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Indicted Giuliani Associate's Documents To Be Used In Impeachment; Interview With Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA); Russia Hacks Burisma; Democrats Set To Debate; Senate Preparing To Begin Impeachment Trial; Soon: Final Democratic Presidential Debate Before Iowa Caucuses. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired January 14, 2020 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: They have got to make space now. There's no other option. That likely means making some waves on stage. And there are signs of friction between some of the top-tier candidates.
We also have some new impeachment developments. Just moments ago, four House committee chairmen announced that they will be sending additional relevant evidence to the Senate. What does that mean?
Well, it is evidence provided by Rudy Giuliani's indicted associate Lev Parnas, a floor vote now scheduled for tomorrow. That will entail naming impeachment managers. That's who presents the case from the House impeachment to the Senate. That would be the two articles against President Trump.
We have just learned Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, will announce managers at 10:00 a.m. Eastern. And we have learned that the majority leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, says, once that happens, the president's impeachment trial will be on track to start next week.
How early? Maybe Tuesday.
So, let's get more information on the impeachment developments, CNN Congressional Correspondent Phil Mattingly, Capitol Hill tonight.
Phil, a lot of information from Giuliani's associate, notes, text messages, e-mails. His lawyer had been threatening that he is more relevant than people think. What's the buzz?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right, and now putting documents to those threats, to those words from Lev Parnas' lawyer.
And, Chris, you hit on it, Lev Parnas, a close associate, indicted close associate, maybe former associate now of Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer. And his lawyer has long said that he has information related to the impeachment inquiry that he wanted to turn over to House investigators.
They have done that. And now we have large portions of that information. Our team is still going through the details right now.
But amongst the notes, the e-mails, the text messages, the WhatsApp messages, a few things early stand out, and I think underscore perhaps most prominently something we heard repeatedly over the course of the House impeachment hearings and from some of the closed-door depositions, this kind of shadow diplomacy that was going on throughout the Trump administration, as they attempted to work with the new Ukrainian President Zelensky to oust an ambassador and to perhaps set up a meeting that might help political -- or President Trump's political ambitions going into the reelection of 2020.
I want to point to a couple things that we have picked up so far. First, there is a handwritten note from Lev Parnas on stationery from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Vienna, Austria.
In that note, it says -- quote -- "Get Zelensky to announce that the Biden case will be investigated" and -- quote -- "start communicating with Zelensky."
That's one handwritten note from Lev Parnas. There's also something that we have learned related to a letter, an undisclosed -- previously undisclosed letter on May 10, 2019, from Rudy Giuliani to then president-elect Zelensky.
In that letter, he says -- quote -- "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 13, or Tuesday, May 14. I will need no more than a half-hour of your time. I will be accompanied by my colleague, a distinguished American attorney who is very familiar with this matter."
I would also note, Chris, that, in that letter, he makes very clear that this request is coming with the permission of President Trump, in Rudy Giuliani's personal capacity as his personal lawyer, but with the president's permission.
Chris, again, we're digging through these documents right now, dozens of pages that we're going through, but something to take away here, as you noted up top, the House committees making very clear they plan on sending this information over to the United States Senate as part of the package, details, a part of the package of research and evidence that they have for the Senate trial.
That will be transmitted at some point. There is a push right now from House Democrats to be able to include this information, all of these new details, all of this potential new evidence in that trial as they look to prosecute their case against President Trump, only the third Senate trial on -- impeachment trial related to a United States president in U.S. history.
Obviously, it would take 67 votes to remove President Trump, something Republicans and Democrats alike over here in the Senate don't believe they're anywhere near. However, this is yet another example of new evidence, new disclosures that Democrats have been pointing to in the wake of the House inquiry, making clear more work needs to be done during the impeachment trial. And perhaps most importantly, from the Democratic perspective, witnesses, people need to be brought in to speak, something Democrats have been hammering home over the course of the last couple of weeks, Chris.
Little bit of context, and then a question for you. The problem with Parnas is going to be credibility. He's under indictment. But there's an expression in the law. Documents don't have a character test. As long as they're seen to be authentic, it really does leapfrog the problem of Parnas' credibility. The documents say what they say.
They mean what they mean, in context of these contacts and potential transactions. So that's an interesting play, which leads me to the question. Who says they will get into the trial? What are you learning about where Senate McConnell's head is?
Because even if this is offered up as potential evidence, the only thing that gets in is what McConnell says gets in.
MATTINGLY: Yes, so it's interesting you ask that, Chris, is because we have been asking throughout the course of the day kind of with a hint that this was likely coming or at least with the knowledge that the House investigators have this in their personal property.
And I would note, to what you were saying, House Democrats have been concerned about the idea of when you're using evidence coming from an indicted individual, how rock-solid that has to be in order to present that.
