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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Key Impeachment Witness Gordon Sondland Fired; On Same Day Witness Lt. Col. Vindman & Brother Fired; Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) Discuss About Trump Firing Key Impeachment Witnesses; Trump Adviser On Impeachment Firings: "Flushing Out The Pipes"; New Poll Shows Sanders, Buttigieg In Tight Race In NH; Soon: Democrats to Face Off in Debate Ahead of New Hampshire Primary. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired February 7, 2020 - 19:00   ET

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


SAM VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: ... Congress and this is likely going to continue, not stop.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: All right. We're going to continue to follow all of these breaking developments. Much more coming up on Erin Burnett OUTFRONT which starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next breaking news, fired. Trump firing his handpicked European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland. This after he fired another key impeachment witness and his brother from the White House, all today.

Plus, Sanders sharpening his attacks against Buttigieg as a new poll shows the race tightening here in New Hampshire. Is this now a two- person race?

And the Biden campaign downplaying its chances in New Hampshire, so what's their strategy tonight?

Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. Welcome to a special edition of OUTFRONT. We are live tonight in Manchester, New Hampshire, where the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are about to square off in their next debate and we're going to have more on tonight.

But first, we do have breaking news and I want to get straight to it. Just happening moments ago, President Trump exacting revenge on Ambassador Gordon Sondland who, of course, was a key impeachment witness. Sondland has been fired.

He is releasing a statement. It reads, "I was advised today that the President intends to recall me effective immediately as United States Ambassador to the European Union."

All right. But that's not the only one. I mean, this is happening now across the board. Another impeachment witness, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, has been fired from his White House job.

Source telling Vindman, a decorated veteran, was also escorted out of the White House today by security, told the services were no longer needed. His twin brother was also fired for the White House, supposedly, because he's his twin brother.

Well, what drew the President's ire? Why are we now, just after his acquittal, getting all of these firings? Well, here's what Gordon Sondland said under oath.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORDON SONDLAND, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE EUROPEAN UNION: I know that members of this committee frequently frame these complicated issues in the form of a simple question, was there a quid pro quo? As I testified previously with regard to the requested White House call and the White House meeting, the answer is yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: And Alexander Vindman, he was on that July phone call that President Trump had with Ukrainian President Zelensky. What did he say under oath? Listen for yourself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. COLONEL ALEXANDER VINDMAN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL'S TOP UKRAINE EXPERT: It was inappropriate, it was improper for the President to request and to demand an investigation into a political opponent, especially at foreign power where there's at best dubious belief that this would be a completely impartial investigation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Fired. They're both fired. Now, it was purely presidential payback, according to a statement from Vindman's attorney.

He writes, "There is no question in the mind of any American why this man's job is over, why this country now is one less soldier serving at the White House. Lt. Col. Vindman was asked to leave for telling the truth. His honor, his commitment to right, frightened to the powerful. He did what any member of our military is charged with doing every day: he followed orders, he obeyed his oath, he served his country, even when doing so was fraught with danger and personal peril. And for that, the most powerful man in the world - buoyed by the silent, the pliable and the complicit has decided to exact revenge."

When you think about the people who have testified, you had two of have them fired today. The brother of one fired today, two others have immediately retired. It's incredible. Let's go to the White House now.

Kaitlan, what else can you tell us about these firings that are happening today and, obviously, we're just moments ago finding out about Ambassador Sondland.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, what we are seeing tonight here at the White House is the President wasted little time in getting retaliation against two of the most prominent witnesses in the Democratic impeachment inquiry. Of course, Gordon Sondland and Alexander Vindman, the Lieutenant Colonel who was the Ukraine expert at the National Security Council.

We are just finding out moments ago about Sondland's departure being fired from his job after he returned back to Brussels working as the EU Ambassador for the United States. Despite his testimony that he had, one of the most damning testimonies you saw that Democrats really utilized what he said against the President more than anyone else, but also it comes directly on the heels of that firing this afternoon not only just of one impeachment witness, but also his twin brother, who was also an attorney for the National Security Council.

That is, of course, the two Vindman brothers who are now expected to go back to the Defense Department. But essentially what you were saying is a president who feels emboldened by the fact that he was acquitted this week and now he is going after two of the witnesses that he has complained about the most, since they testified last fall about his relationship with Ukrainian President, essentially saying that they believed he was undermining national security.

[19:05:00]

That's what Vindman testified about that phone call that the President had where he asked that Ukrainian leader to bring up those investigations into the Bidens. And, of course, Sondland who we should remind viewers donated $1 million to the President's inauguration, not certainly a stranger of the President. And he has also been recalled from his post in Brussels tonight because of what he said in that testimony.

