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THE SITUATION ROOM
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) Is Interviewed About Alexander Vindman Testimony On Trump's Ukraine Call; Report: Trump Refuses To Defend Chief Of Staff in Interview; New Poll: Sharp Partisan Divide On Trump Impeachment; Beto O'Rourke Drops Out Of 2020 Presidential Race. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired November 1, 2019 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Keep silent. A source familiar with this week's impeachment testimony tells CNN, the National Security Council top Ukraine expert, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman testified he was told by White House lawyer not to talk with anyone about President Trump's July phone call with Ukraine's president. Why was he told to keep silent? And what will happen now?
Trump war room. The White House admits it doesn't have a strategy to fight impeachment, pointing to President Trump as his own one-man war room. Does House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggest public hearings could begin this month? And insists any case has to be ironclad, is the White House taking the right approach.
Impeachment split. As the impeachment inquiry enters a new phase, a new poll shows a near even split along party lines. Will going forward backfire on the Democrats and will it help or hurt the president's chances for reelection.
And change of address. The quintessential New Yorker Donald Trump changed his official residency to Florida. Why is he ditching the big apple and could it increase his chances of winning Florida in 2020?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We have breaking news. In the Trump impeachment inquiry, CNN has learned Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council's top Ukraine expert, testified this week that he was told not to talk with anyone about that July 25th call between President Trump and the Ukrainian president.
Right now, President Trump is about to head to a political rally in Mississippi. And his press secretary Stephanie Grisham is admitting there is no specific White House plan to fight impeachment and the president himself is the "war room," her words.
We'll talk about that and more with Senator Mazie Hirono of the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees and our correspondents and analysts will have full coverage of the day's top stories.
Let's begin up on Capitol Hill. Our Congressional Correspondent, Phil Mattingly is joining us. Phil, what is the latest?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman testified earlier this week that twice, two times, he went to White House lawyers over concerns related to President Trump's relationship and some of the actions that were being taken related to Ukraine.
We now know according to a source familiar with his testimony earlier this week that the second of those occasions when he was concerned about the July 25th phone call between President Donald Trump and the Ukraine president bringing that to top National Security Council lawyer John Eisenberg. He was told explicitly by Eisenberg, the source says, not to discuss anything about that call with anyone. This was as he took these concerns to a lawyer.
Now, Wolf, these tracks from something we heard from a witness yesterday, Tim Morrison who testified, according to sources, that he wasn't concerned that there was something wrong with the call. He was a top Russia official at the White House, National Security Council, he was concerned about leaks.
This seems to underscore that that was a widespread concern and that there was widespread concern about how the call would look. All underscoring though that as we've seen weeks of testimony coming through a series of closed-door depositions, several administration officials or people involved with the Ukraine policy.
Making clear, one, there are more concerns inside the administration about the direction the president was going, the direction of these calls specifically but also, there were very real concerns among those close to the president that information about this call if it got out could be damaging, could be problematic. This is just another instance of that, Wolf.
BLITZER: Phil, what are Democrats planning to do next in their impeachment investigation?
MATTINGLY: Well, I mentioned John Eisenberg, a top National Security Council lawyer over at White House. He is actually scheduled or has been invited for a closed-door deposition next week, one of several to administration officials to receive invitations. The reality is, at this moment on Capitol Hill, nobody is sure if any of those officials will actually show up.
That includes John Bolton, who has been invited as well. Real questions about whether he will show up right now. People starting to think probably not given his relationship with his lawyer and another witness that was invited to testify that didn't show up.
What that all means is this, when you talk to Democrats up here who have been working on this, they recognize that the closed-door depositions phase to this is quickly coming to an end. There will be public hearings and there will be public hearings soon. In fact, Speaker Nancy Pelosi in an interview with "Bloomberg" earlier today, saying in November there will be public hearings.
Now, the House is out of session, Wolf, next week. And while there are scheduled closed-door depositions, the expectation is when they come back the week after that public hearings could begin. After those public hearings start where we get to see some of the witnesses that have testified behind closed doors out in public in front of cameras, then the process will move into the drafting of a report, and then over to the Judiciary Committee, and then the drafting of articles of impeachment and then potentially, another full House floor vote, Wolf.
We are still kind of fluid on the timeline right now but there is no question. They are moving forward and those public hearings are coming soon, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. There's drama is escalating big time. Phil Mattingly, thank you very much.
Let's go over to the White House. Right now, our Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta, is working his sources. Jim, the president is suggesting what's being described as a fireside shaft as part of his strategy to fight impeachment.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf, and one thing we should mention right from the gecko, Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary is just commenting on some of this information that Phil Mattingly was just talking about, about the testimony of Alexander Vindman. Grisham is saying that they can't comment over here at the White House about what Vindman testified because this happened behind closed-doors. And she says they weren't in the room. So that is the comment just briefly coming from the White House press secretary just in the last couple of minutes.
But President Trump as you said is planning to fight through this impeachment battle as a one-man war room, tossing out the idea that he may read the transcript of his phone call with the leader of Ukraine on live television. The president continues to lead a deeply divided country on the subject of impeachment.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Top aides in the West Wing are now preparing for what may be inevitable, that President Trump will be impeached in the House of Representatives.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: But I'm prepared for the president to be impeached. I'm prepared for the votes to not go that way, depending on what the evidence -- the evidence says.