They have clearly come to the conclusion that they believe it's valid enough to send over. Now, one of the big questions is going to be is how it comes over in the package, because the package of evidence that is sent over should reflect the record that House Democrats, House impeachment managers will be presenting on the Senate floor.
However, that record is subject to the rules and regulations in the initial resolution that sets forth how the initial stages of the trial are going to form.
In 1999, President Bill Clinton's trial, they made clear there would be no additional information outside of what the impeachment managers found in their House investigation.
So how that idea jibes with what House managers are trying to send over right now is an open question and one we certainly need the answer to very soon, Chris.
CUOMO: Well, look, I mean, the -- in the law, there'd be a competency exam here. Is this information material? Is it relevant to the investigation?
This is not a court of law. But the political problem is what you just outlined, Phil. They had a bite at the apple in the House. They didn't advance this information at that time. Now it's on the Senate's watch, and it's going to be their rules.
We will be learning a lot really quickly.
As you look through this stuff, Phil, do me a favor. Get back on the IFP. Let the control room know if you have something that's worth talking about right now within the hour. I will come back to you, OK?
MATTINGLY: Will do, bud. Thank you.
CUOMO: All right. That's CNN's Phil Mattingly.
We just got a whole bunch of information from this name that may be familiar to you now, Lev Parnas, through his attorney. It's been offered up as proof of contacts with Giuliani and others, transactions and requests of action behalf of the president through Giuliani to this Lev Parnas.
What else is in there? Phil Mattingly is looking through it right now. As we learn, we will bring it to you.
Let's now go for reaction to the White House.
We got CNN Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta.
This is significant news about what will surround the discussions of what happens in the trial. What are you hearing?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Chris, this is the reason why White House officials have wanted this process over as quickly as possible.
They don't want new surprises like these Lev Parnas documents surfacing at the 11th hour, which appears to be taking place at this very moment.
White House officials have been scrambling to limit potential for damaging revelations at President Trump's upcoming impeachment trial in the Senate. First, aides to the president and his allies up on Capitol Hill were pushing the idea of a quick dismissal of the trial. But it looks like that's not going to happen.
Now the president's team is hopeful for a trial without any witnesses who could hurt Mr. Trump, but that's very much an open question tonight.
ACOSTA (voice-over): With President Trump's impeachment trial fast approaching, aides to the president had been quietly pushing an idea opposed by even some Republicans, killing the whole thing altogether with a vote to dismiss the proceeding.
HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Whether this thing goes to a full trial, whether it is modified, or whether it is just dismissed out of hand for the sham, illegitimate scam it has become, we will be ready.
ACOSTA: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is rejecting a quick dismissal. The move could imperil vulnerable Republicans up for reelection, not to mention fly in the face of what the president said for weeks, that he wants a trial with witnesses.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am going to leave it to the Senate. But I would like to hear the whistle-blower. I would like to hear shifty Schiff. I'd like to hear Hunter Biden and Joe Biden.
ACOSTA: The problem is, the president and his allies are threatening to block potentially damaging witnesses, like former National Security Adviser John Bolton, even as a small number of Republican senators want to hear that testimony.
Democrats are insisting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was right to delay sending the articles of impeachment over to the Senate.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Some of the Republican they're now beginning to say, maybe we need witnesses and documents. Had Nancy sent this stuff right over, and McConnell moved to dismiss, who knows what would have happened?
ACOSTA: Other witnesses want to get in on the act, including Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of the president's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
An attorney for Parnas tweeted out this video trolling the president, showing his client in photos with Trump family members with the hashtag #LetLevSpeak.
As for Giuliani, a central figure in the administration's alleged scheme to dig up dirt on Joe Biden in Ukraine, he's been pressing Mr. Trump for a spot on the impeachment legal team.
RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I would do what I do best. I would try the case. I'd love to try the case.
QUESTION: Are you going to? Are you telling us you would try the case?
GIULIANI: Well, I don't know if anybody would have the courage to give me the case.
ACOSTA: But a source close to the White House told CNN the president is never going to have him in the Senate trial, starting with the problem that he's a potential witness.
A new potential headache has emerged for the president in Ukraine, as "The New York Times" is reporting Russian military operatives hacked into Burisma, the energy giant where Biden's son Hunter once served as a company board member.
Administration critics say the hacking is proof the Russians are at it again in 2020.
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER U.S. NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: The effort they expended and what they gained in 2016 -- and we really haven't hammered them that badly. So, why not, from their standpoint?
ACOSTA: Democrats are still hammering the president over Iran, seizing on reports that Mr. Trump was privately talking about the idea of a military strike on the Iranians during the holidays.
Presidential contender Elizabeth Warren is one senator questioning whether guests at President Trump's resort may have obtained confidential market-moving information and had the opportunity to trade defense industry stocks or commodities.
Publicly, Mr. Trump was calling for peace.
