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Giuliani Seeking Legal Counsel; Republicans Continue To Attack Impeachment Inquiry Process; Interview With Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN); Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) Introduces Resolution Condemning House Impeachment Process, Calls It Out Of Bounds; Biden Responds To Trump's Efforts To Investigate His Son; Wildfire Threatening Hundreds Of Homes Near Los Angeles. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired October 24, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Senator Lindsey Graham offers a resolution slamming the Democrats' impeachment inquiry, as President Trump demands a stronger defense from fellow Republicans. While GOP lawmakers attack in public, are they worried?

Messaging mess. We're told the White House admits its anti- impeachment communication strategy needs some work. At the same time, the Trump team is insisting it was OK for the president to call members of his own party human scum.

Giuliani's defense. Mr. Trump's personal lawyer is offering a new explanation of this central role in the Ukraine scandal, as he looks to hire an attorney of his own. Is Rudy Giuliani facing more legal danger every day?

And fire emergency. A raging inferno explodes in size in California, forcing about 2,000 people from their homes. CNN is on the scene where 5,000 acres were scorched in just three hours.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on Republicans attempting to put more fire into the fight against impeachment.

Senator Lindsey Graham announcing a new resolution condemning the process House Democrats are using to investigate the president, this as Mr. Trump is praising GOP lawmakers who took his call for a more aggressive defense to heart by storming a closed-door deposition.

Tonight, some Republicans are privately acknowledging new impeachment anxiety, after a top diplomat's testimony linking the president to a quid pro quo in the Ukraine scandal, one GOP source calling it a game- changer.

This hour, I will talk with Democratic Congressman Andre Carson. He's on the House Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are also steady by.

First, let's go to Capitol Hill.

Our Congressional Correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty, is all over the story.

Sunlen, Lindsey Graham is taking direct aim at the impeachment process, as Republicans try to show the president they're defending him tooth and nail.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

Senator Lindsey Graham tonight releasing a resolution condemning how the House Democrats are going about this impeachment probe and exactly the process they are using along the way. This is just the latest sign of Republicans attempting to get in line with President Trump, responding very, very clearly to the demands that President Trump made of them earlier in the week, when he called on them to get tougher and defend him much more aggressively in this impeachment probe.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY (voice-over): Tonight, congressional Republicans are ratcheting up their push to defend President Trump amid the House Democrats' rapidly growing impeachment inquiry.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): It's unfair to the president and it's dangerous to the presidency.

SERFATY: Senator Lindsey Graham introducing a resolution co-sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell condemning the process that Democrats are using for impeachment.

GRAHAM: The process you're engaging in regarding the attempted impeachment of President Trump is out of bounds, is inconsistent with due process as we know it.

SERFATY: Even as Graham argued the opposite as House manager in the 1998 Clinton impeachment proceedings.

GRAHAM: The depositions, I think, will determine whether or not we go forward with hearings. I think it's a very smart thing to do, is to depose these people and find out what they have got to say, and not drag this thing out unnecessarily.

SERFATY: This on the heels of House Republicans storming into the secure classified room on Wednesday, delaying Pentagon official Laura Cooper's testimony, where she eventually laid out for lawmakers how foreign aid is disbursed and how the Ukraine aid deviated from the normal process.

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC): The star witnesses for the Democrats, and I can just say that there are conflicting testimonies even today.

SERFATY: All this coming after President Trump's very clear directive to Republicans earlier in the week. DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Republicans have to

get tougher and fight. We have some that are great fighters. But they have to get tougher and fight.

SERFATY: A new target Republicans are rallying around, casting doubt on Bill Taylor, the president's top diplomat in Ukraine, who this week laid out the clearest evidence so far of an apparent quid pro quo in his testimony.

SEN. JOHN THUNE (R-SD): There's a lot of secondhand information, a lot of sort of hearsay, not hearsay, but in the sense that it was passed on. It wasn't a direct conversation.