He draws a pretty clear line to it in his statement to the President, but also goes on to thank the President and the Secretary of State for his time here. So essentially, Erin, the question is, are any other witnesses going to be fired?

We are checking on that right now, because there are at least several others who went forward and testified against the President. We should also note that when the President got back here at the White House today from North Carolina, he did not answer our clearly audible questions about if this is retribution for these witnesses testifying against the President.

I do want to note one thing in wake of that, we did have a Defense Department official, Laura Cooper, who was testifying about when this aid was withheld, the questions she had about it. We've reached out, we don't have a comment yet, but I should note that the Defense Secretary said earlier today there would not be retribution for officials who testified at least in his eyes. And I guess as far as he can control them, Laura Cooper seems to be the only one.

The question is tonight and right now, are there going to be more witnesses who will be fired.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Kaitlan. As I know, we're all trying to get more information on that. I want to go straight now to Mike Quigley, a Democrat from Illinois. He was on the House Intelligence Committee which has, of course, heard from all of these witnesses when this was broadcast to the country, when you heard Vindman, when you heard Sondland, when you heard Yovanovitch and everyone else, Taylor, Morrison, Holmes, Williams. They all appeared before you, sir.

So let me get your reaction. We just found out moments ago, Ambassador Sondland, fired. The President obviously waited for his vindication in the Senate. Do you think things would have gone any differently had he gone ahead and fired these people for the vote? Will this have done anything for the senators who seem so willing to support him?

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D-IL): Look, it's a rough day after a bad week for our country. I feel like someone should apologize to Colonel Vindman. He testified twice before a committee. What was striking to me is what he said when he said, "I knew I could come forward because I knew in the United States, the truth matters." Well, I guess the President is showing him.

And as far as Ambassador Sondland goes, it took him a while, but it's never too late to do the right thing. He did do the right thing. He told the truth. Lincoln had his team of rivals, apparently this president wants a team of sycophants.

BURNETT: So let's talk about Sondland. He testified that Zelensky was willing to do whatever Trump wanted, including investigations. He said there was a quid pro quo. We all remember the President, of course, this was a guy who donated a million dollars to him right after the testimony Trump was imbuing him. He was saying, oh, the guy said everything I wanted to hear. Well, of course, he didn't and now he's gone.

Vindman also said the same thing. There was a quid pro quo. The President wanted investigations and that his actions were inappropriate. His twin brother was also fired, his twin brother. Is there anything that can be done about this or is this just some people might be outraged, some people might not care and we move on?

QUIGLEY: I hope that the senators who said that this was a minor matter or that the President has learned his lesson, no, he hasn't. What I would tell the Republican senators who covered up this case is you have emboldened a president who borders on an autocratic presidency. You have given him this opportunity to feel like he can do absolutely anything and that ought to be very scary, because the President has very tough decisions to make in the best of times, now more critical than ever.

But it's clear that there's nobody out there who can say no to him. What's clear is what the Senate has said is, if you're a president in the future and you have the Senate in the majority, if your party is in the majority in the Senate, then you are above the law. All this does right now is the President is reinforcing the case against him. He's going after the witnesses that helped convict him in reality in the House and would have had it been a fair trial in the Senate.

BURNETT: Now, of course, what his defenders perhaps said earlier about Colonel Vindman and I'm sure some will say about Sondland that this is his right. This people work for him. They work at the discretion of the President and if they don't say things he likes, then this is within his rights. What do you say to them?

QUIGLEY: Sure. Do you really want a President of the United States that just wants people who tell him whatever he wants, that forces ambassadors like Yovanovitch who's doing a good job out of the way so he can do his dirty work, move forward with the scheme to go after his political rivals, cheat on the next election?

[19:10:07]

Just because he has the legal right to do something, doesn't make it morally right. And I hope this is an education for the entire American people, just what took place this week, this is the aftermath. This is Shakespeare at its worse.

BURNETT: Thank you very much, Congressman Quigley. I appreciate your time, sir.

QUIGLEY: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next our coverage of the breaking news continues, Trump's Friday night purge. Is this just the beginning? Three people who testified under oath about the quid pro quo fired tonight.

And here in New Hampshire tonight, no clear leader when it comes to the top candidates. So who has the momentum coming into the debate where we are in New Hampshire.