TRUMP: Do I want to? No. I want to have peace. I like peace. And Iran should want peace more than anybody.
So I don't see that happening.
ACOSTA: Now, one big potential hiccup posed by the Senate impeachment trial, President Trump is scheduled to deliver his State of the Union address in three weeks.
But, at the moment, White House officials say there are no plans to delay that speech, with one official noting former President Bill Clinton appeared at his 1999 State of the Union during his impeachment trial.
President Trump's trial is scheduled to begin as he heads off to the Davos World Economic Forum in Switzerland. The White House says he's still going. By the way, Chris, the president is off to a rally tonight in Milwaukee. That also, of course, is still on -- Chris.
CUOMO: You know, there's so many different things that could develop between now and just next week, let alone a few weeks in the future.
CUOMO: Hey, look what we have tonight. The whole state of play in the campaign could change tonight, Jim, with what happens on the stage behind me.
CUOMO: Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you so much.
All right, let's get some perspective on what this new information means about the expectations and the possibilities of the Senate trial of the president of the United States. We have Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California, member
of the Intelligence and Armed Services Committee.
Always good to see you, Representative.
REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA): Thank you, Chris. Great to be with you.
CUOMO: All right.
So, first, let's do a little housekeeping. And then I want to get into what you think this new information could mean to the Senate trial and what do you think it means to the overall argument.
The idea of the vote tomorrow to present new evidence to the Senate and appoint managers, what is the strategy here? And what do you think about this offer of new evidence?
SPEIER: Well, this offer of new evidence is compelling.
And I think what we have seen just in the last two weeks -- and kudos to Speaker Pelosi, who was right in postponing sending the articles over, because look what has happened in just the last two weeks.
You had John Bolton come forward. You now have Lev Parnas with documentation. And now we know the Russians have been hacking into Burisma.
There is more and more evidence of a cover-up going on by the White House and the administration. And the fact that we have so many who did not come forward to testify by subpoena, they defied the subpoenas both for documents and for witnesses, suggests that we have obstruction of Congress in a way that is both criminal and compelling.
CUOMO: First, let's do the possibilities. And then we will get to the argument of why this is valuable.
The Senate rules. Are you allowed to introduce information post- impeachment?
SPEIER: I believe that the documents that we send over will be the basis on the deliberations by the Senate, not including any witnesses that they call or documents that they seek.
CUOMO: All right, one more question about process.
The idea of this House vote tomorrow to transmit the articles of impeachment to appoint the managers, what does that look like?
Well, it will be a process where we will have, I think, a half-an-hour debate on the Democratic side and the Republican side. There will then be a vote taken and then a vote taken on the appointment of managers.
CUOMO: You think you're going to be a manager?
SPEIER: I have not sought to be a manager. And I think that one of the criteria were that you had to seek to be a manager. CUOMO: What if they came to you and asked you to do it anyway? Would
SPEIER: It's like anything else. If you're called to duty, you do it.
CUOMO: All right.
Now, in terms of the value of this, let's dialogue this out a little bit. Senate said, hey, you had your bite at the apple, Speier. You didn't bring this evidence up when you guys were doing your impeachment. You didn't get Bolton to testify.
Now it's our rules. And this evidence, we're only going to go on what was adduced during the impeachment phase. This is post-phase. It's to our discretion. We're not going to use it.
SPEIER: So, I would say to that the Democrats certainly have a basis on which they can request questions to be answered.
That's one of the ways that this process will move forward. Questions will be asked through the chief justice, and will be responded to by the attorneys for the president and the attorneys for the House.
So, that's one way in which much of this evidence can come into play, and then, of course, calling witnesses as well.
Now, don't forget that there were probably 17 witnesses that were subpoenaed by the House impeachment committee that were absolutely denied and defied by the president and his administration, documents that we didn't receive.
And, certainly, we found out over the holidays that some of those documents that were provided under a Freedom of Information Act to the Center for Public Interest suggests that there was a lot of cover-up going on there, and that's why they didn't want to share those documents with us.
CUOMO: Congresswoman Jackie Speier, thank you so much for your perspective, as always. Appreciate it.
SPEIER: Thank you, Chris.
CUOMO: All right, a quick break.
Just ahead, we're going to get a preview of tonight's CNN Democratic presidential debate, moderated, of course, by our team captain, Wolf Blitzer.
It's going to happen just behind me. We have never had a room like this for a debate. I will take you through what is special about tonight's setting and what is special about the state of play.
Stay with us.
CUOMO: All right, tonight's CNN Democratic presidential debate is going to be live here in Des Moines, Iowa, right behind us, a very special night in a special place, so intimate tonight.
It's going to be moderated by our own Wolf Blitzer, our team captain. And we will try and give you more of a sense later in the show.
But when you have a smaller audience, and you obviously have fewer candidates, connection becomes much more of a commodity. It's just three hours away.
