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Reports: Giuliani Sought Business From Ukraine Officials As He Pushed Them For Dirt On Trump's Political Rivals; NYT: Justice Department I.G. Report Expected To Undercut Trump's Claim That FBI Spied On Campaign; NYT: Trump Briefed On Whistleblower Report Before Releasing Ukraine Aid, Undermining White House Defense; Rep. Harley Rouda (D-CA) Is Interviewed About Rudy Giuliani, Inspector General's Report; Trump Makes Impeachment Focal Point Of Campaign; Multiple Large Explosions Rattle Texas Chemical Plant; Poll Shows Biden Holds Strong Lead Over Democratic Field; Putin Polishes Strongman Image In New Calendar. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired November 27, 2019 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:00]

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: -- this afternoon. You can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. You can find me on Twitter @ERICARHILL. Have a very happy Thanksgiving. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Happening now, breaking news. Giuliani pursuits. New reports say President Trump's personal lawyer was seeking business deals with Ukraine officials at the same time he was pressing them to dig up dirt on the President's political rivals. What did the President know? And newly revealed timeline undermines Mr. Trump's own defends of his dealings with Ukraine alleging that he was alerted to the whistle-blower complaint before his Ukraine call before he lifted the hold ordered on military aid to the country.

Out in front. Our exclusive new poll shows former Vice President Joe Biden front-runner among Democratic White House hopeful, he's trailed by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and one candidate who's now hit double digits for the first time.

And Putin's pose. Vladimir Putin's new propaganda calendar is out depicting the Russian president as a very strong man and one classic pose from years past is missing.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Acosta and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Breaking news, growing turmoil and trouble for President Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani. New reports tonight that Giuliani sought lucrative private business with top officials in Ukraine even as he simultaneously pushed the Ukrainian government to dig up dirt on the President's political rivals, that's according to "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post."

Also breaking, a highly anticipated report from the inspector general at the Justice Department is expected to dismantle President Trump's baseless claim that the FBI spied on his campaign according to "The New York Times." I'll speak with Congressman Harley Rouda, a key Democrat on the House Oversight Committee. And our correspondents and analysts have full coverage of today's top stories. Let's begin with our Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez.

Even, it looks like Rudy Giuliani was trying to use his access to the President to drum up some business for himself.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. It looks like this is another case of Rudy Giuliani double dipping while at the same time he was representing the President trying to dig up dirt on a potential rival, Joe Biden and his son in Ukraine. He was also trying to drum up business from Ukrainian officials including Yuriy Lutsenko who was, at the time, a former top prosecutor in Ukraine.

Now, it's not clear exactly what the business was that Giuliani was supposed to be doing for these Ukrainian officials but we're talking about as much as $300,000 he was looking to be paid according to documents that were obtained by "The New York Times."

Now, "The Washington Post" also is reporting that there is a separate deal for up $200,000 to do other business in Ukraine. So, as you mentioned, at the same time, Jim, that the President's lawyer was representing him for free and allegedly trying to come up with this political dirt to help the campaign. He was also looking to enrich himself, at least according to these documents that were obtained by the "Times" and "The Washington Post."

ACOSTA: Raising new questioning once again about what Rudy Giuliani has been up to. And meanwhile we have another big development tonight, President Trump and his supporters, they have long alleged without evidence that the FBI spied on his campaign and that President Obama ordered his phones to be tapped over at Trump Tower but the Justice Department new inspector general report appears to undercuts those claims. What could you tell us?

PEREZ: Well, that's right. I mean, look, everything that we're seeing now in pieces of this inspector general report which is out -- due out on December 9th indicates that a lot of what the President and his allies have been claiming about what happened at the -- in the early stages of this investigation have turned out to not be true.

Now, it is true that there was a former FBI lawyer who appears to have committed some wrongdoing that is now under investigation by the Justice Department as a criminal investigation for possibly changing, altering some documents internally that were used in the FISA on Carter Page.

