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Interview with Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta; Interview With Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA); More Impeachment Testimony Revelations Emerge; Bloomberg Files to Run in Alabama Democratic Presidential Primary; Trump Showing New Interest in Sports As 2020 Looms. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired November 8, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: The president's former strategist testifies at Roger Stone's trial, saying the Trump campaign viewed Stone as a potential link to WikiLeaks, Steve Bannon reluctantly helping the prosecution's case.

And Trump's game. The president is showing a sudden interest in attending sporting events, despite getting booed by fans. Does he see it as a way to score political points with his base?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news.

Two key impeachment witnesses directly tie the Ukraine scandal to President Trump's chief of staff. Just released transcripts show current White House official Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman and former official Fiona Hill testified that Mick Mulvaney was -- was actively involved in coordinating a quid pro quo.

Hill said she was told U.S. aid to Ukraine was withheld at the direction of Mulvaney's office, and Vindman says that there was no ambiguity about what the White House wanted. He says President Trump made a demand that Ukraine investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

I will get reaction from House Oversight Committee member Jimmy Gomez, and our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our national correspondent, Alex Marquardt.

Alex, Mick Mulvaney defied a subpoena to testify today, but we're learning that key witnesses, they had a lot to say about him.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

Two key witnesses and the transcripts of their testimonies that were just released today bring this quid pro quo even closer to the president. The officials in charge of the Ukraine policy testifying that it was the acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, who was pushing the Ukrainians to carry out political investigations for President Trump in order to secure a White House meeting.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Tonight, two of the most central players in the relationship with Ukraine putting the president's chief of staff at the center of the scandal, and delivering the harshest blow to the president's claim there was no quid pro quo.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a hoax. This is just like the Russian witch-hunt.

MARQUARDT: Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, telling lawmakers there was no ambiguity, that, in order for Ukraine's president to get a meeting at the White House, they had to investigate the Bidens.

Vindman was on the call between the U.S. and Ukrainian presidents on July 25, which he said left no doubt that this is what was required in order to get the meeting that the Ukrainians had been aggressively pushing for.

Vindman says the message came from Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, at the direction of the acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney. Mulvaney admitted to the quid pro quo last month, before later walking it back.

MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Get over it. There's going to be political influence in foreign policy.

MARQUARDT: According to his testimony, the decorated colonel responded that it was inappropriate and had nothing to do with national security.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Well, I want to thank Colonel Vindman for his courage in coming forward, his willingness to follow the law, to do his duty.

MARQUARDT: Vindman wasn't alone. His then boss, Dr. Fiona Hill, read the transcript of the call and said she was shocked.

"I sat in an awful lot of calls," she said, "and I have not seen anything like this."

Hill had also been told by Sondland that Mulvaney stated that the Ukrainians would get a presidential meeting if the Ukrainians started up these investigations again. Hill testified that Sondland told this directly to the Ukrainians in the July 10 meeting.

John Bolton, who was national security adviser at the time, abruptly ended the meeting. Bolton then told Hill to report it to the top NSC lawyer, saying: "I'm not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up." Vindman, who was also disturbed by the meeting, reported it as well. Hill and Vindman had both known about the role that Rudy Giuliani was playing in Ukraine, pushing the conspiracy theories and working to get the U.S. ambassador removed.

After he was successful, Bolton told Hill that Giuliani was a "hand grenade that's going to blow everybody up."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT: Fiona Hill left the White House a few weeks after that now infamous call at the end of July.

She told lawmakers that she'd gotten serious threats both in her time there and since, death threats, calls to her house with obscenities and accusations that she was colluding with the president's enemies -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it's really disturbing stuff in her testimony.

Thanks very much, Alex, for that report.

We're also getting new information right now on preparations for the very big week ahead in the impeachment investigation, when televised hearings will begin.

Our congressional reporter, Lauren Fox, is joining us right now.

Lauren, you're getting new information. What are you learning?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, Wolf, we're just days away from that public testimony next week. We will start with Bill Taylor and George Kent, both career diplomats who Democrats say will be able to explain the full story about what exactly has transpired over the last several months when it comes to this quid pro quo.

[18:05:02]

Then, on Friday, we will hear from Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. But behind the scenes, Democrats already doing exhaustive preparations, Wolf.

I'm told from one Democratic leadership aide that essentially this is even bigger than what they did when it came to preparing for the testimony they heard from former special counsel Robert Mueller. They are preparing lines of questioning. They're preparing for the Republican rebuttal.