SERFATY: Even as GOP sources tell CNN Taylor's damning opening statement is -- quote -- "reverberating," some calling it a game- changer.

Meantime, House Democrats are also strategizing their next moves.

QUESTION: Was there a quid pro quo?

SERFATY: After a slew of closed-door-only testimony for weeks, sources tell CNN Democrats are now aiming to move from the behind-the- scenes phase of the investigation into the public phase by mid- November.

But sources caution that timeline could still slip until after Thanksgiving.

REP. CHRISSY HOULAHAN (D-PA): That will be the point where I think that we will try and figure out what the best combination of people to speak in a more transparent and public way would be.

[18:05:00]

SERFATY: That next new public phase would include releasing transcripts of the closed-door depositions, holding public hearings, and bringing back some of the witnesses they have already heard from, like former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, Trump's former top Russia adviser Fiona Hill, Trump's top diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, and the U.S. ambassador to the E.U., Gordon Sondland.

Once that phase is done, the committees would then release a public report to draw up articles of impeachment and vote in the House Judiciary Committee. That would be followed by a full House vote on articles of impeachment, potentially by the end of the year.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): What we're doing right now is a first pass. We are interviewing the witnesses that we know may have been involved and actually paring down that information, so that you can pull out what's relevant for the public.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY: And, looking ahead, sources tell CNN that Democrats are now starting to preliminarily plan for the potential writing of those articles of impeachment, sorting out what exactly would be included, how broad, how narrow these articles would potentially be.

These conversations clearly are very preliminary at this point, but one lawmaker, Wolf, telling CNN that there are conversations, people are talking and certainly thinking about what the articles of appeasement indeed would look like.

BLITZER: Very important and very interesting.

Sunlen Serfaty, thank you.

Let's go to the White House right now for more on the GOP defense against impeachment.

We're joined by our chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, the president is praising his Republican defenders and attacking his Republican critics.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

The White House is trying to rally Republicans behind President Trump after days of damaging testimony in the impeachment inquiry. They brought senators over here to the White House earlier today. And aides to the president are welcoming that resolution that Sunlen was just talking about from Senator Lindsey Graham condemning the impeachment inquiry that's backed by other GOP leaders.

The White House is even backing up the president's label for his Republican critics as human scum.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): Reeling from bombshell testimony in the Ukraine investigation, the president's defenders latched on to a Senate Republican resolution to condemn the impeachment inquiry, accusing House Democrats of denying due process to Mr. Trump.

GRAHAM: I'm not here to tell you that Donald Trump's done nothing wrong. I'm not here to tell you anything other than that the way they're going about it is really dangerous for the country. And we need to change course while we can in the House.

ACOSTA: The president stayed behind closed doors for much of the day huddling with GOP senators, including some who have raised questions about his phone call with the leader of Ukraine.

GOP Senator Lindsey Graham said he spoke with acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who acknowledged the White House has to improve its message on impeachment.

GRAHAM: I talked to Chief of Staff Mulvaney. I think they're working on getting a messaging team together.

ACOSTA: For now, it's Mr. Trump who's driving that message, giving a shout-out to House Republicans after they stormed into closed-door testimony this week, tweeting: "Thank you to House Republicans for being tough, smart and understanding in detail the greatest witch-hunt in American history."

STEPHANIE GRISHAM, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He was happy to see it happen. He was very supportive of it, as he should be.

ACOSTA: The White House is doubling down on the president's tweet aimed at his Republican critics. "The never-Trumper Republicans," the president tweeted, "though on respirators, with not many left, are in certain ways worse and more dangerous for our country than the do- nothing Democrats. Watch out for them. They are human scum."

Nothing wrong with that, according to Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham.

GRISHAM: The people who are against him and who have been against him and working against him since the day that he took office are just that. They deserve strong language like that.

ACOSTA: Republicans once favored closed-door inquiries when they controlled the House.

Consider now Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's defense of the GOP's Benghazi investigation.