But by enlarge this report is coming out a lot more in favor of the FBI than the President and his allies certainly have expected or were portraying, Jim. In particular the idea that the FBI was trying to plant spies inside the campaign that they were trying to bug the campaign, spy on the campaign. Those appear to be not the conclusions from this inspector general report. And I think, again, we're going to see the full report on December 9th. And Michael Horowitz, the inspector general, is going to testify to the Senate, Lindsey Graham's committee on December 11th. And so we'll hear a lot more of this story. But it does appear that a lot of the concerns that have been raised have turned out not to be quite true.

ACOSTA: It doesn't sound like that's going to suit well down in Mar- a- Lago over Thanksgiving.

PEREZ: That's right.

ACOSTA: Evan Perez, thank you very much.

President Trump is apparently trying to distance himself from his personal attorney, now claiming he never directed Mr. Giuliani to go to Ukraine on his behalf. But that contradicts the President's own words. Our White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins has more on that. Kaitlan, what are you hearing?

[17:05:07]

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim, in this new interview the President is praising Giuliani several times but he's also seeking to put some distance between himself and what Giuliani was doing in Ukraine saying that he never instructed Giuliani to work on his behalf there. Listen to how he phrased it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well you have to ask that to Rudy. But Rudy -- I don't even know -- I know he was going to go to Ukraine and I think he canceled a trip. But you know Rudy has other clients other than me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Now the President saying there no, he was not the one that instructed Rudy Giuliani to go to Ukraine saying essentially that he wasn't really in the know of the details of Rudy Giuliani's canceled trip. It was only canceled because of some speculation. But, Jim, of course, that contradicts what the President himself has said in a White House transcript that the President himself ordered to be released.

In that transcript of the July 25th call with the Ukrainian President you see not once or twice, but three times where the President tells the Ukrainian leader that he's going to have Rudy Giuliani, his personal attorney, call him. Not only does he mention the attorney general but he's mentioned Giuliani three times.

But Jim, he's not just contradicting himself, he's also contradicting the sworn testimony of the ambassador to the European Union and a public statement to reporters from his own Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORDON SONDLAND, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE EUROPEAN UNION: I followed the directions of the President. We worked with Mr. Giuliani because the President directed us to do so.

MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: You may not like the fact that Giuliani was involved. That's great. That's fine. It is not illegal. It is not impeachable. The President gets to use who he wants to use.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: So you see there, they're defending that use. Now the President is saying he didn't know anything about and he wasn't the one to direct Giuliani to do it. But of course, Jim, this echoes another denial we've seen from the President for his last attorney Michael Cohen when he said he did not direct him to make those hush money payments saying he didn't know about it. Of course we later learned that he did and that he did facilitate those and now Michael Cohen is serving three years in prison for that.

ACOSTA: Yes, he certainly is. All right Kaitlan Collins, thank you very much.

More news on the impeachment front. A report reveals the President already knew about the whistleblower complaint against him when he finally decided to release that military aid to Ukraine. CNN Political Correspondent Sara Murray joins us with more. Sara, this undermines a key White House defense?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It does. And, you know, one of the key questions has been why the President finally relented and decided to release that money and now we're learning another possible explanation which is this complaint from the whistleblower that President Trump was aware of.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY (voice-over): By the time President Trump caved, releasing $400 million in military aid to Ukraine, he already knew a whistleblower raised red flags about how the President froze the funds.

According to "The New York Times," Trump was briefed on the complaint in August. The new report could shed light on why Trump ultimately released the money on September 12th and why he was so insistent when he spoke to Ambassador Gordon Sondland on September 9th that there was no quid pro quo.

TRUMP: So he's going what do you want, what do you want? I hear all of these theories, what do you want? I say to the ambassador in response, I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo.

MURRAY: Democrats alleged Trump's no quid pro quo claim was just another attempt to cover his tracks. REP. MADELEINE DEAN, (D) PENNSYLVANIA: It shows a consciousness of guilt then the President tries to back pedal and say no quid pro quo and then ultimately because he's been caught has to release that aid.

MURRAY: Trump's decision to release the Ukraine funds came after months of confusion over why the money was being held up in the first place. Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Office of Management and Budget officials exchanged a flurry of e-mails in early August trying to determine what legal explanation the administration could provide for holding up the funds according to a source familiar with the situation.