And Biden shaking up his staff. Will it be enough? His Deputy Campaign Manager is OUTFRONT this hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:14:40]

BURNETT: Breaking news, Ambassador Gordon Sondland, a key witness in Trump's impeachment investigation fired. This news coming just hours after Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman was pushed out of his role today. A Trump advisor described this as a flushing out the pipes, sending a message to those in the administration that siding against the President will not be tolerated, which if you take a step back is a pretty terrifying thing since these people told the truth.

[19:15:03]

The witnesses who remain at their posts are George Kent at the State Department, Laura Cooper at the Defense Department, David Holmes at the embassy in Ukraine, Jennifer Williams who worked for Vice President Pence transitioning to another State Department job as well.

Chief Political Correspondent, Astead Herndon, National Political Reporter for The New York Times and Ryan Lizza, Chief Washington Correspondent for Politico join me now. Thanks to all of you.

So it was already - Vindman being fired and his twin brother being fired who's a lawyer for the National Security Council at the White House, his brother. And now all of a sudden Gordon Sondland who was the guy Trump loved, said he's a great guy, a million dollar donor.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Listen, this is one of those situations where he technically - no, he officially has the right to do all of this, the President.

BURNETT: Right.

BASH: Of course, he does. And that was actually one of the core arguments that a lot of the people who are supporting him made about firing Marie Yovanovitch. He has a right to decide who is ambassador is and who it isn't.

This is obviously a much different scale. The timing of it, he's trying to send a signal. I mean, it's not like he's being subtle here. The President is sending a signal, you mess with me, you testify against me, you can't work for me. And in some ways, you can understand if he's Donald Trump or anybody else, why would you want to have people working for you.

But at the same time, you also have Republicans on Capitol Hill promising that the President learned a lesson and then now this is just another example from the rally in the East Room to several other things that he's done since he has been acquitted.

BURNETT: Right.

BASH: That this shows it's not a signal that he learned his lesson.

BURNETT: I mean, Astead, in a sense it's terrifying because everything Dana says is true, but the reality of it is, is these people all said the same thing. You could, if you were a Republican senator, decide you didn't think it rose to the level of impeachability or you didn't think it was a big deal, but you couldn't say they all lie.

And so what he's saying is that if you went out and told the truth, I'm going to fire you.

ASTEAD HERNDON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes. He's not making a factual argument. He's making a political one. He is saying that impeachment was not a question of the country or a question of the members of the State Department saying the facts as they saw them.

He was saying it was a referendum on him. That is what he has projected this as this whole time and what we're now seeing as a culmination of those rhetorical efforts. He is saying now that I am acquitted, I am able to, which again, is within his power to fire those folks immediately. That is not just trying to send a signal, that is a clear message to anyone, but also to his base.

They have tried to say that this was a deep state attack, that these are members of the State Department orchestrating against the President. The President has clearly taken that view and acted on it even over the historical norms and the concerns of fact as you mentioned. BURNETT: I hope people listen, realize these people, especially the

ones who had spent their careers working for the government, they did so because they love their country. I've talked to several of them as have all of you since all of their testimonies. They genuinely are doing what they believe is right every day.

And when they talked in their testimony about how they believe, what they believe about this country and why they were there telling the truth, here's what a few of them said and I think it's worth playing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VINDMAN: As a young man, I decided I want to spend my life serving this nation that gave my family refuge from authoritarian oppression.

JENNIFER WILLIAMS, SPECIAL ADVISER ON EUROPE AND RUSSIA FOR VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: It was with great pride and conviction that I swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution.

MARIE YOVANOVITCH, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: I come before you as an American citizen, who has devoted the majority of my life, 33 years, to service to the country that all of us love.

BILL TAYLOR, TOP U.S. DIPLOMAT IN UKRAINE: It has been a privilege for me to serve our country and the American people for more than 50 years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: This is the truth.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And they're doing not only what they thought was right, but what they were taught as civil servants to do, to speak up if they think something is wrong, to go to Congress which has oversight authority over the executive branch and to tell the truth before Congress. So that's what you were trained to do as a government's employee.

I think it's useful to think about if this were a foreign country and we were watching this play out, how would we view this. I mean, it's easy to sort of sit here ...

BURNETT: Yes.

LIZZA: ... and we think of this as sort of everything Democrats or Republicans. If this were happening in Europe somewhere, we would be pretty shocked by this. This is the President sending a message to everyone in the executive branch that loyalty is the utmost quality that you need to have if you work in the executive branch.

[19:19:58]

And that you can forget about Congress as an institution that you can go to, to tell the truth because that won't protect you in the end. And this is probably not the end of this. There are plenty of people who are involved in this that still have jobs in the executive branch, what are they thinking tonight, right?