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Our goal was fact-finding. And five-minute questions by a member of Congress and then rotating to the next one is not a very conducive way to quickly garner information and have a conversation in a setting where you can really engage. And so we felt like these closed-door interviews were a much more effective way to get the facts for the American people.

ACOSTA: On the Trump administration's green light to Turkey's invasion of Syria, Vice President Mike Pence met with House Republicans, who have blasted the president's policy. Mr. Trump offered some advice to Kurds abandoned by U.S. forces, tweeting: "Perhaps it is time for the Kurds to start heading to the oil region."

The president's Syria policy has outraged key Christian conservatives in his base.

PAT ROBERTSON, HOST, "THE 700 CLUB": And I promise you as I'm sitting here right now, Russia is going to come against us, Turkey is going to come against us, China's going to come against us. It's like the president of the United States is modeling Neville Chamberlain.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, frustrated with this impeachment inquiry, the White House is taking another shot at the media, instructing federal agencies across the government to cancel their subscriptions to "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post."

The move, the White House says, will save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, even if the decision won't impact the coverage of the impeachment inquiry.

[18:10:02] Wolf, they can cancel their subscriptions all they want. They can't cancel the coverage -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's absolutely correct.

Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.

Democratic Congressman Andre Carson is joining us. He's a key member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. ANDRE CARSON (D-IN): Thank you for having me, Wolf. What a pleasure.

BLITZER: So you have heard the Republican Senator Lindsey Graham accusing your House impeachment inquiry of secrecy, of violating the president's due rights -- due process rights. What do you make of that?

CARSON: I think it's all political pandering.

I think that what happened yesterday -- I was in that SCIF, Wolf -- was embarrassing. It was unpatriotic. It was un-American. And it was a mob mentality of sorts.

It was very disturbing, but it was all theatrical. But if this were in another day and time and era, we would have seen worse actions. And so the vitriol and the hatred coming from some of them, I think many of them were just following the group, but some of them had the kind of animosity.

And they were so protective of a president. It was very disappointing. The founding fathers who some my Republican colleagues love to cite had in mind co-equal branches of government. They were simply acting as minions for Trump's tyranny.

Very embarrassing, Wolf.

BLITZER: But I assume you will eventually, probably sooner, rather than later -- correct me if I'm wrong -- will not only hold public hearings, but release the transcripts of those secret depositions.

CARSON: Well, that's a -- that's a question that should be directed to Chairman Schiff.

But he has stated publicly that, at some point, we will have public hearings. The extent of those hearings has yet to be determined. But one thing that's clear. The Intelligence Committee, the Oversight Committee, Foreign Affairs, we are doing our due diligence in making sure these depositions run smoothly.

And the Intelligence Committee, we have really been the focal point of this whole matter. We have an obligation to protect our intelligence agencies and the intelligence community and to create a safe pipeline, Wolf, for those whistle-blowers, so they can feel safe. BLITZER: Senator Graham also implied that the reason the House

Democrats don't want to hold a formal House floor vote on impeachment authorizing an impeachment inquiry is because the vote would fail.

How do you respond?

CARSON: I don't agree. I think that there are other matters at hand.

Look, we can conduct this investigation, we can conduct the depositions and hearings all at the same time while dealing with infrastructure needs. The president's a developer. He has yet to come to the table with Democrats in a very reasonable manner to talk about infrastructure.

We have educational needs. We have national security needs that must be addressed in a way that doesn't demonize immigrants, people of color and Muslims.

BLITZER: We're hearing that Democrats are now debating the scope, the eventual scope of the House impeachment inquiry. What are you hearing about that? What can we anticipate?

CARSON: Well, I can -- I think we can anticipate rule of law being instituted.

I think that we want to streamline these efforts. I think my Republican colleagues, many of them, at least privately, are deeply concerned about the reality in which we live.