And they are preparing to respond in real time on social media to what the Republican talking points will be. So that gives you a sense of just how big this is going to be.

There's a feeling from Democrats, according to this leadership aide, that momentum is on their side. The fact that they have had the release of transcripts every day this week has essentially given them this momentum. They have been preparing talking points for their members next week.

But they even had them this week, which is a recess week on Capitol Hill, because these transcripts were so explosive and getting new information to the members all the time, Wolf, but a big week ahead, Democrats behind the scenes doing their best to be ready.

BLITZER: Yes, millions of Americans will be watching those hearings.

Lauren Fox, thank you very much.

As more damaging impeachment testimony is revealed, President Trump is attacking, misleading and blaming.

Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, we heard from the president shortly before the new transcripts were released.

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

President Trump is dismissing the newly released testimony of senior White House officials and administration officials who have come forward to describe that quid pro quo with Ukraine.

The president is explaining all of it away, saying the witnesses in the probe are either never-Trumpers or people he doesn't know. But as is often the case with the president, Mr. Trump is changing his tune and playing fast and loose with the facts.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump is ripping into the witnesses in the impeachment inquiry, painting a picture of a deep state that's out to get him.

TRUMP: You have some never-Trumpers. It seems that nobody has any firsthand knowledge. There is no firsthand knowledge.

Let's find the 10 people that hate President Trump the most, and let's put them up there.

ACOSTA: The president is even going as far as to say he barely knows European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland, a key figure in the probe who testified there was a quid pro quo with Ukraine.

TRUMP: Let me just say, I hardly know the gentleman.

ACOSTA: But hold on. In the past, the president has praised Sondland, who once contributed a million dollars to Mr. Trump's inauguration committee.

TRUMP: The text message that I saw from Ambassador Sondland, who's highly respected, was, there's no quid pro quo. He said that.

ACOSTA: The president is also griping about next week's public hearings in the inquiry. TRUMP: They shouldn't be having public hearings. This is a hoax. This is just like the Russian witch-hunt. This is just a continuation.

ACOSTA: Tell that to the president's top defenders, who've been complaining about a Soviet-style process conducted behind closed doors.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): They have created a process in the Intel Committee that's behind closed doors, doesn't provide access to the president's accuser, shuts Republicans out, for all practical purposes.

ACOSTA: The White House continues to stonewall the inquiry, blocking acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney from testifying.

TRUMP: I don't want to give credibility to a corrupt witch-hunt. I'd love to have Mick go up, frankly. I think he would do great. I'd love to have him to go up. I'd love to have almost every person go up, when they know me.

ACOSTA: But sources have told CNN the president was hardly pleased after Mulvaney essentially conceded there was a quid pro quo.

MULVANEY: I have news for everybody: Get over it. There's going to be political influence in foreign policy.

ACOSTA: Another key figure in the probe staying away from the capital, the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who's kept in contact with Mr. Trump throughout the inquiry.

One person the president does want to see in front of the cameras? The whistle-blower who prompted the investigation.

TRUMP: He made it sound bad. That's why I had to release. Now they -- so, the whistle-blower is a disgrace to our country, a disgrace. And the whistle-blower, because of that, should be revealed.

ACOSTA: But daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump isn't so sure that's necessary, telling the Associated Press: "To me, it's not particularly relevant, aside from what the motivation behind all of this was."

Venting his frustrations with the media, the president argues the press should focus on former Vice President Joe Biden.

TRUMP: And all you have to do is take a look at Biden, and you will see tremendous corruption, because what he did is quid pro quo times 10.

ACOSTA: Biden responded that the president is simply projecting.

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What Trump is doing, and what he always does, try to take the focus off of what the problem is. The problem is, Donald Trump invited, at least on three occasions, three different countries, for different reasons, to intervene in American elections. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, with so many new revelations in the impeachment inquiry today, this sort of got lost in the shuffle.

The president revealed earlier today that Vladimir Putin has invited him to Russia to attend to a military parade next year. The president said, even though the trip would come in the middle of an election cycle, he is going considering it.

[18:10:00]

And no U.S. president, we should point out, has visited Russia since 2013, when Barack Obama attended a G20 summit in that country. Relations, of course, went south between Obama and Putin after Russia invaded the country that is at the center of this impeachment inquiry now, Ukraine -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point. Jim Acosta, thank you.

