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House Reveals New Evidence For Impeachment Trial; Giuliani Letter To Ukraine Cites Trump's "Knowledge And Consent"; Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) Discusses About The New Evidence That Came From Lev Parnas; Pelosi To Announce Impeachment Managers Tomorrow Morning; New Evidence Appears To Show Trump Attorney, Jay Sekulow Involved In Ukraine Scandal; Sanders And Warren Feud Ahead Of Final Debate Before Iowa; Coming Up: Final Democratic Debate Before Iowa Caucuses. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired January 14, 2020 - 19:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: You'll be connecting with faces. You'll see what resonates and what doesn't. Of course, they're talking to millions through the cameras, but their own matters as well. We've never had one this intimate. Thank you so much to all three of you. I'm Chris Cuomo. Thank you for watching. Wolf Blitzer, the captain, moderating tonight's CNN DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE, 9:00 Eastern. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next breaking news, there is new evidence in Trump's impeachment trial including a damning letter from Rudy Giuliani that points the finger at President Trump and it comes just hours before the House will hand over the articles of impeachment formally to the Senate.

Plus, face-off, Democrats about to take the debate stage as the candidates go over each other tonight more than ever.

And why are Democrats spending so much time in Iowa? Why Trump is in the battleground of must win state of Wisconsin as I speak? The Head of the DNC is my guest. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT this evening, Pelosi has new evidence, House Democrats just hours before the formal vote to hand over articles of impeachment to the Senate. Now, Nancy Pelosi has never before seen documents and they point to Trump's abuse of power. Evidence that may put the fingerprints of another one of Trump's lawyers, Jay Sekulow, on a quid pro quo with Ukraine. And evidence that also includes this letter.

This letter from Rudy Giuliani to the President of Ukraine. He's congratulating him on winning the Office of President of Ukraine. He says he's acting, Rudy Giuliani says, he is acting with the 'knowledge and consent' of President Donald J. Trump. He says, while he wants to help the Zelensky succeed as a new president, he is writing about something more specific.

Let me read this to you. Giuliani writes, "However, I have a more specific request. In my capacity as personal counsel to President Trump and with his knowledge and consent, I request a meeting with you on this upcoming Monday, May 13th or Tuesday, May 14th."

I mean, think about this. I mean, this is what he says, "With his knowledge and consent." Remember that and then listen to this.


BILL O'REILLY, THE O'REILLY UPDATE: So you didn't direct him to go there on your behalf? You didn't ...

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. But you have to understand, Rudy is a great corruption fighter.

O'REILLY: Rudy Giuliani, but he's your personal lawyer. Giuliani is your personal lawyer. So you didn't direct him to go to Ukraine to do anything or put any heat on anyone?

TRUMP: No, I didn't direct him.


BURNETT: Someone is lying. This drama is coming as Pelosi is expected to hand over the articles of impeachment by tomorrow afternoon. Mitch McConnell says senators will be sworn in shortly thereafter.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): The House is likely to finally send the articles over to us tomorrow, which would set us up to begin the actual trial next Tuesday.


BURNETT: So as we speak, Trump's impeachment trial is now about to collide with the race for 2020. Three senators who will be jurors in Trump's trial are about to take the stage in Iowa in less than two hours. Senator Sanders, Warren and Klobuchar will be joining Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Tom Steyer.

This is the last debate before the Iowa caucuses. With just six candidates, it is the smallest debate to date and we're going to go live to Iowa for more on this crucial face off in just a moment. I want to begin, though, with this new evidence.

I mean, this isn't evidence that was held back. This is brand new evidence. And I want to go to Manu Raju OUTFRONT live on Capitol Hill. I mean, Manu, I just shared a couple of perhaps incredibly crucial lines. There is a lot more that you are learning about this new evidence tonight.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The documents show how Giuliani was pushing for a meeting with Volodymyr Zelensky, the President of Ukraine around the same time as Rudy Giuliani himself was pushing for the Ukrainian government to open those investigations that can help President Trump politically.

And you mentioned in that letter that you referenced, he makes clear while he says he's working in his private capacity as a private citizen, he also says he did this with the consent and knowledge of the President. And recall right around the same time too, U.S. officials were trying to get the President's advice about how to handle the new incoming Ukrainian administration. And what President Trump told his top diplomats was, "Talk to Rudy." And we know Rudy was seeking.

Now, at the same time what the documents also show is that there was this talk about pushing for the investigation into the Bidens including by this indicted Giuliani associate, Lev Parnas who's part of this effort and, of course, who turned over these documents to the key committees. And then in a handwritten note, that was obtained by the House investigators.