ACOSTA: When it comes to his battle against impeachment, the president may be going from live-tweeting to live reading, defending his phone call with the leader of Ukraine, telling "The Washington Examiner," "At some point, I'm going to sit down, perhaps as a fireside chat on live television, and I will read the transcript of the call, because people have to hear it. When you read it, it's a straight call."
That's despite more damaging testimony in the inquiry. Democrats say the latest administration official to testify, Tim Morrison, confirmed the president was dangling dollars as he dialed for dirt on Joe Biden.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: So you're saying he corroborated the charge that there was a quid pro quo?
REP. AMI BERA (D-CA): Yes. So, in my mind, that is an abuse of power.
ACOSTA: White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham, who is refusing to hold briefings with reporters, told Fox News the counter impeachment strategy seems largely set, with the president calling the shots.
STEPHANIE GRISHAM, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He is the war room. The difference between Clinton and Nixon, which is what people constantly compare us to, is that those two did something wrong. The president has done nothing wrong. So, at this time, he feels confident with the people that he has in place. We don't feel the need for a war room. And we will see what happens.
ACOSTA: The latest polls show the public is deeply divided over whether the president should be impeached. Republicans are staying loyal to the president, to the consternation of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We took an oath to protect and defend our democracy. And that is what he has made an assault on. And if the Republicans have a higher loyalty to the president than they do to their oath of office, that's their problem.
ACOSTA: As for the president's plan to change his residency to Florida, New York's governor noted on Twitter, "It's not like Trump paid taxes here anyway," and arguing on CNN that Mr. Trump may be trying to evade an effort by Manhattan prosecutors to obtain his long- shielded tax returns.
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): This is a desperate legal tactic, whereby they're going to argue, well, we're not New York residents anymore, we're Florida residents, so New York doesn't have a right to the tax returns. I don't think it's a legal tactic that's going to hold up.
ACOSTA: The president is not being straight about the latest jobs, numbers, tweeting: "Wow, a blowout jobs number just out, adjusted for revisions and the General Motors strike, 303,000."
But that's not accurate, the actual numbers, 128,000, a strong showing, according to the experts. The president is also taking misleading shots at the city of Chicago, tweeting: "The police department there will never stop its crime wave with the current superintendent of police."
EDDIE JOHNSON, CHICAGO POLICE SUPERINTENDENT: Good morning, everyone.
But hold on. Murders for the month of October fell more than 20 percent there compared to October of last year.
JOHNSON: The fact of it is that numbers do matter, facts matter. And the facts are that we have steadily been bringing these numbers down over the past three years. So that's what we need to focus on.
ACOSTA: And the president is expected to attend an ultimately fighting championship event in New York City over the weekend. Heading back to the state where he will no longer be a resident as one Trump adviser said to me earlier today, the president likes fistfights.
And, Wolf, one other thing we should point out, coming out of that interview that the president did with the "Washington Examiner." This was just released in the last several moments, the president apparently in this interview is asked about how he feels about his acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, whether he's happy with Mick Mulvaney's performance. The president apparently responded, happy, question mark, I don't want to comment on that. Wolf?
BLITZER: Well, that is significant. And also Jim Acosta, thank you for the update.
Let's get some more on all of this. Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii is joining us. She's a member of both the Judiciary and the Armed Services Committees. Senator thanks so much for joining us. And let's get to the breaking news right away.
You heard Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman testified this week, that the National Security Council's top lawyer John Eisenberg directed him not to discuss what transpired on that controversial July phone call between the president and the president of Ukraine with anyone. What does that tell you?
SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI): That says to me that Eisenberg was very concerned as to what this phone call would look like. So he didn't want Vindman to talk about it. So this is why Eisenberg needs to testify.
BLITZER: He's supposed to testify as early as next week behind closed-doors. Do you anticipate he will or will he fight that?
HIRONO: I don't know. So if he's like some of the other people who have already testified doing their jobs for our country, I hope that he will testify. But the way things go with this administration, they're just trying to block everything and stonewall everything so I don't know. However, the House's impeachment process will continue.
BLITZER: As you know, the impeachment inquiry is now moving towards public hearings.
HIRONO: Yes. BLITZER: Presumably later this month. Lieutenant colonel Vindman is willing to testify publicly. So what questions do you hope he answers? And these hearings of course will be televised.
HIRONO: I think - well, he'll be asked many of the same things that he already testified to behind closed-doors as to what he heard and this is first-person. He was actually listening in on the phone call. So he will verify that to him this was a very troubling phone call where the president is trying to shake down the president of another country for his own political ends and using by the way our taxpayer money as leverage. That is what he'll testify to.
BLITZER: We also could see the official transcripts of those closed- door depositions, maybe a hundred hours of depositions released as early as next week. What will you be looking for from those documents?
HIRONO: I will be looking for evidence that basically corroborates what we already saw with our own eyes. With the release which was not of the transcript but a memo of this July phone call. So it is really important that in this impeachment inquiry that we gather as much evidence as possible because as Speaker Pelosi says, she wants a very -- a lot of evidence. Whatever evidence they could get before they will vote on whether or not to proceed with articles of impeachment and I think that is the proper course. We just want to get the facts out, Wolf.
