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THE SITUATION ROOM

Impeachment Witness Lt. Col. Vindman Fired from White House; Interview with Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA). Rep. Ro Khanna reacts on the firing of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman; Sanders Hits Buttigieg Over Wealthy Donors; Trumps Mocks Democrats Over Iowa Counting Troubles; Some Sanders Fans Use Hostile Tactics To Drown Out Critics; Coronavirus Infections Spur Cruise Ship Quarantines Amid Growing Global Concerns Over Spreading Threat. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 7, 2020 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:15]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WOLF BLITZER: I am Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. And we're following breaking news. Just two days after the Senate voted to acquit President Trump on two articles of impeachment, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council official, testified against the president during the impeachment hearing has been fired from his job over at the White House. Vindman's brother, Eugene, an attorney at the National Security Council was also fired from his White House position.

I'll speak with the Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna. He's a member of the House Oversight and Armed Services Committees. And our correspondents and analysts will have full coverage of the day's top stories.

First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta. Jim, the president has been fuming about Vindman apparently ever since he testified.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And the president is making it clear tonigh, Wolf, that he's seeking retribution after this impeachment fight. And it seems first on his list is Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the National Security official was fired by the White House. He was escorted off the grounds of the White House earlier today. According to his lawyer, Ambassador David Pressman, we have a statement we can put up on screen from Pressman about what happened to his client, Alexander Vindman.

It says there are still questions in the mind of any American why this man's job is over. Why this country now has one less serving it, one less soldier serving it at the White House. Lieutenant Colonel Vindman was asked to leave for telling the truth. His honor, his commitment to right frightened the powerful.

The other thing we can point out in this - in this statement from his attorney, Wolf, it goes on the say that essentially the president here has decided to exact revenge. Earlier in the day, the president was asked about some speculation, reports that were coming out that Vindman was on his way out here at the White House and the president all but confirmed those reports. Here's what he had to say earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Mr. President, would you like to see alexander Vindman out of your White House? Do you want Alexander --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I am not happy with him. You think I am supposed to be happy with him? I'm not. They'll make that decision. You will be hearing. They'll make a decision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: And of course, we all remember during the impeachment inquiry when Alexander Vindman testified in front of the House, and said in this country, right matters. That testimony obviously got under the president's skin. For weeks, he was going off on Vindman and other administration staffers who were testifying in the impeachment inquiry as never Trumpers.

There were some allies of the president up on Capitol Hill, as we all recall, who were questioning Lieutenant Colonel Vindman's patriotism. That was met with a lot of criticism at that time.

We should also note at this hour, Wolf, that there's other talk inside the White House about a House cleaning earlier today. It was asked to the president whether or not he had his sights set on his acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, whether Mulvaney might be on his way out, There had been some talk for weeks now that after this impeachment inquiry was over that perhaps Mulvaney would be out the door but no, the president said that was not the case.

I talked to a senior administration official earlier today who said quote, "all is well with Mick Mulvaney" and that reports of his demise have been greatly exaggerated.

But at the same time, Wolf, there is talk about bringing in an outsider. Perhaps a new council to the president, perhaps a new adviser to the president and that is the North Carolina Republican Mark Meadows, told by a couple of administration officials earlier today that Meadows may be coming into the White House just not in that Chief of Staff role. Wolf?

BLITZER: And what is the White House saying about the fact that Vindman-Alexander Vindman -- Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, who was fired, also his twin brother -

ACOSTA: That's right.

BLITZER: -- a U.S. officer, a U.S. army officer, a lawyer, working at the National Security Council, was also removed. ACOSTA: That's right. Both of these brothers were abruptly fired today and the White House, for now, is silent on this matter. All the White House will say at this point is that they don't comment on personnel issues, but it obviously raises the question, Wolf, whether or not the president himself ordered the firing of these two brothers in retaliation against Alexander Vindman for testifying during this impeachment inquiry.

Obviously, this is not the first administration official to feel the heat from this White House. Of course, there's the former Ukrainian Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch who was essentially forced out, according to House Democrats, because she was standing in the way of the president's scheme to exchange military assistance with the Ukrainians for dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden. And, Wolf, obviously this is always also going to spark debate, raise the debate once again here in Washington as to whether or not the president has learned anything from this impeachment saga.