It says that let's get Zelensky to announce that the Biden case will be investigated. Now, there are also encrypted text messages suggesting that the President, the then Ukrainian Ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, her movements had been tracked.


This all came as part of Giuliani's efforts as well as Lev Parnas' efforts to push out that Ukrainian Ambassador, as someone that people believe was essentially standing in the way of this push to investigate the President's political rivals. So expect all this to come out and be discussed at length when that Senate impeachment trial begins in earnest starting next week, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Manu, thank you very much. I mean, this is pretty incredible. When you have a trial and you get new information after a grand jury meets, it can be added in. That's where we are now. I mean, this is new evidence just being introduced.

OUTFRONT now, Democratic Senator Jon Tester of Montana. Obviously, hours away from your chamber taking this and you being sworn in as a juror, Senator, how significant is this new evidence which we understand just came from the criminally indicted, Lev Parnas, and a former associate of the President's Personal attorney Rudy Giuliani?

SEN. JON TESTER (D-MT): Well, I think it just further proves the fact that we need folks that have firsthand knowledge testifying in front of the Senate if we're going to make a decision based on the facts. The impeachment, the jury trial that's about to happen, most jury trials I know of they get as much evidence as possible, don't try to restrict the evidence, get the evidence and have a fair trial and move forward.

So I think it just further adds to the fact that we need the folks, whether it's Bolton, whether it's Giuliani, whoever it might be, in front of us during this trial.

BURNETT: I mean, it's pretty incredible. In this letter, Giuliani is saying I have a great fondness for your country, congratulations on your victory. I want to help you succeed. And then the paragraph, the next paragraph begins, "However, I have a more specific request." And he says with his knowledge and consent, the President of the United States, I request this meeting and I only need 30 minutes of your time for this specific request.

This was on May 10th. The interview clip, I don't know if you just heard it, Senator, but I just played with the President and Bill O'Reilly. Bill O'Reilly directly says, you didn't direct him to go there on your behalf. Trump says, "No." O'Reilly asked again, "So Rudy Giuliani is your personal lawyer. You didn't direct him to go to Ukraine to do anything or put any heat on anyone." Trump replies, "No, I didn't direct him." Do you think he's lying?

TESTER: Well, the President has had a tortured relationship with the truth from the very, very beginning. And we've known about backchannel diplomacy that's being done by people who are not confirmed by the United States Senate.

As far as the impeachment goes, though, I think this just further amplifies the fact that we need folks to testify. We need folks with firsthand knowledge. We need any documents that might apply to this. Because the truth is and I don't need to give you a lesson in constitutional law, at least not from a farmer.

But the fact is, is that co equal branches of government are set up to hold one another accountable. And that's exactly what this impeachment is about. It's about the American public and it's about holding the executive accountable to the American people.

BURNETT: So Senator McConnell says the trial is likely going to begin on Tuesday, next Tuesday, so that you get the articles tomorrow, you'll be formally sworn in by the Chief Justice and then you would actually start next Tuesday. Roy Blunt has indicated each side may have four days each to present, then you have discussions, you all present questions.

I mean, how long do you expect, Senator, that this will take at this time?

TESTER: I think as long as it takes to get to the truth and I mean that. If it takes 10 days, two weeks to get to the truth, so be it. If it takes six weeks or two months to get the truth, so be it. Look, we can do other business while this impeachment trial is going on and I hope we do.

But the bottom line is these charges are important enough and they're severe enough that we need to get to the truth. The President has always said he wants to have a fair trial. I think every senator wants to make sure it's a fair trial, that we need to have adequate evidence from folks who have firsthand knowledge to be able to move the ball forward and make a decision whether to acquit or convict.

And so however long the trial takes, I think the bottom line is what we need to focus on is getting to the truth.

BURNETT: So when it comes to this issue of witnesses, obviously, you want people with firsthand knowledge. We don't have that right now. That's not what's there. I mean, you're getting every single piece of information thus far has said the same thing. It's been incredibly consistent, which is that the President directed people on his behalf to pressure the President of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, and there isn't a single thing that contradicts that.

However, you want witnesses. You want people who directly spoke to President Trump about it. You need four Republicans to vote with you to have those witnesses. Senator Collins seems open to it. Mitt Romney seems open to it. Lamar Alexander seems possibly open to it. Are there any other Republicans that are all out there talking about that are telling you they would vote for witnesses at this point?

TESTER: Look, I think everybody is keeping their powder dry, but I am optimistic that we can get a number of senators from the other side of the aisle to step forward and ask for witnesses. I think this is too big of an issue for the future of this country and for future actions of presidents regardless of the party to turn your back on it and make this into a sham trial.