Joining us now, Congressman Jimmy Gomez, a Democrat who serves on the House Oversight Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

Let's get to the testimony. It makes it very, very clear that the White House acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, played a central role in setting up the so-called quid pro quo.

Does his refusal to testify leave a gap in your understanding?

REP. JIMMY GOMEZ (D-CA): I don't think it leaves a gap, because you have Fiona Hill and you also have Lieutenant Colonel Vindman giving you the information that -- basically, that it was Mick Mulvaney who was coordinating it.

So I don't believe that leaves the gap. It would be great for him to come in. But if he does what he did when he -- at the press conference, he's just going to reaffirm that the fact that they did try to do a quid pro quo for the Ukrainians and national security assistance in order to investigate the Bidens.

But it's not necessary. I think we have the information we need.

BLITZER: "The Washington Post" is reporting, Congressman, that some House Republicans actually plan to argue that Rudy Giuliani, Ambassador Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the E.U., and the acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, were acting actually on their own, not at the direction of President Trump.

Do you buy that?

GOMEZ: No, not at all.

One of the things is, like, I have heard people getting tossed under the bus, but three people all at once, that would be very impressive. No, it's been a coordinated effort. You had Rudy Giuliani, and you

had this -- I would say this alternative foreign policy, in exchange to get the information that they needed.

It goes all the way back until early February, and maybe even beforehand. And then you have the other information that shows that it was Mick Mulvaney that was coordinating with Ambassador Sondland. So it's connected, and it shows that it reaches directly into the West Wing.

Does it reach into the Oval Office? I believe so. But only time will tell.

BLITZER: We're learning more about how House Democrats are preparing for these public hearings next week? What do you hope the American people will get out of this, these televised hearings?

GOMEZ: I think the American people are going to see that this president abused his power, and that this president tried to get a foreign government to investigate a political rival, Joe Biden, and his son, not because he was interested in corruption.

It was because he was interested in trying to undermine Joe Biden's ability to win the 2020 election. They're going to see that we have true patriots in Fiona Hill. You have Vindman. You have Ambassador Taylor. You have people who are stepping forward to tell the truth, to say what happened, because it was so appalling and it really shocked them, that we have to step forward.

So they're going to see that a lot is at stake. It's not just about one president, one party. It's about our democracy. That is what is at stake.

BLITZER: You just heard our congressional reporter, Lauren Fox, report that the preparations among House Democrats are exhaustive, even more thorough than what was going on in advance of Robert Mueller's testimony.

Tell us about that.

GOMEZ: First, the staff does a great job.

But if we're going to have an open hearing, where you're going to have information come out, additional information, you have got to be prepared. And a lot of it is going over the testimony, going over the previous testimony and the lines of attack.

The Republicans in the White House don't really have much to stand on, right? That's why, at first, they say it was a perfect call, nothing happened. Then they tried to say, OK, maybe, if something happened, the process is flawed.

Now they're saying, OK, we wanted open public hearings. Now they're getting that. Now they're backtracking even on that.

I once was telling myself staff. I said, I can't figure out if the president acts more like a child or a criminal, on facilitating before the two.

But this president and these Republicans are going to have to contend with the truth. That's what it's all about.

BLITZER: Former National Security Adviser John Bolton's lawyer now says Bolton does have insight into additional meetings and conversations that are very relevant to your inquiry, but Bolton still won't testify unless the courts first weigh in.

What do you make of that?

GOMEZ: It's interesting that he's speaking up, because, according to a bunch of different witnesses that have been -- that gave depositions, it shows that Bolton had real deep concerns about what was going on with Rudy Giuliani, Ambassador Sondland, as well as Mick Mulvaney.

And I think that we would love to hear from him, because I believe that he would add extra context and connect more of the dots. But I believe that a lot of that information is there, but I would love to hear Ambassador Bolton has to say.

[18:15:00]

BLITZER: Yes, a lot of us would love to hear what he has to say.

All right, Congressman Jimmy Gomez, thanks so much for joining us.

GOMEZ: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead: Witnesses say Mick Mulvaney played a very central role in offering Ukraine a quid pro quo. Was the chief of staff simply following the president's orders?

I will talk to former Defense Secretary, former Clinton Chief of Staff Leon Panetta.

