going to be bullied by the president of the United States.

And I think him sitting down and answering every question that's asked of him is a lot more than you can say for Donald Trump, for Rudy Giuliani, and for this White House, which is stonewalling an impeachment inquiry.

So I think what he showed this morning was that he is not going to allow these lies and these smears to stand. And that's, I think, what's important to remember here, is that Donald Trump has fabricated these conspiracy theories.

He has weaponized institutions of our government for a personal political vendetta. It's why he's being impeached.

And it's all because he doesn't want to have to face Joe Biden at the ballot box, who he doesn't believe he can beat. And you know what? He's absolutely right about that.

BLITZER: Hunter Biden did concede, though, he did acknowledge that, with hindsight, he should -- the appearance was wrong, he shouldn't have done it.

BEDINGFIELD: He said he regretted that he gave unethical people like Rudy Giuliani an opportunity to lie and smear.

And I think, again, for us to be having this conversation at a time when Donald J. Trump is the president of the United States, somebody who seeks out every opportunity to use his public office for personal benefit and for financial gain, I think let's be very clear about how damaging what Trump is doing to the office is for Americans in their day-to-day lives.

That's where Joe Biden's focus is going to be. I expect you will hear some of that from him on the debate stage tonight. And that's an argument that he's been making in this campaign.

BLITZER: The two front-runners right now, your candidate, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, they're the clear front-runners, according to this latest Quinnipiac University poll, nationwide.

Is the vice president going to go after her and underscore the differences he has with her tonight? Do you think that's going to come forward?

BEDINGFIELD: No, he is not in this race to attack another Democrat. I think...

BLITZER: Not to attack, but to explain that there are serious differences on substantive issues of great importance to the American people that they disagree on?


And I think you have seen him do that in previous debates. And I would expect that he will do that tonight on policy. There are significant differences...


BLITZER: What are some of those significant differences?

BEDINGFIELD: There are significant differences of opinion on health care.

I think you have seen him talk about his plan to build on Obamacare, to add a public option, to protect the gains that we won with Obamacare, rather than starting over with Medicare for all.

You have certainly seen him talk about that substantive policy difference and what that means in people's lives. So I would expect that you will hear some of that.

And he's going to talk about what it means to actually -- to get things done. He's somebody who has a record in his career of success, of meaningful progressive change. Obviously, the Affordable Care Act is one, the Violence Against Women Act, the Recovery Act, which is the single biggest investment in green energy infrastructure in this country.

So he has a record of change, of getting things done. And he's going to talk about what that means in people's lives.

BLITZER: We're looking forward to this debate tonight. I know you are as well.

BEDINGFIELD: We are too.

BLITZER: Kate, thanks very much for coming in.

BEDINGFIELD: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.

The breaking news continues next. We're standing by to hear from the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, as she huddles with House Democrats right now planning their next moves in the impeachment inquiry.



BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, we're awaiting a statement from the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi.

She's meeting right now with the Democratic Caucus to discuss their strategy on impeachment.

Also, 12 Democratic presidential candidates are about to debate here in the battleground state of Ohio and against the backdrop of the impeachment probe into President Trump.

As lawmakers hear more explosive testimony, President Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and the Office of Management and Budget now say they will not comply with Democrats' subpoenas for Ukraine documents.

Joining us now, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez.

Tom, thanks very much for coming in.

TOM PEREZ, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Always a pleasure to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Do you think that is going to be an explosive issue tonight, the whole refusal by Rudy Giuliani and the Trump administration to comply in this impeachment probe?

How is that going to come up?

PEREZ: Well, I don't think that will come as a surprise to any Democrat, because they have been stonewalling from the beginning.

And what the Democrats are going to do is exactly what the speaker has laid out and what Chairman Schiff and others are doing, which is methodically interviewing witnesses.


I think some of the heroes in this investigation are those dedicated career professionals whose duty is to their country. And they have spoken truth to power.

Democrats can walk and chew gum. And so we have to continue this investigation, because this was a colossal abuse of power. And we need accountability. And at same time, tonight, we will be talking about those critical pocketbook issues involving health care, making sure that people who work a full-time job can feed their family and making sure we address gun violence, all the issues that are on people's minds.

BLITZER: You have got an excited crowd behind us. They're beginning to gather.



PEREZ: Amen.

BLITZER: They're getting read for this debate.

Do you have a view on one way or another on whether or not -- because she's meeting, Nancy Pelosi, with the Democratic Caucus -- whether or not there should be a formal vote on the full House floor to authorize an impeachment probe?

PEREZ: Well, that will be up to the speaker to decide and to the leadership.

I will say this. There is no constitutional requirement to have a vote to have this hearing. And I hear so much misinformation about that. But there is no constitutional requirement.