And I think the folks that I served with on the other side of the aisle, the Republicans, they don't want this to be a sham trial. So the fact is that they don't want to cross President Trump. But the fact is, this isn't crossing President Trump. This is finding out what the facts are, letting the American people know what the facts are, and then the Senate as a jury making the decision.

So look, I think that there's a possibility that there could be a number of Republicans, much bigger than the list that you mentioned that would be willing to cross over and say, hey, we need more information. We need witnesses to testify and I in fact hope that happens.

They're good people. They mean well. We just need to make sure that the system works this democracy that we live in.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Senator Tester. Good to have you back, sir.

TESTER: Thank you, Erin.

BURNETT: And next, Nancy Pelosi making a major announcement tomorrow morning. Who will the House managers be that run make the arguments in this trial?

Plus, CNN's Democratic debate, we are just about an hour away. Will tension between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders finally boil over the two longtime friends? And what's at stake for the three senators who are about to leave the campaign trail for Trump's impeachment trial at exactly the wrong time?



BURNETT: Breaking news, Nancy Pelosi's timing coming out here, there's going to be a major announcement at 10:00 am tomorrow morning when the Speaker will finally reveal who the House impeachment managers will be for President Trump's impeachment trial in the Senate.

This is crucial. You're going to be seeing this televised six and a half hours, a day most likely. These are the people who are going to be making the argument on behalf of House Democrats, the faces you're going to see. The people who are essentially the prosecutors making the case to the Senate that President Trump should be removed from office for abuse of power.

OUTFRONT now, Joe Lockhart, who was President Clinton's Press Secretary during his impeachment investigation, former Federal Prosecutor Laura Coates and Tim Naftali, who was the Director of the Nixon Library.

All right. So we've got all of this new information coming out. I want to talk about impeachment managers in just a moment, but Joe let me just start with you because we've got new evidence, OK? And this isn't evidence, I want to make it clear to people, it isn't like the House have this evidence and is now releasing it.


BURNETT: This is new evidence coming from Lev Parnas who is indicted under criminal indictment, was working with Rudy Giuliani on matters related to Ukraine. OK. So this is evidence he's been willing to hand over and it now is out. So let me just get something new here that happens, this is an October 3rd email from Trump's personal attorney, Jay Sekulow, and it is to John Dowd who you'll remember, of course, was also an attorney who had worked with the President during the Mueller investigation.

And in it, Jay Sekulow says, "I have discussed the issue of representation with the President. The President consents to allowing your representation of Mr. Parnas and Mr. Furman." OK? So, Joe, Mr. Parnas, Lev Parnas is under criminal indictment.


BURNETT: He's working with Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine. Jay Sekulow is saying I personally have the President of the United States said to go ahead and represent Lev Parnas by name. Seven days later, when Lev Parnas is arrested, President Trump was asked about him and here's what he says.


TRUMP: I don't know those gentlemen. Now, it's possible I have a picture with him because I have a picture with everybody. I have a picture with everybody here. I don't know them. I don't know about them. I don't know what they do. But, I don't know, maybe there were clients of Rudy. You'd have to ask Rudy. I Just don't know.


BURNETT: I don't know about them. I don't know what they do. OK, I mean, this is now lawyer after lawyer after lawyer saying they're getting the personal imprimatur of the President of the United States. LOCKHART: Right.

BURNETT: That's a lie, what he said there.

LOCKHART: Well, it certainly isn't but it's one of many lies. So I don't know that that's particularly new that the President lies. This really shines a light on, I think, the criminal organization aspect of this. I mean, think of it for a second, if we go back to the Senate trial.

The President has expressed interest in having Jay Sekulow, who's now up to his ears on this, Rudy Giuliani, who's up to his ears from this and Alan Dershowitz who's being sued as part of the Jeffrey Epstein case. It's like the lawyers are supposed to be the people who are clean, not the people who are involved in a mess. And in the letter that Giuliani sent to Zelensky, he cites he wants to bring Victoria Toensing who's representing a corrupt Ukrainian oligarch who's pro Russian that the U.S. is trying to extradite right now.

So these people are all criminals and they're working and the President is basically saying use my card as President of the United States.

BURNETT: So Laura, what we just said there, Lev Parnas, the President, Jay Sekulow says gives him permission, John Dowd permission to represent Lev Parnas explicitly at the behest of the President. The President says he has never heard anything about these people.

And then, I want I want to go back to what I just played there, because this is pretty incredible. You've got this letter from Rudy Giuliani. And in it, Rudy Giuliani says, congratulations, you've won the presidency of Ukraine, and I want you to prosper, and all this.