I think threat disappointed by the weakness that they have seen from the leadership within their own caucus, a leadership that is unwilling to stand up to President Trump and say, you know what, sir, enough is enough. You have done enough damage. It is time for us to focus on an agenda that reflects the people's interest, and not about your reelection efforts for 2020 or covering for you and this quid pro quo scheme with Iran (sic) that has failed miserably.

BLITZER: Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense, appeared before your committee yesterday for her deposition.

She described an irregular process by which aid to -- military assistance to Ukraine was suspended. What new questions does all this raise?

CARSON: Well, I think it certainly reaffirms the questions we have had about Donald Trump's integrity.

I think it's reaffirmed our suspicions as it relates to those who are around him who are afraid to correct him when he's in error. I think it also has reaffirmed the questions we have had about the lackluster leadership and the lack of intestinal fortitude when it comes to Mitch McConnell, when it comes to Republican leadership and their willingness to not only protect their caucus against Donald Trump, but to make sure they formulate an agenda that is in synch with the founders' vision of co-equal branches of government.

They have failed to do so, Wolf.

BLITZER: "The Washington Post" is just now reporting that, back in late August, the Trump administration delayed certain trade privileges to Ukraine.

Is that something that's come up in your investigation, not only delaying military assistance to Ukraine, but also these trade privileges, presumably to squeeze them into doing what the president and Rudy Giuliani wanted?

[18:15:04]

CARSON: Well, these things are ongoing discussions that we have been having for the past few weeks. I think, in the upcoming days, we're going to have more answers for you.

But what you can rely on is that these staff-led, primarily staff-led depositions, in which members have been given an opportunity to ask questions, these professional staffers are the best of the best.

The members who come down are bright, we're engaged, we're taking copious notes, and we're deeply committed to maintaining our democracy, if you will, and not allowing a group of some of our colleagues who wish to show this undying loyalty to a president who has dishonored our country and continues to dishonor our country with his antics.

He needs to be firm, put people around him who will tell him the truth, so we can preserve our republic.

BLITZER: Congressman Andre Carson with very strong words, indeed.

Thanks so much for joining us.

CARSON: What an honor. Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead: As Rudy Giuliani looks to hire a personal lawyer for himself, is he hurting his own legal defense?

We're going to talk about his evolving claims about the Ukraine scandal, talk about that with the former U.S. attorney in New York and CNN senior legal analyst Preet Bharara.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:21:18]

BLITZER: We're back with breaking news.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham introducing a resolution condemning the House impeachment process. Members of the president's party are apparently trying to give him the more forceful defense he's been demanding.

We're joined now by the former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara. He's a CNN senior legal analyst. Preet, thanks so much for joining us.

PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Sure.

BLITZER: And, as you know, Graham is arguing that President Trump's right to due process is being violated by this House impeachment inquiry.

From a legal perspective, how strong is Graham's argument?

BHARARA: It's not strong. It's very weak.

And, frankly, Lindsey Graham knows better, and I don't know quite what he's talking about.

There has been no article of impeachment drafted. There's been no article impeachment filed. There has been no vote on an article of impeachment. What's happening now is the process by which evidence is being developed to see what, if any articles of impeachment are appropriate and pertinent later.

I mean, people like me get on TV all the time and we say that a lot of the investigatory mechanisms of Congress, when done in open hearings, are circus-like and don't develop the truth at all, because you have five-minute rounds where people ask questions and they're posturing for the cameras.

And we have often said that the way that this should be done better is by, as an initial matter, having professional staff, in conference rooms, take depositions under oath and develop the evidence. And then you have public hearings.

In fact, it's not just something that people like me say on television. It's something that people like me did when they worked in the Congress.

I was on the Senate Judiciary Committee as a chief counsel when Lindsey Graham was on a committee, not the chairman, but he was on the committee. And his staff participated in exactly these kinds of depositions in investigations that I personally led.

And then later, you release the deposition, you release all the transcripts. By the way, during those depositions, the other party has staff and possibly members who can ask questions and defend the record and make whatever points they want to make.

And then later you have public hearings that don't waste everyone's time. So the idea that, at this stage, there's any due process violation is kind of silly.