So, what is it going to be like between the candidates up on the stage, the caucuses just less than three weeks away? It's a big night.
And for a take on what's going on, we have Arlette Saenz, CNN political reporter, giving us a feel for it.
This is a big night and a big stage, so tight, so intimate.
ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, it certainly is, Chris.
And these candidates are really heading into crunch time, as we're now just 20 days away from the caucuses. There's going to be a host of issues, from impeachment to foreign policy, playing a major role in this primary for the first time.
And these candidates are each going to be making their case as they appear on the stage for the last time before those caucuses kick off.
SAENZ (voice-over): Six Democratic contenders coming face to face on the debate stage tonight, as multiple clashes are brewing, a major divide among the top two progressive candidates, with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren engaged in a personal battle.
CNN first reporting Sanders told Warren in a private 2018 meeting that he didn't think a woman could win the presidency. Warren confirmed in a statement: "I thought a woman could win. He disagreed."
Sanders and his campaign pushing back.
JEFF WEAVER, BERNIE SANDERS CAMPAIGN SENIOR MANAGER: So I think their wires are crossed. There was discussion about Trump, misogyny, sexism in politics, and the difficulty of running in the era of Trump for women, the special challenges that women face in the era of Trump. But those conversations can sometimes get misconstrued.
SAENZ: The crisis with Iran also thrusting foreign policy front and center tonight.
Joe Biden sees his experience as an advantage. But Sanders is trying to turn Biden's long record into a liability, saying he was on the wrong side of history on the Iraq War.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You had an administration that was itching to go to war. They were itching. Everybody knew that. You don't give them the authority. You vote no. That's what I did.
SAENZ: But Biden trying to keep his focus on President Trump.
A new ad on Iowa airwaves stressing electability.
NARRATOR: He's got Joe Biden on his mind.
SAENZ: Tonight's debate stage will be the smallest yet and also the least diverse.
Democratic contender Deval Patrick calling on the DNC to change its criteria to qualify for future debates, saying: "The rules have not served to demonstrate to Democratic voters or to the nation the breadth and depth of diverse talent in the field."
But the DNC isn't budging.
TOM PEREZ, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: We did have the most diverse field in American history. And I'm proud of that. And what we said every month was that, the closer we got to Iowa, we would do what we have always done, which is raise the bar.
SAENZ: Now, this debate comes as there is a tight battle here in the state among the top contenders, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, and Pete Buttigieg.
And only 40 percent of Democratic caucus-goers in the state have definitely made up their minds about who they're going to support, showing just how high-stakes this battle is on the debate stage tonight.
CUOMO: All right, CNN's Arlette Saenz, thank you very much.
If 40 percent are locked in, that means 60 percent are open for the getting, and that makes tonight very, very important.
Joining us now, Senior Sanders' Campaign Adviser Jeff Weaver.
I feel like I just saw you.
WEAVER: Chris, good to see you.
CUOMO: Thank you very much for coming on...
WEAVER: Of course.
CUOMO: ... last night.
Let's deal with this business between Warren and Sanders, and then get to the issues for tonight.
CUOMO: What is the state of play between the campaigns? Have Warren and Sanders spoken? Have the campaigns communicated about how to play it tonight?
WEAVER: Well, look, no, no.
Look, I think each one has issued a statement. I think those are out there. I think, as far as we're concerned, the issue is closed. Sounds like, from what I have heard, they think it's closed too.
I think we're going to move on in this debate and talk about core economic issues and other issues of importance to Iowans.
CUOMO: No concern about Elizabeth Warren saying that the senator said something he says he didn't say?
WEAVER: Well, he didn't say it.
But -- but, look, each one has a statement out there. Voters can look at their relative statements. They can look at the context. They can make their own decision.
CUOMO: You think he will not want to get into it tonight?
WEAVER: Look, I think that he wants to talk about a bunch of issues that affect kitchen tables in Iowa, health care, Joe Biden's efforts to cut Social Security and a whole host of other issues that face Iowans every day.
CUOMO: Let's go through.
First, intimate room, very different, as you know now, from being on the big stage so often.
WEAVER: For sure.
CUOMO: You think big audience, big challenge. No, small audience, big challenge.
CUOMO: Direct competition between there and you're literally fighting for faces and trying to connect. What's the challenge?
WEAVER: Well, look, but you also have to -- always have to remember that there is a -- people in the room, but you're also talking to millions and millions of people in the CNN audience all around the country.
So you have got to keep your focus both in the room and on the people out at home. CUOMO: All right, big-ticket items. One, Iran, it changed this race potentially.
WEAVER: Yes. Sure.
CUOMO: The idea of, can you keep me safe?
Bernie Sanders had tried to make a change between 2016 and this race of saying, I wasn't known for foreign policy. That hadn't been my focus. Now I'm more into it.
His posture is primarily, I was against.