LEON PANETTA, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: I don't think there is any question they were trying to cover up their rear end on an action that there were a lot of questions in their mind about the legality of suddenly holding up $400 million in military aid to the Ukraine. They were basically trying to back fill and see if they could find any kind of legal justification.

MURRAY: Publicly Mulvaney has claimed the money was held while OMB reviewed how much money U.S. allies contribute to Ukraine.

MULVANEY: We have the Office of Management and Budget do research on other country's aid to Ukraine, it turns out they don't give hardly any lethal aid, but they do give a considerable sum of money in non- lethal aid. Once those two things were clear, the money flowed.

MURRAY: But career OMB official Mark Sandy told lawmakers, "I recall in early September an e-mail that attributed the hold to the President's concern to other countries not contributing to Ukraine" according to a transcript of his testimony. That explanation along with a request from the White House for more information on what other countries contributed came months after the hold had been put in place.

[17:10:02]

Sandy also testified that he believed two OMB officials left the agency in part because of concerns about the way the Ukraine security assistance was handled. A senior administration official denied that two staffers who left during that time did so because of the Ukraine issue.

And there were plenty of concerns lying around at the Office of Management and Budget and other related agencies. Mark Sandy also testified that he was concerned that holding back the aid may have been illegal.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: All right, Sara Murray, thank you very much.

Let's discuss the breaking news now with Democratic Congressman Harley Rouda. He sits on the House Oversight Committee. Congressman, thanks for joining us. Let's start with this reports that Rudy Giuliani was in talks to be paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by Ukrainian clients at the same time he was trying to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden. Those deals were never finalized apparently, but what does that tell you about Giuliani's motivations?

REP. HARLEY ROUDA (D-CA): I think it shows how far Giuliani has fallen. Let's think about this for a minute. This was America's mayor. And he is a caricature of his former self. His self-dealing, double dealing and doing these clandestine activities on behalf of the President is unfortunate for our democracy and unfortunate for what we're going through right now.

ACOSTA: And President Trump now says he didn't direct Rudy Giuliani to do anything on his behalf in Ukraine and the President added that he's just one of many Giuliani clients. What's your reaction to that? Do you buy that?

ROUDA: Well, look at the history here. We have a whistleblower's report and the administration and the supporters within the Republican Party come out and say, well, the whistleblower's report doesn't count because we have no corroboration. Then we have independent witnesses come forward and prove, yes, there is, in fact, evidence that should be concerning to all.

Then the argument was there is no quid pro quo. Then we find out, well, yes, there was quid pro quo, but it doesn't count because Ukraine didn't know the aid was being withheld.

Then we find out facts that the aid is -- has in fact been withheld in Ukraine knew it all along. Then the President argues, well, it still doesn't matter because I released the aid and no one knew anything to the contrary. Now we find out that the President knew that the whistleblower's report had been delivered and then made the decision to release it. And while all of this is going on, Giuliani is right in the center of it.

And for the President to suggest that Giuliani, that he didn't really know what was going on, he said it in the call memorandum. The President said it in the call memorandum, get together with Giuliani and get to the bottom of this.

ACOSTA: And -- but your inquiry, arguably, has not turned up direct evidence of the President ordering a quid pro quo. What's to stop the President from arguing that Rudy Giuliani was just going rogue in all of this?

ROUDA: Only in this Bizarro World could you argue that we don't know whether the President gave direct orders here. Because the President is blocking the testimony of those that are around him including Mulvaney, Bolton and Pompeo, as well as numerous others.

In addition, not a single shred of documents has been given to the investigation to help under -- figure out what's going on here. So we got a President who's obstructing justice left and right yet arguing that the reason you don't have any evidence is because there isn't any. And we all know that's a false narrative.

ACOSTA: But doesn't all of the days news about Rudy Giuliani beg a very big question which is why aren't you trying to get Rudy Giuliani to testify? Or some of the other officials to testify? Aren't you just letting them off the hook? If you don't let them -- if you don't bring them?

ROUDA: Not at all. Not at all. Well, listen, we have filed a lawsuit and we had a victory in that lawsuit to get these subpoenas honored by those who are refusing to do so. So whether it is bringing in those who have so far refused or Giuliani down the road, all it's going to do is further show that the evidence we already have is correct. So I support Chairman Schiff in marching forward.