There, you see him. He's joining us live in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:20:14]

BLITZER: We're following breaking news, new details emerging right now on testimony in the impeachment investigation.

White House officials describing a very clear demand by the president for Ukraine to investigate his political rivals, with Mr. Trump's chief of staff coordinating the offer of a quid pro quo.

We're joined now by the former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. He also served as CIA director under President Obama and as President Clinton's White House chief of staff.

Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us. And let's get to this testimony right away. Lieutenant Colonel

Vindman says it was clear to him that the president was demanding these political investigations. And he pointed to the power imbalance between the president of the United States and the newly elected president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, a political neophyte, if you will.

Do you agree with Colonel Vindman's assessment?

LEON PANETTA, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Oh, I don't think there's any question that -- there's no question that the president of the United States was playing a power game against somebody who had just gotten elected in the Ukraine.

So he had a lot of leverage. And then add to that the fact that this president wanted to meet with the president in the Oval Office. Add to that the fact that there was $400 million in military aid that they were hoping to get in order to deal with the security situation in their country.

There was no question that the president was trying to leverage all of that in order to get this new president to conduct an investigation on a political opponent. That's at the heart of the charges that are involved here.

BLITZER: "The Washington Post" is reporting that some House Republicans actually plan to argue that Rudy Giuliani, Ambassador Gordon Sondland, Mick Mulvaney were acting on their own, not at the direction of President Trump.

As a former White House chief of staff, is that plausible?

PANETTA: I think -- I think the Republicans are getting bad legal advice.

The one thing that's obvious to me, in the face of overwhelming evidence here with regards to these charges, is that the president has no clear defense. He's been flailing in terms of a defense issue.

And so he's used the argument, let's go after the whistle-blower. He's used attack points, going after the witnesses that are involved here. And now the Republicans are talking about basically trying to cut the president off from Mulvaney, Giuliani and Sondland and others.

And the problem is, all you have to do is look at the transcript. This is the president of the United States talking on that transcript. And it's the president who's basically saying, do me a favor and investigate the Bidens.

So -- and he also, in that transcript, by the way, refers to Giuliani and to others. So I think it's going to be very difficult to somehow say that the president knew nothing about this and that others were operating on their own.

BLITZER: Yes, I suspect you're right. Fiona Hill, she was the former top Russia expert on the National

Security Council, testified that the president's national security advisers spent a lot of time trying to debunk these conspiracy theories that the president has swallowed about Ukraine, that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that was interfering in the 2016 election, and Ukraine was doing so to hurt Trump, to help Hillary Clinton.

How concerning is that, given the consensus in the U.S. intelligence community that it was Russia?

PANETTA: The president of the United States has been struggling with this issue for a long time, because, when it came out with clear evidence from all of our intelligence agencies that Russia was involved in the 2016 election, I think the president has been suffering from a real problem of whether or not he was elected legitimately to the presidency.

And so that's bothered him. And it continues to bother him. And so, when he was offered this false bit of information that somehow it wasn't Russia, but it was the Ukraine that was involved, he went right at that to try to see if that could not be investigated in order to prove somehow that it wasn't the Russians, but the Ukrainians that did that.

This is a problem in this White House, in which there is nobody who's willing to stand up and say to the president of the United States, don't do this. This is not right. We have clear evidence that the Russians did this. What you're doing is wrong. It's violating the law. And you shouldn't be even thinking about getting involved in this kind of bribery.

[18:25:07]

Instead, the president went off and did this on his own. And I think he's now suffering the consequences.

BLITZER: Secretary Panetta, as usual, thanks so much for joining us.

PANETTA: Good to be with you.

BLITZER: The breaking news continues next.

John Bolton's lawyer now says the former national security adviser has direct information very relevant to the impeachment inquiry. So, why won't Bolton testify?

Plus, new reporting tonight on alleged previous efforts by associates of Rudy Giuliani who are now under arrest to get Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:30:00]

BLITZER: Just hours after Mick Mulvaney defied a subpoena to testify in the impeachment investigation, we're learning more about the acting White House chief of staff's central role of the Ukraine scandal.

Also breaking, John Bolton's lawyer now says, the president's ousted national security adviser, has relevant information on Ukraine that hasn't been disclosed.

Let's bring in our correspondents and our analysts.