And then he gets to the meat of the whole thing, which is, "However, I have a more specific request. In my capacity as personal counsel to President Trump and with his knowledge and consent, I request a meeting with you on this upcoming Monday or Tuesday. I will need no more than a half hour of your time and I will be accompanied by my colleague, Victoria Toensing." This American attorney who's very familiar with this matter. OK?

What is stunning about this, Laura, is what the President then says to Bill O'Reilly a few months later. Let me play it again.


O'REILLY: So you didn't direct him to go there on your behalf? You didn't ...

TRUMP: No. But you have to understand, Rudy is a great corruption fighter.

O'REILLY: Rudy Giuliani, but he's your personal lawyer. Giuliani is your personal lawyer. So you didn't direct him to go to Ukraine to do anything or put any heat on anyone?

TRUMP: No, I didn't direct him.


BURNETT: I mean, Laura, Rudy Giuliani puts in letter with the President of the United States' knowledge and consent, I request a meeting with you, four days from when he sends this letter.

LAURA COATES, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: So which is it? I mean, is the President directing or is he giving himself enough of a cushion to say you as my counsel, which he's saying that he is, you have my authority to act in ways that are beneficial to me in the long run which is, of course, is what Giuliani has said time and time again as his so called counsel as an attorney for the President.


Although it's getting murkier and murkier about what his real role is as a counsel to the President is the idea of is the President required in order for there to be some thought that he has directed this? Is the President required to actually explicitly tell Giuliani, I would like you to perform the following functions in order for it to be tied back to me, the answer is no.

The idea that the President could direct his attorney, if he's acting in that capacity, or anybody else acting as a minion for the President to say, I would like you to act according to my authority to perform things that benefit me.

Now, if that is a blank check in order to do things that are unethical, that are fraudulent, that are corrupt in nature and that actually ties directly back to the President and should be fodder for an investigation at least in the form of the impeachment testimony or witnesses or for there to be investigation of that notion. So to say, well, I didn't tell you X, Y and Z, does not absolve the President completely. But it does make you question Rudy Giuliani in the sense of what was the directive that you believed you had in order to articulate in writing to a president of another country who receives millions in aid, that we wanted you to do something for us.

BURNETT: I mean, Tim, this is coming. This new information is coming as the trial is about to begin.


BURNETT: And the House is picking its managers, who's going to make the case and you got to pick people who can cross examine witnesses, because it is unclear, although it seems more likely than it has that there will be witnesses possibly and can make the case to senators, make a case and cross examine.

I know that you along with your colleagues on this panel believe that Jerry Nadler and Adam Schiff will be on that list. Those managers making that argument. Who else do you think should be there, especially now you've got new evidence like this? Who can make this case? NAFTALI: Well, I would like to see a conservative. I think the

American people need to understand that the spin that this is liberal versus conservative is wrong. This is people who support the Constitution who are worried about a president who is not supporting the Constitution.

So I would like to include Justin Amash. I would think that an independent, who's definitely conservative, if you look at his record, he's against abortion. He has issues about climate change. But this is not an issue about liberal values. This is an issue about the Constitution.

I would also include Elissa Slotkin. Elissa Slotkin has National Security experience. She was in the CIA. She later worked - she was a policymaker in the Pentagon. This is a person who can understand and explain to the American people why this all matters. Why this complicated story about Ukraine actually tells us something about the President's abuse of power.

So I would like to have a national security veteran and I'd also like to have a conservative included in the mix.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you all very much. As the story is moving fast and furiously with new evidence breaking this hour.

Next, we're just over an hour away from CNN's Democratic debate. So that is the whole context of this, three people who are on that stage tonight are going to have to leave Iowa for most of the next 20 days to be at the trial. So tonight, Warren versus Sanders, Sanders versus Biden, what will we see?

Plus, Elizabeth Warren shifting her strategy late today just as she's about to take the stage? Why? Why a last minute shift?



BURNETT: Tonight, we are a little more than an hour away from a face- off that we have not yet seen in this Democratic race for the White House with the fewest people on stage of any debate so far. And frankly, the truth is the stakes couldn't be higher.

The informal alliance that we've seen between the two 25-year friends, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, breaking down over what exactly was said between them behind closed doors.

Jeff Zeleny is OUTFRONT tonight from the debate hall in Des Moines. And Jeff, look, this debate is coming, as I said, we've never seen anything like this. You're in a small room. It's going to be very intimate. It is different than anything we've seen before and it is coming as the race is taking on an entirely new dynamic.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORREPONDENT: Erin, it is a new dynamic. And as you can see behind me here, people are already taking their seats. And you said a small hall, this is a very small space. The space between the candidates is small and the room is small.