They are moving methodically, and I think fairly. And, again, I applaud those dedicated career professionals who put country over everything else.

And I feel for them, because this president has demonized them. And that is so unfair.

BLITZER: Here's a -- you saw the "Washington Post" poll that said 50 percent of the American public said impeachment is distracting Congress from more important issues.

Are you worried that this impeachment fight will overshadow the Democrats' vision of what they have in mind going into the 2020 contest? PEREZ: Well, actually, I have seen a lot of polling recently showing

that the bulk of voters believe that there should be impeachment.

There was a Rasmussen poll today. And Rasmussen is -- they're often considered to be more Republican-friendly. And even that poll showed a clear majority supporting impeachment.

But, as I said before, Wolf, what Democrats are going to do tonight, and every single day, is walk and chew gum. Speaker Pelosi and the Democrats in charge have delivered on their promises.

We have passed bills in the House of Representatives to lower the cost of prescription drugs, to stabilize the health care exchange, to make sure, if you have a preexisting condition, you can keep your coverage, to reduce gun violence, to raise the minimum wage, to address the crisis in our democracy, HR-1, which is democracy reform.

That and so many other bills have been passed. We have kept our promises. And, unfortunately, in the Senate, Senator McConnell won't act on anything. He is a puppet for this president. And that is really unfortunate.

BLITZER: Very quickly, what do you say to those Democratic presidential candidates who say the DNC, the Democratic National Committee, is unfair in the requirements to establish a presence on this debate stage either tonight or going forward?

PEREZ: Well, we have 12 candidates tonight. And we have 12 candidates tonight because we have got a deep field of candidates.

We have built a very, very inclusive process. It's been exceedingly transparent. In order to get on the stage tonight, there were 35 polls. You had to get to 2 percent in four of them. Four out of 35, that had to be your batting average to make it to the debate stage.

I think that is very, very inclusive. And our goal is to make sure everybody gets a fair shake. And, yes, the bar will be raised as we move forward. That is how it's always been done. And it has always been done that way because, as we get closer to Iowa, New Hampshire, the candidates need to demonstrate that they're making progress.

BLITZER: Let's not forget Nevada and South Carolina, which are not very far behind us.

PEREZ: Amen. The big four, yes.

BLITZER: You're going to be speaking to this crowd fairly soon. We will be watching that as well.

Tom Perez, thanks very much for coming on.

PEREZ: Always a pleasure.

BLITZER: Appreciate it.

PEREZ: Good to see you. BLITZER: There's more breaking news just ahead.

Democrats, they are huddling right now with the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi. We're expecting hear directly from her momentarily about news about the impeachment inquiry.



BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, 12 Democratic presidential candidates are getting ready to debate here in Westerville, Ohio as we follow new developments in the impeachment probe. We're also standing by to hear directly from the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, as Democrats are assessing support potentially for a vote to formally authorize the impeachment inquiry.

Let's dig deeper with our experts and our analysts.

Maggie, what do you think? They're meeting right now. Nancy Pelosi is about to emerge. She's already announced she will make a statement. We'll carry that. We'll hear what she has to say. This is a tough decision for her.

MAGGIE HABERMANN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It is. I still think it's going to be hard and she may prove me wrong minutes from now, so bearing that in mind. But I still think it's going to be hard for her to go ahead and endorse a full impeachment vote. I think there are a lot of members of her caucus who are not in favor of it.

There have been a bunch of fast-moving developments around this inquiry in the last several days in Giuliani not responding to a document subpoena from House Democrats in terms of what they've heard from former Trump administration officials privately about this Ukraine controversy.

And so I suspect what she says is going to relate to that but we will see.

BLITZER: Because one of the arguments they have made in favor of a full House vote is it would to give them greater legal authority to get those documents through subpoenas.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: True. Although I think there is a risk for the party that everything now becomes about impeachment because there was a focus group that Axios just covered from a group called Engagous in Youngstown, Ohio, of swing voters who said --


BLITZER: Elizabeth Warren is arriving now here at the debate site. She is going into her trailer. They've got trailers to get ready for it. But go ahead.

SMERCONISH: So my observation is that the result of this focus group among swing voters was these voters are worried there is too little conversation about jobs, too little conversation about healthcare, too little conversation about a whole host of things, infrastructure at the top of the list, and too much about impeachment.

So they've got to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. Sure, pursue what they think is just relative to impeachment but not neglect all those other issues.

BLITZER: What do you think?

ANDREW GILLUM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, to your point, Michael, this is partly why you see them on a pretty deliberate and fast-track course to, yes, collect the facts, yes, get all of the testimony that they need, yes, make the public case but also, yes, take your time and hurry. I think they know that they don't want to stand in the way of this next presidential election.