Kylie Atwood, you've been doing a lot of reporting on this, Bolton's lawyer saying that Bolton has many relevant meetings and conversations that have not yet been discussed in the testimonies thus far. But the interesting thing is he still doesn't want to testify.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes. I mean, he sure is dangling something in front of these House Democrats that they really want, which is new and potentially consequential information with regard to this House impeachment Ukraine inquiry, because he's the one who has been at the center of all this. He was the national security adviser to the president while all of this is going down.

And we have heard descriptions of him throughout these testimonies. He described Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, as a hand grenade who was going to blow everything up, really not flattering in terms of Rudy Giuliani. He was at odds with him.

But the reality here is that we don't know exactly what more John Bolton has. What his lawyer is saying is that, yes, he has firsthand knowledge. He has personal knowledge of some of these meetings and conversations that were had with President Trump. And so that is the key here.

But we also know that he is not going to comply and go forth until there is a judge that makes a rule in this legal fight between the White House and the House right now.

BLITZER: Evan, what do you make of the Bolton lawyer?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: I think John Bolton is a very interesting character here simply because we don't know where he will land on the question of whether or not this is perhaps an impeachable thing, right?

He could very well complicate the picture for the Democrats, come in and say, look, I was unhappy with what Rudy Giuliani was doing. I was very -- I thought that that was a very bad thing that Giuliani was playing a role here. But in the end, it's the president's foreign policy and he can do whatever he wants.

And keep in mind, John Bolton is no friend of Democrats. Over the years, they've treated him very badly. And so if I were the Democrats, I would not assume that John Bolton is going to come in and deliver the punch that they want against the president of the United States.

BLITZER: As you know, Kaitlan, the two transcripts released today by these two senior White House officials say that the acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, was directly involved in establishing the quid pro quo. Would Mulvaney do that without getting authorization or direction from the president?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's really hard to see how he would especially if you understand the power dynamics in the west wing, because he is not this chief of staff who acts unilaterally. He's someone who was actually seen in the west wing lately as someone who doesn't have a lot of power at all.

So it was an interesting to see, this dynamic between he and Bolton, this feud over this aid, because, of course, Bolton wanted it released, Mulvaney was fighting hard against it.

And when we were first reporting it out, we couldn't really understand. These transcripts today reveal a lot more information about how these officials testifying who were testifying were under the impression that it was Mulvaney who was signing off on this. And if Mulvaney is signing off on it, the chief of staff, typically, you believe what he says he wants is what the president wants.

So those are the questions that are only going to be fueled further by all of this that Democrats are going to have. But, of course, right now, it's not likely we're going to hear from Mulvaney because he's not showing up on Capitol Hill.

BLITZER: And it's interesting, Jeffrey Toobin, he defied a subpoena, Mulvaney, but a whole bunch of other administration officials have defied subpoenas. We'll put some of them up on the screen unwilling to testify this week. What do you make of that?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the Congress has made a strategic choice. Adam Schiff's committee has said, look, we are going full-speed ahead and we are not going to take the time to go to court to force people to testify. What that means in practical terms is that these people have a free pass not to testify because no court is going to force them to do it. There are going to be no contempt proceedings.

And it may be the Judiciary Committee adds an additional element of impeachment, another article of impeachment citing the president for the failure of his staff to cooperate. But these individuals themselves, they really have a pass here because Congress is moving fast and they don't want to wait for the courts to operate.

BLITZER: You're, Jim Baker, the former FBI General Council. What do you make of all of these witnesses not coming forward, defying these subpoenas and how will that play in the impeachment inquiry?

JIM BAKER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, in terms of them doing this and proceeding in the way that they're doing it, it makes sense.

[18:35:01]

It's a prudent legal strategy, I think, from their perspective. They don't want to get in trouble with Congress and trying to protect the president obviously. But the ones who decided to go to court, I think it makes sense it will relieve them probably of any legal exposure with respect to obstruction of Congress. But with respect to obstruction of Congress, as Jeffrey was saying, that's what the president is going to get hit with.

BLITZER: Because that could be part articles of impeachment, is that what you're saying?

BAKER: Exactly, as it was with, for example, the articles with respect to President Nixon. This is -- he, the president, is deciding for himself what the House needs in order to conduct their constitutionally authorized impeachment activity.

PEREZ: And for Democrats, it's really important that, I think, you're getting a very good picture of what Mulvaney was up to what Bolton thought and getting from multiple witnesses what Bolton was saying. So I think for the Democrats, I think they're getting a lot already from the people that are showing.