That could change the dynamic of the of the debate, but it will not change the tensions on stage. We have not seen Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren go after each other as they have been for the last day or so. So the question is will they deescalate those tensions or will they rise and both sides are signaling a deescalation.

Bernie Sanders wants to focus on Joe Biden. He wants to talk about foreign policy. He wants to relitigate the judgment of the long foreign policy record of Joe Biden.

Joe Biden, of course, wants to talk about Donald Trump. He has a new ad out that's playing in Iowa today that says that Biden is on Trump's mind. So that is, is that dynamic.

Pete Buttigieg wants to get back into the conversation here. He has slipped a little.

Amy Klobuchar as well, she wants to make a move tonight to get some momentum going into the final three weeks.

Erin, the front runners here have changed like the season. There's been a rotating cast of frontrunners from Joe Biden to Elizabeth Warren to Pete Buttigieg to Bernie Sanders. They're all tied in a tight race at the beginning here. The question, what will the undecided voters think tonight?

Almost half of the voters in our recent poll here say that they are still open to changing their minds. That is certainly what we hear when we talk to them. So tonight, we'll give certainly a lot of impressions here as the candidates make their final pitch and tomorrow fly back to Washington, the senators, at least, for the impeachment trial, Erin.

BURNETT: That's right. They got to be sworn in and there they shall stay till it is done. Thank you very much, Jeff Zeleny.

And I want to go OUTFRONT now to Tom Perez, the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Chairman, you just heard Jeff Zeleny speaking there. He was mentioning this undecided issue. The latest Des Moines Register-CNN poll, as you well know, shows only 40 percent of likely Democratic caucus goers in Iowa have made up their minds, which means 60 percent haven't. That is a higher number of undecideds than a comparable point in past caucuses.


What does this tell you about the race, about your field coming into tonight's debate?

TOM PEREZ, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: It tells me we have a deep field. And every time you go see candidate A, you fall in love. Then you go see candidate B, and you fall in love again. And that's the deep field we've had throughout.

We have an embarrassment of riches. People will be making choices. What I love about Iowa voters is they take their role seriously. They're out there kicking the tires. And you know, I don't know who's going to win. Anyone who tells you they do know who's going to win the Iowa caucus is lying to you.

But what I do know is that when we complete Iowa and then 90 days later we complete the mid-Atlantic caucus which will take us to the end of April and 90 percent of the delegates will be allocated, I think we'll have a very clear sense of who our apparent (ph) nominee will be.

The thing I know for certain, Erin, is that every Democrat understands that unity is our greatest strength. So, whoever the nominee is, we will all be together in six months in Milwaukee celebrating and hitting the ground running for the general election.

BURNETT: All right. So, look, Chairman, the DNC has been criticized for the debate criteria. You have an all-white stage tonight and you had an incredibly diverse field of candidates. But on stage tonight, that is not how it's going to look. It's going to be all white.

That criteria you picked is based on public polling and donations, right? So in other words voter support, right? You said you have to have a few percent in a bunch of states and a certain number of donors. And people who hit that mark are on stage and people who don't aren't.

In a party that prides itself in diversity, Chairman Perez, why do you think Democratic voters are signaling by the objective criteria you put out there their preference for white candidate?

PEREZ: Well, I think it's important, Erin, to take a longer view of your question. We put forth the most inclusive criteria I think ever been put forward. And as a result of that -- we did it because we knew we would have a really deep field, the biggest field ever. As a result of that, we had a remarkable number of people including candidates of color who were on the debate stage. And let's go back to last month. Every month we went up, but we went up very, very gradually, 1 percent, 2 percent.

Last month we went up to -- we were up to 4 percent. Now we're at 5 percent.

BURNETT: They weren't high hurdles. These are low numbers, yes.

PEREZ: They weren't high hurdles. Last month we had three of the eight candidates on stage, three women, two candidates of color. And one of them, Kamala Harris who made the debate stage then and I'm quite certain would be on the stage tonight if she were still in the race got out of the race. It had nothing to do with the DNC criteria.

And now, this month we had 23 polls and you had to hit 5 percent in four out of those 23. And when you have a field this large, what that tells me is that the candidate is going -- candidates who are going to be at the top of the polling are those who are doing the best job of getting support across the entire array of the big tent that is our wonderful Democratic Party.


PEREZ: So, when I hear people saying that the rules are what are keeping people out -- no. It's -- people are being called and they're being asked who is your preference, and they're expressing their preference. And that's what we're doing.

BURNETT: All right. That's the point, voter preference, yes.