BLITZER: If the House does vote to impeach, the Democrats at the majority, presumably that will happen assuming there is articles of impeachment that are formally filed and it comes to the Senate for trial. Will you vote to convict?
HIRONO: I'm certainly going to listen to all of the evidence. And you know let's not jump the gun here because right now what is happening is for the House to disclose in a public setting all of the evidence that they can bring to bear on the impeachment inquiry and that is what we ought to be focused on and we should be focused on the president's actions and what he did and that is the shakedown the president of another country for his own political ends to get political dirt on his opponents.
And this is what I have been saying for the longest time. That you can't explain a lot of what the president does if you know that he cares maybe about two things, one, is to protect himself and the second is money. And we see this playing out on practically a daily basis with this president. Those are the two motivators of what he does.
BLITZER: The president continues to argue that there was absolutely nothing wrong with his July phone call with the Ukrainian president that he may even wind up reading that rough transcript that the White House released aloud in a so-called fireside chat to prove that -- will that strategy make it harder for your Republican colleagues to defend him or what will be the impact from your perspective?
HIRONO: The Republicans may be left with trying to say, yes, so the president did shake down the president of another country for his political ends, so what. Get over it. You know they're going to be reduced to defending this action so who else is the president going to shake down next. That is the question that we should ask the Republicans. So you know I hope that they'll do the right thing and up until now we haven't seen much evidence of that from the Republicans, particularly the Republicans in the House.
BLITZER: Well, let's talk about the Republicans in the Senate for a moment. The president clearly over the past several days has been stepping up his outreach to Senate Republicans. How likely is it from your perspective and you speak a lot of them behind the scenes, how likely is it that any of your Republican colleagues in the Senate will break from the president?
HIRONO: It is hard to predict. As I say, we would like to see all of the evidence and presentation of the evidence. And the president will be able to defend himself. Not just in the Senate but in the impeachment proceedings in the House. So we shall see. I certainly hope that they will -- all I can say is they will do the responsible thing in terms of what we're supposed to be looking at.
We are supposed to be looking at the evidence. We're not supposed to be making a decision on a constitutional process based on our political affiliations. And right now that is kind of what is playing out.
And of course the president has already sending money to those senators he thinks will stick with him. And this is what the president does. He thinks that he can just throw money to different people or in the case of the Ukrainian president, withhold money to get what he wants.
BLITZER: Senator Hirono, thanks so much for joining us.
BLITZER: Up next, we'll have more on the breaking news. A source now says a top National Security aide testified that a White House lawyer told him not to talk to anyone about President Trump's Ukraine phone call.
Also, Elizabeth Warren releases her plan to pay for Medicare for all. The price tag in the trillions and she is still insisting there won't be a middle class tax increase.
BLITZER: Breaking news. CNN has learned Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council's top Ukraine expert, testified this week that he was told not to talk with anyone about that July 25th phone conversation between the president and the Ukrainian president. Let's bring in our experts to discuss this new development. And Gloria, Eisenberg, the top lawyer for the National Security Council and when he was told about what was out on that phone conversation. He told Vindman not to discuss what happened. Does that bolster the Democrat's potential case for cover-up?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: What it does definitively is show you that Eisenberg knew that this was problematic. That this phone call --
BLITZER: And he was the one who ordered the transcript -
BORGER: That's right.
BLITZER: -- moved to that top secret server.
BORGER: To the servers.
So he knew it was problematic. He knew that it would be controversial. He ordered it to this server. And so, it doesn't necessarily prove a cover-up but it proves that people inside of the White House knew that this phone call was going to be an issue because the president says some very inappropriate things at the very least. So he said to Vindman, look, just don't go talking about this. You know we have to keep this - we have to keep this among ourselves and I think, you know is that a cover-up or is that something that you would do if you were a lawyer in that arena and you had just put something in the File 13.
BLITZER: Let me ask Shawn Turner. What does it tell you that a National Security Council lawyer would give that kind of instruction - that kind of direction?
SHAWN TURNER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATION FOR U.S. NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Yes, you know, I think it is really important here that we're talking about a National Security Council lawyer. Look, you know lawyers don't often give this kind of extraordinary counsel unless they believe that their client or the person they serve has some sort of legal exposure.
Moreover, I think that you know for a loyal at the National Security Council to look at a senior military officer, decorated military officer and to tell that officer to put aside his concerns, to put aside his integrity and keep quiet about this, I think communicates and tells us that Eisenberg really saw this as a potentially serious issue. And you know we talked a little bit about the extraordinary step of putting this transcript in the highly-classified system.