The American public knows that we have a crook in the White House. And that this was a setup from the beginning. And that there was quid pro quo and using hard taxpayer dollars for military assistance to an ally for political gain for the President. And the American public knows that the story is open and shut and I believe they are with us.

ACOSTA: And congressman, we're also getting an idea of what to expect in the Justice Department inspector general's report on the origins of the Russia investigation. The President has been waiting for this with great anticipation but according to "The New York Times," the I.G. has found no evidence to back up the President's claim that his campaign was spied on or that he was bugged at Trump Tower but there were errors in the application to conduct surveillance on Carter Page. Does that undermine confidence in the FBI? What do you make of what we're hearing so far about these findings?

ROUDA: Well we know this is the President. The President is the liar in chief. He tells lies at an extraordinary rate. And what we find is that it causes people to go investigate and look elsewhere only to find that once again the President of the United States was lying to the American public.

[17:15:10]

And instead of focusing on getting the work of our country done, like the House of Representatives has which has passed 368 bills, a vast majority of a bipartisan, the President of the United States spending his time having worthless investigations take place, calling witch hunts when real honorous activity has taken place and we need a president who will work with the House to get things done not continue to act and behave in the way he has.

ACOSTA: All right, we will see how it plays out. Congressman Harley Rouda, thanks for joining us. Happy Thanksgiving. We appreciate it.

ROUDA: Thanks, Jim. Happy Thanksgiving to you as well.

ACOSTA: All right. Appreciate it.

Up next, more on the Rudy Giuliani's tumultuous week. Is the President preparing to give him the Michael Cohen treatment?

Plus, we are tracking catastrophic series of explosions at a chemical plant in Texas. We'll bring you the latest coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:20:49]

ACOSTA: Breaking news. Rudy Giuliani could be in serious trouble after reports that he was trying to drum up personal business from top Ukrainian officials even as he was pushing them to dig you the dirt on the President's rivals. To make matters worse, President Trump seems to be keeping his distance from Giuliani. Let's discuss with our experts.

And Susan Hennessey, the President was asked if he directed Rudy Giuliani to work on his behalf in Ukraine. Let's listen to his response and get your thoughts on that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Well, you have to ask that to Rudy. But Rudy -- I don't even know -- I know he was going to go to Ukraine and I think he canceled a trip. But, you know, Rudy has other clients other than me. I didn't direct him. But he is a warrior. Rudy is a warrior. Rudy went, he possibly saw some -- but you have to understand, Rudy has other people that he represents.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Putting aside that Rudy is a warrior, part of that, it does sound a lot like, you know, what Michael Cohen testified to during his hearing, that the President doesn't give explicit orders. He doesn't direct people. In some cases he hints at what he wants to see done.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. And look, it really isn't plausible hear at all if the President wasn't directing or at least wasn't aware of what Giuliani was doing. We know that because Giuliani's name came up multiple times in that phone call between Trump and Zelensky.

PEREZ: Well, I was going to say the transcript said that.

HENNESSEY: Exactly. So we know that it was at least -- we know that Trump was at least aware of it.

ACOSTA: He was directing Zelensky.

PEREZ: He was. Yes.

HENNESSEY: Now that said it does appear that Rudy Giuliani was also pursuing his own financial interest. This is a pattern that we see in lots of less developed to democracies in which you have corrupt governments, individuals both carrying out the abuse of conduct of leaders and also trying to make a buck on the side.

Now, I do think it's significant to see the President sort of trying to distance himself. In part because Giuliani to the extent his media interviews are to be believed, his strategy here is to say that his legal defense is that he was doing what the President of the United States told him to do. If the President is now saying I didn't tell Giuliani what to do, that might, one, increase the legal exposure or potential legal exposure for Giuliani and incentivize --

PEREZ: And to the President.

HENNESSEY: Exactly. And incentivize Giuliani wither to reveal communications with the President to prove his defense.