CUOMO: I was against intervention. I'm against the war in Iraq.
Is that the best selling item now that the country's worried, well, who can keep us safe? Is he too non-confrontational?
WEAVER: Well, look, no.
One of the things that -- ways you keep people safe is by keeping them out of unnecessary, endless wars. I mean, the war in Iraq has been going on endlessly. It has led to this current confrontation with Iran.
If we had not engaged in Iraq in that way, we would not be in this situation. Joe Biden still stands by that vote. He stood by it at the time. He says, oh, George Bush hoodwinked me, I didn't know he was actually going to go to war.
It's funny, he asked you for provision to go to war. Everybody who voted against it knew they wanted to go to war. And Joe Biden voted for it.
Look, the guy has had bad judgment on critical issues.
CUOMO: Well, a lot of people voted for that war on both sides, not Senator Sanders.
But that gets us into intel, little bit of a rabbit hole.
WEAVER: No, I don't that's true.
WEAVER: President Trump Obama spoke about this in 2008, and very eloquently.
CUOMO: Because he wasn't there. And those who were there, they were operating on a basis of facts that wound up being soft.
And what they were told was going to happen wouldn't happen. But the vote stands nonetheless. It's a problem on the record.
Why did Bernie Sanders know that it was the wrong thing to do, and Joe Biden, who was head of Foreign Affairs, didn't know that? Why is that?
CUOMO: It is a point in his favor. It's a point for the vice president to have to respond to, no question.
Similarly, Bernie Sanders was fine going into Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires. We have never gotten out of it. You can't get out of it. What about that vote?
WEAVER: Well, and he talked about it in one of the last debates.
He regrets having voted for something that was so open-ended. They have been using that authorization...
CUOMO: So, he made a mistake?
WEAVER: Right. No.
But it was not a mistake to go in there and get al Qaeda. He doesn't think that's a mistake. What he thinks is a mistake is that the thing was open-ended on the backside.
CUOMO: But, see, that's the thing. It never ends.
President Trump's argument would be, if Bernie Sanders is the nominee, see, it's easy to say you won't get in. I said that. I got elected by saying I don't want to get in. You Democrats got us into Afghanistan. You were in favor that, Bernie.
But when someone messes with my country, I take him out. I'm not soft like you. That's what I did with Soleimani. That's how he will spin it. What's the senator's answer?
WEAVER: Well, look, Bernie Sanders supported going into Afghanistan to get al Qaeda.
He supported going into Kosovo to protect folks from genocide. So it's not that he is a pacifist, but what he does not want to do is get into wars as a first resort, as opposed to a last resort.
CUOMO: Tonight, does he have to go -- once he deals with Elizabeth Warren, who's his friend. We will see if that remains.
WEAVER: It is. No, no, no, for sure, for sure.
CUOMO: Now it's him and Biden. What's his biggest line against Biden tonight? There are only 20 days, Jeff. You can't part as friends.
WEAVER: No, no, no.
CUOMO: Someone's going to have to have an advantage.
WEAVER: Look, Joe Biden has a long record. And Joe Biden has to stand by that record.
Like, he wants to stand in the shadow Barack Obama, but he has his own record when he was his own man in the Senate. And it's not a good record for working-class people in this country, the bankruptcy bill, terrible, efforts to cut Social Security and Medicare, terrible.
Spoke on the floor about cutting veterans benefits, terrible. Over and over again, Joe Biden, bad trade deals, NAFTA. He still thinks it's a good -- that was a good vote, cost us a million jobs in the Midwest.
Don't you think that Trump in a general election is going to beat him with his NAFTA vote and his most favored status for China vote over and over again among those -- in those states, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, where we have to win?
Bernie Sanders voted against all those deals.
CUOMO: Well, it's true. If we're talking about the president, it's a very different fight than tonight. Tonight's going to be about ideas.
For the president, it could be enough that he doesn't like the way Bernie sounds and that Bernie's a socialist.
So one fight at a time. We will see how it goes tonight.
WEAVER: Yes, yes.
CUOMO: Jeff Weaver, thank you for making the case.
WEAVER: You got it
CUOMO: Always appreciate it.
WEAVER: Happy to be here.
CUOMO: All right. Let's take a break here.
Look, this is always changing contexts. We didn't know that we'd have Iran to deal with when this debate was planned, now major impeachment developments. The House leader, Nancy Pelosi, is going to send the case to the Senate. We expected that.
But what about this new evidence from someone who definitely knew and was working with the president's lawyer? What does that mean for Majority Leader McConnell saying that President Trump's trial will likely start next Tuesday?
Will it include this new evidence?
CUOMO: All right. We're counting down to tonight's CNN Democratic Presidential Debate here in Des Moines, Iowa. It's actually getting more important by the hour because there's news that's coming up, and you're going to have a twist as a result of news.