[17:05:03]

Susan Collins who is one Republican senator who is saying earlier this week that she believes the president learned something, learned a lesson on all of this, but perhaps the lesson the president has learned, Wolf, after this entire impeachment saga is now over is that he can get away with and that he can seek retaliation against people who were testifying against him during those hearings up on Capitol Hill. But we're waiting to find out whether or not president has more to say on all of this. He's arriving at the White House just now after an event earlier today down in Charlotte, North Carolina.

BLITZER: We'll see if anything he says. All right, Jim Acosta, at the White House. Thank you.

Let's go to Capitol Hill right now where CNN's Manu Raju has been getting congressional reaction to Lieutenant Colonel Vindman's firing. Manu, what are you hearing?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Democrats are just starting to react now. This of course happened in the past hour, and most of Congress is gone for the weekend but some statements are starting to come out, one from the House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliott Angle who was part of that impeachment inquiry in the House.

He issued a statement that says, "This is shameful of course. But this is also what we should now expect from an impeached president whose party has decided he is above the law and accountable to no one. And any senator who voted to keep Trump in office thinking he has learned his lesson must answer for this and for whatever parade of abuses we see in the future."

Now his word was spilling out earlier today that Vindman could be fired. The Democrats were already reacting including the House Judiciary Committee Chairman who told reporters just off the House Floor that this was a sub version of justice.

And Nancy Pelosi told reporters that she would be stunned if the president took that step. We will see if -- how she responds now.

Now the hearing Vindman participated in before the House Intelligence Committee, he raised serious concerns about the president's phone call with the Ukrainian President Zelensky. And also was asked about retribution that he may face, and he said it was nothing like the retribution his family faced when they were in the Soviet Union.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL'S TOP UKRAINE EXPERT: Dad, I am sitting here today in the U.S. Capitol talking to our elected professionals, talking to our elective professionals, it's proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America in search for a better life for our family. Do not worry I will be fine for telling the truth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: We're still waiting to see how Republicans react if any. And as Jim was noting there are a number of Republicans who have mentioned that they believe the president has learned some lessons from all of this. I talked to several of them this week who said they hoped the president has realized that he can't cross a line anymore. Everyone from Rob Portman of Ohio, to Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, others including the Senate Majority Whip John Thune also said the president, they hope the president has taken something away from this.

The only person who reacts so far earlier today was Susan Collins who was asked by reporters before Vindman's firing about a prospect of his removal. She said, she'd obviously be concerned about that but will see if there's any more reaction from the president's own party in the aftermath of this decision to apparently retaliate against this ket impeachment witness. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes. OK, Manu. Thank you, Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill.

Another key impeachment witness, Bill Taylor, the former top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine told CNN's Jake Tapper that he was deeply worried about smears against Lieutenant Colonel Vindman and others. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Does it bother you when you see like how Rudy Giuliani was out there smearing Yovanovitch and the dual loyalty smears against Lieutenant Colonel Vindman who you know and I assume you respect?

BILL TAYLOR, FORMER TOP U.S. DIPLOMAT TO UKRAINE: I do.

TAPPER: It must bother you to see that?

TAYLOR: I -- of course it bothers me anytime I see someone like Marie Yovanovitch or Alex Vindman, unfairly attacked, anyone unfairly attacked, it bothers you. Anyone -- so certainly, it does.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's discuss this with Democratic Congressman, Ro Khanna. He's a member of the Oversight and Armed Services Committees. Congressman, thank you so much for coming in.

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): Thanks for having me on.

BLITZER: Let me get your reaction. Was this an act of revenge on the part of the president, as some are already suggesting?

KHANNA: It's clearly retribution. And the Senate should have expected this. I mean, this is a president who has never expressed remorse, never expressed contrition. So I don't why senators thought he would not do this. This is exactly what he did with Comey and it's clear he has not learned any of the lessons.

BLITZER: And Lieutenant Colonel Vindman served in Iraq. He was wounded. Probably still has some shrapnel in his body, has received medals for his service, and a lot of people are wondering is this the way he really should be treated?

KHANNA: Well, it's appalling. I mean he's a true patriot. He served this country. As you put it, in Iraq, he sacrificed his own body for this nation. And for this president to exert retribution as opposed to just wishing that this whole thing goes away. And most politicians, they would say, wow, I escaped from the skin of my teeth. Let's just move on. But this president is not that type of person.