BURNETT: Right.

LIZZA: Should they be going to work on Monday? So, look, if Republicans especially leading Republicans like, say, Chuck Grassley, who spent his entire career as someone who cares about the rights of whistleblowers. If they won't speak up, if they allow behavior to go without any consequences, then this will continue.

BASH: You know what I was thinking as you were kind of laying out what has happened in the last day with these people being removed is that there is a difference between Gordon Sondland and Colonel Vindman or Colonel Vindman's twin brother.

BURNETT: Right.

BASH: Or Jennifer Williams or Marie Yovanovitch, who are career civil servants, as you said. Maybe the President and his supporters call them the deep state, but they are people who have devoted their lives to the service of this country. Obviously, in the case of Colonel Vindman, he has shrapnel in his body because he paid a really hard price serving in war. Gordon Sondland was a sycophant.

BURNETT: Yes. He was a political appointee.

BASH: Gordon Sondland was a political appointee.

BURNETT: Donor.

BASH: Yes, exactly.

BURNETT: Yes.

BASH: So in that case, you could almost understand more that he turned on the President. He was supposed to be the President's guy.

BURNETT: Right. Yes.

BASH: The other cases are different and more troubling.

BURNETT: Astead, I spoke to one of the people, not one of the people fired today but someone else who had testified after, and the person told me just the struggle they felt about the oath they took to the person that they serve and the oath they took to the country, do you make a decision, do you go to Congress, do you speak and how hard and gut wrenching that was, ultimately, they decided to go and testify and speak the truth. And now, you look at the price that they might pay for that.

HERNDON: A personal price, a political price, we are seeing a president who has not cared about kind of norms and deference on this front. Saying even if you disagree with me, even if you speak against me, I understand that there's kind of a larger thing at work here. There's systems of government that must be protected here and so I'm going to put that aside. That's not the view of this administration. That's not the view of

this president. It is their belief and we're seeing that through these actions today that the impeachment, that speaking in that procedure was an act against the President and in that view, he feels he can do whatever in retaliation.

BURNETT: Go ahead.

LIZZA: I should say, look, it's Trump and Republicans today, but in the long-term, we are defining what is permissible for the executive branch. And there's no reason that a Democrat who one day is in office might not just think, you know what, I'm going to take all of the things that Donald Trump and Republicans decided were now permissible and do the same thing. So these things tend to be - it's like an arms race, right?

BURNETT: Right.

LIZZA: Once one side breaks the norm, eventually even though Democrats may try it now, it becomes bipartisan.

BURNETT: And it also, Dana, people want to tell the truth and I believe a lot of them still would tell the truth. But when you're looking at losing your job and your family, your healthcare, everything that you would have that goes with that as a regular rank and file person.

BASH: And it's not just that.

BURNETT: And now, do you go forward to the next thing?

BASH: Right.

BURNETT: Or do you say, you know what, I'm just going to keep my head down, this will pass.

BASH: Right. And the thing is that those are all concrete things, but it's so much harder than that. I mean we know what has happened to people who come forward. In this day and age of social media, of this intense partisanship, I mean, the kind of scrutiny and danger sometimes they are in.

BURNETT: Yes, excoriated.

BASH: It's really remarkable and very unfortunate.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you all very much. Our breaking news coverage continues.

And also tonight, we are here in New Hampshire getting ready for the Democratic debate. Right now you've got Bernie Sanders launching one of his biggest attacks against Pete Buttigieg.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Do you think that when people receive money from powerful special interest that they're really going to stand up to those special interest?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Sanders' Senior Advisor, Jeff Weaver, is OUTFRONT.

Plus, a new poll shows Joe Biden in fourth place here in New Hampshire right now just a few days before that crucial vote. Can he move those numbers? Can he afford a fourth place finish?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:28:31]

BURNETT: Tonight, Sanders versus Buttigieg. The Senator previewing his attacks on the former Mayor earlier today. Listen in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: Do you think that when people receive money from powerful special interest that they're really going to stand up to those special interests and do what has to be done for the working class of this country? I don't think so. It doesn't work that way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: After a neck and neck finish in Iowa, new poll tonight shows a very tight race between those two here in New Hampshire as well. The NBC News/Marist Poll shows Sanders leading at 25 percent, Buttigieg is at 2 percent, the rest of the fields significantly behind. And if you look at the margin of error, 4.7 percentage points, you get the point that's neck and neck.

Jeff Weaver is OUTFRONT, Senior Adviser to Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign. All right. So is this a two-way race? I mean, when you look at that margin of error it is, yet again, neck and neck, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg.