Look, you know I think there is more to be dealt with on this. That is a serious abuse of the system and treats this transcript as if it contained highly sensitive or classified information and that violates all sorts of policies. So there is no doubt here that he understood what happened on that call and I think that Eisenberg at some point is going to have to speak to why he thought that this was so important. And he's going to have to be held accountable for that decision. BLITZER: David Chalian, Eisenberg is scheduled to testify behind closed-doors on Monday before these House committees, other National Security Council OMB officials also on the schedule. How likely is it that any of them will actually show up?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. Well, that is the big question, Wolf. I mean we have seen time and again White House officials be guided not to testify, there will be the issuing of the subpoena of course. But having this member of the council's team for the National Security staff, it seems to me the White House will probably do everything in its power to stop this person from testifying. I am sure we do know that if and when he does testify, Wolf, we know what question number one is going to be. It is going to be about exactly what you're talking about here. And what he was thinking when he said do not tell anyone about this phone call and that it is in this protected server.
BLITZER: Susan Hennessey, weigh in as well.
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: I think everybody is right. This is obviously an indication that Eisenberg now knew at the time that this was a highly - this was not a perfect phone call. This was a highly problematic phone call. As to whether or not he will or won't appear in for Congress. There is a lot of people that we would have never expected to actually go and testify that have actually been to the Hill, to testify over the objection of the White House and so a little bit I think all bets are off in terms of sort of the seriousness and the willingness of people to come forward.
Remember, Eisenberg you know is sort of central to this. Not just the decision to move this call from the code word server.
But also that other people brought their concerns about the larger context in which this was playing out to him. What did he know about that? And then another sort of tidbit that we've seen in some reporting is that Eisenberg also directed a different presidential phone call with a different foreign lead to be moved to that code word server.
Now that we're seeing that this was the - you know that this is what he did with the Ukraine phone call, that he was telling other people don't talk about it, he was essentially trying to use the server to avoid -- to prevent this information from getting out, then Congress will have real questions about who else did the president speak to? What other sort of forms of concern might there have been that caused him to take action in other places.
BLITZER: There is another dramatic development, Gloria, that has just broken in this interview that the president granted to the "Washington Examiner." He was asked if he's happy with his acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. And he said, and I'm quoting the president now, quote, "Happy? I don't want to comment on it." That is pretty significant. BORGER: Well that is not exactly a vote of confidence, is it?
BORGER: And he's clearly not happy with him. He probably believes and if I were the president I would think the same thing, that his appearance on the Sunday show that week where he - where he you know didn't stick with the narrative and you know and got Trump in a lot of trouble and said, of course - you know of course we were thinking about military aid. And of course you know we do this all the time.
I think that if I were Trump I would be upset about that too. I think that Mulvaney - he's been up with him in a lot of ways because Mulvaney lets Trump be Trump. But you know the president turns on people pretty quickly so this is clear to me that he's done that.
HENNESSEY: At the end of the day, the one unforgivable sin of this administration is Mick Mulvaney went on national television and told the truth about what happened and that is something in the past the president has not been willing to forgive.
BLITZER: You know, it's interesting. There is a new poll that is out, The Washington Post/ABC News Poll. David Chalian is our political director. Let's bring him in to this. And we'll put it up on the screen right now. Should Trump be impeached and removed from office. 49 percent say yes. 47 percent say no. So politically, the country is pretty eventually divided right now?
CHALIAN: It is evenly divided. When you look at these national polls, Wolf, there is no doubt about that. But what is also clear and especially when you look at how independents are falling in that poll, they fall the other way around, a little more towards not being in favor of impeachment and removal than being in favor for it.
There's been no real progress made since the beginning of the impeachment inquiry with the American public in terms of the Democrats bringing on huge swaths of independents and great majority of them instead of splitting them and bringing on some Republicans. They're pretty much locked against this.
This is Nancy Pelosi's challenge now. It is that she's gone down this road on impeachment and if it is just going to be a purely partisan affair, that allows the president to have a political footing on which to fight this as opposed to if the Democrats present such convincing evidence and witnesses that they can really change these numbers and bring a majority of the country over Republicans and independents and Democrats and that would change the calculus of how folks on Capitol Hill respond.
BLITZER: Everybody stand by. There is a lot more we're getting. We're also now told the president is answering reporters' questions on the south lawn of the White House. We'll get the tape. We'll play it for you. Much more on all of this right after a quick break.
BLITZER: And our major breaking news, Beto O'Rourke, the former Texas congressman, is dropping out of the Democratic presidential contest. Just making a statement right now that he is moving in a different direction, and as a result, he -- he also says, he is not going to run for any other political office, including in his home state of Texas right now.
Let's get David Chalian's reaction to this major news. David, a surprise. He was not doing necessarily all that great in the polls but a surprise that, all of a sudden, he announces he's out of this contest.
CHALIAN: He is out of this contest. He wasn't making a ton of progress. I want to bring in my colleague, Leyla Santiago, who covered the Beto campaign throughout its entirety, Wolf. Leyla just was learning of this information.
Leyla, why is Beto O'Rourke done with this campaign? What is he saying?
LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, a lot of the -- his staffers that kind of got a heads up on this earlier today were saying they didn't have much on -- in terms of when he was going to do this. But he has just tweeted out about it, saying that he will no longer serve the country as a nominee or as a candidate in this race.
So the big question will be, is he going to run for Senate in Texas? Why exactly is he pulling out? There had been talks of the fundraising slowing down for quite some time.