BLITZER: And you heard that emotional statement that he made before the committee. He's a son of Soviet Jewish immigrants, who has escaped the Soviet Union, settled in Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, established a new life, they came over with nothing, and he wound up in the U.S. military as a lieutenant colonel, and a lot of people are wondering is this how somebody like that should be treated? He's a real patriot.

[17:10:17]

KHANNA: He's a patriot. And this is the deepest concern that people have with this president. That he is undermining the very essence of what it means to be American. When you come to this country, you know that you will be treated fairly, that you won't have some government official no matter how powerful target you. And here is an individual who's been targeted, first as he put it, telling the truth.

BLITZER: And his brother, Eugene, his twin brother also kicked out today. He didn't testify or anything like that. I wonder, why they decided to get rid of him.

KHANNA: I mean this is -- it's almost a mob's work. And maybe that works in New York City when you're doing development. But certainly, you don't want to have that running the United States government. I mean it's really just unconscionable.

BLITZER: You're on the Oversight Committee, the Armed Services Committee, is there anything the U.S. Congress can do about this?

KHANNA: Sure. We will investigate it. We will try to subpoena the information. But the question that has to be asked is what more can the Congress do? We impeached. And the question is what are the senators doing? What are the senators Portman and Murkowski and Collins, what is their call now? What are they going to say about how we hold this president accountable?

BLITZER: Well, a lot will depend now on what the Department of Defense, the U.S. Military, he's in the Army, what they do about the - about Lieutenant Colonel Vindman and his twin brother, what kind of positions they get? Are they effectively sidelined or are they allowed to pursue their military careers?

KHANNA: My understanding is they have to go and return to the Pentagon, but obviously, there's a concern if they will be sidelined and they are not going to be able to achieve what their potential is. But I think all of this shows that we need an independent (INAUDIBLE) agency in our government to investigate the president and officials and not leave that to the Senate and Congress. We obviously have not been successful in holding this president to account.

BLITZER: Let me show you some images we've obtained. CNN has obtained of Rudy Giuliani's criminally indicted associate Lev Parnas - you can see there. They were in Spain. Apparently, having a nice time. Do you expect House Democrats to continue to pursue this entire investigation now that the president has been impeached? is it over?

KHANNA: It's not over, and partly because the Senate did not have a real trial. There were no witnesses. I expect that John Bolton will be called and will testify in the House. He can't now avoid the testimony when he was willing to testify in the Senate. And I think the American people are owed an explanation of everything that went on, including Rudy Giuliani's role.

BLITZER: We will see what happens on that front. Congressman, Ro Khanna, thank you so much for coming in.

And stay with us. We have more on the breaking news, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the White House Ukraine expert on the National Security Council who testified at the Trump impeachment hearings, getting fired from his White House job late today. Will other White House officials who testified also be escorted out?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:17:17]

BLITZER: Breaking news. We're following Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert at the National Security Council, who testified during the House impeachment hearings was fired over at the White House.

Let's bring in our correspondents and analysts to discuss. Maggie Haberman, thank you so much for coming in. I want to read to you a portion of the statement from Lieutenant Colonel Vindman's lawyer. "The truth has cost Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman his job, his career, and his privacy. He did what any member of our military is charged with doing every day: he followed orders, he obeyed his oath, and 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 complicit -- has decided to exact revenge."

Maggie, what are you learning about this decision, apparently at the highest levels to fire Lieutenant Colonel Vindman and his twin brother who also worked at the National Security Council on legal matters?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": This decision has been in the works for a while, Wolf, and really came to a head this week when it was clear that the president was going to be acquitted by the Senate. The president has railed about Alexander Vindman for a very long time. He has complained about his testimony. He has insisted that he was acting outside of his lane and the president has been encouraged by some of his own advisers that Vindman went too far, that he didn't have -- he is not the one who sets the policy. The president is the one who sets the policy.

This is perhaps the least surprising thing that has happened, frankly. The president has made clear, he was going to make an example of people who went against him in one form or another, whether it was Mitt Romney or Alex Vindman. But it is going to you know, it is not without possible splash back on the president that he is doing this with a military veteran and a decorated military veteran, somebody who did testify under oath, somebody who is speaking about the ideals of the U.S.