PEREZ: Right. Because I mean, one of the reasons you could claim sort of attorney/client privilege is you can say I was representing my client, right? And that's one of the excuses you could use for not providing any information on that. But, if you're now -- if the President is now saying, look, I don't know what he was doing. He wasn't just solely just representing me. Then I think that opens certainly a little bit of -- cracks open the door for prosecutors or someone to want to know, OK, so who were you doing this for? This doesn't really -- this doesn't wash any more.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: And we also have multiple officials from the State Department who were running U.S./Ukraine policy who told lawmakers on the record that they had meetings with President Trump where he told them to work with Rudy Giuliani so that does not match up.

ACOSTA: All of a sudden, the President is just a spectator in all of this, right? Ron Brownstein, let's listen to what Rudy Giuliani was saying a few days ago because it sounds as though he was getting prepared for some of this. Let's listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP PERSONAL ATTORNEY: I see things written like he's going to throw me under the bus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

GIULIANI: When they say that, I say, he isn't but I have insurance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Ron Brownstein, where do you buy that kind of insurance? They don't advertise that one on television.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I mean, that sounds like a threat, it sounds even more like a line of dialogue from a b movie version of the Godfather, which to me goes to the largest -- the larger point. I'm reminded back in 2016, do you remember when President Trump and other Republicans were saying if Hillary Clinton was elected there would be an endless parade of scandals and investigations? Well, look at where we are. I mean, look at all of the men and women around the President who are facing different kinds of investigations.

And one thing that is clear, if President Trump emerges from this impeachment or deal with all Republicans and the House and Senate basically saying this behavior is OK, there's nothing here to sanction, you can bet you're going to get more of it. And there'll be more of these kinds of cases as we're talking about where there will be questions about the propriety of public policy but also somebody trying to make a buck on the side. I mean, this is what you get when you have an atmosphere in which you believe you are beyond sanction.

ACOSTA: All right. And Giuliani we should point out says, he is kidding when he talked about insurance but it sounds like a kidding not kidding type of situation. More on all of this.

[17:25:01]

More on the breaking news that we're trucking in just a moment including a huge fire at a chemical plant in Texas. You're looking at live pictures of the inferno right now. Incredible images coming in, more on that after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:30:08]

ACOSTA: And welcome back.

And let's talk about the new inspector general report that is expected to come out here in the next couple of weeks -- Evan. It is expected to debunk President Trump's long-standing claim that he was spied on during the campaign and bugged at Trump Tower and so on.

This goes back to his infamous tweet that Barack Obama wiretapped, you know, Trump Tower and so on. It sounds like a lot of this is going to be debunked.

PEREZ: It is. Look -- and I think the FBI is going to come in for some criticism. They made mistakes. There are mistakes that the inspector general is going to show and tell us about.

And certainly I think they're going to have to tighten up the way they use informant information. I think Christopher Steele and that whole relationship is going to be under the microscope as part of this report.

But I think yes, the takeaway here is that this is definitely not going to be the barnburner that Lindsey Graham and Fox News have been telling us it is going to be, right. And so you do --

ACOSTA: Well, they still may tell us that it's a barnburner when it's all --

(CROSSTALKING)

PEREZ: Right. But you do have to now I think step back and ask the question. What was Bill Barr, the Attorney General, talking about when early in his tenure said that he had some deep concerns that he had been briefed and had been told about some serious issues that he had found during the parts of this investigation. And that is why he hired John Durham to do another step back. So if the FBI gets pretty much a decent bill of health from this report, from the Horowitz report which is coming out on December 9th, you have to wonder what is John Durham doing and why was he appointed?

HENNESSEY,: I do think that we can expect the administration, no matter what the report said, and keep in mind inspector general's reports always identify at least some sort of minor issues or irregularities. But the President and his supporters will seize on absolutely anything that's in that report in order to essentially manufacture a controversy out of that.

I think it is the reasonable expectation, one, because the President routinely fabricates something out of absolutely nothing. So if there is a little seed of truth there that he can work with, certainly he's liable to do that.

And two, the ongoing impeachment inquiry continues to unearth absolutely devastating information for the President; really, really indefensible conduct. And so to the extent that there is an opportunity here to essentially manufacture an alternative right-wing media ecosystem reality in order to distract from what is going on in the House of Representatives, I do think we can expect the President to seize on that.