What's the latest twist? Forget Sanders and Warren, that will be dealt with, but there's a new development in the impeachment of President Trump. Just moments ago, four House committee chairs announced that they have additional relevant evidence to be sent to the Senate.
Well, what could that be? Evidence provided by Rudy Giuliani's indicted associate, Lev Parnas. What does this mean to tonight, what does it mean to that process, it's definitely going to be a tight race.
Let's talk. We have David Axelrod, we have Dana Bash, we have Arlette Saenz.
Again, I didn't know this was going to come tonight, so it's something to deal with on the debate stage. Just in terms of a political article, Lev Parnas, we know the name, he has got all the documents, all communications with everybody he dealt in getting this done for the president, he says, in Ukraine. Relevance?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, we should say, and you're the lawyer here, he's trying to reduce his exposure with the feds.
CUOMO: Under indictment.
BASH: And so helping in other cases always helps to reduce that.
CUOMO: What about testimony, because he has got a problem with his credibility. Documents are documents.
BASH: Documents are documents. But what it means for impeachment is that it's even more pressure on the Senate Republicans to do something that they have not wanted to do, allow new witnesses and, in this case, new information.
And they go hand in hand, the witnesses is very public, is very powerful and it's what we have been focused on, but it's not the only thing. And now, this is front and center that the Senate is going to have to deal with the question likely in another one of the votes that we've been talking about once the trial starts, whether or not this new information can be -- is it admissible, and if so, in what form.
CUOMO: Well, it's admissible if they want it to be. What's the pushback?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, the fundamental Republican argument has been they had a chance to look at all this evidence, they had a chance to interview witnesses, and now it's for us to evaluate their case, not to do their work for them. That's what they are going to argue. The problem on the witness front, of course, is that the president forbade some of the key players in this drama to speak to the House. So it's a little disingenuous to say they had their chance to talk to these witnesses. They never did.
And so, I mean, I think if you're the average American, you look at this and say, shouldn't they just get to the bottom of this whole thing and just dispose of it. But everybody - each side has their arguments. And my guess is that a lot of Americans process it as a political fight, not as a trial of fact.
BASH: But, quickly, we should talk about the substance here because, again, they are related, the notion of not having key witnesses allowed to testify in the House and then in the Senate, and knowing everything that the senators can know and need to know before making a decision whether to convict on impeachment. Because they haven't been able to talk to people, it is possible -- we don't know the real content of what he turned over, it is possible that these documents, these text messages, et cetera, that they will shed even more light on the directive that the president made, on who else was involved, and on the fundamental question which is did the president explicitly order that this military aid be withheld until the aid isn't --
AXELROD: We know the president urged the president of Ukraine to speak directly to Giuliani. We know Giuliani was speaking to other representatives. And was he carrying a message from the president that these two things were explicitly tied?
CUOMO: Here is the problem in this particular setting. You don't have an operative statute that says the president can't do any of these things. It's about perspective on what his power is and whether or not it was abused. If it's about perspective, then it is solely subjective.
And if it's solely subjective, then it's going to be political. So my question becomes, when you see polls show 80-plus percent percent say nothing I'll learn will change my opinion about whether what he did was right or wrong, depending on how they feel, what is the impetus for any of the senators to feel like they've got to move on new information?
BASH: The impetus is, yes, maybe nothing will change, but that 20 percent, well, first of all, that's a national poll. But there are senators who are retiring.
BASH: But maybe even more importantly, the political impetus is the senators who are up for re-election. And they come from states where, yes, there's a strong Republican base, from Colorado to Maine, but there are also people who are saying -- who are not Republicans, who are Democrats, independents, who are saying, okay, maybe he shouldn't be impeached, but I'm okay with the notion of a fair trial, and a fair trial means getting more information.
CUOMO: Hold on a second. [18:40:01]
Arlette, you've been here in Iowa. The appetite of people wanting to hear about impeachment at all, we know it's new information, but it doesn't change like the fact pattern necessarily, it's about depth of perspective on one of the players we already know about. What's the appetite?
SAENZ: Well, really, at these campaign events that these Democrats have been holding, you don't hear impeachment all the time. It's not front and center on their minds. But we have to remember that three of the candidates who are going to be on that stage tonight are pretty soon going to be sidelined from the campaign trail because of impeachment. They're going to have to find creative ways to get their message across in these final weeks.
And for Joe Biden, it's going to offers him an opportunity to further highlight what he believes is Donald Trump is most afraid to face Joe Biden, that he tried to pressure Ukraine to investigate him. This impeachment fight is going to give him a chance to make that argument over and over while he is out on the campaign trail and some of the other candidates may not be.
