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Democrats Turn Aggressive Toward Rivals Ahead Of New Hampshire Votes; One-Hundred-Plus U.S. Troops Suffer Brain Injuries Following Iran Strike; GOP Once Furious Over 'Heads On Pike' Now Silent Amid Attacks. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired February 10, 2020 - 13:00   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I am Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, all eyes on New Hampshire as Democrats take aim at each other on the eve of the first 2020 primary.

And Republicans were furious when a top House Democrat repeated the words of a Trump confidant who reportedly said Republican senators' heads would be on pikes if they voted to convict the president. But now Trump is laying waste to the careers of officials who testified against him and Republicans are silent.

Plus, the attorney general confirming that he is getting information about Ukraine from Rudy Giuliani but signaling he is skeptical about what Giuliani is peddling.

And it's not me, it's you, why Trump and Kim Jong-un are taking a break at least for now.

But, first, with the New Hampshire primary just a day away, 2020 Democrats are coming out swinging and the vulnerable Joe Biden is on the attack as he tries to defend his recent drop in the polls.


JOE BIDEN (D), FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm still leading nationally. And so the idea that this is -- if you come in third or fourth in the first two primaries, a caucus and a primary, that that knocks you out of the box. We're just getting going.


KEILAR: Nevertheless, the former vice president seems to be feeling the pressure. He has unleashed a fresh new set of attacks against Senator Bernie Sanders. He's also got a blistering campaign ad out against Pete Buttigieg in which Biden criticizes the former South Bend, Indiana mayor for his lack of experience on the world stage.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Both Vice President Biden and former Mayor Buttigieg have taken on tough fights. Under threat of a nuclear Iran, Joe Biden helped to negotiate the Iran deal. And under threat of disappearing pets, Buttigieg negotiated light licensing regulations on pet chip scanners.


KEILAR: In the meantime, Senator Amy Klobuchar hauling in $3 million in fundraising after her strong debate performance on Friday. She's also upping her attacks against Buttigieg saying she doesn't believe the former mayor is ready to be president.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I actually respect a lot of people that have experience in small towns. But I think the added experience I have is 12 years in the U.S. Senate. It is actually passing bills.


KEILAR: The sharpened attacks are coming as Bernie Sanders maintains a solid of lead ahead of tomorrow's primary followed by Pete Buttigieg.

Jessica Dean is on the campaign trail in New Hampshire with the Biden campaign. And, Jessica, we're told that this more aggressive tone is what Biden's donors want. Tell us about that.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna. I spoke to a donor over the weekend and was asking about this, and that person told me, look, they were ready to see a more aggressive Joe Biden, that he needs to be less effacing, and in their words, needs to point out, in their opinion, that Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg are unelectable, so to that end, people cheering Joe Biden for pushing back.

You showed a little bit of that ad, which made a lot of waves this weekend. It's been the first time that we've really seen Joe Biden go this hard at his rivals. Up until now, he's kind of demurred and stopped himself from going that hard at them. But, certainly, attacking Pete Buttigieg on his experience, and also Bernie Sanders coming back to Medicare-for-all, coming back to how do you pay for it, things like that that we've heard over the campaign trail, but it certainly got more concentrated this weekend.

And, look, the Biden campaign is ready, Brianna, to move to South Carolina and Nevada where they think they are in much better positions there when it's a more diverse electorate, but they've got to get through New Hampshire first, and we will see how that all comes together tomorrow when everybody starts voting.

KEILAR: All right. It's almost here. Jessica Dean, thank you for that report. And this is just in to CNN. We are learning that Senator Bernie Sanders has officially challenged part of the results out of Iowa. Right now, the updated vote numbers from last week's caucuses show former Mayor Pete Buttigieg maintaining a narrow lead winning the most delegates while senator Sanders remains in second place.

We have Ryan Nobles, who has been following the Sanders campaign. Tell us what you're hearing, Ryan.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, this does not come as a surprise. The Sanders campaign told us last night that they fully intended to take look at some of these precincts and ask for at least a partial re-canvass of the final vote totals in Iowa. These vote totals, of course, right now show Pete Buttigieg with a slight edge in the number of delegates that go to the Democratic National Convention. That's the important metric because that decides who ends up being the Democratic nominee.

And in a statement that was put out just a few minutes ago, the Sanders campaign officially confirmed that they filed that protest with the Iowa Democratic Party. And in that statement, Jeff Weaver, who is a senior adviser to Bernie Sanders and his campaign, said that they believe that once this full accounting of the discrepancies that they find in the IDP's results that ultimately the Sanders campaign and the Buttigieg campaign will leave Iowa with the exact same number of delegates.


