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Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) is Interviewed About Warren's Medicare Plan; Justice Department Distances Itself From Giuliani; Red Flags for Senate Republicans; Last-Minute Opioid Settlement. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired October 21, 2019 - 09:30   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A lot of headlines, gets lots of folks on the left end of the progressive movement excited, but doesn't necessarily, as you said, get to all the details.

Today, is it possible to win the nomination, whether Democrat or Republican, outside of that ideological bunker?

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D-CO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Oh, I think so. I definitely think so because I think that's where the American people really are. Look, Elizabeth has said on the debate stage that now is the time to think big. I agree, it is a time to think big, but my ambitions are different than hers. You know, I want to reduce childhood poverty by 40 percent in this country. We can do that in a year for three percent of the costs of Medicare for all. I want to cover everybody with universal health care coverage with a public option, and I want a climate plan that actually engages our farmers and ranchers in that work so we have a durable result.

We have different ambitions. One is not smaller than the other. I think what's important is for us to figure out in this campaign how to be able to get some oxygen for ideas that are different than the ones that actually circle the earth on Twitter really quickly, but maybe by the time they land don't make any sense to actual living, breathing humans in America, as opposed to just what's happening on the Internet. And that's what I'm trying to do in this campaign.

SCIUTTO: So assuming, though, that that bunker, the ideological bunker does supply the Democratic nominee, that these pie in the sky perhaps unrealistic promises without explanation of the costs wins the nomination because it excites people and makes them feel like they're going to get something, possibly get something for nothing. If that happens for the Democratic Party, is Trump likely to be re-elected?

BENNET: Well, first of all, something for nothing is just an empty promise. We've had enough of those out of Washington, D.C., and I think we've had enough of those from the coastal elites who come up with these ideas that don't make sense in the middle of America. It makes it more likely he gets re-elected. I hope he'll be beaten by whoever the Democratic nominee is. But I can tell you this, there's a reason why 39 out of 40 Democrats

who ran for the House of Representatives in the last election and won, swinging the majority to the Democrats, 39 of 40 ran on a public option like mine. They didn't run on Medicare for all. And a lot of them beat people in the primaries who did run on Medicare for all. So if -- it seems to me, if we want the best chance of beating Donald Trump, if we want the best chance of getting a majority in the Senate and we want the best chance of holding on to the majority in the House, then running on the public option, not Medicare for all, is where we should be. And I would say, you know, my plan for ending childhood poverty is where we should be.

SCIUTTO: I want to ask you about impeachment because that may very well precede the 2020 election. There have been some smoke signals, if you can call them that, from the Republican side, public comments from Lisa Murkowski saying in no uncertain terms that what the president did with Ukraine not acceptable, Mitt Romney, you're aware of his comments. Lindsey Graham, we noted, saying that he's at least open to the possibility of impeachment.

You have a lot of private conversations with your Republican colleagues, I know, because you work across the aisle in the Senate. I'm not going to ask you to break any confidence you would have with them. But I'm curious, are you hearing more private expressions of support for removing this president than we hear publically from the Republican side.

BENNET: I would not say privately that I'm yet hearing private expressions of support, but I am hearing private expressions of people saying they're horrified by the president's behavior. And they're horrified that he invited Ukraine to interfere in our elections. They're horrified that the White House chief of staff admitted that it was a quid pro quo. They're particularly horrified by what the president did in northern Syria by abandoning the Kurds there. Something that I think there's a consensus in the Senate no other president in history would have done.

And, you know, that's -- we have to stand up to tyrants here and abroad. That's what we're all about. And I think, you know, as I said last night, that's why we have to make America America again. You know, we've had enough of this guy and I do think there are president -- Republicans in the Senate who are getting awfully tired of having to defend him.

SCIUTTO: Yes, standing up to tyrants used to a relatively bipartisan, non-controversial point.

BENNET: It was. It was. Let's hope for that again.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and yet here we are.

Senator Michael Bennett, thanks very much. We wish you the best of luck.

BENNET: Thanks, Jim. Thanks for having me. POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right, still to come, the Justice

Department puts out a really unusual statement distancing itself from the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. We'll have more on that after the break.



HARLOW: All right, welcome back.

So Rudy Giuliani has become a central figure in the impeachment inquiry and now it appears even the Justice Department is distancing itself from the president's personal attorney. This after reports that earlier this summer Giuliani met with a top official in the Justice Department's criminal division, Brian Benczowski. That meeting was on behalf of one of Giuliani's clients. But it came before the two indictments of those two Giuliani associates just a few weeks ago by the U.S. attorney here in Manhattan.


Elliot Williams is with me, our legal analyst and former federal prosecutor.

Just listen to this statement that the DOJ, Elliott, put out over the weekend. Quote, when Mr. Benczowski and fraud section lawyers met with Mr. Giuliani, they were not aware of any investigations of Mr. Giuliani's associates in the Southern District of New York and would not have met with him had they known.