JEFF WEAVER, SENIOR ADVISER, BERNIE SANDERS CAMPAIGN: Well, right, but you saw Pete Buttigieg in many of the public polls in Iowa was way down and then at the end had a bit of a surge. So that could happen here in Iowa, I mean, here in New Hampshire with one of the other candidates as well. So we're taking all of the candidates seriously.

So Bernie Sanders says do you think when people receive money from powerful special interests, obviously, people like Mayor Pete have received a lot of money from big donors as opposed to small donors.

WEAVER: Yes.

BURNETT: So that is directly about Pete Buttigieg.

WEAVER: Well, look, he's funded his campaign with a big dollar donors. He has a third party group that's taking unlimited money. This money comes from executives from pharmaceutical companies, from oil companies and from a lot of other special interest on Wall Street and other places. [19:30:02]

BURNETT: And so, you think he will not be able to stand up to them?

WEAVER: Well --

BURNETT: That that would compromise his integrity?

WEAVER: Well, it's not about his integrity. I mean, look, let's take an example. He was very public supporter of Medicare-for-All before he -- when he started his presidential run. He started his presidential run, he took a lot of money from insurance executives, suddenly now, he's against Medicare-for-All.

BURNETT: For all who want it is what he's for.

WEAVER: Well, you know what that means. If you don't have Medicare for All -- if you don't have Medicare, you have private insurance, at the end of the year, Pete Buttigieg is going to bill you on your taxes, up to 10 percent of your income.

BURNETT: So, is that what we're going to hear from Bernie Sanders tonight? I mean, is he going to after healthcare specifically? What's going to be the tone? We just heard him calling out special interests earlier today. Is that what we're going to see?

WEAVER: Well, I think you're going to sigh a contrast between Senator Sanders and the other candidates, including Pete Buttigieg on issues of how they fund their campaigns and what their policy prescriptions are for the country.

BURNETT: So, Hillary Clinton has been highly critical of Sanders, obviously. That's no surprise.

(CROSSTALK)

WEAVER: I've heard that. I heard. I heard that.

BURNETT: But obviously, been a bit amped up recently. Yesterday she did an interview with Ellen DeGeneres saying that Bernie Sanders is making promises he cannot deliver. Here she is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: You've got to be responsible for what you say and what you say you're going to do. We need to rebuild trust in our fellow Americans and in our institutions. And if you promise the moon and you can't deliver the moon, then that's going to be one more indicator of how, you know, we just can't trust each other.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WEAVER: You know, I remember the attack back in 2008 about Barack Obama and unicorns and all this stuff that came out of the Clinton campaign about Barack Obama, sounds a lot like what we heard back then frankly, to me. I mean, you can go back and run that tape.

BURNETT: When you hear things, though, like Medicare for All -- obviously, Bernie Sanders isn't alone in that but he was a leader in that. You don't think that's promising the moon? He has been honest. It's going to cost a heck of a lot of money.

WEAVER: Right, although less than what we pay now for health insurance in this country. A majority of Democrats support it, large numbers of dependants. Some polls, a majority of independents support it. Some Republicans support it. So, why is that pie in the sky?

Do you know why it's pie in the sky? Because in today's Washington, the drug companies and the insurance companies run the show. And when Bernie Sanders is president, they won't run the show.

BURNETT: OK, I hear you they've got a lot of power.

WEAVER: They do.

BURNETT: But what I still don't know the answer to is how do you know that it's going to cost a whole lot more out of pocket now but less overall. That's the argument you're making. How do you really know that?

WEAVER: Because of the amount of money we spend on administrative waste, on bloated insurance company salaries, on the profits of the private insurance companies. They're going to be gone. They won't have profits paid out of peoples' pockets.

Outrageous prices we pay for prescription drugs in some cases ten times more than the Canadians pay for the same drugs, from the same factor. That will be eliminated. All those savings will come into this system and allow us to run a healthcare system that covers everybody for less overall than what we're paying now.

BURNETT: When you look at the field right now --

WEAVER: Sure.

BURNETT: -- you look at all the people who are going to be on stage tonight, Mike Bloomberg isn't going to be on the stage tonight. Who do you see as the biggest -- who do you spend the most time talking about?

WEAVER: Bernie Sanders is going to do on the stage what he always does which is talk about the plight of the American people and how we're going to fix it. Now, it is no secret, and you've seen it all the media, the stop Bernie movement, you know, this political establishment, billionaire class, Pete Buttigieg funding him. They a lot of money, frankly, in Vice President Biden's campaign, into his super PAC and they always have, the billionaire backstop which is Mike Bloomberg, on March 3rd if Bernie Sanders makes it through the first four.

