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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Key Trump Congressional Allies in Secure Impeachment Hearings Coordinating with White House on Witness Disclosures; Source: Vindman Testified White House Lawyer Told Him Not to Talk About President Trump's Ukraine Call; Washington Post: Growing Numbers of GOP Senators Consider Acknowledging Pres. Trump's Quid Pro Quo on Ukraine; Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) is Interviewed About Politics and the Ongoing House Impeachment Investigation; WashIngton Post: Growing Number Of GOP Senators Consider Acknowledge President Trump's Quid Pro Quo On Ukraine; Source: Vindman Testified White House Lawyer Told Him Not To Talk About President Trump's Ukraine Call; House Intelligence Committee Subpoenas National Security Lawyer John Eisenberg; Beto O'Rourke Drops Out Of 2020 Race; Ukraine Feels Repercussions Of Frozen U.S. Military Aid On The Battlefield. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired November 1, 2019 - 20:00   ET

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


[20:00:14]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: There is breaking news tonight up and down the impeachment story.

John Berman here, in for Anderson.

In just the last few hours, we've learned far more on one key front and one thing we simply didn't know at all. CNN reporting has uncovered an information pipeline running from that secure House hearing room where so many witnesses have testified straight to the Oval Office. So there's that.

It takes the story in a whole new direction and there's more. New reporting on efforts to silence White House Ukraine expert, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, after he raised concerns about the July 25th phone call with Ukraine's president, the one president Trump continued to maintain was perfect but which almost everyone else connected to it, Colonel Vindman included, saw as problematic at best. We'll tell you who told him to keep quiet.

Each of these items is big enough on its own. Taken together, they significantly expand our understanding of the decisions and actions at the heart of what just yesterday became a soon-to-be-public impeachment proceedings.

All that, and "The Washington Post" moments ago reporting that a number of Senate Republicans are now considering acknowledging that there was, in fact, a quid pro quo. In short, wow.

A lot to get to. CNN's Pamela Brown starts us off at the White House.

Pamela, we want to start with your reporting on this information pipeline run from the SCIF, the secure room on the Capitol, to the White House. What are you learning about this?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, my colleague Jeremy Diamond and I have learned that a pair of the president's closest GOP allies are quietly offering guidance to White House lawyers responsible for crafting the president's defense strategy. Congressman Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan have been informally helping White House lawyers in the counsel's office here sort through publicly reported aspects of the testimony to the extent that they can under House rules, according to four administration officials.

Now, Meadows and Jordan are two of the only GOP members we're told from a source that have been in every closed-door testimony until the end. And their conversations here with the White House, we're told, is primarily aimed at helping the lawyers here get a better grasp of the allegations being leveled at Trump that are leaking out from the closed-door testimony and help them with identifying the potential weak points -- weak spots as the White House crafts its legal strategy to defend Trump during his impeachment trial, John.

BERMAN: So, what are Congressmen Jordan and Meadows saying about all of this?

BROWN: Well, John, Meadows told CNN he has only shared a broad characterization. He's not sharing specifics of the testimony with the White House. He pointed to House rules preventing him from disclosing details of the testimony. He said he has guided the White House on what he views as mischaracterizations coming from Democrats after these various closed door testimonies.

Jim Jordan, for his part, telling CNN he has never divulged information to the White House that should not be divulged and will not answer questions that in any way can get to the substance of these depositions.

But as you know, some of the witnesses such as Tim Morrison just yesterday, John, backs up aspects of the president's defendant or hurts a Democratic strategy, these lawmakers have pointed out publicly, but they have been careful not to divulge too much, certainly walking that fine line for them, John.

BERMAN: So Congressmen Jordan and Meadows, you said they're the two members that have been in all of the hearings. Are they the only two helping out the White House like this, or are there others also?

BROWN: Well, an administration official tells me the White House isn't just relying on Meadows and Jordan and is in touch every day with lawmakers to figure out strategy, keep a pulse of what's happening on Capitol Hill. There are two parts of this outreach, though. There's the help that it's seeking to shape the legal strategy with the White House counsel's office. Then, of course, there's the communications strategy to coordinate messaging.

And we've learned that the White House is increasingly reaching out to senators as it becomes more apparent that the impeachment will eventually move from the House to the Senate -- John. BERMAN: All right. Pamela Brown, thanks for this reporting. Really

appreciate it. A whole different angle here.