CUOMO: And now the word that Russia supposedly hacked into Burisma, the company at play in Ukraine, ostensibly to help the president's cause --
AXELROD: I think one of the ironies of this whole thing is that the the president begged an impeachment because he was so intent on stopping Joe Biden, and he may have actually helped Biden by doing it, by elevating Biden and giving Biden the chance to say, you see, I'm the guy he fears, I'm the guy he wants to stop. And Democrats will rally around him on that basis. I mean, that's the Biden theory of the case.
CUOMO: We'll see if he plays to it at all tonight. Thank you very much. We only have another 11 hours of conversation or so about this, but it's a good start. Thank you very much.
Just ahead, tight race here in Iowa. The caucuses are less than three weeks away. What do the six candidates who will be on the stage before you tonight, what does each need to do? What's the state of play?
Plus, we are hearing about Joe Biden's strategy for tonight specifically. Does he need to pick a target? Does he need to avoid being a target or both, next.
CUOMO: All right.
Look at that, two hours and 13 minutes and counting down to the CNN big Democratic debate. This is the last one before the Iowa caucuses, 20 days away. Who needs to do what and why?
Alexandra Rojas is with me, CNN political commentator, executive director of Justice Democrats; Mr. Van Jones, CNN political commentator, former special adviser to President Obama; Mr. Terry McAuliffe, CNN political commentator and former Democratic governor of Virginia.
Man, you got so many titles. You people are so busy. Why can't you just be me, guy in black suit.
All right. So, Terry, what do you need to see tonight?
TERRY MCAULIFFE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: This is it -- it's show time. I mean, this is the last big debate before the Iowa caucus. People don't do well in Iowa, it is the end of the campaign for them.
So, they've got to get out there. Joe Biden has made his campaign about experience, foreign policy. Now, we're in a world crisis, he's got to show that he can handle this.
You've got Mayor Pete, probably the least political experience of all candidates in a time of crisis in the Middle East. He's got to show that he is up to the challenges that we're dealing with.
I think Elizabeth Warren, got to get her mojo back. I think the Medicare-for-All debate hurt her. She's got to get back. She has great messaging. I think she's got to get back and do that.
Bernie Sanders, going to have to deal with the issue of women, the comments, the back and forth with Warren. And he's never really been tested. In '16, Hillary Clinton was the frontrunner, everything went at her. He never really was pushed on it. He's got to show tonight he can take a punch, and give them back, be smart and do it.
So, then, of course, Amy, who I love. She's been genuine, I think all of them. She's not in the top tier. She's got to come out swinging to get in the top tier.
And Tom Steyer has got to do what Tom Steyer does.
CUOMO: Whatever that is.
Go ahead, Van.
VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, this is Bernie's night. Bernie has got the ball. Bernie's got momentum. He's -- there's a banana peel in front of Bernie Sanders right now about his comments about women, how he handles that, you're going to -- you'll be seeing something.
Also, nobody really has come at Bernie. He never had a pile on. You got -- if you're in Iowa right now, he is the frontrunner. Every time you had a frontrunner, the frontrunner got beat up in the next debate. It is Bernie's turn.
If Bernie can prove that he can without falling on the banana peel in front of him deal with the pile on, that's going to be a big deal.
Pete, listen, we got a global crisis now. We almost flip over into a war with Iran, let's see what Pete had to say about that. I have to say, this will be the whitest debate we have seen, don't want to get into it too much.
But I will say this. There's something wrong. We have more billionaires in the race than black people. We got more plutocrats than people of color in this race. There's something wrong with the Democratic party in this situation given how black and brown our base is.
So, I think the debate will be less rich tonight, but it will be just as important because now we're just days away from the real fight.
CUOMO: So if Bernie Sanders has things to worry about tonight because he is in the lead in polls -- all right, let's just take that as an assumption. Do you think that the problem is Elizabeth Warren because then she would have to make a problem for him tonight, or is the bigger challenge Iran, what would you do, how do you keep us safe?
ALEXANDRA ROJAS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think that progressives face a challenge that moderates don't which is that their ideas are constantly under attack with the how do you pay for it question, when it comes to foreign policy.
And so, I actually think that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren can't take the bait tonight. They have to make sure they stay focused on the real enemy which is the billionaire class of the Republican Party to defeat Donald Trump and corporate takeover of our democracy, which what better example of that is the fact that you have more billionaires on stage than black candidates.
And you have --
CUOMO: So Bernie is going to want to get back to those kind of issues, but Iran is -- they'll probably leave impeachment alone, I don't think that any of them are invested in talking about it, although as a lawyer, I'm pretty interested in this new evidence that's coming out.
But Bernie wants to get back to bread and butter. But Biden is going to be playing to, how are you going to keep us safe against Iran? What would you do?