And that is the message that the president's critics and his Democratic rivals are going to hammer him over for the next nine months.

BLITZER: They certainly will. And Dana, let me play a portion of Lieutenant Colonel Vindman's dramatic testimony before the House of Representatives. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): What is it about the relationship between the president of the United States and the president of Ukraine that leads you to conclude that when the president of United States asks a favor like this it's really a demand?

VINDMAN: Chairman, the culture I come from, the military culture, when a senior asked you to do something, even if it's polite and pleasant, it's not to be taken as a request. It's to be taken as an order. In this case, the power disparity between the two leaders, my impression is that in order to get the White House meeting, President Zelensky would have to deliver these investigations.

[17:20:00]

BLITZER: Do you think, Dana, think the president has been emboldened by his acquittal?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It certainly looks that way. You know go back to the statements that we heard from some of the Republicans who were kind of on the bubble or up against the wall given where they are geographically, Susan Collins, for example, in Maine up for re-election as we all know, this year. She and others said, well, that they believed that the president has learned his lesson.

Now, they were talking more broadly about the fact that they didn't think he was going to call up another foreign leader and say please investigate my political opponent. But this is you know potentially of the same ilk in that. There's retribution going on here. That is blatant. I mean there's no question that that is what is happening here, and it's because it's clear he feels emboldened. That was on display in the East Room of the White House yesterday.

But what we don't know, and I actually have been checking around with some sources on Capitol Hill is whether there's anything Congress can do about it. The House Democrats will likely look into that to see if there's anything that can be done. The answer is probably no because the president does have the ability -- he has a lot of authority, including, to decide you know what, there's maybe somebody who is a decorated veteran or active duty -- not even a veteran sitting in the White House, but I want him to go someplace else. I am the commander- in-chief and have the ability to do that.

But just to Maggie's point it doesn't mean it's not a bad look or at least easy pickings for political opponents to say, are you kidding me with this move?

BLITZER: I am bringing in Toluse. Toluse, it seems clear to me that the president was waiting for the acquittal before firing Lieutenant Colonel Vindman. He could have fired him over these past couple of months. He didn't.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, he was waiting for this - the air to clear on this impeachment. He wanted to have his acquittal. He had the celebration at the White House, really planting the flag in the end zone saying that I have the Republican Party on my side. I can do what I want at this point. And that's what we are seeing with the dismissal of Lieutenant Colonel Vindman. The Republicans did the denial over the dismissal and a smear campaign against Marie Yovanovitch in Ukraine. The president feels like those same Republicans will have his back as he gets rid of Vindman. Sort of unceremoniously fires Purple Heart recipient and has him escorted from the White House. Republicans who were silent about Marie Yovanovitch, who were silent about his phone call, will be silent about this as well.

CHRIS CILIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR AT LARGE: Yes. He's - just to pick up on Toluse football metaphor. Donald Trump is a guy who spikes it in the end zone even if he is not in the end zone, right? I mean not just who he fundamentally is. He celebrates victories often times when there are not victories. I think Maggie is right. There are -- there's a level of blowback that will come here. It will not be from within the Republican Party. Let's be candid.

If you watched yesterday that celebration, it's pretty clear that the hostile takeover conducted by Donald Trump of the Republican Party in 2016 is now complete. There's a called of personality there. They for whatever reasons they have bought in. Fear, they believe in loyalty whatever they have bought in.

So I think his senses, you took a swing, you missed, I'm going to spike the football -- I know I am mixing my metaphors, but that's who the guy is. He does it when he doesn't win. He views this as a total win. And I've said this before, if you thought Donald Trump was wild, unbound before, post acquittal Donald Trump - because his view is, are you going to impeach me again? You know I think you're going to see ever more of that. He will be -- I don't know if there's a - it's like what's louder than 10. But he will be even more emboldened now than he was before.

BLITZER: We're going to take a break. But I want to put up on the screen once again this graphic of the individuals who testified during all of this. As you can see, Lieutenant Colonel Vindman now fired at the White House. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch forced out of her position in Ukraine, Jennifer Williams left the vice president's office. Bill Taylor left Ukraine in January. Tim Morrison resigned from the National Security Council, all gone.