Perspective now on the law and ethics and politics on all this. Joining us, CNN legal analyst, Carrie Cordero. She's a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. Also, CNN senior political analyst and West Wing veteran David Gergen, and former federal prosecutor Shan Wu. Like Carrie, he is also a CNN legal analyst.

And, Carrie Cordero, let me start with you. What are the actual legal boundaries here for what Meadows and Jordan are doing, going from the SCIF, this secure room, everything's supposed to stay secret in there, going to the Oval Office. Where is the law, and have they crossed the line?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, they really are bound by rules that the procedures are for the House in terms of whether or not they are allowed to reveal information from the depositions. So, it has -- the governing procedures are the procedures in the House, and then of course there are rules about classified information. So I haven't seen any allegation that they are improperly revealing classified information.

If you have that information in your head and then you go into a secure space in the White House and discuss it. That actually is OK.

[20:05:07]

But I do think it's worth pointing out that I don't really think it's a legal strategy that they are potentially giving the White House advice on. Impeachment is not a legal proceeding. It's a political proceeding.

And so, they are getting information, and they are helping probably with the political strategy that the White House is developing.

BERMAN: Shan, it strikes me that their response to this is very carefully worded. Congressmen Meadows and Jordan, they said, they're abiding by the rules as much as they possibly can. That seems awfully careful.

And noting in Pamela's reporting that they're not talking about anything in detail that hasn't already been reported publicly. That, to me, indicates a consciousness of where the boundaries are here.

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. They seem kind of worried about being exposed at doing this. And, you know, it's pretty inconsistent to say that you're only giving general characterizations and yet you're trying to be helpful. I mean, if I was on the White House legal staff, that's not helpful to me. I mean, you're just giving me general ideas of what's happening. I need specifics for my strategy.

And to Carrie's point, there's no allegation of their mishandling classified information, but on the other hand, who knows? You have to give it -- classified information has to be given to somebody who's authorized to receive it in a secure place, so it's troubling. BERMAN: And, look, we're taking their word for it that they're

abiding by the rules. We don't have anyone else's word on this.

David Gergen, I wasn't born yesterday, but they're saying they have only been talking about things that have been publicly reported. I'm not saying they did this. I just know that it does happen in Washington where things get leaked so that they can be reported, so that you can comment and talk about it in different settings. That is something that I know you have seen in your years in D.C.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: And done a few times.

Listen, John, I've been fairly critical of Republicans on various aspects of this whole proceeding for a while. But on this particular issue so far what we know, I think they have a point.

Look, is there an information pipeline to the White House from Republicans? Yes. But there's also an information pipeline from the Democrats to "The New York Times." There's another one to "The Washington Post."

We wouldn't be talking about Vindman being told to keep his mouth shut were it not for a leak. There have been tons of leaks coming from the Democrats to shape the story, to shape the narrative, which is what seems to be Meadows and -- these Republican guys are doing.

Now, have they gone over the line? I don't think we know that. What the CNN reporting says that they're helping the White House sort through publicly released materials. That's what in the news reporting from CNN. They're going to sort through publicly released materials. If that's the case, I don't see a problem at all.

But whether they're going over beyond broad characterizations, I'm sure they're tempted to do that. Are they getting away with what they can get away with? Yes.

But I don't think that it's fair to say the Democrats all have clean hands, but, boy, look at these terrible Republicans over here.

BERMAN: You know, it's interesting because one of the things that the White House and the Republicans have complained about is that the White House doesn't have its lawyers or representatives in the room --

GERGEN: Right.

BERMAN: -- on Capitol Hill.

But, Carrie, if these people are part of the legal planning strategy -- we're talking about Meadows and Jordan here -- they do have people in the room to an extent during the questioning, yes?

CORDERO: Well, again, I think it's a political strategy when it comes to the White House's approach towards moving -- trying to develop a strategy against the impeachment process.

What I do think the new reporting highlights is it undercuts the Republicans' allegation that the process going on in the House has been unfair and that they haven't had access to information. The reporting in this seems to be uncontested is that both of these Republican congressmen have been in most, if not all, of the depositions and the hearings. They've had access to everything that has been going on run by the House Intelligence Committee and with two other committees behind closed doors. So they have had access, and they're able to communicate some information about that to the White House.

BERMAN: You know, Shan, I know it's not apples to apples here. But a grand jury proceeding, which is what the House says these closed-door depositions are most akin to, that is a situation where you can't talk about information that happens behind closed doors in a grand jury room. Now, I know this is subtly different, but there is an analogy there.