So, the candidates are Iowa, obviously, where you are tonight. Trump won Iowa last time by nearly 10 points. And he is going to be in Wisconsin while you're holding this debate, a state that he won by fewer than 23,000 votes. This is the second time back this time around.

And he has been holding a lot of his rallies in states he won by incredibly minute margins in 2016, right? He's focusing on the must win swing states. The top Democrats have had to spend a lot of time in Iowa, right? I mean, they've got to win it to get off to the races here.

Mike Bloomberg's campaign manager was on the show last night, Chairman Perez. And I wanted to play what he said to you. He was pretty blunt. Here he is.

PEREZ: Sure.


KEVIN SHEEKEY, CAMPAIGN MANAGER, BLOOMBERG 2020: Democrat/Republican pollsters agree on one thing, Donald Trump is going to win Iowa this year. So, we spent a year and every nickel we have on a state we're going to lose.


BURNETT: Why is he wrong?

PEREZ: We've become a 50-state party again, Erin. Look at 2017, 2018, and 2019. What do those election cycles have in common? Democrats won at scale. Most recently, Kentucky and Louisiana, states where Donald Trump effectively put himself on the ballot and voters came out and they said no.

You asked about all those battleground states. What 2018 has in common is that we won -- you look at Wisconsin. Let's take Wisconsin, let's take Pennsylvania, let's take Michigan, three states that Donald Trump won in 2016. What do they have in common?

In 2018, Democrats ran the table on all three of those -- all the state-wide elections in those three states, where we have wind at our back.


We're mobilizing everywhere, and that's why I would rather be us than them.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Chairman Perez, always good to talk to you sir. Thanks.

PEREZ: Always a pleasure, Erin.

BURNETT: And next, Elizabeth Warren signals an abrupt change in strategy. Does she regret this war of words with Bernie Sanders?

Plus, Joe Biden wants to keep his focus on Trump. But will his opponents tonight give him a chance to do that?


BURNETT: A dramatic shift from the Warren campaign just hours before tonight's Democratic debate. Warren's team telling CNN she is not looking for a fight with Bernie Sanders about whether he told her in 2018 that he didn't believe a woman could win the presidency. Just 24 hours ago, though, she owned the story, saying, quote, I thought a women could win, he disagreed. Pretty black and white and clear.

OUTFRONT now, David Chalian, CNN political director, Nia-Malika Henderson, our senior political reporter, Karen Dunn, former communications director for Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign, and Joan Walsh, national affairs correspondent for "The Nation".

Karen, let me start with you. Warren had no problem with this story yesterday.


It was clearly leaked by her team to CNN. It was -- it came out more than a year after the meeting. It came out on the eve of a debate.

It's pretty clear she knew about this. She sanctioned it. Everything around it indicates that. Why is she pumping the brakes now indicating don't want to talk about this anymore, we're all cool?

KAREN DUNN, PREPARED PRESIDENT OBAMA AND HILLARY CLINTON FOR POLITICAL DEBATES: Because this is probably the last thing she wants to talk about Iowans about before they vote. She wants to talk about the same things she talks about in every debate which is the issues and the policy differences between herself and her opponents.

I will say one thing, though, that we're likely to see Bernie Sanders be more complementary of Hillary Clinton than he's ever been. In the 7th debate of 2016, which I prepped Hillary for, Bernie shushed her and said, you know, excuse me, I'm talking. And that followed him around and he lost that debate because of that and other things.

So, he doesn't want to talk about it. She doesn't want to talk about it. I think both of them are going to look to Joe Biden to rescue them tonight from this conversation.

BURNETT: Which means they're going to go after him. Although, Nia, it's amazing, right? This story came out yesterday,

didn't come up by accident yesterday, with four sources who know Elizabeth Warren or who are familiar with the meeting. I mean, right, she knew this was coming out yesterday. At some point she thought that was a good strategy.

Bernie Sanders immediately denied, he called it ludicrous, accused her staff of lying and making the whole thing up. And now everyone is trying to act like they don't want to talk about it. I mean, how can Sanders addressed this story tonight that isn't saying, well, I didn't say it when he said yesterday he didn't say it.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLTICAL REPORTER: Right. I mean I think that's the big question. Do the moderators bring it up? Did someone else on stage bring it up?

If you think about Amy Klobuchar, she's been one of the candidates on the stage who talked about women's issues, who's talked about electability, talked about a woman can beat Donald Trump. I think her line is something like, a woman can beat Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi does it every day.

So, that's the thing. They feel like if you listen to the different camps, it does seem like they want to move beyond this. It didn't work out well for either party, it seems like.