All right, we got a lot more on all the breaking news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:29:12]

BLITZER: All right, just in to CNN. Troy Price the embattle chair of the Iowa Democratic Party says, mistakes made during Monday's caucuses were categorically unacceptable. Price admitted to reporters that he never even personally used the failed app right at the center of the iconic controversy.

CNN's Ryan Nobles is joining us with more. What are you hearing, Ryan?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it seems pretty clear here that price is admitting some level of fault. But in that press conference with the reporters today, he didn't really get into the specifics as to what he thought the problems were with the Iowa Democratic Party and their tabulation of the resorts.

He did promise though when independent investigation would occur at some point where they would get into the problems and then reveal that to the public.

Now, Wolf, this is important because we still don't know the final results in Iowa in part of what will take us to get there as whether or not the campaigns ask for recanvass of the vote. They now have until Monday to ask for that.

I caught up with Bernie Sanders today to ask if his campaign would be among those asking for one, and this is what he had to say.

[17:30:00]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NOBLES: I know you told me yesterday, you want to move pass Iowa, but your campaign still has the option to ask for recanvass of the vote there. Is that something you're exploring? You're open to that idea?

BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're not going to ask for a recanvass of the whole state, and one is necessarily not going to do. But I think there were some precincts where there were some pretty apparent irregularities, and the New York Times noticed it, NBC noticed it, other medias noticed it. I think we will ask the Iowa Democratic Party to take a look at those precincts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBLES: So you can see that Sanders doesn't want the entire state to be looked at again, and that's in part because he is ready to move on to New Hampshire. And even though the Iowa results are in the rear view mirror, what happened in there is certainly changing his focus here in New Hampshire.

Today, he really started to sharpen his attacks on Pete Buttigieg, who was, of course, the candidate who was neck and neck with him in Iowa, specifically going after Buttigieg and his donor base. Listen to what Sanders told me about where he thinks about where the money coming to fund, the Buttigieg campaign, is coming from.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: Do you think that when people received money from powerful special interests that they really going to stand up to those special interest 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.

NOBLES: I mean, he might argue that you're calling in to question his integrity.

SANDERS: I mean people always say that. But the real question is, if you are a CEO of a drug company, why would you make a contribution? What do you want after? Are you doing that out of the goodness of your heart? That is what -- that is the great crisis of the American politics. It's big money interest, the drug companies, the insurance companies, the fossil fuel industry, the financiers, making huge contributions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBLES: So you can bet, Wolf, no doubt that this is an issue that's going to come up big time tonight on the debate stage, the last debate before the vote in New Hampshire on Tuesday night. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Ryan Nobles, thanks very much. Let's get to the insight from our correspondents and experts. Once again, Dana Bash, you're up there in New Hampshire right now. Does anyone really stand to gain if there's recanvass of the Iowa caucuses?

BASH: The Iowa Democratic Party, I mean, that's about -- and the Democratic National Committee, that's about it right now as far as I can see because, you know, they are trying to find a way to save face. And that's a really uphill climb at this point.

Would it be nice for Bernie Sanders, for Pete Buttigieg to have finality and to really understand at the end of the day what the votes are? Maybe. But you just heard Bernie Sanders with Ryan, you've heard him on the stump, and same with Pete Buttigieg. They are kind of -- they in their campaigns for the most part have accepted what happened or didn't happen, accepted the chaos at this point. And they're trying to focus on what's happening right here in New Hampshire, and much more importantly what happens in Nevada, South Carolina on Super Tuesday and beyond.

BLITZER: You know, Maggie, the president, of course, has immediately seizing on the chaos that occurred in Iowa. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Now, I understand the votes are fried in Iowa. They couldn't even take a simple tabulation, and yet they are telling you how to run the country and how to run health care. I think they fried their votes on computer. Think of all the money the Democrats spent and the votes are fried. They have no idea who won. They have no idea.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He's clearly gloating. What are you hearing, Maggie?

HABERMAN: I don't know what fried the votes mean, but he's not wrong that this really could not be a bigger mess if they had actively been trying to make it as big a big mess, and that is all on the Democrats. But what this president has done consistently in the campaign and as president is, is accelerate the lack of faith in institutions that people have had for a while now, long predating him. That's kind of his brand and what he does.