So, Brianna, the question is, is this worth all the trouble? The Sanders campaign believes it does and it is important because we don't know how this delegate math is going to work out. Certainly, there are thousands of delegates that are up at stake over the course of this very lengthy primary process, but they do not want to let even one delegate slip away.

They've invested millions of dollars and millions of hours from their volunteers and paid staff in Iowa, and they want to see that come to fruition. They're committed to making sure a full and accurate count of Iowa takes place.

But, Brianna, while they're not giving up on Iowa, I should point out, they are very much focused on what happens here in New Hampshire, a very busy schedule today. They feel like they're in a strong position and they're hoping to come out with a victory here tomorrow night. Brianna?

KEILAR: Yes, very friendly to Bernie Sanders New Hampshire is. Ryan, thank you so much for that report. And there is scrutiny on these first races. Who won, who is going to win, how much did they win by, will they win by? We thought we would revisit some past primaries to look at the outcomes. So we have CNN Senior Political Analyst Mark Preston here to put all of this in the context for us. Mark?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Brianna, as they say, old is new. But just as what Ryan was saying right here, let's just take a look at the results from Iowa, and this is why you're seeing the Bernie Sanders campaign coming out and challenging part of those results. It is 0.1 percent difference right now between Buttigieg and Sanders. And this battle for delegates, that could be consequential. So that's why we're seeing the Bernie Sanders campaign make the challenge on some of those delegates.

But let's go back to 1992. When we're talking about how long will this race go, what could personally happen? Look at what happened in 1992. Go into Iowa, Tom Harkin, favorite of the state, senator of the state, he wins Iowa. Moving on, Paul Tsongas from Massachusetts, he takes New Hampshire. Bob Kerrey, South Dakota, middle of the country, he's from Nebraska, he takes South Dakota. Jerry Brown goes for Colorado.

And then this is the key right here, Bill Clinton. When you go back to New Hampshire, Bill Clinton came in second. Everybody remembers him describing himself as the comeback kid. Well, he described himself as the comeback kid because at that time, he was under an incredible amount of scrutiny because of the Gennifer Flowers controversy and also deferments in the Vietnam draft.

So he was only in second place coming out of New Hampshire. He would not win his first race, his primary until the third, when he won it in Georgia, but that kicked off a whole spate of wins. From there, he went on to win South Carolina and then he went on to win the Super Tuesday winning five more states.

So in this battle for delegates right now, Brianna, as we're talking, we shouldn't be looking alone at Iowa and New Hampshire and say that the race is over. This race could go on and on and on. And what we should note as well in this election, super delegates.

These are elected officials, the governors, the senators. Their vote is not as consequential this time as it has been in last elections. They have been deemphasized a little bit. Bill Clinton used those super delegates to help him win in '92. We won't see that this time around. But I'm going to tell you what, Brianna, this race is far from over.

KEILAR: It sure is, and that's a very good point about the super delegates, Mark. Thanks so much for -- I always love going back to the '90s, so I really appreciate that.

Meantime, billionaire and 2020 Democrat Michael Bloomberg is pulling out his not so secret weapon in an effort to win the election, and that would be money, a whole lot of money. We are learning that the Bloomberg campaign has now spent more than $350 million in ads. That's nearly double what businessman Tom Steyer has spent. It's about 30 times more than what former Vice President Joe Biden has spent.

And joining me now to discuss this is A.B.Stoddard, Associate Editor and Columnist for RealClearPolitics. How much of an advantage is this for Bloomberg?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR AND COLUMNIST, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Well, the money is always an advantage. When a week ago, we hear that he wakes up, sees the Iowa result and says, well, this is such a mess, this is clearly an opportunity. Let's double our staff and double our ad spending. It's stunning to us, right? But we knew he had the means and he's showing us his intention.

As for the way he's doing it, this is a man that looked at the race many, many, many times in the past. He's been a Republican longer than Donald Trump, he's been an independent. He has assessed running for president many times and we knew that that money would buy effectiveness and it would buy him buzz. And he's everywhere. One Trump supporter say, I keep seeing those Bloomberg ads on Facebook.

And the fact is, as Mark said, this race really is fluid. People are not coalescing behind two choices. The moderate vote is much bigger than Bernie, so Biden is Klobuchar and Buttigieg. But as we get to March, that's where the Bloomberg bucks is going to come into play, and that's where he's shopping all those states. And that's the delegate month. These delegates in these few early states, this is nothing, Brianna. It really doesn't get -- you don't start counting the real piles until March, and that's going to be the hugest, most significant four weeks, and that's where Mike Bloomberg is so well positioned.