He certainly started off with a lot of money coming in on day one, raised $80 million in the Senate race, so he was expecting to come in, raising a lot of money. That slowed down in the second quarter. Then in the third quarter, it went up a little bit but still appears to have not been enough.
CHALIAN: Now, Leyla, you know obviously that one of O'Rourke's moments in this campaign was after the shooting in El Paso. And he sort of rejuvenated his campaign with a -- a critical mission on gun violence, on gun safety legislation.
He -- but that doesn't seem enough to have gained enough traction on that issue to drive him forward. What -- or are we learning anything from his campaign about what this means for his -- his work on that issue going forward?
SANTIAGO: You know, I suspect -- he has been very passionate about this and saying that he found his voice. When that happened as a -- as a candidate, you saw a relaunch of his campaign multiple times. But he really sort of found his groove, according to -- to him directly, when that occurred. Found his voice.
So I suspect when this is done, you will not hear the last of Beto O'Rourke on gun violence because this is something that really shook him up, shook his family up, and that community. And -- and -- and I think that he will continue to work with Moms Demand Action. I saw him in multiple events before he even announced his candidacy on that, so I -- I -- I don't think you've heard the end on that issue from Beto O'Rourke.
BLITZER: In -- in his statement, David, he writes, he -- he says -- among other things, he says, though it is difficult to accept, it is clear to me now that this campaign does not have the means to move forward successfully. My service to the country will not be as a candidate or as the nominee. Acknowledging this now is in the best interest of those in the campaign, it is in the best interest of this party as we seek to unify around a nominee, and it is -- and it is in the best interest of the -- of the country.
He also says in the end, he will, of course, work for and support any of the Democratic -- Democrats who become the party's nominee. So -- so this is a pretty significant development that he has decided to call it quits, David.
CHALIAN: Without a doubt, Wolf. And the word "means" there that you just read in that tweet, that's -- that's money. That's resources. And that had dried up for Beto O'Rourke, which is astounding, considering what you just heard Leyla talking about, the amount of money that he raised in that Senate race last year against Ted Cruz.
The anticipation and expectations so high for him when he got into the Presidential race, again, specifically around being able to raise money, and that dried up for him. We had seen that over the summer into the fall. And -- and when you don't have money to make payroll, to get all the field organizers out there, to get the T.V. ads up on the air, you have a really tough time going forward, and -- and that's where Beto O'Rourke was.
I -- I'll tell you, earlier today in Iowa, Wolf, I was standing in a field amidst Beto O'Rourke signs. There were -- there was lots of campaign activity here today. He -- he had lots of signage, activists were going to come to this dinner tonight that they're warming up for behind me, all in support of him. But Beto O'Rourke no longer a candidate in this race.
BLITZER: You know, Gloria, let's get your reaction to this as well. In his -- in his tweet that he just posted, I am grateful to all the people who made up the heart and soul of this campaign. You were among the hundreds of thousands who made a donation, signed up to volunteer, or spread the word about this campaign and our -- our opportunity to help decide the election of our lifetime. But in the end, he -- he simply did not have the support.
BORGER: No, presidential campaigns are hard. He came into this as kind of the superstar cover of a glossy magazine, "Vanity Fair," a superhero in the Democratic Party because he raised so much money in his Senate race even though he lost to Ted Cruz. And -- and he had a very difficult time, I think, distinguishing himself on this -- on this large field. And as Leyla was saying, I think after El Paso, things clarified a bit
for him. And it was clear to me just watching him that what he cared about was gun violence. And he kind of was restructuring his message in the middle of a campaign -- and that's very, very difficult to do -- and became a -- very much an anti-gun activist and became controversial as he was doing it. I'll take you're A.R.-15s away, et cetera.
I don't think we've heard the last from Beto O'Rourke. He's young. He's obviously very talented. I'm sure he's going to channel himself toward what his passion has really become. And he says he's not going to run for the Senate, but you never know what's going to happen.
BLITZER: He could -- he -- he could change his mind. David Chalian, what do you think?
He ran against Ted Cruz and lost but he did rather well in that contest. John Cornyn, the other Senator from Texas, up for reelection, and there's been a lot of speculation. I spoke with Beto O'Rourke when he was here in THE SITUATION ROOM just the other day. I asked him, would you -- would you consider that if you decided to -- to drop out, and he was -- he gave sort of a vague answer. What do you think?
CHALIAN: Yes. Well, now, he goes right to the top of the speculation list. There's plenty of time before the filing deadline on that, although I will say Democrats have been fielding several high-profile candidates in Texas to take on John Cornyn.
Obviously, O'Rourke having just been in that race against Ted Cruz with the kind of money that he brought with the support in the polls that a statewide Democrat had not seen in -- in nearly ever in Texas, this was -- this was a big successful campaign despite falling short of actually winning the Senate seat last time. So O'Rourke now is going to get the question you asked him in a far different context, Wolf. I doubt his future answer will be nearly as vague.
BLITZER: Yes. Let's see if he decides to throw his hat into that Texas race. That could be very interesting given what's going on right now.
He -- he does tweet this, Gloria. He says, we will work to ensure that the Democratic nominee is successful in defeating Trump in 2020. I can tell you firsthand from having the chance to know the candidates, we will be well served by any one of them, and I'm going to be proud to support whoever she or he is.
