Return to Transcripts main page


Democratic Contenders Sharpen Attacks Ahead of N.H. Primary; Buttigieg and Sanders Taking Each Other On; Schumer Calling for Investigation into Trump's Witness Retaliation. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired February 10, 2020 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining me today.

It is crunch time, folks. Just one more day until New Hampshire voters head to the polls for first in the nation presidential primary. The Democratic contenders are then crisscrossing the state making their final pitches to voter and also sharpening their attacks against each other.

Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders, the two candidates that appear to be at the top -- that are at the top coming out of the Iowa caucuses. They're taking each other on in a way we have not seen since they got into this race. And it's just them.


PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & FORMER SOUTH BEND MAYOR: I respect Senator Sanders. But when I hear this message go out that you're either for a revolution or you got to be for the status quo, that's a vision of the country that doesn't have room for most of us.

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES & DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I get it. He's a good guy. He's a great mayor. But guess what? He was a mayor.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): I'm running against some guys, Pete Buttigieg among others, who have raised campaign funds from over 40 billion -- 40 billionaires, 40 billionaires.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): Bernie and I are friends. I appreciate his service. But I don't think he should lead the ticket.


BOLDUAN: We have reporters following the candidates across the state. Let's get to it.

Let's start with Ryan Nobles, tracking Bernie Sanders in Manchester.

Ryan, give me the sense. We know Bernie Sanders won the state in 2016 by 20-plus points. What is the campaign saying today?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's no doubt, Kate, they feel pretty confident about Bernie Sanders' chances here tomorrow night. He just wrapped up a breakfast event here in Manchester.

And what I found interesting about what Sanders had to say to this crowd today, he was still alluding to the fact that there are candidates in this race who have wealthy donors behind them. But he did not mention Pete Buttigieg or Joe Biden specifically by name.

So he clearly wants to continue to have that line of attack in the water. But he seems to be focusing more on emphasizing his strengths in this race as opposed to knocking down his competitors.

Still, he wants to make it clear how his campaign is funded versus how some of these other campaigns are funded.

Take a listen to what he said here about an hour ago.


SANDERS: Even in the newspapers today, you can see candidates conferring with their donors. You are my donors.


SANDERS: We don't go to rich people's homes and get advice from millionaires and billionaires who are raising all kinds of money.


NOBLES: One other thing I found today in the speech this morning, Kate, is the consistency of Sanders. Oftentimes, at this closing stage of a primary or caucus campaign, you hear candidates making their closing arguments to voters in these various states.

Sanders' closing argument is the same argument he's been making for close to 40 years. He's talking about economic --


NOBLES: He's talking about Medicare For All. He's talking about climate change.

There's no closing argument. There's one argument for Bernie Sanders, and that's, this is who I am, please come vote for me tomorrow night -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: We saw momentum in Iowa. We'll soon see what that means in New Hampshire.

It's good to see you, man. Thank you.

Let's get to Abby Phillip, who is following Pete Buttigieg in Plymouth, New Hampshire. Abby, I hear applause behind you. This back and forth between Joe

Biden and Pete Buttigieg is noteworthy since Iowa. What are you hearing from them this morning?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, it is a clear change of tone for Joe Biden. I think the Buttigieg campaign is perfectly fine with this conversation. It is really been a tool for them to go back to a core message he's had all along, which is that he's been actually making the case that a mayor is just the type of leader that is needed to lead the country.

And so I think what we have seen over the last several days is the Buttigieg campaign really pushing back on this idea from the Biden campaign that they're looking down on small towns and on cities across the country.

And it also led to questions for Biden about whether or not this is the same kind of argument that was made against Barack Obama back in 2008.

Here is a little bit of the back and forth between Biden and Buttigieg over the weekend on this topic.


BUTTIGIEG: Is this an act of desperation on your campaign to be --

BIDEN: Come on, man.


BUTTIGIEG: -- to make this assertion of mayor Buttigieg.

BIDEN: This guy is not a Barack Obama.

BUTTIGIEG: He's right. I'm not. Neither is he. Neither is any of us running for president. This isn't 2008. It is 2020. And we are in a new moment, calling for a different kind of leadership.



PHILLIP: What I think is clear here is that the Buttigieg campaign has actually been looking ahead. They finished in a relative tie with Bernie Sanders in Iowa. In a lot of the polls, Sanders is leading Buttigieg by a few points.

We have seen him on the trail talking about Senator Sanders and whether or not he can pay for the plan that he proposed.


He talks a lot about whether there's a choice between revolution or the status quo or whether there's a middle ground. And I think Buttigieg has been arguing that he can be that middle ground. I think we're seeing, in this campaign, not so much of a focus on Joe

Biden, but a focus on the candidate who appears to be ahead of him here in the state of New Hampshire, which is Bernie Sanders.