And so, we're going to defeat these people and we're going to defeat Mike Bloomberg. BURNETT: OK, and then Mike Bloomberg had said if he's not the nominee,

he would help whoever is.

WEAVER: OK.

BURNETT: Is this -- is this the moment where you say you won't take that money if it is tainted billionaire money?

WEAVER: Look, Bernie Sanders said he will run a grassroots-funded general election campaign. And we think we can raise a billion dollars in small dollar money in the general election.

BURNETT: So, you would (INAUDIBLE) that money.

WEAVER: Exactly, yes.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Jeff Weaver. Good to see you.

WEAVER: My pleasure.

BURNETT: All right. Hopefully, we'll see you afterwards, see how it goes.

And next, the Biden campaign downplaying expectations for New Hampshire this evening. Why? Well, the deputy campaign manager is OUTFRONT next.

And the 2020 Democratic debate is about to start. What do the candidates need to say? Because this matters here, in a few days, you've got the crucial New Hampshire primary.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:38:08]

BURNETT: Tonight, the Biden campaign downplaying expectations ahead of the New Hampshire primary. An aide telling reporters on Friday, quote, when this nomination gets to a place where diverse voices and people from all over the country have their say, we're confident that Joe Biden is going to be the candidate that they choose.

It comes as the Biden campaign is going through a staffing change. Long-time Obama-Biden confidant, Anita Dunn, being given final decision making authority over the campaign.

OUTFRONT now, Kate Bedingfield, Biden's deputy campaign manager and communications director.

Kate, good to see you again.

KATE BEDINGFIELD, DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER AND COMMS DIRECTOR, BIDEN CAMPAIGN: Thanks for having me.

BURNETT: This obviously a big night, you know, the former vice president, he said, look, Iowa was a gut punch. He was direct about it. He was honest about it. So, what -- what's he doing tonight? What have you done to prepare for

tonight?

BEDINGFIELD: Sure. Look, Joe Biden is a fighter. I mean, as you said, he acknowledged. He took his lumps in Iowa, but he's a fighter. He's resilient. He's entire life, he's always been about that comeback story.

And so, tonight what you're going to see from him is he's going to raise really tough questions that voters have before them as they decide who they want to send to take on Donald Trump. You have candidates in this race who are self-described socialists who are putting forward, you know, $30 trillion health care plans that take away freedom of choice from people to decide what kind of health care is best for them.

You have candidates who are, you know, the mayor of small town who doesn't have the experience --

BURNETT: I love though -- this is sort of like a Voldemort kind of thing, right? Of people who shall go unnamed. I mean, that's who he's going to be looking at, Buttigieg and Sanders.

BEDINGFIELD: I think there's some very important choices in this contest. And I think tonight on the debate stage, you're going to see that. But you're also going to see him make a case for his candidacy. You're going to see him make a fiery case for the fact that he's the person who can unite this party, who can unite this country, and who can defeat Donald Trump. So, you're going to see him do that tonight.

BURNETT: So, the campaign change that I referenced, Anita Dunn, making final campaign decisions, this is according to "The New York Times". What is the purpose of this happening now? When people hear that, they say wait, is something wrong?

BEDINGFIELD: Well, look, I understand the tendency of everybody to sort of overanalyze a decision like this right now.

[19:40:03]

But, you know, I would caution everybody to not read too much into it. I mean, Anita Dunn is incredibly valuable member of our team and she's been with us since the day we launched the campaign. She's been an integral part of our senior leadership. So, this is not an overhaul of the campaign structure. This is adding capacity.

You know, growing campaigns are successful campaigns. And so, this is an opportunity to bring somebody of her talent and experience further into all of our decision-making.

BURNETT: How much frustration do you feel about the calendar? I mean, the fact that you have another state that you view, certainly we saw from that statement today, as not diverse and representative of the country where currently Joe Biden is coming in fourth in polls? We'll see what happens.

BEDINGFIELD: Yes.

BURNETT: You don't want two fourths in a wrote.

BEDINGFIELD: Well, look, we view -- I didn't mean to interrupt you.

BURNETT: No, go ahead, go ahead.

BEDINGFIELD: We view the first four states as a package. I mean, we have really -- I think, you know, we've been very clear about our campaign strategy here. We believe that obviously diverse voices should have their say in who the Democratic nominee is. And, frankly, since 1992, no candidate has been the Democratic nominee for president without the support of African-American voters.