BORGER: Right. Look, he is -- he is leaving with -- in a -- in a very generous statement, saying, look, I'm going to support -- I'm going to support any Democrat against Donald Trump. Because he has been very, very vocal about his opposition to Donald Trump.
I think that it's interesting the timing in which he's doing it. He didn't decide to sort of hang around until Iowa and watch himself fail in Iowa. And, you know, he wasn't even in the top five or so in the -- in the polling today we saw from -- from CBS, I believe it was. And so, I think that -- you know, I think he took a good, hard look at
his campaign and at what he wants to do and where he believes he can have a real impact. And I go back again to El Paso as I think this -- this transformative moment for him during this campaign and maybe in his life. And I think you're going to hear a lot from him about -- about gun -- about guns.
HENNESSEY: And the critical question is, who are his voters now going to consolidate behind?
HENNESSEY: And is somebody else going to take up that mantle of being the most vocal, sort of forward-leading advocate for gun control, and is that going to appear to the voters that have stuck by Beto up until this point?
BLITZER: Yes. And -- and, you know, Shawn, I'll let -- let me let you weigh in on -- as well --
BLITZER: -- because you've been watching this presidential contest as all of us have.
TURNER: Yes. And I -- and I think Susan hit it exactly right. You know, any time one of these members drop out, the very -- the -- the very next question we should ask is, who benefits from this?
You know, we're looking at people like Juan Castro and others who -- you -- you know, Beto O'Rourke never really picked up the following that he wanted to pick up. But certainly, there are a healthy number of people out there who still believe in his cause and believe in his race, and they're going to be looking hard to see who's -- who's next.
I also think that -- that, you know, his, you know, being very vocal and being very upfront about the fact that he's not planning to run for office again is -- is very telling. Look, you know, Beto O'Rourke is looking at a long career in front of him if he wants to stay in politics.
At some point, you know, one of these candidates is going to have to decide who's going to be their running mate. And certainly, there is a real possibility that the -- the running mate will be someone who stood on one of those debate stages, so I -- I think he's got a good future ahead of him. And I -- and it's just unclear what he's going to do right now, but I don't think we've seen the last of Beto O'Rourke.
BORGER: You know, in the -- in the Iowa polls, Wolf, he had, I believe, less than one percent support from Iowa caucus-goers, and it's hard to see -- I'm sure he was kind of facing reality here. It's hard to see how you're going to get that -- that number up. And if you don't have that support, how was he going to participate in
the primary debates in November and in December? And once you're out of those debates, you're kind of out of the running. And I --
HENNESSEY: I think one of the questions is going to be, was this a huge missed opportunity on the Senate side? O'Rourke did have that really strong name recognition.
HENNESSEY: He has now taken positions that are not particularly amenable to a Texas Senate race. And so, I think we've seen over the past three years the critical importance to Democrats of holding the Senate. There are roles in nominations, in judges, and all kinds of things that are really important to sort of core policy issues.
And so, one question will be, will people look back and think it was really too bad that O'Rourke decided to throw his hat into the sort of presidential ring rather than sticking with a -- what -- what would have been a very strong Senate run against John Cornyn?
BLITZER: Yes. He was here in THE SITUATION ROOM on October 21st. I have the transcript of the exchange. I don't know if we have the videotape of -- of -- of that exchange, but we're -- we're going to get it. But I asked him several questions about his future including, will you stay in the race if you don't qualify for the next debate? The next debate is later this month in Georgia.
He says, I'm planning on qualifying for the next debate. And then I asked, but what if you don't. He says then I'll stay -- I'll stay in that. I'll stay in the race.
Then I asked him, any chance you might drop out and run for the Senate in Texas? O'Rourke, no. And I said, no chance? And he said, no chance. I said, OK, and then he said I'm in this to win this.
Well, clearly, that was, what, a few days ago, on October 21st. David Chalian, he's changed his mind.
CHALIAN: He clearly has changed his mind. And that was the right answer then, right? He had not come to that conclusion. He had not looked at the numbers yet to determine he didn't have the resources to move forward in any way that would amount to a successful campaign. And I -- I have no doubt that when he said that to you, he was still committed to this cause.
But these are the hard decisions. These are in the -- you know, we're in the final 93 days now before the Iowa caucuses, Wolf. This is -- this is crunch time. And so, while, as Gloria noted, he may not have had a ton of support in the polls here and that certainly helped contribute to this moment, what he did have was staff on the ground. And he had some supporter network here throughout Iowa.
So the question now becomes, who taps into that? How do those people get redistributed as these other major candidates are really seeking to consolidate here and -- and -- and there are now talented resources available in the state that were with Beto O'Rourke that they will try to scoop up now? That's another impact that his departure will have.
BLITZER: And -- and -- and one of the issues that was very significant came up in the last debate as well, the CNN/"New York Times" debate, was his position on gun control and that certain weapons -- certain assault-style weapons should be removed completely and the people should be forced to -- to give up those weapons to authorities. And some of the other candidates said that was simply going too far. It was unrealistic, David.