So, it sounds like they're going to go back to the non-aggression pact. But, you know, I think it's unclear whether or not this was a smart move from the Warren campaign. It certainly brings up some of the bad blood some folks have toward Bernie Sanders because of what happened in 2016 with Hillary Clinton. But it seems like those people are already with Elizabeth Warren, so I don't know how this moves the dial with Elizabeth Warren other than giving headlines in dinging Bernie Sanders.

BURNETT: It is an interesting thing, though, David Chalian, right, that this happened yesterday and comes out. It's so purposeful. And then today, they're trying to say there's nothing to see here. We're fine to move on.

I mean, Warren seems to be, you know, backing off this story, not backing off that it happened but backing off from wanting to discuss it as she losing momentum in Iowa.

I mean, I just want to show everyone the polls, David.

Back in September, she was leading the pack 22 percent. And that held for a while. Now down to 15 percent this week, down to fourth place. Now, still in the lead pack, but nonetheless, that is a problem.

Is that a reason to play all this with caution for her?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, couple things. One, this didn't come out of nowhere, right? This all followed this revelation, CNN's reporting, it followed after the revelation over the weekend that Bernie Sanders staffers were using a door knocking script to talk to voters here about Elizabeth Warren, painting her as elitist.

So, I think what you saw was there was push back to that. But I do agree with what Karen was saying. There's no percentage in it for either of them to have this battle. This is not a battle that they're going to want to have which is why I think they're sort of foreshadowing, hey, guys, we're not going to rip each others' faces off about this issue of whether or not a woman could be president.

I do think, though, Erin, it is the larger electability issue that is at core for voters. We know they say they want someone who can beat Donald Trump above all else. That is what the broader conversation is about here.

BURNETT: It absolutely is.

And, Joan, we just saw Amy Klobuchar arrive. Everyone can see her there just a moment ago as David was speaking.

She weighed in on this whole issue that the Sanders-Warren feud that's been going on over the past 24 hours by resurrecting this line from the November debate.

Here is Senator Klobuchar.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you think a woman can't beat Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi does it every single day.


BURNETT: That's what she re-upped today to make that point. So, how does she play this tonight?

JOAN WALSH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think she could play it up. I think she's been outspoken about feeling there's some sexism on the trail. She points particularly to Pete Buttigieg as somebody with a resume like that, no one would be on that stage. She might bring it up.

I just want to go back to what David said. You know, it is true that the weekend featured the first real bad blood over these scripts and now, "Politico" has confirmed that these scripts have been used in other states.


Sanders first denied it.

So --

BURNETT: Sanders people were knocking on doors --


WALSH: And she's elitist and her people are affluent people and she doesn't expand the base. So, there is bad blood.

I can't confirm Elizabeth Warren told her staffers or associates go out and leak the story. I do know, though, that Bernie's staff put her in a tough position yesterday because they were demanding she admit it was a lie.

I wasn't a lie.

BURNETT: She stood by it.

WALSH: She stood by it. I don't think she had a choice. She believes it happened.

BURNETT: All right. All of you stay with me, please as we are counting down to this debate, we are minutes away from the CNN/Des Moines Register Democratic debate.

So, Joe Biden, what does he have to do to win tonight? And Pete Buttigieg, he was also once on the rise in Iowa, I mean, by far, you know, this huge surge, so what happened? Can he get the momentum back tonight?


BURNETT: All right. This is the debate stage.


It is a very intimate stage. They're going to be very close together. Six of the top candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination will face each other. This is the final debate before the first vote.

Tonight, Joe Biden, still at center stage, the national front-runner, but in a tight race at the top in Iowa. Really all clumped in there.

Everyone is back with me.

David, Joe Biden, he has been trying to say this is about him and president Trump, right? To cement his status as front-runner, at least in the psyche of the Iowa voter and the national voter.

Here's a brief clip from Biden's latest ad.


AD ANNOUNCER: Donald Trump has made it clear --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Joe Biden. Biden. Biden. Biden. Biden. Biden.

AD ANNOUNCER: He's got Joe Biden on his mind. Because Trump knows that Biden will beat him in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, the states we need to take back the presidency.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: Is he going to succeed tonight in making it about him versus Biden. Or David, as you were trying to say, basically a way for Warren and Sanders to not have it be about warren versus Sanders is to basically both go for Biden?

CHALIAN: Yes, there's nothing Joe Biden likes more than to make it about Donald Trump. There's nothing subtle about that ad you just played, Erin, right? I mean, a direct electability message. Why he is the one that can most easily defeat Donald Trump.