WU: I think that's right. I mean, there are reasons for the rules. There's reasons why they're conducting it behind closed doors. You don't do an investigation in the lobby of the House. They're doing it behind closed doors for a reason.

So, by doing this, to me, Meadows and Jordan are tainting the integrity of the investigation. To David's point, if they're only commenting on public information or making sure it's not mischaracterized, again, I don't know how they do that. I mean do they rub their nose if that's the wrong characterization?

[20:10:02]

I mean, they have to be giving something specific in order to be helpful. So I think they're in a little bit of a conundrum there.

BERMAN: David, you want to --

GERGEN: I just have to say -- well, yes, I just have to say, look, Democrats are up there shaping the story every day when these things are over.

You know, frankly I think you could argue, in pure politics of this, if the Republicans didn't talk to the White House and give them the broad characterizations, you could almost accuse them of malfeasance. That's what they're supposed to be doing in politics.

So, you know, I do think Carrie is right on the point, though, that the Republicans have overstated the injury they've suffered because they are in the room.

BERMAN: Yes.

GERGEN: They do have access to everything.

BERMAN: All right. David, Shan, Carrie, stand by. Much more to come.

One of the lawmakers in the middle of the impeachment proceedings joins us and this new reporting on efforts to silence the decorated Iraq war veteran whose testimony this week only raised the heat in the White House. He was on the July 25th call. He took his concerns up the chain of command. And now we know more about what he says happened just days later.

Also tonight, a big-name departure from the Democratic presidential field after he could not turn his early buzz into campaign cash or voting bodies.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:15:27]

BERMAN: The now secret but soon to be public impeachment hearings are responsible for more than one breaking story tonight as is "The Washington Post" with their blockbuster item on Republican senators weighing a major fallback on the central question in the impeachment case.

So, in addition to that and our reporting at the top about committee members acting as White House informants, we've also got this. It involves Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council's top Ukraine experts, and efforts to silence it.

CNN's Manu Raju joins us live with that.

So, Manu, what are you learning?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right.

Alexander Vindman, who testified on Capitol Hill early this week, a member of the White House staff who raised significant concerns about that July phone call, he was told not to discuss that phone call according to a source familiar with his testimony. Recall what he said behind closed doors. He said that the president's call with President Zelensky in which President Trump asked President Zelensky of Ukraine to announce an investigation into the Bidens, he was worried that call to hurt national security, could undermine national security.

And he was so concerned about the matter that he took his concerns to the National Security Council's lawyer, John Eisenberg, and reported those complaints to Eisenberg. And we are told that Eisenberg made it clear that he should not discuss this call any further.

Now, at the same time, you know, Vindman made clear that he was -- that the phone call -- the rough transcript of the phone call, while it was largely accurate, he said, it also was not fully complete and did not reference, for instance, President Zelensky's discussion about the company that had employed Hunter Biden, Burisma, instead referring more generally about the Bidens.

But nevertheless, he made very clear his concerns to the president's top attorney that this call was problematic and that the president's top attorney and the National Security Council said he shouldn't talk about it. BERMAN: Where on the time line did this occur, Manu? Did it happen

after Eisenberg caused the transcript to be put in this top-secret computer system?

RAJU: Well, some of the time line is a bit murky at the moment. From what we understand, John Eisenberg was involved in that effort to put that transcript in a safe of sorts to ensure that it would not leak out in any way.

And Eisenberg, of course, is now under scrutiny on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers in the impeachment probe want to bring him in to discuss everything about the time line, about his efforts to conceal this transcript, why he took those actions. The question tonight is whether or not he complies with the Democratic demands for him to come in next week, whether he will comply with a subpoena. And that will be a major question next week as Democrats look to wrap up the closed portion part of an impeachment investigation.

BERMAN: Do we know if any of these actions from Eisenberg, either the placing in the computer system or the asking to be silent about it raised red flags for Vindman?

RAJU: Certainly. Vindman was concerned about all of the fallout in the aftermath of this call. He made very clear throughout his testimony that the call, the aftermath of the call, he raised concerns about talking to others. I'm told also that he talked about his concerns with his twin brother, who served in the National Security Council's ethics office. So, clearly, this is an individual that had concerns.