BLITZER: As you know, Rudy Giuliani, who clearly has played a central role in all of this, is now taking steps to hire a personal defense attorney.

Last night, he tweeted that -- quote -- "Everything I did was to discover evidence to defend my client against false charges." How do you interpret that?

(LAUGHTER)

BHARARA: I don't know how to interpret many of the things that come out of Rudy Giuliani's mouth in recent times.

On the one hand, it doesn't make a lot of sense, because, in connection with his engaging in what some people call shadow foreign policy to get the Ukrainian government to investigate Hunter and Joe Biden, I don't see how that's defending the United States from anything.

That is something that is completely different from that. And, second, he's now making a record that's not great for the president that the things that were going on with Ukraine and other places were done for the president for personal reasons and personal legal reasons, not for the purposes of defending the national security of the United States or the interests of the country.

So, as a political matter and a potentially related impeachment matter, I don't think it's good for the president. And maybe for Rudy Giuliani, he thinks, by cloaking himself with the president, that somehow helps him legally or politically or optically.

I don't think it does any one of those things.

BLITZER: One of Giuliani's indicted associates is raising the possibility, Preet, as you know, that executive privilege could come into play in his case, since Giuliani was working for President Trump.

Is that a real possibility?

BHARARA: No.

There are times people make arguments, and I will say here that there are things to be said about those arguments. Here, I don't -- I don't even understand. And I have been trying to figure out what someone's going to stand up in court and say with respect to that argument of executive privilege on the part somebody who was working with another person, Rudy Giuliani, who also wasn't in the government.

[18:25:05]

So the idea that you have twice removed some human being who, by the way, has been indicted on charges from my old office is going to somehow assert executive privilege, it's one of the more laughable legal claims that I have heard, after you have already asked me about another laughable legal claim.

BLITZER: Well, let me talk about another potentially laughable legal claim.

I want to get your thoughts on one of the arguments that the president's -- one of the president's lawyers made in court in a different case yesterday. He invoked the line from then candidate Donald Trump, when he said he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and said, I wouldn't lose any voters.

Watch how this played out in court yesterday, this exchange between the president's lawyer and the federal judge.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

JUDGE DENNY CHIN, UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT: What's your view on the Fifth Avenue example? Local authorities couldn't investigate? They couldn't do anything about it?

WILLIAM CONSOVOY, Attorney: I think, once the -- a president is removed from office, they will -- any local authority -- this is not a permanent immunity.

CHIN: Well, I'm talking about while in office.

CONSOVOY: No.

CHIN: That is the hypo.

CONSOVOY: There...

CHIN: Nothing could be done? That's your position?

CONSOVOY: That is correct. That is correct.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BLITZER: Well, what's your position, Preet?

(LAUGHTER)

BHARARA: So, you're three for three. Those are three laughable arguments. And this one might be the most laughable of them all.

It makes -- it makes no sense at all, legally, constitutionally. Look, the -- I can't -- I can't even speak. I have lost words.

The document that people are relying on for the proposition that the president of the United States can't be charged are these two members from the Office of Legal Counsel, right? That's why you had the Mueller investigation, and it didn't result in any charges with respect to the president.

Even that document, that document says that a president may not be able to be charged while in office, but he can be investigated. And, in fact, very explicitly, Mueller says -- citing the OLC opinions from the Department of Justice, says that, even though he can't be indicted, he can and should be investigated while memories are fresh and while documents are available.

So that's why we had the whole Mueller investigation. And now it seems that lawyers for the president are kind of embarrassing themselves by taking the even more extreme position that even an investigation, even in a circumstance where -- in the hypothetical where the president of the United States shoots someone on Fifth Avenue, everyone's supposed to go about their business and watch television, and not conduct an investigation...

BLITZER: Yes.

BHARARA: ... is, on its face, absurd.

And people, I think, really need to start wondering about their own reputations in the law before making arguments like this. I don't -- I don't understand it.