In these last 24 hours, I think the Buttigieg argument to voters here is essentially that you have another choice, you do not have to go all the way to either extreme -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Good to see you, Abby. Thank you very much.

Let's get over to Jessica Dean. She is covering Joe Biden today, in the town of Gilford, New Hampshire.

Jessica, Biden's facing tough questions. You heard that with what Jeff Zeleny was asking, about his standing in the race. What is he saying?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's been the line of questioning throughout the weekend. Kate, if you talk to his advisers, and even from him, they are ready to get to Nevada, ready to get to South Carolina.

The central argument to all of this has been you got to take these first four states as a whole and then evaluate after South Carolina and then into Super Tuesday.

They're counting on that firewall of sorts in South Carolina where he has held on to very strong support from African-American voters. They're hopeful also in Nevada that Latino voters, union support will boost them through.

But the fact is, we are here in New Hampshire, and he had a disappointing showing in Iowa. It remains to be seen what happens here in New Hampshire.

But, Kate, the campaign always said they can afford to lose Iowa and New Hampshire and then go to the following states.

What they really didn't count on was to be in such a weak standing in Iowa and come here to New Hampshire and see a surging Pete Buttigieg and see a surging Amy Klobuchar. That's what's happening here.

Earlier today, there's talk about money, fundraising on the Biden campaign, and he answered some questions in an interview earlier today. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How concerned are you about the rise of Bloomberg?

BIDEN: I'm not concerned. By the way, the only baggage he has is all that money. He's already spent $300 million on advertising.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: But there are questions about how much you have -- money is a strength, too. Money is a strength, too.

BIDEN: I have enough money. We have been raising about half a million dollars a day.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So your campaign is not running low on cash as some people are reporting?

BIDEN: No, it is not.


DEAN: So there you go, right out of the vice president's mouth there.

And his campaign maintaining that they have the money, they need to run this race to get to South Carolina. But, Kate, that's going to be the key.

And now a lot of pressure on Joe Biden to really perform incredibly strongly once we get out of New Hampshire, get into Nevada and certainly in South Carolina.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

Great to see, Jessica. Thank you so much. A beautiful scene behind you today.

Joining me now, CNN political commentator, Jess McIntosh, who was director of communication outreach for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and Jeff Zeleny, CNN senior Washington correspondent.

Hi, friend.

So, Jess, back in 2016, you remember when Bernie sander won the New Hampshire primary handily. At this point in 2020, is this -- would you be saying -- are you in the -- are you of the thought this is Sanders' race to lose this time.



I think the biggest race that Bernie Sanders is in right now is with turnout. I think -


MCINTOSH: Oh, sorry, was that directed at me or --


BOLDUAN: It was Jess.

Both of you are amazing and can answer.

But go, Jessica.

MCINTOSH: In a room our names rhyme.

I think this is Bernie's to lose. And the biggest problem now is turnout. The biggest plus for Bernie Sanders is he is leading a movement, that he will bring new people into the fold, that young people who never would have voted before will vote this time, for him, if he's the nominee. That didn't pan out in Iowa.

And I think that has a lot of Democrats who were excited about the Bernie Sanders candidacy a little concerned.

So for him, I want to see who shows up tonight. It's not a caucus, it is a primary. You can vote in a Democratic election. You only have to show up the once and vote.

Is he able to bring all those new people to the table? Do we see higher turnout in New Hampshire than we did in 2016? Does it come closer to 2008? That's where I think the challenge for Bernie Sanders is today.

BOLDUAN: On turnout, Jeff Zeleny, turnout was disappointing in Iowa. What do you -- what are you hearing on the ground? Is there concern about that in New Hampshire? Clearly two very different systems, very different contests as we laid out ad nauseam. Is that a concern in New Hampshire?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, sorry, Jess, for stepping on you. Our names do sound alike.


I think the turnout question, it will be a test for the Sanders campaign. He was disappointed, the campaign was disappointed by the lower turnout in the Iowa caucuses.

Some you can blame on the caucuses. They knew they were going to be long town meetings across the state. Some weren't that long. Some of them ended in an hour or so. So this is a test for the Sanders campaign.

One thing is different here in New Hampshire, of all the many things. The Independent voters. More than 40 percent of the voters here are Independent, not registered with either party. That, of course, helped Bernie Sanders considerably in 2016.

We will see where those Independent voters go tomorrow. Some certainly may go with Bernie Sanders, but others, you know, more moderate ones, may go to Pete Buttigieg or Amy Klobuchar or Joe Biden.