CHALIAN: Yes, that's his -- the -- his proposals of mandatory buybacks, and it did get criticism from some of his fellow candidates, Wolf. And -- and when he was pressed in the last debate of -- of how it would work, his -- his answer was that he would -- they would find people that don't actually participate in the buyback program. It was unclear how feasible that was, too.
So while that was a big, bold policy proposal and -- and a huge sound bite out of that debate in Houston in September, the practicality of it was something that some of his opponents sort of questioned after -- after that comment.
BLITZER: Gloria, especially Pete Buttigieg. He was very critical of that position.
BORGER: Sure, right. I mean, he said you're -- you can't -- that you're giving Republicans fodder by effectively saying, I'm going to come into your house and take away your guns, and you're playing into Republican hands if you do that.
If -- if -- just take a -- take a step back and -- and -- and look at Beto O'Rourke. It -- it just tells you a lot about the difficulty of running for president as a neophyte, a relative political neophyte, where you haven't been on the national stage for very long. And he had a good organization, but you never know how somebody who succeeded to a degree, a great degree, raising money in the state of Texas, et cetera, is going to just be able to distinguish himself in this kind of a large field with people who have a great deal of experience.
And he ran a campaign that couldn't really find its core until he found a core after El Paso. And that didn't work for him because once he got so devoted to that, he wasn't talking about -- about much else. And so, I think it's -- there is no off-Broadway in -- in any of these runs anymore. You're always on center stage, and I think he found it very difficult.
HENNESSEY: Yes, I think that's right. He -- I think it also is an example of the -- the longer many, many people are in this primary, the more we are going to have this sort of -- people trying to distinguish themselves by taking positions that might not, you know, useful in a general, that might actually end up, you know, sort of energizing the Republicans.
And so, I think the Democrats are -- clearly, they do have their eye on the ball here that this is about beating Donald Trump in 2020, and at some point, every candidate needs to give it their best shot but also put the -- put their egos aside and decide whenever they've had a good run, whenever they're -- they're leaning up against just fundamental constraints of the -- the lacking resources, throwing in the towel, sort of starting to back, you know, whoever the party is going to pick as their nominee.
BLITZER: And in this new "New York Times"/Siena poll, the Siena College poll, that came out this morning on Iowa, you know, David Chalian -- and -- and let's put it up on the screen -- he is nowhere to be seen, Beto O'Rourke.
Elizabeth Warren, 22 percent; Sanders, 19 percent; Buttigieg, 18 percent; Biden, 17 percent; Klobuchar, four percent; Harris, three percent; Yang, three percent. He is way, way down there.
I know Leyla Santiago has been covering his campaign. She is with you right now. She's getting some more information.
CHALIAN: She is. Yes, she is, Wolf.
Leyla, what are you learning now about whether or not O'Rourke is going to continue? His plan was to speak here to all of these Iowa Democrats today. He's not in the race now. Do we expect him here tonight?
SANTIAGO: According to a source at the campaign, he will not be speaking here tonight. That said, he does plan to speak at a pre- rally in which he'll be addressing his volunteers and his staffers and likely expressing gratitude as did he in that medium post. You'll likely see that right before this event.
But from what I understand from a source with the campaign, the plan is not to speak here tonight. That source also was quick to say, you never know, every -- anything can change at any time. But that is his plan. I also asked the source about his run in Texas, if there's a possibility he could run for Senate there, and he said 100 percent not the case. He will not be running for Senate in Texas.
CHALIAN: There you have your answer, Wolf, to that question. There -- there will not be another O'Rourke Senate race in -- in Texas this cycle. And it makes sense with Leyla's reporting that -- that O'Rourke won't be on this stage tonight because this stage is for the candidates who are still in this race and trying to make an appeal to Iowa Democrats. I guess the last time we'll see O'Rourke as an exiting candidate is at this pre-debate rally that you just heard about, Wolf.
BLITZER: What do you think about that, Gloria?
TURNER: And you know, Wolf, I'm just going add -- I'll just --
BLITZER: Oh. Yes, all right, go ahead, Sean.
TURNER: Yes. No, I'm just going to add that while Beto O'Rourke's departure from this race may have been inevitable, you know, there's -- there's -- after he made that very bold statement about -- about weapons, you know, there's obviously polling that kind of tells us what people thought of that.
But just anecdotally, I can tell you there -- there are a lot of people across rural America and a lot of people in the military circles that I'm very familiar with who may have been Beto O'Rourke supporters or were a little unsure about him at the time. But they saw that statement as a little too forward-leaning, a little too -- it made them feel a little bit uncomfortable.
And I think the -- the kind of analysis on his departure from this race, I think we're going to take a hard look at -- at what happened after he made that statement because I think that, for a lot of people, that may have been a turning point for Beto O'Rourke.
BLITZER: Do you think, Gloria, that this is going to encourage other Democratic presidential candidates who are at one percent or two percent or maybe even three percent to rethink their candidacy?
BORGER: First of all, they're going to look for Beto O'Rourke's people and see if they can consolidate whatever small amount of support he had. But I think, Wolf, they're all looking at it. If you're not in the top five or six at this point, your money -- your money dries up. The debates, for example, were very important to Amy Klobuchar who has moved up in the polls and who has done very well in fundraising since -- since the last debate.