So he gets lost in the conversation but he's soon going to be a factor. And Biden's fourth place wins really won't hurt him if he rebounds to South Carolina and Nevada and is a contender in March.

KEILAR: Let's talk about this attack by Senator Bernie Sanders on former Mayor Pete Buttigieg for accepting big money donations from billionaires. And this is how Pete Buttigieg is explaining himself.


FMR. MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-SOUTH BEND, IN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, Bernie is pretty rich, and I would happily accept a contribution from him. Look, this is about making sure we bring everybody into the fight at a moment when we're going to be going up against Donald Trump who, with his allies, are raising -- I think the other day, they raised $25 million in one day. This is the fight of our lives. I'm not a fan of the current campaign finance system, but I'm also insistent that we've got to go into this with all of the support we can get.


KEILAR: I wonder how effective of an attack line by Bernie Sanders do you think that is.

STODDARD: Elizabeth Warren tried this, and we've actually talked about this behind her -- sorry, before her. When she was trying to come from behind, she attacked Buttigieg for having raising money in a wine cave, and it completely boomeranged. And the idea that this is a general election message is ridiculous. It's for a very small percentage of purists within the progressive wing of the Democratic primary electorate. It makes Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren voters very happy. I think a lot of people agree with Mayor Pete, if they're supportive and they want him to beat Trump in the fall, they're saying, that's right, we need every last dollar. It just doesn't resonate beyond a few in the left wing. But Bernie Sanders is attached to it. Campaign finance is a huge thing for him and for Warren.

KEILAR: And it reminds people of his popularity with small donors, right, so he can tout that.

STODDARD: Right. I just don't know that -- I mean, I think it's a defining issue in people's decision to support him, I don't think it is.

KEILAR: A.B., thank you so much. I really appreciate.

And new calls to investigate President Trump firing impeachment witnesses and whether it's retaliation for telling the truth.

Plus, remember when Republicans were furious over the suggestion that President Trump would retaliate against those who voted against him? Well, now that he is, why are they silent?

And just in, the number of U.S. service members who suffered from traumatic brain injuries in the Iran strike in Iraq are rising sharply. We are live from the Pentagon, next.



KEILAR: We have breaking news now. CNN is learning more than 100 service members have now been diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury following Iran's missile attack on the Al Asad base in Iraq last month. That's at least 36 more cases than the Pentagon's most recent disclosure.

Following the attack, President Trump said he didn't consider the injuries to be serious. He downplayed them as, quote, headaches.

Let's bring in Barbara Starr now from the Pentagon. And, Barbara, just tell us, do we have an idea of the extent of these injuries with these newer cases?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, the Pentagon so far basically referring to it as mild traumatic brain injury, but, look, it can grow worse over time. We don't know. We don't even know at this point in terms of the more than 100 diagnosed cases, how many troops have been able to stay on duty, how many had to be pulled off to get medical treatment, how many hve been returned to duty. The Pentagon not offering the details behind that number, though we are learning they do expect to announce this afternoon more than 100 diagnosed with this brain injury.

I think it's really important to point out, this is more than a month after the Iranian ballistic missile attack on the Al Asad base in Iraq, and it was that missile attack that sent huge blast waves across the base. Troops were sheltering largely in bunkers, but the blast wave was so overwhelming, those bunkers were not sufficient to prevent these kinds of injuries.

So what do you have here? What you have is more than 100 American forces injured at the hands of the Iranians. That by any measure would be a mass casualty, a mass injury attack, and the key question besides getting these folks treatment is what comes next? How do you prevent this from happening again?

The U.S., by all accounts, does not have yet permission from the Iraqis to put patriot missile defenses in at these bases in case they are fired on again. And we don't even know if they were working to improve the bunkers to protect U.S. troops. Those were old bunkers, very out of date, and there's a very considerable feeling that more defense are needed and needed urgently. Brianna?

KEILAR: So clearly. Barbara, thank you for this very important report from the Pentagon for us.

During his impeachment trial, Republicans were downright offended at the notion that the president would retaliate against those who voted against him. So where is the outrage now?

Plus, he once said that they fell in love, but it appears the president and North Korea's Kim Jong-un are on a break. We'll have details ahead.