So, you know, we view the first four as a package deal. And Iowa and New Hampshire are important, but they're the start of the process. They're not the end of the process. And so, we're looking forward to competing here.

Obviously, we believe we're going to be competitive. We're going to be here working hard through the primary on Tuesday. But we certainly view this as the start of the process and not the end of it.

BURNETT: So, Nevada and South Carolina, which of those do you feel better about right now?

BEDINGFIELD: Well, I'm not going to handicap them. I mea, I think we believe that, you know, Joe Biden's message is resonating with voters across the country. I think certainly you've seen incredible strength from him in South Carolina. Obviously, I think he has a unique connection with African-American voters that I'm not sure any other candidate in the race has.

And so, I think we believe we're going to have good nights in Nevada and South Carolina. But, obviously, South Carolina has a special place in Joe Biden's heart.

BURNETT: So, you know, Biden has been arguing it's a risk to nominate someone who -- as you said, the mayor of a small town, an untested mayor. Buttigieg responded. He said it's actually Biden who is unelectable.

And the quote from Buttigieg to "TMZ" yesterday, I'm sure you saw it, Kate, but for those who didn't, if your focus is on electability, the best way I think to demonstrate you're a candidate who can win is to go win.

BEDINGFIELD: Well -- so, I think there's a really important component here which is that Vice President Biden is a person who's been on the national stage, stood shoulder to shoulder with President Obama getting meaningful change in this country. He helped pass the Affordable Care Act. He helped pass the Violence Against Women Act.

I mean, if voters are looking at who is the candidate who has a record of progressive change, who has been in tough moments, has been in the Situation Room when there's a crisis happening, who is the steady hand, who can restore a sense of integrity to the office, I think there's no question that that's Joe Biden.

And I think that there are other candidates like Mayor Buttigieg who certainly have impressive records but that are not -- that don't stack up to the record that Joe Biden is bringing. And part of the reason he's running is his experience. He believes this is a moment where we need somebody with the kind of experience that he has and that's not experience that Mayor Buttigieg has.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much. From all of what I just heard from you and Jeff Weaver, this will be an exciting evening to watch. Thank you very much, Kate.

And next, they are some of Bernie Sanders' fiercest supporters, but has their tough talk to take down Sanders' critics crossed a line. Drew Griffin investigates.

Plus, we're just moments away from the next 2020 Democratic debate. Who has the most at stake tonight?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:47:40]

BURNETT: We are in New Hampshire where the candidates are moments away from facing off in a final debate before the first in the nation primary. As Bernie Sanders looks to capitalize on his Iowa finish, there were growing questions though about some of his fiercest competitors.

You know, if you're on Twitter, you see them, the Internet army of Sanders. Now, Sanders has disavowed their tactics, but is that enough?

Drew Griffin is OUTFRONT.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You are a loud crowd!

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Say one thing bad about Bernie Sanders online anywhere and strident Sanders supporters may attack you personally.

Multiple targets described to CNN what they call a Sanders swarm, an online army of supporters on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, some even digging into their personal lives, trying to out their identity, bully and frighten them into silence.

MIT lecturer Michael Trice says over and other again the bullying works.

MICHAEL TRICE, MIT LECTURER: The type of harassment that occurs is deeply hurtful. It's scary. It's frightening. Personally, I've had my job threatened online.

Many people experienced far, far worse. And unless someone is willing to do more, then, yes, can it only escalate because it is effective.

GRIFFIN: And unspoken Elizabeth Warren supporter whose daughter with Down syndrome is just recovering from cancer was told: You're stupid like your retard kid. Too bad the cancer didn't kill her.

Sanders opponents are told to eat this poop, and shut the F up.

An activist dying of ALS tweeted support for Elizabeth Warren and was told, go F yourself.

And the Working Families Party also endorsed Warren, it was swarmed. Bloodless, scumbag hacks, corrupt, shameless.

One user told the group's leader who was black, slave masters, had coerced his endorsement.

The abuse so bad Sanders had to respond, tweeting that that ALS activist was actually a friend and in another tweet, the candidate signaled to his followers that this campaign condemns racist bullying and harassment of any kind.

It's not clear if the Sanders followers responsible are listening. In recent weeks trolling Senator Elizabeth Warren as a snake, and in post after post, labeling Mayor Pete Buttigieg a rat.

[19:50:02]

(on camera): Two victims of this tell CNN they were so afraid of the online attacks they faced, they don't even want us to describe the circumstances for fear it would start up. They both just questioned the politics of Bernie Sanders in a public setting, and their personal lives were exposed and attacked.