But separately, the person who testified yesterday, Tim Morrison, who was also on that call, said he was not concerned about the phone call. The facts of what was said on the call are indisputable but the opinions about the ramifications of that call differ between those two men, John.

BERMAN: All right. Manu Raju, thank you very much for your reporting tonight.

Joining us now, one of the congressmen who has been hearing from these witnesses Democrat Ro Khanna of California.

Congressman Khanna, thank you very much for being with us.

We've got a number of breaking stories to ask you about. First, I want to ask about what CNN is reporting tonight about this seeming information pipeline from the SCIF to the Oval Office with Congressmen Meadows and Jordan going to consult with the White House team about some of the content of the testimony that's been going on behind closed doors. How long have you been aware of these types of discussions?

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): John, I was aware of it based on the breaking news, and it's wrong. Imagine a counterfactual. Imagine when Trey Gowdy was conducting the Benghazi investigation of Hillary Clinton behind closed doors, if Democratic members had after each deposition, gone and called Hillary Clinton and plotted Hillary Clinton's strategy. There would be outrage in this country from the Republicans.

[20:20:02]

And so, if it was wrong for that type of situation, how can you justify Republicans in the House whose job is to oversight -- have exercise of oversight over the president to be doing that?

BERMAN: They suggest that they are trying their hardest to follow the House rules, and their claim is that they're only discussing within the contours of what's been publicly reported.

So does that cross any legal lines to you?

KHANNA: I don't know if it crosses legal lines, and I even take them at their word. But the question is does it cross an ethical line. Should members of Congress whose job is to exercise oversight over the executive branch be plotting with the executive branch on their strategy?

And here's the other thing, John. If the president really didn't have anything to hide, if he said that he did everything perfectly, why does he need Republican members plotting strategy? The reason is these witnesses have, based on public testimony, been giving evidence that Donald Trump basically withheld military aid in demand of having Zelensky conduct an investigation against Biden. And they're concerned with the facts.

BERMAN: I do want to ask you about one other piece of reporting that we just got from Manu Raju. This has to do with the National Security Council counsel John Eisenberg advising Colonel Vindman not to talk to anyone about his concerns with the phone call.

Can you think of any legal or national security reason Eisenberg would advise silence to Vindman?

KHANNA: Well, John, in a simple word, it's called a cover-up. I mean, why in the world is Eisenberg, based on public reporting, telling Vindman that he shouldn't be raising concerns about the president belaboring and pressuring Zelensky?

Vindman is someone who was awarded the Purple Heart. He's concerned that a call is inappropriate, and you basically have a cover-up of him not being able to go complain about that.

BERMAN: He also said -- the president has said it's a perfect phone call, so it does beg the question if the phone call is perfect, why would anyone need to be silent about it, correct?

KHANNA: Absolutely. I mean that's what's bewildering here. If the president really believes that he did nothing wrong, why does he need House members to be plotting a legal strategy? Why is there a concern about people like Vindman filing complaints?

The reality here is this was an elaborate scheme to cover up something everyone knew was wrong.

BERMAN: All right. Lastly, "The Washington Post" is reporting tonight that a growing number of Republican senators are ready to acknowledge that President Trump did engage in a quid pro quo, but they're going to claim it wasn't illegal and certainly in their minds, doesn't rise to the level of impeachment.

I just want your reaction to that.

KHANNA: Well, I'm glad they're at least acknowledging the evidence. I mean, the reality is the president has no defense. Everyone knows he's bragged about saying that he wanted Zelensky to investigate Biden, and the reason is because he was concerned about Biden winning in the polls and winning the election.

Now, we can argue -- I mean, let this be a debate for the American public. Most people, I think, will agree that the president of the United States should not be telling foreign leaders to go dig up dirt on their political rivals, that that is not how we conduct democracy in America.

If you believe that that is how we should conduct democracy, then acquit the president. If you believe as Democrats do that foreign leaders shouldn't be digging up dirt on your political rivals, then impeachment is the only answer.

BERMAN: Congressman Ro Khanna, thanks very much for being with us tonight for all of this breaking news.

KHANNA: Thank you very much.

BERMAN: And up next, we're going to have much more on this "Washington Post" report that a growing number of Republican senators may actually acknowledge the existence of a quid pro quo. After all of this, they're going to say, yes, it happened. What does that mean to the president's defense?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:28:14]

BERMAN: The latest piece of breaking news could fundamentally reshape the biggest story in the country today. Just moments ago, "The Washington Post" reported that some Republicans could be about to do a 180. The headline reads: Growing number of GOP senators consider acknowledging Trump's quid pro quo on Ukraine.