COLLINS: But also Trump said today he would be fine with Mulvaney going forward. He just didn't want to set a bad precedent. That's not really the feeling inside the White House, because remember that briefing Mulvaney gave were some saw is disastrous because he admitted the quid pro quo on camera, in front of reporters. So they're not so sure it would be great for him to go.

BAKER: And told everybody to get over it.

BLITZER: It would be -- and I'm sure it will be lively.

All right, everybody stick around. Now, there's a lot more breaking news we're following, including breaking news in Roger Stone's criminal trial here in Washington. Former Trumps strategist Steve Bannon, he testified today.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:00]

BLITZER: We're following breaking news from Roger Stone's criminal trial, former White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon, testifying against a long-time Trump ally.

Our Crime and Justice Reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, has been covering the trial here in Washington, was there all day today. So what did Bannon have to say?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, Wolf. Key witness here for the prosecution, one of their first star witnesses here, and it was all about the communications that the campaign had, that he as the CEO of the campaign had with Roger Stone as the WikiLeaks stuff started lighting up, as people started gaining interest in it.

And what he said was that Roger Stone was pedalling himself as the man who had access to WikiLeaks, had connections inside WikiLeaks to get them some of this information ahead of time perhaps so they can know what was coming. And that was an important part of his testimony. He said he spoke to Roger Stone during this period, close to it, maybe a dozen times. A funny moment, perhaps, he called Roger Stone someone who is an expert in opposition research. But interestingly enough, he did say, this is a guy who knows how to do dirty tricks, so that when you're down in a campaign, this is the kind of information you would want.

So a key witness certainly for the government, because it gives us the first and it gives the government the first opportunity to have someone on the stand that was attached to the campaign to say, yes, we were interested in what WikiLeaks was doing, we were interested in what Roger Stone was doing, an important part of the government's case.

BLITZER: And Steve Bannon did not show up voluntarily?

PROKUPECZ: He did not. And he made it a point. That was the first question the government asked him. He said that he did not come there voluntarily. And he addressed it outside of court, and here is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE BANNON, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN CEO: Yes, I was compelled to testimony, like I was compelled to testify under subpoena by Mueller and under subpoena by the House. I got a handwritten subpoena in my House. I was forced to go to the grand jury and I'm forced and compelled to come here today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PROKUPECZ: And, Wolf, this is an important point for Steve Bannon to make. And people close to him kept telling us that he was not coming here voluntarily. He was only going to come if he was subpoenaed, and so he did. And he was forced to come in. He didn't testify for very long. It's about 40 minutes.

But it was striking just to know how many times he wanted to make it clear that he was not there voluntarily.

BLITZER: This trial could go on for, what, a couple more weeks?

PROKUPECZ: Yes, about two more weeks. There's another big witness coming probably next week, the trial resumes on Tuesday, Rick Gates. And that is really going to show us how many contacts and how much interest the campaign had in Roger Stone and what he could learn about what WikiLeaks was up to.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much. I know you will be out at the courthouse covering the trial for us. Shimon, thank you.

There is more breaking news just ahead. Michael Bloomberg takes a potential step towards joining the presidential race. We have reaction from the president and from the former Vice President, Joe Biden.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:49:04]

BLITZER: There's breaking news in the presidential race. The former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg just filed to run in Alabama's Democratic presidential primary. It's a way for Bloomberg to keep his options open as he considers launching a 2020 campaign.

Listen to what President Trump is saying about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: He's not going to do well, but I think he's going to hurt Biden actually. But he doesn't have the magic to do well. Little Michael will fail. He will spend a lot of money. He will not do very well, and if he did, I'll be happy. There's nobody I'd rather run against Little Michael, that I can tell you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Joe Biden is also speaking out about the prospect of running against Bloomberg.

Our political reporter Arlette Saenz is covering Biden in New Hampshire for us today.

Arlette, Biden claims he'd welcome Bloomberg into the race.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right, Wolf.

And right now, we're in Franklin, New Hampshire, at a town hall that Joe Biden is hosting. So, I am speaking a little bit more quiet than normal.

[18:50:01]

But a few hours ago, Joe Biden did file his paperwork to enter the Democratic primary here in New Hampshire. But that comes as Michael Bloomberg is considering a run of his own. Remember back in March, Bloomberg ruled out a potential bid in part because he saw a narrow path to victory with Biden in the race. Now, advisers to Bloomberg say he is considering this late entrance into the race.