But given the offenses and the gravity of it, there is no way in good conscience this speaker and this Democratic leadership, and I would add to it well-meaning and well-thought about Republicans, could allow this president to get away with what he's done.

BLITZER: Because, as you know, there were a lot of Democrats who were hoping they could vote in the House of Representatives on articles of impeachment to vote by Thanksgiving.

MITCH LANDRIEU, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well. I think timing is going to be important. But the country is going to have to do two things at one time, because we have a duty to fulfill constitutional mandates, and that's what the impeachment process is going to be.

Simultaneously, these candidates have to run for office, and I agree with Michael, and I saw some of that focus group result, the people want these candidates focused on bread and butter issues. How are you going to make my life better, tell me why you're better than Trump, you stay focused on that, let Congress do their job. And then the people will make a decision one way or the other about how to go forward.

BLITZER: How much frustration is there in the White House right now? You cover the White House?

HABERMANN: A lot of frustration. And this White House has been there so many weeks and months of frustration over various things. Two years of the Mueller probe, two years and nine months of the president conducting self-inflicted wounds on Twitter and public and his comments.

This one feels different to people. It feels like it is less clear where it goes. The staff is breaking down into factions and camps. This is always been the case around Donald Trump. But it's more pronounced now. There is a higher potential risk for staff in a lot of this than there is for the president himself.

I think the president has accepted that he is probably going to get impeached and I think he's dealing with it. However, he is going to deal with it. That doesn't mean that the staff doesn't have their own complications in terms of having to hire lawyers of their own, in terms of having to handle subpoenas. And I think that creates as any former Clinton staffer will tell you a very difficult climate.

BLITZER: The frustration was underscored when the president the other day, and was pretty shocking to hear the president say of Nancy Pelosi that she hates -- hates the United States of America.

SMERCONISH: That's the way in which they have cast it, that this is all an unfounded witch hunt. I think the president needs a lawyer. The more conversation is about Rudy Giuliani and whether he's going to honor a subpoena, therefore he's a witness, it reminds that there really needs to be a war room, there needs to be a cogent response. And thus far, the president has been his own counsel and not to his advantage.

HABERMANN: I just want to make one point too. Using the language that the president did that Nancy Pelosi hates America because she is conducting this inquiry is a level of language that, in modern history, I don't remember from any sitting president. It gets very out of any norms of a Democratic social experience that we've had in terms of leadership in this country.

Nobody is supposed to be seen as being against the country because they are concerned about one elected official, and so identifying yourself with the country in that way is not typically what you would associate with a democracy.

BLITZER: Yes, you're absolutely right.

Everybody stick around. We're following the breaking news, a lot more right after this.



BLITZER: The candidates are beginning to arrive here at the debate site. There you see Cory Booker arriving with his girlfriend, Rosario Dawson. They're getting ready. Other candidates are arriving as well. We're counting down to the CNN/New York Times Democratic Presidential Debate.

We're awaiting a statement at the same time from the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, who is meeting with House Democrats behind closed doors right now to discuss their impeachment strategy.

In the meantime, we're back with our experts and our analysts. Mitch Landrieu, what are you looking forward to tonight? What do you hope to learn?

LANDRIEU: Well, first of all, think it's going to scrump (ph). I think this is really going to be like a roller derby and not a horse race because a lot of people have to make some hay tonight to stay in this race going forward.

My expectation is to see what we call the second tier candidates really trying to -- aggressively trying to find some space.

I think Elizabeth Warren is going to take some incoming (ph) tonight because I think that he has been really kind of increasing in the polls and some of these candidates don't think that they could let her continue to do that.

I expect Vice President Biden to be defensive at the outset and my expectation is that Bernie is really going to get -- to try to show folks that he's really doing well, that he feels good and that episode was just a small blip in the screen.

BLITZER: What are you looking for, Andrew?

GILLUM: Well, I think, one, we're going to see Democrats try to fish out a little bit more concrete details from Elizabeth Warren on healthcare. I think there has since some -- I don't know if it it's blood in the water but certainly some lack of total definition of how it is that that's going to --


BLITZER: But she says she agrees with Bernie Sanders' Medicare for All.

GILLUM: Correct. And then there is scuttlebutt around whether or not how you pay for it, do you lose private health insurance, what's the process, what's the there-there? And I think we're going to get a little bit of that tonight. I'm hopeful.

I also think that you're going to see some of the lower tier candidates who quite frankly where this is make or break, where this very well maybe the last time that they are on this stage, or at least they enter the room tonight thinking that. They've got to draw enough distinction or have a moment. I don't think it is a sound bite but a memorable moment that allows them to be taken seriously and maybe rise in the polls so they could frankly live to see another day on the debate stage.

BLITZER: Maggie?