ROJAS: Yes, and the American people don't want to go to war. We almost just went to Iran and Joe Biden has been a statesman for decades and has to answer to the American people in the general election --
ROJAS: -- and certainly on the debate stage tonight, his questionable vote for the Iraq war. CUOMO: So, Bernie's angle is going to be, I don't do war. But that
was also Trump's argument, Terry, and I think Trump's argument is going to a Bernie or to anybody other than a Biden probably is, yes, when we're threatened, I take them out. I'm not you, Democrats, you're soft. I'm strong.
How does that play on the stage tonight?
MCAULIFFE: Yes. A majority of Americans were not for the strike against Soleimani. So, you know, Trump is being what Trump does.
But foreign policy is going to be a big piece. People are concerned about Iran today. They're very concerned about the Middle East. I think you're going to have a lot of foreign leaders around the globe watching this debate, because they're very concerned.
If you're sitting in the Middle East today, you don't know what's going on in America. You've got a very volatile situation. I think parents like myself with a son in the Marine Corps, we all, for the men and women who's children are now on those front lines today.
MCAULIFFE: People are very concerned. There's a lot of angst in this country today. It's going to be a huge part of this debate as well as it should be.
CUOMO: Twenty seconds.
JONES: Big opportunity for Pete on this. In other words, you know -- you know, Biden's got to carry the water for the fact he had a bad vote on the Iraq war. He's going to get beat up on that.
So -- but Pete really is the only veteran on stage. He knows the cost of war, the chance for him to separate himself from everybody tonight. Let's see if he does it.
CUOMO: All right. Terry, Van, Alexandra, thank you very much.
All right. We're going to have much more from Iowa coming up. This is a big night. Twenty days to go.
It's an intimate setting tonight. How does that play? Yes, they're talking to the world but they have to work the room as well as the people standing next to them. How do they do it? Next.
CUOMO: All right. We're back with Alexander Rojas. We have Van Jones and Terry McAuliffe.
Biggest variable on the stage behind us, Van.
JONES: Well, the biggest variable is you've got Biden and Bernie go for the same big kind of voters, the beer track crew. You've got Pete and you've got Elizabeth Warren going for the wine track crew.
People tend to think about this as left versus right, but there's a demographic competition going on. Biden has -- I mean, Bernie is rising. He's got to -- he's got to stay out of the conflict with Elizabeth Warren. Let that go. He's got to keep after Biden because it's Biden's voters he's got a much better shot at.
CUOMO: So, let's stick with his beer and wine thing. Who benefits most if everybody gets drunk up there? Who is the insurgent? Who can benefit the most if Bernie and Biden fight too much, Elizabeth Warren gets lost in that? Who's the biggest winner?
MCAULIFFE: What people are looking out here tonight, number one, foreign policy, who's going to keep us safe. Number two, who can beat Donald Trump? That supersedes anything else.
So, they're watching this stage, they're saying, who do I envision on a debate stage with Donald Trump on stage and who can take him toe to toe and not go Butterbean down and not take any of his foolishness? That's what they're looking at here tonight. So, it's going to be very aggressive, which is fine. How do you handle it and can you kick back?
CUOMO: For you and your generation, the perspective of beating Donald Trump, how big is that versus your ideological test for the people on stage?
ROJAS: I think that the ideological test is how to defeat Donald Trump. I think that you described it perfectly. It's not left versus right, it's top versus bottom. You have candidates that are literally billionaires and those that are backed by the ultra wealthy and the corporate wing of the Democratic Party versus consistent progressive like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren who are speaking directly to the American people.
They're not chasing poll numbers and then switching opinions. They are leading by showing the American people the way. And --
CUOMO: Can a Klobuchar or a Buttigieg make any ground with your perspective?
ROJAS: I think Buttigieg is already a front runner. But I think the credibility is being lost in his campaign by the amount of times he has switched his position based on corporate donations that he's received.
And I think it's a lot to be said that Amy Klobuchar is doing better than she ever has at 6 percent. But that's saying that she's at 6 percent right now.
CUOMO: And I tell you what? Just as somebody not from an opinion perspective, but having observed a lot of this, five people, it's like a demolition derby.
JONES: Yes. CUOMO: You know, if you two crash into each other, things got so much better for the other three people on the stage. There's opportunity to be had. The knives will have to be sharpest tonight.
I know some of you don't like when I talk about political and combative terms. Sorry. That's what it is. Even what you see happening with Bernie and Warren right now, they're the two best friends in the race.
CUOMO: It gets ugly when both people want the same carrot.
JONES: There's something different when you have a smaller number of people. It does -- it is -- it's much more personal. Also, this space --
CUOMO: Because everybody can get in.
JONES: Because everybody can get in. Everybody's going to get their shot. But this space is much smaller. This arena -- usually it's by big arena.
This is a very intimate space. You are going to be able to hear each other breathing up there.
JONES: And so, will people be able to throw a punch this hard, as you got to have to, this close in? We'll see.
CUOMO: And there's something people at home often don't get, which is the smaller the crowd, the more you get from the crowd. 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 so 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.