BLITZER: Yes, a very important point, indeed.

Preet Bharara, as usual, thank you very much.

BHARARA: Thanks, Wolf. Good to be on.

BLITZER: All right, coming up, new wildfires threatening homes in California.

We will go live to the fire lines.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:30:00]

BLITZER: Breaking tonight, one of the president's staunchest Republican defenders is taking direct aim at the impeachment process in the House of Representatives. Senator Lindsey Graham introducing a resolution condemning the way House Democrats are investigating the president, including testimony conducted behind closed doors.

Let's bring in our correspondents and our analysts.

And, Dana Bash, Senator Graham, he was tough today going after these closed-door depositions that have been in underway in the past few weeks in the House of Representatives. You and I have covered Senator Graham for a long time. Watch what he said in more contrast on what he says today, what he said when he was encouraging the impeachment of President Bill Clinton back in 1998.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): The depositions, I think, will determine whether or not we go forward with hearings. I think it's a very are smart thing to do is to depose these people and find out what they have to say and not drag this thing out unnecessarily, and it's going to end by the end of the year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And so what do you make of that?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's just one of the sound bites that we have from Senator Graham and others that are completely antithetical to the claims that they are making now. And to be fair, we have some sound bites of Democrats who were supporting President Clinton back then saying the opposite of some of the things that you hear Democrats saying now about the process.

But this is really the key here. It is all about process right now for Republicans, Wolf. We have talked about this, but it's even more stark right now. They are not attacking the substance because it's hard to do that. They don't know what's going to come. And so far, at least, it looks like some of the most explosive depositions have been very bad for the president.

So because of that, they have made a strategic decision to attack to process to trivialize the process in order to keep Republicans from jumping ship, both elected Republicans and maybe even more importantly Republicans out in the country when it comes to the poll numbers. Because I have talked to several GOP leaders, particularly those in the Senate, who are saying that that is something that they are watching very, very closely, public opinion among republicans on impeachment.

BLITZER: There was a time and only a few years ago, Susan, when Senator Graham was running for the Republican presidential nomination fighting then private citizen Donald Trump and he had the most blistering condemnations of Donald Trump. Listen to this back in 2015.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRAHAM: He's a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.

[18:35:02]

He doesn't represent my party. He doesn't represent the values that the men and women who wear the uniform are fighting for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That was then. But there's a very different amount of statements coming from Lindsey Graham today.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. I think this is sort of the completion of a trend we have seen over the past three years. And Lindsey Graham is now wholly owned subsidiary of Donald Trump and Donald Trump's Republican Party.

To Dana's point, Lindsey Graham really is sort of leading this charge of making process objections in order to defend the president. It is really a distractionary tactic. What it is is because people like Graham can't defend the president on the substance, they are trying to go after the process.

Now, Lindsey Graham today made a statement. He said, I didn't see anything wrong with the president's phone call, as if Senator Graham doesn't know about the testimony of Gordon Sondland, of Fiona Hill, of Bill Taylor.

He didn't Mick Mulvaney's press conference, in which he acknowledged there was a quid pro quo. Senator Graham didn't see Donald Trump go in front of television cameras and invite not just the Ukrainians to investigate Joe Biden, but also China as well.

And so I do think we are seeing signs of how uncomfortable and incapable the Republicans are of defending Donald Trump on the substance. Even the process claims, they are incredibly weak. The existing process in the House of Representatives, as that stands now, is largely the same as what existed during the Clinton impeachment.

BLITZER: Sara, Susan makes an important point. The Republicans are really going after the House Democrats when it comes to the process, not necessarily the substance.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDNT: Yes. And I think that they are really struggling. I think they are looking for windows to criticize the substance and they are coming up short. I mean, one of the things that they have been saying is Bill Taylor's testimony was just hearsay. I mean, this is a guy who was a career civil servant for 50 years who decided to go up there and share this information with Congress under oath because he saw something that he was worried about, that he thought was essentially wrongdoing in the way U.S. diplomacy was working.