Listen, this foreign policy debate that has been going on for the last ten days, Bernie Sanders wants to debate Joe Biden over that. And his record, Joe Biden will certainly defend it, I have no doubt, but he actually wants to debate Donald Trump over foreign policy, because he likes to make the case to voters that he is the steady and experienced hand.

BURNETT: And, Karen, you also have here Pete Buttigieg. He's seen his poll numbers in Iowa start to slip. He had that peak, it was a huge surge. Everyone was talking about it. Now here we are, he has been slipping a bit.

In Iowa county, a Democratic chair telling "The Washington Post," quote, I honestly think he peaked a little bit too early unfortunately and people are kind of having buyer's remorse. The second guessing is starting. What's at stake for Pete Buttigieg, Karen?

DUNN: Well, a lot is at stake for Pete Buttigieg.

Keep in mind, it's the caucuses, they're not primaries. So everybody is playing to be second favorite. Pete Buttigieg has to pick up Biden voters, Bernie voters, and Warren voters to himself. That is difficult.

I also think that means Biden is going to respond when Bernie attacks him. He needs to pick up other people's supporters to win the caucus.

BURNETT: And, Joan, you also have Buttigieg and Biden have something others in the stage don't. I mean, Steyer has it. Others who are still running, like Andrew Yang have it, and what I'm saying is the ability to be in Iowa.

WALSH: Right.

BURNETT: Because there's a trial and it's going to start next Tuesday. And from then on, the three senators on that stage tonight, Sanders, Warren, Klobuchar, they're in Washington.

WALSH: Yes, this is really tough for them. Because when you've got a field, Erin, where almost 60 percent are people are saying, either they're not sure that their first choice will stay their first choice or even 15 percent or so will say, I don't have a first choice yet, that means there are a lot of minds to make up and that last two weeks of the caucus campaigning is fierce.

You're running around the state. There are tons of events, there's an air of excitement. People get really into it. So missing that, I think, is going to be very problematic. That is going to be a good thing for Buttigieg, that he's job free right now so he can just hang out in Iowa.

BURNETT: And, Nia, that is hanging over this entire debate tonight. I mean, this is -- it's an unprecedented historical thing, what we're seeing.

HENDERSON: That's right. With the impeachment, obviously, we'll hear more about that from Pelosi tomorrow. Three of the folks on stage tonight will be out of commission in terms of being able to hit the scene in Iowa. So they've got that much more on the line tonight. This is the kind of, you know, do or die moment for them in the three weeks or so before folks go to the polls, because this is going to be highly watched, I think, by folks in Iowa.

What are they focused on? Obviously, probably not impeachment. Rank and file voters are not that interested in it. They're interested in bread and butter issue, economic issues, health care in particular.

So how do they make that argument that they are the ones to get it done and beat Donald Trump in November?

BURNETT: All right. All of you, stay with me.

Next, the one thing that our panelists are watching for this in crucial debate about to begin.



BURNETT: Just over an hour, the top six Democratic candidates will be taking the stage you see there in Des Moines, Iowa. It is the final showdown before the first vote in Iowa, on February 3rd.

Everyone is back with me.

David, what is the single-most important thing you're watching for tonight?

CHALIAN: The single most important thing I'm watching tonight is to see how much these candidates want to fight just 20 days out from the caucus and how much they want to de-escalate. There are a lot of fights teed up here, Erin. The Sanders versus Biden fight we talked about, the Warren versus Sanders.

Is this going to be a brawl and an intense debate or will they try to dial that back a bit?


WALSH: I think Amy Klobuchar really has to win this debate. I called her the winner of the last debate, but this could be it for her. She had a good debate. She raised a lot of money, comparatively, for her. But I don't know how she goes out of Iowa not in at least third place.

I don't know what the road is for her after that. So I'm looking for her to --

BURNETT: Right, she's Midwestern. Midwestern senator --

WALSH: Right, this is her state.


DUNN: I'm looking forward to see how the candidates balance attacking their opponents, which is how you win a debate, with attracting their opponents' supporters, which is how you win a caucus. And I'm looking forward to a debate that matters in actual votes.

BURNETT: All right. Which -- it's interesting, as you say, to succeed in one area, you may have to fail in another.


HENDERSON: Yes, can Warren and Buttigieg get their momentum back, right?

They have cooled after having pretty hot streak in some of these early states. And since then, they faded a little bit, might sort of flat- lined. That's going to be the big question for me. How are they able to get back in the mix and convince voters that they're actually electable in this crucial time?

BURNETT: All right. Thank you all very much. And thanks to all of you for joining us.

We are just an hour away from the CNN Democratic Presidential Debate.

"AC360" with Anderson Cooper starts now.