ACOSTA: Yes. And I talked to a White House official today who said let's wait and see the entire report when it comes out.

Ron Brownstein -- let me ask you this. You wrote in a fascinating piece for CNN.com about how this impeachment inquiry could impact President Trump's 2020 chances. What does history tell us about what happens? What lessons should we draw from Nixon and the Clinton impeachments?

BROWNSTEIN: You know, it's interesting. If you look at the two impeachments in modern times, we begin in very different places. By the time Richard Nixon resigned most Americans supported his impeachment and removal. And by the time the House impeached Bill Clinton two-thirds of Americans opposed his impeachment and removal (ph).

And yet even though they started from that different place, the next presidential election to succeed them kind of ended up in the same place. In each case, the party that pursued the impeachment won the White House and they won it behind a candidate who presented himself essentially as the antidote to the original scandal -- Jimmy Carter with honesty, George W. Bush in 2000 with decency.

And it does kind of raise the question that whatever happens, however the public reacts to the next stages of the impeachment inquiry, there is still a risk to President Trump who will be the first president ever potentially impeached and run for reelection that Americans simply will be exhausted by the level of controversy and polarization that there is (INAUDIBLE) in his presidency. And there is an opening for someone to run in effect on a return to normalcy in the same way that Bush ran on decency and Carter ran on honesty. ACOSTA: And Kylie -- let's look at what the President was saying last

night because he was really ramping up the rhetoric and talking about this impeachment inquiry and there were some moments during the rally that just seemed detached from reality altogether.

But let's look at what the President had to say last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're pushing that impeachment witch hunt and a lot of bad things are happening to them. Because you see what is happening in the polls? Everybody said that's really bullshit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Kylie, what do you make of that? I mean if somebody were to show up at your house for Thanksgiving talking like that, would you let them inside?

ATWOOD: Well, you have to explain what the facts are. And the facts are that President Trump is right in the sense that the polls show that Americans are no more convinced that he should be impeached now than they were a few weeks ago before all these public hearings and both before all of these officials came out and basically threw President Trump under the bus for what he was doing here.

But at the same time we still got a long way to go. So we have these judiciary hearings and we have the public Senate trials that are going to start in January.

[17:34:58]

ATWOOD: And so despite the fact that not much has changed there are still 50 percent approximately of Americans that want President Trump impeached and that number hasn't changed.

ACOSTA: And Susan -- one thing I want to ask you about -- Susan, in this --

BROWNSTEIN: Can I --

ACOSTA: Well I was going to ask, Ron -- this plays off what you were just writing about on our Website. You know, unlike the Clinton and Nixon impeachment sagas, President Trump has his rallies. He has his base. He has his own information silo and might the President be able to emerge from all of this and have half of the country or at least 40 percent, his base, convinced that it is all BS, in his words?

HENNESSEY: Yes. So it's possible that the President will be able to sort of -- to convince that core base, that 30 percent -- 32 percent that appear to stick by him no matter what. The President of the United States cannot win a national election with that base.

He has to preserve the coalition that he had in 2016. He has to build on that. And so I do think that to the extent that people are becoming exhausted and also just identifying corruption for what it is, understanding that deep down that whether or not somebody is on your political side or not, this is wrong, this is an abuse of office and this is an impeachable offense.

ACOSTA: And final word -- Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: Real quick. I mean Jim -- it's important to recognize that during the Bill Clinton impeachment never more than one-third of the country said he should be removed from office. It only reached 50 percent the very last poll on Nixon, half the country saying that we should take the unprecedented step of removing the country from -- removing the President from office is nothing to sneeze at.

And even if it doesn't reduce the share of Americans who approve of him it seems to be hardening resistance in the majority who disapprove. Over 90 percent of them in the CNN poll of people who disapprove of President Trump said he did something wrong in Ukraine. He was pursuing his own interest. He doesn't believe in the rule of law in a Quinnipiac poll.

That makes it tougher for him to cut into that majority that disapproves. And Susan is saying, he ultimately has to expand on where he is right now in polling in order, in all likelihood, to win.

ACOSTA: All right. Cold reality there.

All right. Ron Brownstein -- thanks very much. All of you -- thank you very much.