So us think it's a really difficult argument for lawmakers to make because they have to not only defend the president, but not everyone is willing to go as far as Stephanie Grisham did and just kind of drag all of these witnesses through the mud.

BLITZER: Sabrina, the Republicans say they want full transparency, they want all these hearings out in public. But that could potentially backfire from their perspective given the damaging testimony that we've seen and heard about in private.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Based on the testimony that has been provided to these congressional committees thus far, Republicans may, in fact, live to regret this push to have all of these hearings take place out in the open before members of the American public.

You look at the witnesses who appeared on Capitol Hill thus far. We are talking about both current and former career public servants who have essentially corroborated the essence of the whistleblower complaint, most notably that the Trump administration did, in fact, withhold military assistance to Ukraine because the president wanted an investigation into Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, as well as perhaps an investigation to undermine the origins of the investigation to Russian interference in the U.S. election in 2016.

But to everyone else's point, Republicans are going after the process because they really can't defend the president on the substance. But they also don't know what else may come out in the coming weeks because you have this Washington Post report today suggesting that the Trump administration may have also tried to leverage a trade policy to increase this pressure campaign against Ukraine.

BLITZER: So privileges were being withheld, presumably, as part of the pressure campaign.

All right, guys, stick around, there is more in all of the breaking news.

We're also going to go live to California where out of control wildfires are threatening neighborhoods and forcing evacuations.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:00]

BLITZER: Breaking news, Joe Biden is speaking out about President Trump's attempt to investigate his son, Hunter. It's part of a just clip released from an interview for 60 Minutes on CBS.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NORAH O'DONNELL, CBS NEWS HOST: -- President Trump's children have acted properly and avoided conflicts of interest?

JOE BIDEN (D), FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, I wouldn't raise to go after the children. Their actions speak for themselves. I can just tell you this that if I'm president, got elected president, my children are not going to have offices in the White House. My children are not going to sit in a cabinet meeting.

O'DONNELL: What's improper about that?

BIDEN: Well, it's just simply improper because you should make it clear to the American public that everything you're doing is for them, for them. And the idea that you're going to have go to the extent that he has gone to have his children and son-in-law engaged in the day-to-day operation of things they know nothing about. Just think --

O'DONNELL: You don't think Jared Kushner should be negotiating the Middle East peace solution?

BLITZER: No, I don't. What credential does he bring to that? I mean, think of all the really solid people that started off in the the administration. They have all left. They have all left. All the talent is gone. They have left. Or great Americans like Rudy Giuliani is still engaged. I mean, what's going on?

[18:45:01]

People see this. They're thugs.

You know, Giuliani and the two guys were helping him, get arrested at the airport trying to leave the country. I mean, what -- where does that happen under any other president's watch?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And let's bring in our senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny.

What did you think of his answer, though, Jeff?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: There's no question that the former vice president is going directly after President Trump as President Trump has been doing for him. But, Wolf, that sounded like a general election interview that Joe Biden is already facing Donald Trump.

The reality is he has his own primary campaign. And, you know, there has been an issue. It's really the heart of the impeachment inquiry here about Hunter Biden and his business dealings in Ukraine, which, of course, most of -- you know, there's no evidence of wrongdoing here. But Joe Biden also has some issues.

So to me, it seems he's again trying to remind Democrats that I'm the strongest candidates in this race here. But I think, you know, most of that is stipulated to. So, the challenge for Joe Biden is still to convince Democrats that he has the ideas and the -- you know, is the best nominee for the party. So, I'm not sure that this interview directs it all. It will probably agitate the president, if nothing else.

BLITZER: Yes. We'll see what he says the rest of the interview on Sunday.

All right. Thanks very much.

ZELENY: It's one of the reasons he's coming out with a new super PAC or supporter of his are to push back against the president, but certainly a very interesting --

BLITZER: The fundraising has not been as good for him as it should be.