And he is just throwing accelerant on what is already eroding distrust in this process in Iowa, and that, of course, going to race questions and sort of concerns for the future going forward. Not just for the caucuses but people are concerned about election security and about whether the vote is going to be counted safely, and whether their votes will count.

And he is feeding into that because it benefits him. I mean, I think this -- where he gets criticized for that is, from people who want to see a president not accelerate a lack of faith in institutions, to think that a president ought to be setting a tone. But this is what he does and it's not surprising to see him do it here.

BLITZER: Yes. The Democrats better get it right in New Hampshire on Tuesday.

HABERMAN: Right, that's right.

BLITZER: We don't want to see a similar situation. Toluse, what do you think?

OLORUNNIPA: Well, there are some people who say that President Trump wants to run against Bernie Sanders, that he wants to run against Joe Biden, or that maybe he thinks that running against Buttigieg would be best because of the big contrast between, you know, someone who is -- has only a little bit of experience in the small city.

[17:35:00]

I think what the president, what the Republicans and what the campaign wants is for -- a repeat of what we saw in Iowa. No clear victor, no clear understanding of who's emerging from Iowa in a long drawn out process. So as the president is able to amass millions of dollars in fund raising with no real opposition, the Democrats are fighting it out with no real frontrunner.

And I think that's something that he is trying to shape, he's trying to interject himself into the Democratic primary. He's going to be doing a rally in New Hampshire, ahead of New Hampshire vote. And he wants this to go on as long as possible without any clear clarity about what --

BLITZER: The rally in Iowa just -- before the Iowa caucuses as well. You say this has been a very good week for the president?

CILLIZZA: It has. And, look, he, I think, tried to sabotage himself with this celebration, as he called it yesterday which, you know, talking about the question really-- the geocity of Mitt Romney and Nancy Pelosi saying that the people who opposed him are evil. But even in spite of that, look at the week.

Again, he's a-- Jeb Bush said, Donald Trump is a chaos candidate. He'd be a cash president. Jeb Bush can get a lot right in the 2016 campaign. He got that right. Chaos works in Donald Trump's favor to Toluse point, chaos in Iowa.

State of the union speech, Republicans loved it, Democrats hated it, Donald Trump likes that, the acquittal in the Senate, again, a very pointed partisan thing. And by the way, Gallup polling shows him at his highest point, 49 percent job approval, 94 percent among Republicans. That is a recipe for Donald Trump's success is polarize the two parties as much as humanly possible, and then hope you can win enough independents and unaffiliated voters because they like the economy even if they don't like you.

BLITZER: And, Maggie, the January jobs numbers that just came out today, 225,000 jobs added, 3.6 percent unemployment. If it's the economy stupid, as James Carville used to say, those are pretty good numbers.

HABERMAN: Those are pretty good numbers. It's the economy stupid but it's also how the president acts and the things he does, as Chris just said. If he can keep himself from doing that long enough over the course of the next nine months, he is a favorite to win reelection. He just is. That just doesn't mean he will, but he is certainly as a favorite.

BLITZER: Yes. It's an important point. Everybody standby, there's more news we're following including this. The fight of passengers trapped on cruise ships because of the coronavirus quarantine, stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:41:53]

BLITZER: Senator Bernie Sanders heads into Tuesday's New Hampshire primary riding high after a strong finish in the Iowa caucuses. He has far social media followers than any other Democratic candidate. But as our Senior Investigative Correspondent Drew Griffin explains some Sanders fans are using bullying and hostile tactics on social media to try and drown out his critics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: You are a loud crowd.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: 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 supports, on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit. Some even digging into their personal lives, trying to out their identity, bully and frightened them into silence.

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

MICHAEL TRICE, MIT LECTURER: The type of harassment that occurs, it is deeply hurtful. It's scary. It's frightening. Personally, I've had my job threatened online. Many people have experienced far, far worse, and unless someone is willing to do more, then, yes, it can only escalate because it's effective.

GRIFFIN: An outspoken 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.

Activist dying of ALS tweeted support for Elizabeth Warren and was told go f yourself. When 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.

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

Ben Decker who studies online harassment and threats says it's 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 shear number of Sanders online supporters sets them apart from other followers.