So, Joe Biden, we had the chance to ask him, reporters asked him what he thought about Bloomberg. And he said he's not worried. Take a listen to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: With regard to Michael Bloomberg, I welcome him to the race. Michael is a solid guy, and let's see where it goes. I have no problem with him getting in the race.

And in terms of he's running because of me, last polls I looked at, I'm pretty far ahead, and also, in all of those states that are states that are early states that we have to win back, if I'm not mistaken, I'm doing pretty well, both relative to Trump and relative to all of the people running.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAENZ: So, Biden is pretty confident about his standing in the race. But an adviser to Bloomberg, Howard Wolfson, said that if the former New York City mayor decides to enter the 2020 race, that he will not be competing in the first four early nominating states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. Instead, he would be focusing on Super Tuesday states and beyond. They acknowledge other candidates like Biden have gotten a bit of a head start -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very interesting. We'll see what happens. Arlette Saenz in New Hampshire for us with Joe Biden, thank you very much.

And a quick reminder, this coming Monday, former Vice President Biden takes questions from voters in a CNN Democratic presidential town hall. CNN's Erin Burnett will moderate live from Iowa. That's Monday night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

And just ahead, golf is usually President Trump's game. So, why is he suddenly showing an interest in watching football, baseball, and even mixed martial arts?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:56:38]

BLITZER: As impeachment and the 2020 election loomed, President Trump is showing new interest in a favorite American pastime, attending sporting events.

Our White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins is back with us once again.

Kaitlan, the president is heading to a football game this weekend.

COLLINS: Yes, Wolf, it's an unusual venue that caught a lot of people off guard. The president wanted to go to a mid season game. It was put together pretty abruptly, but he's going to be heading to Alabama in the morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS (voice-over): For a president who enjoys keeping score, Saturday's matchup between Alabama and Louisiana State University is another chance to prove he's still a fan favorite.

TRUMP: I love Alabama. I'm going to go watch a very good football game on Saturday.

COLLINS: Tomorrow, President Trump travels to the third major sporting event in recent weeks.

TRUMP: I think I won by 42 points.

COLLINS: In Tuscaloosa, Alabama, a state he won easily in 2016, he is hoping for a friendlier crowd than the one that greeted him in his home state last week.

As Trump sat ring side at an ultimate fighting championship match, a mix of boos and cheers echoed throughout Madison Square Garden, though he said it was a little like walking into a Trump rally.

Those boos not as loud as ones that boomed inside Nationals Park in Washington during game five of the World Series, as Trump was shown on the jumbotron.

Surrounded by his Republican allies in a box suite, Trump was said not to have noticed. Even when the players come to him, the visits haven't always gone smoothly.

TRUMP: I love athletics, I love sports, but they shouldn't get the politics involved.

COLLINS: Star athletes from championship teams are often missing from White House celebrations, some teams decline the invitation to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue all together.

TRUMP: If they don't want to be here, I don't want them.

COLLINS: So, when Washington Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki brought a MAGA hat to the White House, they had what some deemed a Titanic moment.

TRUMP: I love him, ooh.

COLLINS: Even before he was in office, Trump had a complicated relationship with sports.

TRUMP: The whole game is all screwed up. You say wow, what a tackle, bing, flag. Football has become soft.

COLLINS: Now on college football game days, the president can often be found on the golf course. This Saturday, in Bryant-Denny Stadium, he is hoping for a warmer welcome.

TRUMP: Look, Alabama is always tough and you guys are -- you have really become tough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

TRUMPO: It's great.

COLLINS: The University of Alabama's student government found itself at the center of the Trump-fueled controversy after warning students they would lose stadium seating privileges if there was disruptive behavior. They later walked the statement back.

But tonight, another group is already planning a disruption of its own, bringing the helium-filled baby Trump balloon to town.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Wolf, the White House hasn't offered an explanation for why the president is going to this game beyond, officials close to the president saying he wants to be around a friendly crowd. A crowd, we should note, he said he won by 42 points in the state, he actually won by 28. Still a big margin.

And one more thing we should note, an official familiar with the school said they wanted to say they haven't offered explanation for why the president is coming, that they are excited he is coming. An official familiar with the team said it wasn't the team that extended the invitation.

BLITZER: Alabama, LSU, you'll be there as well. I know you'll be looking forward to it.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.