KEILAR: Not even a week has passed since the president was acquitted by the Senate, and the reprisals have begun in force. The ambassador who testified under subpoena that there was a quid pro quo now fired, the decorated lieutenant colonel serving on the president's own foreign policy staff who testified about Trump's phone call with the president of Ukraine escorted off White House grounds, his twin brother also ousted from his White House job despite playing no role in the hearings, and the lone Republican senator who voted to convict the president of abuse of power now facing recall and central (ph) threats, as well as White House talking points directing his own party to smear him.


Perhaps you vaguely recall someone predicting this retaliation.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): CBS News reported last night that a Trump confidant said that GOP senators were warned, vote against your president, vote against the president, and your head will be on a pike.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: That is, of course, Democratic congressman and the Lead impeachment manager, Adam Schiff, who repeated a report of the words of a Trump confidant and unleashed criticism from Republicans for it. Many expressed outrage that Schiff would use that phrase, head on a pike, and others denied that they were facing pressure from the president at all.

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: Head on a pike, did anyone say anything close to that to you?

SEN. DAVID PERDUE (R-GA): Of course not. I have never been more embarrassed about being in the United States Senate than I am now.

SEN. MIKE LEE (R-UT): I think every single member of the Senate Republican Conference, all 53 of us, simultaneously audibly groaned. We were very upset. And many of the same senators who they were trying to communicate to were really upset by this.

SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK): He's invalidating all of our motives. He's saying, you're going to ignore all of the facts and you're only doing this because you're afraid of the president.


KEILAR: Senator Romney, who became the first senator in U.S. senator to vote to convict a president of his own party might differ with his colleagues. The White House sent out talking points after his vote, including this. Mitt Romney threw aside principles to seek adulation and validation from the far left and liberal echelons of the establishment media. Sadly, Romney's decision was unsurprising as this display of self-serving, political expedience has come to define his political career.

Romney has a long history of flip-flopping with no sign of principles to be found and the establishment media has been so consumed by their hatred to President Trump that for now they have anointed Romney a resistance darling after bashing him for years.

And then there's the tweets. Romney's judgment is being questioned. Romney has hurt some very good Republican senators. And those Republican colleagues of Romney's, they have left the junior senator from Utah twisting in the wind.

The president also went after Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, calling him weak and corrupt. Manchin was considered the likeliest Democrat to break from his party and vote for acquittal. But in the end, he voted to convict.

And at the White House, what one adviser to the president called a necessarily flushing out of the pipes, President Trump fired two major impeachment figures, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a Purple Heart recipient, and U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland, a donor who was initially handpicked by Trump for that role.

Republicans lawmakers are standing by silently watching as the heads roll but just don't say they're on a pike. Let's talk all of this over now with Laura Coates, she's a former federal prosecutor, and Carrie Cordero, former Counsel to the U.S. Assistant Attorney General.

Let's talk about Chuck Schumer because, obviously, he's the top Democrat in the Senate, and right now he is asking for an investigation. He sent a letter to 74 different inspectors general, including the acting Department of Defense inspector general, requesting that there are investigations into this, quote, any and all instances of retaliation against witnesses who made protected disclosures of presidential misconduct.

I wonder if either one of you think that's going to go anywhere. What do you think?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, in many respects, I'm sure it has fallen on deaf ears given the fact he's already been fired. It's already kind of trying to put the genie back in the bottle. But remember Schumer back in October wrote a letter to the Army chief and chief of staff saying, listen, you have to put protections in place for people, including Lieutenant Colonel Vindman was very recent.

They fear what's actually going to happen. His brother, no one could see that coming, but the notion of saying that, look, if you want to encourage people to be forthcoming about abuses of power, about the ideas of corruption, about waste, anything, this is not the way to go to encourage people to be forthcoming. Everything is on the line, everything is at stake.

KEILAR: So some of the inspectors general have shown themselves to be independent. They're supposed to be independent. They've been seen to be independent. I wonder even if they do look into this, Carrie, and something comes of this, does that really do anything for future players?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right, so that's the question. Let's say an inspector general of one of these agencies, the Department of Defense, for example, looked into something and decided that there was either somebody who wanted to come forward with information that was blowing whistle on something going on in the administration or retribution, what would happen to the information inspector general would develop.

Remember, the impeachment trial was initiated by a whistleblower that went to the Intelligence Community inspector general, filed a report and then the White House tried to bury that report from ever getting into the hands of Congress. So it's appropriate for Senator Schumer to try to encourage the inspector generals to do their job, basically, and make sure that the workforce that is in their agencies feels protected.