HABERMAN: I think that's right. I mean, listen, it's impossible not to see Warren as a focal point of tonight's debate. She's glided -- glided is not the right word but she's essentially escaped a lot of the harsher scrutiny and criticism and detention in these debates that other candidates have had, particularly Joe Biden.

So I think that you're going to see probably some sharper knives aimed at her tonight. People are running out of time to leave their mark. I do think that we are going to see Joe Biden offer a forceful defense of his son. I think you're going to hear him offer a pretty full- throated condemnation of the Trumps and the Trump family.

I'm not sure how long he'll want to linger on that because I don't think he likes any of this attention on families and doesn't want to encourage it. And I do think Bernie Sanders is an X factor. I expect he'll try to

show his heart episode which did not get a ton of attention over the fact that the campaign was not truthful about the fact that he had suffered a heart attack which is a big deal in a national campaign. He is going to be looking to show that he is fully back, not just for supporters but for other people who might be considering him.

BLITZER: In the national, the Quinnipiac University poll that came out, yesterday Bernie Sanders is down significantly from the two front-runners.

SMERCONISH: Odds makers say that Elizabeth Warren has twice as likely a shot as being the Democratic nominee as does Joe Biden. So there is interesting data out there.

I agree with everything that's been said, I would just add this -- that's a big stage and 12 people on it. And if my ciphering is correct it is 12 minutes each in a best case scenario, so it's very hard to emerge from the pack.

Mayor Gillum made an interesting observation which is to say that several have tried to go after others in previous debates but it really hasn't worked for them. So, if you're in that center of the stage and you are on the fringe and want to come back and play in November, how do you get it done? I don't know. It's the real challenge.

GILLUM: Could I also say, Wolf, not only is this the biggest debate stage in our history, but you got a new X factor there. We've Tom Steyer for the first time on this presidential stage. We have no real sense of how it is, and he's going to come out and make a dent, whether he becomes the more aggressive type that tries to draw distinction but as we talked about yesterday, any time you seem to try to draw blood from a candidate, it seems like the Democrats and the rest of the world don't necessarily reward you.

BLITZER: He's the billionaire businessman.

LANDRIEU: There's no question about it. But at the end of the day every one of the people wants to beat Donald Trump and would be a better president. That is the Democrats' message.

HABERMAN: But what they've done in the past is trying to avoid it being defined by Donald Trump. The past debates have been about issues that are dividing the Democratic Party into different camps and I do think because we're in the middle of the impeachment inquiry and because of what is happening nationally, I do think you are going to see more of Donald Trump on that stage than you have before. I wonder if that helps Joe Biden, is that harder for Elizabeth Warren? I just don't know.

BLITZER: Much more coming up on the breaking news, all of the breaking news.

We're live here at the site of this president debate. Much more right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BLITZER: Just a little bit more than an hour away from the start of tonight's historic CNN/New York Times Democratic presidential debate.

Michael Smerconish, the pressure is really on several of these candidates, to come up with a standout performance because the threshold for the next debate is even higher. They might not make it.

SMERCONISH: You're right. Go big or go home for those on the fringe, but I'm focused more on some action in the center of that stage, like from Senator Bernie Sanders.

BLITZER: What are you hoping for?

SMERCONISH: Well, he surely has to know that Elizabeth Warren's ascension has come at his expense. Not Joe Biden. Biden hasn't faded in these surveys. So, I think if you're Bernie Sanders, you have a real dilemma on your hand. Are you going to engage her? Are you going to portray her as the capitalist as he said this week?

I think that there could be some action in that regard. I also look for Mayor Pete to focus on Elizabeth Warren as well, and trying to get some of that stardust on his own shoulders.

BLITZER: Bernie Sanders just had a heart attack. He's got to show that he's healthy and ready to go.

HABERMAN: Yes. I mean, I think that Bernie Sanders is gong to be wanting to show that he's healthy, he's able to be on that stage, and I think he's going to stage in a back and forth with other candidates, but as Michael knows, there are real impetuses of him going at Elizabeth Warren more, in trying to reclaim the vote share that he's lost. I'm also looking for Mayor Pete and someone like Warren. I'm looking for more from Mayor Pete and Beto, or that kind of conflict. I think you're going to see the sort of second tier of candidates trying to get a wrung up by going at each other.

BLITZER: There will be a bunch of those little battles.

GILLUM: Well, I suspect that most of it will be some of the lesser candidates going after Mayor Pete. He also seems to be on a bit of an ascension both financially, but also in the polls.

And you may want to dust that up a little bit and possibly replace him because if nothing else, I believe that this field is still an open field.


I know a lot of folks want to break it down to only two at this stage. I think there's enough room here, enough unknown that somebody else can break through.

BLITZER: We're all going to be watching it very, very closely.

To our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer.

Our coverage of tonight's CNN/New York Times presidential debate continues right after this.