Just ahead, a new CNN poll shows Joe Biden with a comfortable lead over his Democratic rivals. More on that in just a moment.

But first dramatic images out of Texas -- look at this -- where a chemical plant is burning out of control following multiple explosions.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

[17:37:07]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: And we're following breaking news out of Texas where authorities are trying to contain a large chemical plant fire after multiple powerful explosions.

The first blast occurred early this morning and left three workers injured. And then just a few hours ago, the plant erupted again as firefighters were working to bring the blaze under control. No injuries have been reported from the second explosion.

Witnesses say the initial blast could be felt throughout the city with some residents reporting their windows were blown out. Health experts say the burning chemicals could present a health hazard and are advising people to use caution. And they should definitely do that now.

Turning back to politics, a new CNN nationwide poll shows Joe Biden at the top of the Democratic field with 28 percent support. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg -- rounding out the top four.

And CNN's Arlette Saenz is tracking the 2020 race. Arlette -- it looks like the former vice president remains a solid front-runner. What do you think of this?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. This is certainly welcome news for Joe Biden as he continues to lead the Democratic pack and he's doing it by double-digits showing the resilience that the vice president has. You have Joe Biden at 28 percent.

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren battling it out for second place. And then Buttigieg rounding out the top four at 11 percent. No other Democratic candidate hitting above 3 percent.

But if you take a look at the numbers compared to October, it shows you a little bit of the movement in this race. So while Biden is leading, he has dropped a slight bit. So has Elizabeth Warren. Bernie Sanders is remaining steady there.

But Pete Buttigieg has gained five points. This is the first time that he is in our CNN national poll in double-digits and it comes after a well-received debate and as he is leading in our CNN poll in Iowa.

But of course we are still 68 days out from the Iowa caucus. This is very --

ACOSTA: It's an eternity.

SAENZ: Yes it's a very fluid race and our poll actually found that a majority of potential Democratic primary voters are still uncertain about their choices.

ACOSTA: So they're still shopping for a candidate.

And it is not just Biden who is holding strong at this point. This is interesting. Bernie Sanders a month after his heart attack has not lost any ground. So it sounds as though, despite those health concerns, people are standing by Bernie Sanders.

SAENZ: Yes. Bernie Sanders is remaining steady. And he has been for quite some time. In fact, he's averaged at 16 percent over ten CNN national polls. And last night Bernie Sanders made a bit of a stop on the late night campaign trail. He appeared on "The Tonight Show" starring Jimmy Fallon and you see him there shooting hoops. I think that he might have beaten Jimmy Fallon.

And he slow-jammed the news where he talked a little bit about his health.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm feeling strong, energetic and more ready than ever to fight for the American people.

JIMMY FALLON, TV HOST: So what you're saying is --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do my hair (ph), check my mails -- Bernie how you feeling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Feeling good as hell.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey chumps, check my mail -- Bernie how you feeling?

SANDERS: Feeling good as hell.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAENZ: So Bernie Sanders doing his best to channel Lizzo (ph) there as he heads into the Thanksgiving holiday. It's going to be a quiet day on the campaign trail tomorrow but Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris are both spending their Thanksgiving in Iowa.

ACOSTA: Things we thought we would never see -- Bernie Sanders channeling Lizzo.

All right. Arlette Saenz -- thank you very much.

Coming up, it's that time of year. Russian President Vladimir Putin is releasing his annual calendar. That's just ahead.

[17:40:03]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:44:59]

ACOSTA: Another year, another calendar spread for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

CNN's Brian Todd has the story for us. Brian -- the 2020 Putin calendar is more than just a novelty item. Tell us more.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really is -- Jim.

You know, as much as we have fun with this calendar, there is a method, a calculation from Vladimir Putin at work here. He knows that for Russian citizens, it's important that their president is projected as strong, vital.

But this year's Putin calendar does signal a bit of a shift in Russians' attitudes, a shift which Vladimir Putin seems to sense.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Vladimir Putin's image-making machine kicks into high gear. The Russian president's 2020 calendar year is out predictably with pictures depicting him as a vital, strong man, weightlifting with a cable pole, cuddling with a dangerous cat, and firing a high-powered rifle.