I think, without a question, the turnout will be higher. But we do not know if Senator Sanders will be able to get all the young people that he hopes to and also expand his coalition.

That is one of the biggest challenges facing the Sanders campaign. Can he get older voters, people who are more skeptical of his plans and how they'll be paid for? Can he persuade them to join his movement here? Those are the challenges facing his campaign. He's leading the way here. If he wouldn't win, that would be certainly

an issue for him going forward.

BOLDUAN: And, Jeff Zeleny, also, we played earlier the question, the pointed question you had for Joe Biden, about the direct attacks that are now going on between candidates like Biden and Buttigieg.

But when you ask Biden about this kind of back and forth, what do you make of his response?

ZELENY: I did ask the former vice president about that, because, look, he's the one who really aggressively was going after the experience of Pete Buttigieg.

Kate, it just reminded me of exactly the argument that was happening here 12 years ago when Hillary Clinton was aggressively questioning Barack Obama's experience. Even Joe Biden was doing that in the earlier stages of the 2008 campaign.

And he is the one who said, look, he's not a Barack Obama. That wasn't suggesting the question that he was.

I think that Joe Biden is desperately trying to make the argument that his experience matters. He's desperately trying to convince voters this is a different moment, this is a different time, because of the Trump presidency, that experience absolutely matters.

And he is saying that the only experience that is the most important is actual White House experience. Joe Biden is trying to make that argument. The question is, will voters buy it or not. We'll see if they will.

Also interested in seeing if Joe Biden will keep repeating that argument. He didn't necessarily seem comfortable with the words he was saying about belittling the experience of a mayor. His advisers say, of course, he's comfortable with those word.

But let's see if he keeps repeating them or not. Because the mocking tone of that ad certainly was something that Joe Biden normally doesn't do.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

Jess, generally speaking, what is your view on this? Do you think these attacks win over undecided voters? Or do you think it is more about trying to make sure that those voters, who are your supporters now, that they are motivated and they turn out?

MCINTOSH: I think it is a little bit of both. It is also a little bit of working the refs.

I think a lot of Democrats were surprised to see Pete Buttigieg come out on top in Iowa. He's a relatively untested candidate. And he hasn't faced the same kind of media scrutiny that Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders has. These are questions that will come up in the general. These are lines

of contrast that Republicans will draw a lot more harshly than Joe Biden is now. So I understand why he's doing it.

I'm not sure that attacking anybody on the same team wins over voters, which is why I think it is interesting that Elizabeth Warren, our third-place candidate in Iowa, is staying completely above the fray. She put in a very good debate performance, but largely stayed out of that back and forth.

So her Friday night clips didn't get played on Saturday and Sunday like some of the more pointed attacks did.

But blew through her fundraising goal anyway. Raised over $2 million, set a new one at $4 million. Counting her out would be a mistake at this point.

It is a very fluid race. The change in messaging proves to show how much more shifting there's to go.

BOLDUAN: That's an excellent point.

When you look at New Hampshire, New Hampshire doesn't like to be told what to do. Let's see. Let's let them decide tomorrow and then talk about it.

Lines of contrast, that's such a diplomatic way of describing it, Jess. I like it very much.

Great to see you. Thank you so much.

Coming up for us, they plan to leave quietly. But President Trump had other ideas. New reporting on the president's decision to fire two key impeachment witnesses, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman and Ambassador Gordon Sondland.


And later, as the death toll rises worldwide, the number of coronavirus cases on a cruise ship quarantined off Japan nearly doubled overnight. We'll have the latest on how health officials are working to get ahead of this growing outbreak now.


BOLDUAN: Calls for a new investigation this morning as the dust settles on the president's firing of two administration officials called to testify during his impeachment.

The top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, is requesting that -- requesting that a federal watchdog, all 74 of them, look into it.

In a letter, Schumer wants to know about, quote/unquote, "any and all instances of retaliation against anyone making," quote, "protected disclosures of presidential misconduct." This comes, of course, as Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman was

escorted out of the White House Friday by security. Fired over his testimony in the House hearings about the president's call with Ukraine.


That same day, the ambassador to the E.U., Gordon Sondland, was also effectively fired.

And Trump did not stop there. Even Alexander Vindman's twin brother, who served in the White House and had nothing to do with the impeachment hearings, he was also fired Friday and escorted out as well.

Remember, Vindman and Sondland were subpoenaed to testify. Meaning, they were forced it speak to Congress and testify under oath. Today, CNN learns from multiple sources that Vindman and Sondland had already been planning to leave their positions. The president, in learning that, did not want them to go quietly, according to sources.

Here with me right now for important perspective is Fernando Cutz. He worked at the NSC under President Trump, serving as an adviser to former national security advisor, H.R. McMaster.