This is still an ongoing investigation. So not only is it incredibly rare to hear from the DOJ on this, how significant is it that they are publicly distancing themselves from Giuliani?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, it's a few things. Number one, like you touched on it, Poppy, the Justice Department never -- much to the chagrin of reporters like yourself around the world --

HARLOW: Right.

WILLIAMS: The Justice Department never confirms or denies the existence of investigations. So they are probably fuming at this and it's pretty remarkable. So that's point one.

Point two is, I am old enough to remember, and I hate to play the what if Obama game --

HARLOW: Right.

WILLIAMS: But I'm old enough to remember that Loretta Lynch, you know, the way her entire name was dragged through the mud, I think, for lack of a better way to put it, for a long time over a meeting with President Clinton, which they didn't even discuss the particulars of cases, and here, you know, Mayor Giuliani was discussing --

HARLOW: Right.

WILLIAMS: An open, ongoing investigations.

The other thing that's remarkable is, let's just not forget who Rudy Giuliani is. He's a former associate attorney general, I believe, at the Justice Department. The number three person there. He's a former U.S. attorney. And for him to be exercising the poor judgment of meeting with the department when he knows better, when he shouldn't, and for them to be distancing themselves from him is quite remarkable.

HARLOW: Well, and it's the second time in, you know, four or five days because they also put out a statement after Mulvaney said there was that quid pro quo. They're like, we don't know anything about that.

But you have lawmakers in both parties, you've got two Republican and a Democrat over the weekend on the House Intel Committee, Congressman Jim Himes and Will Hurd, who want Giuliani to testify in this probe. You, interestingly, though, think it's not totally necessary. Why?

WILLIAMS: I think it's not totally necessary because if you remember -- I'm also old enough to remember when the White House chief of staff said into a microphone at a press conference essentially an admission of impeachable conduct. So backing up the original call memorandum, you know, the -- if you -- just for folks to remember, there was a memo of the call with the president of the United States and the prime minister of Ukraine --


WILLIAMS: Asking for dirt on one of his political appointments. You have testimony of a number of officials. So Rudy Giuliani's testimony, let's say, would be helpful, but isn't necessary to create an impeachable -- you know, the background for impeachment here.

I mean I think what he does shine light on, why it would be great to hear from him --


WILLIAMS: As why is this individual from outside of government, who's claiming to be the president's personal attorney --

HARLOW: Right.

WILLIAMS: With no background in foreign policy.

HARLOW: Right.

WILLIAMS: Who hasn't gone through a background check and has personal financial interest --

HARLOW: Right.

WILLIAMS: Why is he running foreign policy? That's -- that is a critical question to be answered. HARLOW: Which would -- which makes that whole Pompeo exchange on ABC

yesterday even more fascinating that he wouldn't comment on it, but the reason he said he wouldn't comment on it is because he doesn't talk about administrative, you know, conversations, but Giuliani's not part of the administration.

On top of that, you have a Republican member of the House, Francis Rooney, asking this question. Listen to him just yesterday morning.



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: What do you think of the role in foreign policy that Rudy Giuliani has been playing?

REP. FRANCIS ROONEY (R-FL): Yes, I think it's a -- I don't buy having the amateur diplomat -- quasi diplomat out there disrupting the work of our paid professionals. That's why I want to hear Bill Taylor Tuesday.


HARLOW: He really wants to hear from Bill Taylor tomorrow. I think everyone does.

What do you want to know from Bill Taylor?

WILLIAMS: Right. But, again, I -- this whole question -- what -- who is Rudy Giuliani? And why -- because I do think -- and why I keep getting back to Rudy Giuliani is, when the president sort of has deputized a private citizen, I guess his personal attorney, to conduct foreign policy, that created an opening for the president to self- deal. When there weren't the career officials, the career diplomats, like, frankly, like Bill Taylor, to put guardrails on the president's behavior, that's how you end up with the president of the United States, that's calling up foreign leaders and asking for dirt on political adversaries.

HARLOW: Right.

WILLIAMS: And so I do think the fact that Mayor Giuliani has existed is indicative of a bigger rot in how the administration is conducting this foreign policy. And someone like Bill Taylor, who understand diplomacy, understand how we ought to be working on the world stage, can really shine light on some of that.

HARLOW: Thank you, Elliot, for shining light, as you always do, on these critical issues.

WILLIAMS: Thank you.

HARLOW: We appreciate it. We'll see you soon.

WILLIAMS: No problem. SCIUTTO: This -- the president's campaign chairman went to jail for crimes and a personal lawyer under investigation here speaks to a broader issue that requires public attention.

HARLOW: Of course.

SCIUTTO: We're going to keep on it.


Could Senate Republicans be facing a serious challenge to their majority? Coming up, the new polling and fundraising numbers that could spell trouble for the GOP.


SCIUTTO: The upheaval caused by the House impeachment inquiry may be overshadowing a much more pressing concern for Senate Republicans. New polling and fundraising numbers suggest that Republicans have little room for error if they want to hold on to the Senate in next year's election, which, of course, they do.


Joining me now is Josh Kraushaar, he's politics editor for "The National Journal."