What we don't see in this year's edition, the classics -- Putin shirtless. No images of a bare-chested former KGB colonel on a horse, fishing or sunbathing.

ALINA POLYAKOVA, THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Even now we get these images of Putin, you know, working out. But they're quite different. We no longer see bare-chested Putin.

Putin is 67 now, we have to remember that. So maybe the era of his physical strength as being something to show off is also coming to an end.

TODD: On the same day we see Putin's new pics -- President Trump tweets a super imposed of his head on Rocky Balboa's body. Putin decidedly more conservative. The shirtless photos replaced with scenes of him with other world leaders like the Saudi Crown Prince, French President Macron, and German Chancellor Merkel. And this picture of Putin walking ahead of the much taller Donald Trump, with Putin appearing deceptively tall. Analysts say these new images are crafted to project Putin as a statesman and play on Russians new sensibilities.

POLYAKOVA; This bare-chested national which is represented by literally a bare-chested Putin is no longer really capturing the people's imagination. The Russian economy is in decline, standards of living are slipping. And you feel that, Russian people feel that.

TODD: While Vladimir Putin doesn't flex as much physically, he still pops his military muscle. According to the Kremlin backed news agency Interfax, the Russian military has allowed U.S. inspectors to see one of Putin's newest and most dangerous weapon. The avant-garde hyper sonic missile which Putin says can fly about a mile per second.

JEFFREY EDMONDS, FORMER NSC OFFICIAL: The real challenge posed by avant-garde is the speed at which it moves and the fact that it's maneuverable and also difficult to detect. And so you have something coming in very fast that's able to evade defenses that you may not know about until the last minute. And that really poses a certain very real challenge for U.S. defense.

TODD: The Kremlin says the Avant-Garde which could carry a nuclear warhead will be ready for combat deployment by New Year's Day. Avant- Garde was part of a battery of sophisticated new weapons that Putin unveiled last year including an underwater drone that could carry a nuclear warhead from a submarine.

Not all of these weapons have been completed. But experts say their reflection of Putin's ambition is unmistakable. EDMONDS: It communicates to the United States like look, I am a

nuclear peer. I am a global actor. I'm a great power. And you have to deal with me on a global stage.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, Vladimir Putin has run into trouble with his ambitious new weapons program. In August, an explosion during what U.S. officials believe was a test of a missile with a small nuclear reactor on board it killed five Russian scientists and caused a brief radiation spike.

But analysts say like the North Koreans the Russians do learn from their mistakes in these tests and those mistakes will not stop the Russian president from charging full-speed ahead and developing even making more weapons that can threaten the United States -- Jim.

TODD: And Brian -- back to this imagery of Vladimir Putin, there actually is a serious concern he addresses in these pictures on his calendar. Tell us about that.

TODD: Believe it or not there is -- Jim. Now Putin is an authoritarian. He's often thought of as a dictator. Analyst say there is no clear successor to him. But Russian citizens are always obsessed, they say, with Putin's health. That's why he always has to project this image that he's strong. That there are really no health issues here.

But we hear the ground swell of concern over Vladimir Putin's health in Russia is growing.

ACOSTA: All right. Brian Todd -- thank you very much.

Coming up President Trump is distancing himself from Rudy Giuliani amid troubling reports about his business in Ukraine as Giuliani worried he may go the way of Michael Cohen.

Stand by for the latest.

[17:54:24]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: Happening now breaking news -- Giuliani's business. The spotlight on Rudy Giuliani is getting hotter tonight as new reports say he was trying to strike personal business deals with Ukrainian officials while he was pressing them to investigate President Trump's political rivals.

Ask Rudy -- facing the growing threat of impeachment, President Trump is distancing himself from Rudy Giuliani much the way did with his former personal attorney Michael Cohen who turned on him. Is the Trump team preparing to throw Giuliani under the bus?

No evidence of spying -- a highly-anticipated watchdog investigation reportedly will undercut President Trump's claims that the FBI spied on his 2016 campaign as part of its investigation into Russian election interference. >

[17:59:59]

ACOSTA: And chemical inferno -- huge explosions rock a Texas chemical plant causing extensive damage to the facility and the city.