The report goes on to say, quote, in this shifting strategy to defend Trump, these Republicans are insisting that the president's action was not illegal and does not rise to the level of impeachable offense as the Democratic-led House moves forward with the open phase of its probe.

Back now with our legal and political team.

David Gergen, I want to start with you here. Republicans are now apparently saying, yes, there was a quid pro quo. But, no, it's not impeachable. That's a long way. They've moved a long way on this.

GERGEN: Yes. It is a long way. Actually they're just, you know, observing the obvious and stating the obvious. But I do think it's significant politically, John.

The next question to them will be, was it appropriate? And on that one, I don't think they can possibly say it was appropriate. And that takes them down the road toward, OK, it was inappropriate, but you still don't think it's impeachable. Do you want to censure? How are you going to register your dissent?

I mean, we just heard from Congressman Khanna. You know, that is a -- that puts them in a very, very awkward position to acknowledge it. It has been central to the Republican defense. It's been central to the Republican defense that there was no quid pro quo.

One more defense has been knocked down on the Republican side.

BERMAN: And it strikes me, Shan, I have to say. This is what Mick Mulvaney told us when he was speaking out loud at the White House press conference and then had to retract.

[20:30:00]

He made the mistake of saying what apparently is true and Republicans were going to come around to anyway.

WU: Absolutely, John. And I think they eventually had to come to this. I mean, their whole original strategy of we did not mouth the words quid pro quo or Trump didn't as though that would somehow shield them from it was just silly.

I mean, quid pro quo just means something for something. The important part was what was it for, something illegal, campaign finance violation, something impeachable. Their best strategy actually is to lean into this and say, look, this is at the heart of the President's executive function, foreign policy, et cetera, et cetera. He was fine doing that. That's actually their best strategy.

BERMAN: So, Carrie, if you're arguing this case, if you're the Democrats going forward, and this is about to go public, right, we're about to have public hearings on this, how do you take this move from Republicans conceding the evidence, conceding what we can all see and hear and read for ourselves and how do you prove to the American people that it was wrong?

CORDERO: Well, you prove that it's wrong by making it not a partisan issue. Look, this isn't a Democrat argument. This isn't a partisan argument. The issue is whether or not it's OK and it's an acceptable use of the President's executive authority and foreign policy powers to use his office and hold out national security and defense assistance to an ally in order to extort that foreign government leader to collect political information to aid your political interests.

And so members of Congress, it's not about talking points. It's about whether or not they are going to be willing to set a historical precedent that that's OK in our politics.

BERMAN: Shan, I want to get a legal take on another one of the big stories we've had here, which is that John Eisenberg, the council of the national security office, asked Colonel Vindman to stay quite about his concerns about the Ukraine phone call, which President Trump has called perfect.

Now, I didn't go do law school, but I got in. This sounds like what is often described as a consciousness of guilt, right? Why else would you ask him to be quiet about a phone call unless you thought there was something wrong with it?

WU: I just want to compliment you on your decision not to go to law school.

BERMAN: Thank you very much.

WU: It's more than consciousness of guilt to me. I mean, it sounds like obstruction. I mean, Vindman came to him and said I'm concerned about this. He may be voicing a concern about illegality. He tells him to be quiet, that's obstruction to me. Hiding the evidence, that sounds like obstruction. If I were counseling Eisenberg, I would suggest that he consider taking fifth after they get through the absolute immunity and executive privilege defenses.

BERMAN: Well, Eisenberg, David Gergen, is now on the subpoena list. He has received the subpoena to testify next week. I wonder if he's going to be the beginning of a wave of no shows. What do you think?

GERGEN: I think there's a good possibility of that, John. But I do think he should appear. I think he's got a lot of questions to answer. He's pretty central to this. But I must say, going to question of whether he told Vindman to shut up, perhaps I'm in a contrary mood tonight.

But I must tell you, in the four White Houses I've worked in, I think almost every general counsel who had a member of the staff come in and tell them something about what could be a big controversy would tell them, why don't you not talk about this for a while and let us sort out, you know, how to think about it. I don't see that as a cover up. I see that as sort of standard operating procedures in White Houses that are suddenly hit with a controversy of what could be a very bad story.