ZELENY: Indeed.

BLITZER: If he wants to continue this operation.

All right. Thanks very much, Jeff Zeleny for that.

Just ahead, life-threatening wildfires are burning out a control in southern and northern California. We're getting new information on the danger that's spreading very quickly right now.

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BLITZER: We have breaking news in southern California. You're looking at pictures of a fast-moving wildfire closing in on hundreds of homes about 30 miles north of Los Angeles. We're seeing similar scenes in northern California tonight.

CNN's Dan Simon is in Sonoma County for us, where another major wildfire has exploded in size.

Dan, what, about 2,000 people are under evacuation orders right now?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Wolf. We're near the heart of California's wine country. You can see the fire ripping through this area and taking out this home. Right now, fire crews are doing what they can to build up the containment lines to prevent this fire from spreading any further.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SIMON (voice-over): Tonight, raging wildfires tearing through parts of northern California. The fire scorching thousands of acres in Sonoma County. Fire crews engaged in an all-out battle through the night and well into the morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is on the road.

SIMON: At times, the fire moved so quickly, it burned the area of a football field every three seconds.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The winds are just blowing embers all over the roads.

SIMON: Intense gusts reaching speeds of up to 76 miles per hour, whipping the flames over buildings and roads, ash fell like snow in the night. Hundreds of homes still under a mandatory evacuation order.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Geyserville is under mandatory evacuation.

SIMON: Officials spending the night evacuating residents in Geyserville, 80 miles north of San Francisco.

NICHOLAS CATELLI, RESIDENT: I'm wondering if we're going to make it this time. As of last night I didn't think we would be evacuating Geyserville itself. So, this morning, we're evacuating Geyserville.

SIMON: The Kincaid fire erupting the same day California's largest utility PG&E started another round of power cuts in the area, intended to prevent it from sparking fires. More than 15,000 customers of another utility in southern California also without power as wildfires begin to threaten the area.

GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D), CALIFORNIA: We are taking precaution, not just the utilities, but the state itself.

SIMON: California's governor sounding off on the blackouts that have been a continued headache for residents.

NEWSOM: I must confess it is infuriating beyond words to live in a state as innovative and extraordinarily entrepreneurial and capable as the state of California to be living in an environment where we are seeing this kind of disruption and these kinds of blackouts.

SIMON: In response to the governor's comment, PG&E says it appreciates the feedback and takes the suggestions seriously and are working to implement many of them.

Meanwhile, the Old Water Fire near San Bernardino already burning dozens of acres since it broke out in the early morning hours causing residents to leave in the middle of the night under mandatory evacuations and wait for news of their homes.

BRYAN HAMEL, RESIDENT: My mother got called from one of the neighbors saying that we're being evacuated. It was 4:30 in the morning. Smoke was all in the house and started packing our bags and went outside. You can just see the flames.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIMON: Out of Geyserville, there's no official tally on how many homes may have been lost, but fortunately, the destruction appears to be minimal. Also no word on what may have caused this fire or if it might be utility line-related.

Wolf, I can tell you that PG&E expected to cut the power for a wide swath of northern California, again this weekend. It would be the third time in less than a month -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Dan Simon, thanks very much.

Just ahead, a very moving and bipartisan tribute to the late Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings. We're going to show you what's happening on Capitol Hill this hour.

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BLITZER: Tonight, many members of Congress and the public are paying tribute to the late Congressman Elijah Cummings as his body lies in state in the U.S. capitol. He becomes the first African-American lawmaker to receive this honor. Cummings was the chairman of the powerful House Oversight Committee. He represented Maryland in Congress for 23 years.

Democrats and Republicans remembered him as universally respected and as a dear friend today in a ceremony in statuary hall. Congressman Cummings' funeral service is tomorrow in Baltimore, former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton are among the expected speakers.

Personal note, I know Congressman Cummings. I interviewed him on many occasions, he was a great American and lawmaker and a wonderful, wonderful person. We will miss him.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

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