So I think they're all looking at it, whether or not Beto O'Rourke is there or whether he's -- or whether he's gone. These are -- you know, these are moments where you have to have a conversation with yourself and say, do I have a shot at this? Can I afford to do this? What -- where do my -- what -- what do I say to my supporters? Where would my supporters go?
And I think, clearly, with O'Rourke, when he had this transformation after El Paso, he -- he had a line in his statement today, you know, I -- I -- you know, that his -- that his service is not going to be as a nominee, but it's clear to me that he can -- he intends to continue talking about what became so important to him during this campaign.
And that didn't give him enough traction because it was controversial, as Shawn is saying. Didn't give him enough traction to move up anywhere in the polls, but I -- I don't think we've heard the end of him.
HENNESSEY: And I think we're seeing fewer and fewer -- fewer and fewer opportunities for break out moments at this point. That top five has really been relatively stable throughout.
HENNESSEY: We aren't seeing new sort of insurgent names. And so, I do think other candidates probably have to look at the -- at their futures and say they are, in all likelihood, not going to be the Democratic nominee and then have to decide what is best for the party. And we -- we do want to see whether or not people view themselves as
team players here, whether or not they are thinking about whether or not they're going to endorse somebody, or whether or not merely leaving the race and allowing those donor dollars sort of early on, voters to get familiar with other candidates, start to really focus in on the kind of, you know, the -- the -- the nuance of the policy differences between those really -- those top five pretty stable and steady candidates.
BLITZER: Well, David Chalian, there's a -- the next Democratic presidential debate in Georgia is, I think, November 20th. If some of these Democratic presidential candidates who are at one or two percent don't make the stage, why -- why -- why bother, in effect? Why not drop out and do what Beto O'Rourke did? What's -- what's their intent?
CHALIAN: Well, listen, there are some candidates -- Michael Bennett comes to mind, the Senator from Colorado. He hasn't been on a debate stage for the last two debates already, and he remains in this race. He was commenting on Elizabeth Warren's plan today for Medicare for All today, and -- and he still says he's committed to this race. Steve Bullock, the Governor of Montana.
Again, these people are not -- they have not been on the debate stage since this summer, and yet they still plan on trying to sell their message here in Iowa and see if they can catch something. If you have a very small staff, if you're -- you can cover your expenses for the plane tickets here to Iowa, I presume you can go forward.
But it is -- it is not just low-polling candidates who haven't appeared on the debate stage. Kamala Harris, as you know, has announced that she is pulling resources from South Carolina, Nevada, New Hampshire. She closed three offices in New Hampshire today, all to try and consolidate resources here in Iowa.
She is betting her entire candidacy now in Iowa. She said she needs a top-three finish. And -- and we see where she is in this "New York Times"/Siena poll that came out today. She's not in that top tier of four candidates.
So it -- these are moments for both candidates that have had big, robust operations and perhaps not catching on like an O'Rourke or -- or a Harris. It is also for those lower-tier candidates to start wondering, how do I justify to any of my supporters my presence in this race still while Democrats are trying so hard to find who is the person to back that can defeat Trump?
And if Democrats start feeling that the field remaining too big, Wolf, is a problem at that ultimate goal of unifying behind someone to defeat Donald Trump, I think you'll start seeing some of these candidates feel that pressure more and more in the weeks ahead.
BLITZER: You know, I -- go ahead, Susan.
HENNESSEY: The other question is, if we see something like a collapse of Joe Biden or one of the big sort of top tier candidates coming -- come up against a major stumble, you know, do voters feel like there is an alternative to that -- to that person in those top three -- tier candidates, or is there a possibility for somebody like Bennett to sort of put himself out, you know, as sort of as an alternative to somebody like Biden?
BLITZER: He just tweeted, the President of the United States, on Beto O'Rourke, Gloria. He said, oh, no, Beto just dropped out of the race for president despite him saying he was, quote, born for this. I don't think so. So, you know, immediately getting a reaction from the President.
BORGER: How generous of the President to say that. Beto O'Rourke was somebody who did come to this race as a celebrity, who did misspeak when he said he was born to this. He raised $6 million on his first day, and then the fundraising went downhill from there. And suddenly, the celebrity -- and again, this is what presidential races are about.
The celebrity found out that, wait a minute, he wasn't the only generational change candidate out there among Democrats. He wasn't the only moderate out there among Democrats. And he couldn't find a way to distinguish himself. And when he did find a way to distinguish himself, on guns, it just didn't work.
BLITZER: All right, everybody, stand by. We're going to have a lot more --
TURNER: Yes, and I'll Stick around.
BLITZER: -- on all the breaking news. Shawn, stick around, don't go too far away.
We've got other breaking news we're following as well, including a source now saying that a top national security aide testified a White House lawyer told him not to talk to anyone about President Trump's Ukraine phone call. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Don't talk. We're getting new information about the impeachment investigation that could bolster claims that the White House tried to cover up the Ukraine scandal. A pivotal witness testifying that he was told by a White House lawyer to stay silent.
Beto's out. A new exit from the crowded Democratic presidential field. Tonight, Beto O'Rourke just revealed he's ending his campaign. So what will it mean for the race?