BERMAN: I suppose, Carrie, it matters how he says don't talk about it, right? If he says wait for a second until we get our ducks in row, that's different if, you know, never speak a word of this. No one can ever hear about this at all. Yes?

CORDERO: So the details do really matter. And so I will be curious to see what his testimony, if he ever gives it is. Look, John, I know John Eisenberg a little bit. I worked with him a small amount when we were both in the Justice Department years ago. He's known as a very careful lawyer.

And so to me, what this unraveling story line indicates is really the perils of serving as lawyer in Donald Trump's orbit. It's as if there is just a magnet of things that are going to come at you where your ethics at some point are going -- and your judgment is going to be questioned.

BERMAN: I just want to put up on the screen the other people who have been asked to come to testify. Some of whom already receives subpoenas, Rick Perry, the Secretary of Energy, John Eisenberg we know receives a subpoena, Robert Blair, senior adviser to the Mick Mulvaney, Russell Vought, who is the acting OMB Director, and then the State Department Council, then a list of other people as well.

Shan, we got only about 10 seconds left. But, again, is there a need for more information at this point based on what everyone has been saying?

WU: I think there is. I think you have to do a thorough investigation and then you have to select which of those witnesses is going to be the most valuable to the American public. Because the point that it's a political issue, you have to educate the public so that their representatives can do the right thing.

[20:35:10] BERMAN: Carrie Cordero, David Gergen, Shan Wu, great discussion tonight. I thank you all for being here.

CORDERO: Thanks, John.

WU: Thanks, John.

GERGEN: Thank you.

BERMAN: Yes, we have more breaking news as well. Beto O'Rourke dropping out of the 2020 presidential race. Details and perspective from a one time candidate himself, Howard Dean, straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: There's breaking news in the race for the White House, former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke dropping out of the Democratic race. This is nearly all of the candidates are gathering tonight for an annual dinner organized by the Iowa Democratic Party. The Des Moines register calls it, "the biggest event prior to the Iowa causes voting now less that a hundred days to go." This is what Beto O'Rourke told reporters tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BETO O'ROURKE (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have to clearly see at this point that we do not have the means to pursue this campaign successfully. My service will not be as a candidate nor as a nominee of this party for the presidency.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: We got a lot of political news to discuss on this busy Friday night and perfect timing to talk with my next guest who knows a thing or two about presidential politics, former presidential candidate and head of the Democratic National Committee, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean.

[20:40:05] Governor Dean, thanks so much for being with us. Beto O'Rourke --

HOWARD DEAN (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thanks for having me.

BERMAN: What happened to Congressman Beto O'Rourke?

DEAN: You know, I don't know. He was very exciting and he ran a terrific Texas -- I mean, Texas Senate campaign. I think they -- it's a very crowded field. He had a couple of other exciting young people in his lane, thinking about Pete Buttigieg and Cory Booker. And it's just wasn't going to be. He couldn't get the momentum he had in Texas despite all the excitement that he created.

BERMAN: Was he --

DEAN: I don't think we have heard the last of him, though.

BERMAN: No, although his aides are making clear tonight he's not going to run for the open Senate seat in Texas.

DEAN: Right, that's not open.

BERMAN: So, he's not a candidate right now.

DEAN: It's Cornyn. Right, it's Cornyn seat.

BERMAN: Well, correct, correct.

DEAN: It's not open. That's right. No, I think he'll go and do something else for a while and then we may see him again.

BERMAN: Can I put up the poll? We have a new poll coming out of Iowa, because you talked about the crowded field. But I want to talk about the people who are leading this in a second, because that's interesting in and of itself.

But to me, one of the things this poll shows is that there's a little bit wide open. I mean, if no one is the clear winner, it seems that there is still an opportunity for a lot of candidates. So are you surprised that O'Rourke dropped out when there may not be a tremendous amount of certainty in this?

DEAN: I'm not surprised that O'Rourke dropped out. I have no idea where his financial situation is, but his lane is also occupied by others and that's a really tough problem for him. He is terribly charismatic, but there are other charismatic young people too, Buttigieg and Booker, I mentioned.

Those Iowa numbers are shocking, because you sent me the poll ahead of time. And I looked at the crosstabs, really stunning. Because Joe Biden, who I like a lot and who had a great interview tonight on public television, Joe Biden is very strong among people over 45, but that is not our core electorate. Our core electorate is people under 35, women and people of color. And for Buttiegieg to be doing as well as he's doing is absolutely stunning. And I think there's room for another person. I would not be surprise seeing Klobuchar come up in Iowa. She's also a Midwesterner. So I agree this thing is completely up for grabs in Iowa.