[17:45:04]

BEN DECKER, MEMETICA CEO: I think anytime when 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 pagers have 2.5 million followers with nearly 58,000 posts in the three month period. Far more than all of the other Democratic candidates combined. If only a fraction of those engaged in nasty comments, they're still capable of bullying critics off social media.

DECKER: And that kind of bullying that happens 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're not condemning it consistently, if your proxies within your campaign are not working against it, it trying to do something different, then that's a real issue.

GRIFFIN: An issue of abuse, only bullying and even threats that expert say is only growing. Drew Griffin, CNN, Boston.

BLITZER: Coming up, cruise ships are the next hot spots for the deadly coronavirus. So experts worry the close quarters could lead to rapidly spreading disease.

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[17:51:33]

BLITZER: Tonight, coronavirus infections on cruise ships are becoming a very serious concern, as governments around the world struggle to get a handle on the scope of the deadly disease. Brian Todd is working on this story for us. Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT; Wolf, we still got thousands of people quarantined on two cruise ships in Asia including several Americans who have tested positive for the virus. Today, a scare along America's east coast when a crowded cruise ship pulled into a New Jersey port.

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TODD: The Anthem of the Seas was just on a standard Caribbean cruise, but the alarm over coronavirus has gotten so strong that when the cruise ship docked in Bayonne, New Jersey passengers were screened. And four people who had been to Mainland China in late January, but not to the province where the virus originated, were taken for additional testing.

Half a world away, on another cruise ship in Japan, Rebecca Frasure is one of a dozen Americans who have tested positive for coronavirus.

REBECCA FRASURE, QUARANTINED ON CRUISE SHIP: A little bit scared. Hard to know what the future holds since I don't really feel sick right now, like is it going to get worse?

TODD: Thousands of people on at least two cruise ships in Asia had been quarantined, confined to their cabins, which one expert says could present a new set of dangers.

DR. CELINE GOUNDER, INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST, NYU SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: Cruise ships are Petri dishes. One thing that concerns me about having so many people on a ship like that is you're keeping them in close quarters where you may actually be amplifying transmission from sick people to other people.

TODD: Meanwhile, the latest planes out of Americans being evacuated from Wuhan, the ground zero of coronavirus, arrived in the US today. Hundreds of them are being quarantined on military basis, one wearing a mask and streaming about conditions inside.

KATHERINE LI, QUARANTINED AT US MILITARY BASE: This compound has been fenced. We are allowed to do anything inside the fence but not allowed to go outside.

TODD: Tonight there are more than 31,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus around the world with more than 630 deaths, almost all of those cases inside Mainland China. But the virus has spread to more than 25 countries and regions. There are a dozen cases in the US.

ALEX AZAR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Although the virus represents a potentially very serious public health threat, and we expect to continue seeing more cases here, the immediate risk to the American public is low at this time.

TODD: Tonight, there's been a social media revolt inside China, accusations that the communist government covered up the early stages of the outbreak. Citizens are outraged over the faith of Dr. Li Wenliang who was among a group of whistleblowers who sounded easterly alarms about coronavirus.

Li was accused of rumor-mongering, of being disruptive, and was targeted by police. He later contracted the virus himself and died. Chinese president meanwhile uncharacteristically disappeared from public view for several days at the height of the outbreak.

YUN SUN, CHINA PROGRAM DIRECTOR, STIMSON CENTER: The need to avoid to be the public face of this issue is quite pressing. Because Xi is extremely careful about his reputation and about his image.

TODD: Analyst Yun Sun who monitors Chinese media says the Beijing government is still blocking information about the virus like an online article about Dr. Li's death.

SUN: What it says is that, that the content of this article violates related regulations of the information on the internet space. Therefore, it cannot be viewed.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: President Trump would not criticize China for covering up the outbreak. The president telling reporters today, he's had at least one lengthy discussion with Xi Jinping about combating the virus. And he says the Chinese are working hard to defeat it.

[17:55:09]

This comes as the president and his team are escalating their own response to the outbreak with some tougher new measures. Coronavirus getting new levels of attention inside the White House now that impeachment in behind them. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you. Brian Todd reporting.

Coming up, a key impeachment witness and his brother fired from the White House just two days after the Senate voted to acquit the president. Is it retribution for telling the truth?

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world, I'm Wolf Blitzer.