Thanks for coming in.


BOLDUAN: You told the "Washington Post" that this move is not only chilling but frightening for every career government official. Why is that?

CUTZ: Well, as a career government official, whether you're in the civil service, the foreign service or the military, you swear an oath, and that oath is purely to the Constitution of the United States.

What we're seeing the president do here is change that oath from one towards the Constitution towards one of loyalty, of personal loyalty to the president. And so that's a frightening message.

We -- what we saw with Lieutenant Colonel Vindman do is follow fully that oath to the Constitution. When he was lawfully subpoenaed by the United States Congress, he showed up and he testified truthfully to the extent of his knowledge. And that's that.

He didn't do anything beyond what was legally required of him and what was legally required of the code that he swore an oath to.

And yet, we're seeing him be penalized because his -- the truth that he spoke went against the personal interests of the president. So that's a very concerning message.

BOLDUAN: I want to play for you how President Trump talked about Lieutenant Colonel Vindman on Thursday, the day after he was acquitted by the Senate. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Lieutenant Colonel Vindman and his twin brother, right, we had some people that really amazing.


BOLDUAN: At that very moment, Lieutenant Colonel Vindman still worked in the White House for the president when the president was speaking about him derisively like that.

You've been in touch with folks who are still there. What had it been like since Vindman testified? What have folks told you?

CUTZ: What I'm hearing is that Lieutenant Colonel Vindman and his brother had already been isolated within the NSC. They were not really receiving substantive work. They were not really being given a lot of the responsibilities that somebody in their role should have and were supposed to have.

So, you know, essentially, it seems like they had lost the trust of the president. And at the point where you serve at the pleasure of the president, at the White House, if you lose the president's trust, it probably isn't in the best interest for everybody for you to move on.

However, having said that, the reports that we're hearing today that say that the -- he was, in fact, planning on moving on, and that the president did not allow that to happen, but wanted to kind of vindictively remove him first. That's more troubling.

Again, the messaging here is one of, you know, if you go beyond the personal loyalty to the president, whether or not the constitution requires it or the law requires it or anything else, if you go beyond that personal loyalty, the president will come after you.

BOLDUAN: Republican Senator Lindsey Graham is defending the president and he also seems to be implying in doing so that Vindman is part of the so-called Deep State. Let me play for you what he said Sunday.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I think his reassignment was justified. I don't think he can be effective at the NSC.

As much as I support our military people telling the truth when asked. It's important they do.

What have I learned in the last two years? Cia agents, Department of State, Department of Justice lawyers, FBI agents have a political agenda, and they acted on it. We found that out through the FISA investigation.

As to Colonel Vindman, he was not allowed to be asked questions about his connection to the alleged whistleblower, to people -- (CROSSTALK)



GRAHAM: No, he was not.


GRAHAM: They did not allow him to -- they did not allow the Republicans to go down that road.


BOLDUAN: Fernando, what do you say to that?

CUTZ: The Senator, I think, was right at the top when he was talking about, you know, the interests of the country, when he's talking about a member of the military or foreign service or civil service are required to and always tell the truth when pressed, when asked by a subpoena, by Congress.

Where I think he went off track is in this kind of following this red herring of linking this to some conspiracy theory. There's no conspiracy playing out here.


Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, to the extent I've seen, was called in by Congress, asked to testify, showed up the day he was asked to testify, gave a truthful testimony and left.

He hasn't been out there promoting himself. He hasn't been tweeting anything. He hasn't been trying to work with others to somehow destroy the president or his reputation.

He was simply following legal, lawful orders and following that oath that we have all sworn to the Constitution of the United States.

BOLDUAN: Fernando, you worked in this administration. You worked under this president. You worked with the NSC. When you were there, would you envision something like this happening? And what is your advice to your colleagues still there now, after this?

CUTZ: Well, I'll tell you, the folks who work in the NSC are tireless, career professionals. They're hard-working individuals, on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to keep our country safe. Historically, the NSC is an apolitical body. It needs to remain an apolitical body.

I know that my friends and leagues, former colleagues at the NSC, will fight very hard to keep things that way. It is for the safety of our country, for the national security interests of our government. And I know that they will not take this message from the president and

act on it. They will continue to do what they need to do to follow their oath and to continue to, if needed, report things that they see that are unethical or illegal.

BOLDUAN: Maybe at their own peril now.

Fernando, thank you so much for coming in. I appreciate it.

CUTZ: Thank you for having me.

BOLDUAN: Still ahead for us, as the deadly coronavirus continues to spread, the World Health Organization is finally now able to send a team to China to investigate. What do they need to do to stem this outbreak? What access are they going to get? I'm going to talk to an advisor to the organization next.