And, you know, ironically as we've talked about before in December about five weeks before the primary in 2004, I was leading in the field and Joe Lieberman in Wesley Clark were tied for second. John Kerry came from behind and won that prime -- and won that caucus. So, anything can happen and the crosstabs are really amazing and this poll is stunning.

BERMAN: They are. The two big stories in the poll, I think we can put a back up for people to see, number one, is Joe Biden has slipped substantially in this poll. Warren and Sanders largely stay consistent and they're in the top of the field. But other -- the big story in addition to Biden slipping is Buttigieg gaining. Him being in the top tier, that is new.

And I should note, I think we have pictures of him speaking live tonight in Iowa. He is at this Democratic dinner. What do you think is fueling the rise of Pete Buttigieg in Iowa, specifically?

DEAN: His hard work. I have known for a while -- look, I'm neutral in this and I'm not going to take a side until -- if there is a second ballot in Milwaukee, otherwise I'll never take his side because I'm a super delegate.

But I've known for the last few weeks that Pete Buttigieg was putting an all in effort in Iowa. It's his kind of country. It's the Midwest. Klobuchar can do that too, I know she may well. But that's his country and he has really capitalized on this. He's now essentially tied for the lead in Iowa, which is extraordinary.

BERMAN: As well as he's Iowa and showing some gains in New Hampshire as well. He is struggling to make any end roads at all, like at all with African-American voters in some of the key early-ish states like South Carolina and he's have going -- he's going to have to connect with them if this is going to be a longer campaign for him. How does that happen?

DEAN: He's absolutely going to have to -- well, he has to connect with the African-American voters and that we're going to find out, and Latino voters for that matter in Nevada. That's why I -- when I was chair, I moved those two state up so we wouldn't be represented by two pretty much all white states, right, in the first part of the primary. And they've served their purposes in terms of making our early primary and caucus electorate much, much more representative of the Democratic Party.

So this thing is still very, very wide open. I have no idea what's going to happen. It is true that Pete is going to figure out how to connect -- have to figure out to connect with African-American voters. There was a very interesting small focus group about a week or so ago, maybe it was less than that, where African-American women were starting to talk about Amy Klobuchar.

I'm not on here to push Amy Klobuchar, but it's another example of somebody who's at 4 percent. Buttigieg was at 4 percent, now he's at 18 percent. These things can happen. A hundred days is a universal amount of time in politics. And a hundred days before Iowa is a very long way as it is before South Carolina.

[20:45:03] BERMAN: That leaves us a lot to talk about of the next hundred days. Governor Howard Dean, always a pleasure to have you on.

DEAN: Yes.

BERMAN: Thank you.

DEAN: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right, we're going to take you to the frontlines of Ukraine's war with pro-Russian separatists. See for yourself what was at stake when President Trump froze that nearly $400 million in military aid to Kiev.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: OK. So we've had stories breaking at every point in the program tonight, why would now be any different?

As with much of it, this, what I'm about to tell you, is coming from potentially soon to be published secret impeachment testimony. This item from Tim Morrison's time before the panel, multiple sources familiar with it tell CNN it concerns Gordon Sondland, the President's point man on Ukraine, the ambassador to the E.U. doing his bidding. Allegedly helping broker the quid pro quo that the Washington Post is now reporting that a number of Republican senators could be about to acknowledge.

[20:50:04] Morrison, the President's top Russia advisor, had multiple conversations with Ambassador Sondland. And according to the testimony became concern that Sondland was going rogue on Ukraine. He told lawmakers he thought Sondland was "a free radical," a reference apparently to cells that cause cancer.

In his own opening statement, Sondland downplayed both the President's role and his own effort-- role in the effort to pressure Ukraine, suggesting he was reluctantly working with Rudy Giuliani, the President's personal attorney who was running a shadow diplomatic operation in Ukraine.

Morrison's testimony, as you might imagine, could cast doubt on that and tie Sondland tighter to the operation. You can expect to hear more on this tonight on CNN as it develops.

Right now, though, the forgotten aspects in this whole story. This concerned military and political help that Ukraine needs for its survival. It was back in June when President Trump froze nearly $400 million in military aid for Ukraine. Even before that, now infamous July phone call with Ukraine's president. Eventually the aid was restored in September and the war continues.