(voice-over): Ben Decker who studies online harassment and threats says it is unclear how the swarms start, but Sanders supporters have been organizing in Facebook, Twitter and Reddit communities since 2016 and have only grown stronger. And while social media harassment happens across the political spectrum, Decker says the sheer number of Sanders online supporters sets them apart from other followers.

BEN DECKER, MEMETICA CEO: I think any time where you have far greater numbers, you have far greater potential for harm. And in the online community, there are far greater Sanders supporters.

GRIFFIN: Decker used Facebook's data to analyze all the pages created by the supporters of Democratic presidential candidates and found the pro-Sanders pages have 2.5 million followers with nearly 58,000 posts in a three-month period, far more than all the other Democratic candidates combined.

If only a fraction of those engage in nasty comments, they're still capable of bullying critics off social media.

DECKER: And that kind of bullying that happened at scale, it's crazy.

GRIFFIN: Sanders has insisted in several interviews those who hate online are not welcome in his campaign and in a statement to CNN, his deputy communications director says the senator has said loudly and clearly, there is no room in the political revolution for abuse and harassment online.

Not enough, say those who study online abuse.

TRICE: If you are not condemning it consistently, if you are proxies within your campaign are not working against it and trying to do something different, then that's a real issue.

GRIFFIN: An issue of abuse, online bullying and even threats that experts say is only growing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN: Erin, it's not just some Sanders followers criticized for online vitriol. Sanders speechwriter David Sirota once lashed out at critics as mentality incapacitated and wrote that Joe Biden has a big corruption problem.

Bernie Sanders again had to apologize on his campaign's behalf. As for Sirota, he did not respond to our request for comment and has deleted almost all of his past tweets -- Erin.

BURNETT: Well, all right, thank you very much, Drew.

And and next, what to watch for in tonight's crucial Democratic debate.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:57:03]

BURNETT: All right. Welcome back to a special edition of OUTFRONT here in New Hampshire.

The Democratic presidential candidates are moments away from their debate here in Manchester. It's is a crucial night. The Democrats are looking ahead. They still have a few days before the primary on Tuesday.

And Dana Bash is back with me here in the debate spin room and people can hear the buzz behind us. And, obviously, this debate is about to start.

OK. First of all, we just emphasize it is a primary. I don't know why I'm knocking on wood. We will get results on Tuesday.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a primary. It's not just the party who is putting it on. It is actually the state government.

BURNETT: Right. And there is voting issues involved.

BASH: Before we go into voting booths, yes.

BURNETT: OK. So this is obviously very important, the first primary. So, who has the most at stake tonight? When you look at the whole Iowa debacle and the kind of dead heat that you have between Sanders and Buttigieg, Biden coming in fourth, it's going to be a different night tonight.

BASH: Honestly, I think everybody except Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg have everything at stake. You know, Joe Biden, for example, I know you had one of his advisers on. I'm told that he's been off the campaign trail, Erin, for like three days. He did the CNN town hall the other night, but he's been hunkered down --

BURNETT: Preparing.

BASH: -- preparing for this moment tonight. He's been preparing to show what they call contrasts with the people who are the most -- the biggest threats to him, Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, talking about electability, talking about experience. So expect him to go hard because he has to really over-perform tonight.

And that's not me talking. That's people who really want him to do well.

BURNETT: Well, it's amazing talking to -- I mean, it was very clear. It was sort of, you know, someone who is a first-term mayor or someone that made big promises of $30 trillion health care plans. I mean, you know, we sort of make a joke about it, that he who shall not be named. But, I mean, it's going to be aggressive.

And then the Sanders campaign made it clear Pete Buttigieg, I mean, Pete Buttigieg I'm sure he's ready --

BASH: Yes. I was at -- exactly, I was at an event with Bernie Sanders and he was doing his Bernie Sanders thing. And then he stopped and he looked at the podium and there was a piece of paper prepared for him by him maybe, and that's when he started his line about first of all about Mike Bloomberg, about buying the race. But then about Pete Buttigieg about all of the billionaires who are contributing to his campaign, signaling what we are likely to see tonight but also signaling and reminding us where we are in the race that you have Bernie Sanders taking a moment, a prepared moment to go after Pete Buttigieg because of what happened in Iowa.

BURNETT: I mean, it is it is an incredible thing, and it's going to be an interesting few hours.

And for all of you, we're not going anywhere. Dana and I will be back at 11:00 p.m. Eastern. We'll be interviewing the candidates after their debate.

Anderson is up next. He has an interview with the seven House impeachment managers. We'll see you in a couple hours.

"AC360" starts now.