Josh, a fascinating piece here.

First, let's start with the simplest question here, does progress to an impeachment inquiry and vote, does that help or hurt Republicans and Democrats in the Senate side of this race?

JOSH KRAUSHAAR, POLITICS EDITOR, "NATIONAL JOURNAL": You know, it's a wildcard because we don't know how -- how the impeachment hearings are going to develop. But the polling does show that there is a national majority and support for at least the impeachment hearings. And when you look at the Senate battlegrounds, these are some of the biggest swing states in the country. You know, Colorado, Arizona, North Carolina. So I think it's safe to say, at the very least it won't hurt Democrats.


KRAUSHAAR: You know, but we'll have to see how things go.

SCIUTTO: That's an interesting -- and that by itself has value here, right, because Republicans are depending on, hoping that, particularly in some of the more solid red states, that it gives them advantage.

Is part of this, as you know, better than me is the math here. The Democrats defending 12 seats in the Senate, Republicans, 23. Kind of a reverse of what we saw in the last cycle.

How does that disadvantage Republicans here? KRAUSHAAR: Well, here's the big picture math. Democrats need to win at

least three Senate seats, maybe four, because Alabama's going to be a tough Senate seat for them to hold. And there are five Republican senators in toss-up races and a new round of quarterly polling put out by Morning Consult shows all five of those Republican senators in toss-up races having underwater job approval ratings, that they're trending downwards.

And we also saw fundraising reports that came out just this month showing three Republican senators in swing states being out-raised by Democratic challengers. And we're over a year away from the election.

These are big red flags, big warning signs that usually you see incumbents raising a lot of money, having a lot of momentum this early on. The fact that their polling is down and they're struggling to raise a lot of money is a big, big challenge with over a year to go.

SCIUTTO: OK, in the 2018 midterms on the House side, suburban moderates, particularly women, really helped turn a lot of those swing districts. And I know the geography and the math for House, different from the Senate. But how key is that voting bloc when we look at the Senate races in 2020?

KRAUSHAAR: Huge voting bloc, Jim. Arizona is a state that used to be very Republican. Democrats picked it up and then they picked up the Senate seat last year. Martha McSally running again for re-election. Democrats and Republicans alike think that's going to be a big, big toss-up, a big, big battleground. A lot of suburban voters.

North Carolina, a state that Trump narrowly won, that Republicans had been competitive in, but it has a lot of suburban voters in Charlotte, where the convention is going to be held, in Raleigh, Durham in the triangle area. Another area where Senator Tom Tillis needs to win these suburban swing voters.

The battlegrounds are not as favorable to Republicans as they were in 2018. There are a lot more moderate states, a lot more states that are competitive at the national level.

SCIUTTO: All right, something to watch. Josh Kraushaar, thanks very much.

And, you know, the Senate, I mean I wouldn't say it's more important than the White House, but it's up there. You think judges. There's a whole host of powers the Senate has even when dysfunction rules in Washington.

HARLOW: A hundred percent. That was fascinating. His piece is great in "The National Review."

OK, we have this just into CNN. A last-minute settlement has been reached by some of the biggest makers of opioids in the country. This means a big case in Ohio may be put on hold. We'll get you those details right after this.


SCIUTTO: We're following breaking news on a story that's very close to our hearts. One we've covered very closely.

Four drug companies have now reached a settlement for their role in the ongoing opioid epidemic.

HARLOW: A lawsuit brought by two Ohio counties was expected to go to trial today. Now that is all on hold with this news.

Alexandra Field joins us now.

Look, Ohio has really, in so many ways, been the epicenter of this crisis in this country. So what is this settlement? What does it mean?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and this is part of something so much larger, well beyond Ohio or the two counties specifically involved in this part of the trial.

What we're talking about is a couple hundred million dollar settlement that was reached at literally the 11th hour, just hours before this landmark federal opioid trial was set to kick off this morning. They were starting, again, the proceedings focusing just on Cuyahoga and Summit Counties, which are in Ohio. Those counties reached deals with four drug makers overnight. That left Walgreens as the only defendant in the trial. The Walgreens trial now gets moved away, separated, severed on to another track.

But you've still got some 2,700 claims from communities across the country looking to hold drug makers accountable. So this is not the end of the federal trial, but this case was really the bellwether for how litigation would proceed.

You've got all of these drug companies now talking about the possibilities of a global settlement that would resolve all the claims against them. Of course, this is something that we've been reporting about. That could be to the tune of tens of billions of dollars.

But certainly this is a first step. The plaintiff's committee is saying that the money in this case, this resolution, will make significant progress toward opioid abatement in these two counties.


SCIUTTO: Well, that's a selling point there.

HARLOW: Right.

FIELD: It is.

SCIUTTO: Well, we'll continue to watch it. Alexandra Field, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Thank you very, very much. [10:00:01]

HARLOW: All right, top of the hour, 10:00 a.m. Eastern.

Good Monday morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

Later this morning, President Trump will meet with members of his cabinet as questions grow about --