Tonight, we're going to take you there to see what is at stake. CNN's Clarissa Ward is in Ukraine for us.

So, Clarissa, you have been on the frontlines, so walk us through what you've been seeing.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. We've essentially traveled the length and breadth of this country, really trying to get a sense of what the war between Ukraine and Russia looks like on the frontlines, and what the impact was of that U.S. military aid being frozen for some months.

We traveled all the way through the frontlines near a village called Sharokina (ph). And we found Ukrainian soldiers really in very basic conditions, John. They are fighting in trenches, just a few hundred yards away from the position of Russian-backed separatists. They have simple weapons.

We talk to one soldier and said, you know, what was your reaction when you heard that President Trump had frozen this aid for some months? And he said, honestly, I will tell you, I was unhappy and I was frustrated, because the reality is that America is the most important ally and the strongest ally that Ukraine has.

BERMAN: And you also, I understand, spoke to an American trainer. What did they have to say?

WARD: So this is in a western part of the country, U.S. trainers working with Ukrainian soldiers. Unsurprisingly, one trainer was a little uncomfortable when I asked him about this subject. They don't love to talk about U.S. politics. But he said that really, you know, we're focused on the mission here. The mission here is to train these guys up, to help them build lethal teams to fight against these pro- Russian separatists.

But, you know, he also said that it hadn't even come up in conversation with the Ukrainian soldiers that he had spoken to. But when you put the camera away, John, when you have a conversation with people on the sidelines, it obvious that people here do have strong feelings about this, they don't want to say it publicly. They don't want to be seen to be political.

They don't want to be seen meddling, or intervening, or speaking out publicly in anyway about the U.S. domestic political crisis. But they are feeling the repercussions of that crisis, and they are deeply uncomfortable about it.

BERMAN: You know, it's so delicate for them. It is because it's their skin that's in this game literally. So do you have a sense of if back in Washington, there's an understanding of that, if there's an understanding of how just desperately the Ukrainians need this aid?

WARD: I think more broadly speaking in the U.S. politically, there is an understanding of the importance of the U.S.' work with the Ukrainian military, of U.S. aid towards Ukraine of the essential nature of the aid that the U.S. is giving in terms of this fight against Russia and what the broader geopolitical connotations of that aid and support are. So I do believe that.

And again, most Ukrainians, they do feel that too. They believe that the U.S. is committed to supporting Ukraine in the long run, but their real fear is that somehow that could possibly get derailed because of this political crisis.

BERMAN: Clarissa Ward, again, thank you so much for this reporting. It's so important to have your eyes on the ground to see exactly what's going on. Appreciate it.

You can join Anderson this Sunday night for more on Ukraine, our special report "White House in Chaos: The Impeachment Inquiry" airs at 8:00 pm Eastern on CNN.

Next, yet more on this potential 180 by Republicans on the Ukraine quid pro quo.

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[20:58:41] BERMAN: So this story began the program with a bang, new reporting of "The Washington Post" about Republican senators weighing a total reversal, on whether there was a quid pro quo on Ukraine, the central allegation in the impeachment case.

And the "Post" also reports on when that sea change may have been launched. I'm quoting now from the story. "The pivot was the main topic during a private Senate GOP lunch on Wednesday according to multiple people familiar with the session who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the meeting."

We got a busy Friday night for us and Chris Cuomo. Chris, it's always wonderful to see your face, even more so when there's so much breaking news. Republican senators may be conceding to the evidence here that there was a quid pro quo but going to take the angle that, yes, it happened but it's not impeachable.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: And, look, that is the one good faith argument, which is we acknowledged the wrong, it could have been abusive of power, but it doesn't rise to the level of removal. Then, we're going to go fill in the blanks and we're going to go through a lot of factors that play with that tonight, J.B.

But I think that the bigger concern is that, the House is nowhere near that. And they won't even acknowledge the wrong. We have, you know, Republicans on this show every night making people at the professional ballet jealous with how they pirouette around the question.

But now they have new problem, Rudy Giuliani was in business with some bad guys who say they were helping him try to find dirt on Biden, why? And now you have Meadows and Jordan talking after they see these depositions and going to the White House, how can it be OK?

So, we're going to take all of this on. I appreciate seeing you on a Friday night and I thank you.