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THE SITUATION ROOM

The New Frontrunner Is Bernie Sanders According To A New Poll; Justice Department Reviewing Rudy Giuliani's Ukraine Information; Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) Is Interviewed About The Justice Department And Trump's Action On Impeachment Witnesses; Barr: Justice Department Receiving Giuliani's Ukraine Info; Global Death Toll From Coronavirus Tops 1,000; After Iowa Caucus Chaos, Democrats Hoping For Quick Vote Count In New Hampshire. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 10, 2020 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're tracking two major stories.

On the eve of the New Hampshire primary, a new nationwide poll is shaking up the Democratic race. The survey from Quinnipiac show Senator Bernie Sanders on the rise taking first place from Joe Biden after the former vice president's disappointing finish in Iowa.

The poll also shows this, the billionaire Michael Bloomberg in a surprising third place right behind Biden. President Trump is heaeded to New Hampshire tonight trying to steal the spotlight from his Democratic rivals as his attorney general William Barr confirms that the Justice Department is scrutinizing information about the Bidens being passed along by Rudy Giuliani.

I'll talk with the chairman of the Democratic National Committee Tom Perez as well as Senator Richard Blumenthal, a key member of the Judiciary Committee. And our correspondents and analysts, they will have full coverage of today's top stories.

Let's begin with CNN's Jessica Dean. She is in Manchester, New Hampshire for us. Jessica, tell us about the surprising new national poll of Democrats.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. This is a pretty dramatic reshuffling of the Democratic candidates for this nomination. You see Bernie Sanders surging to the top there overtaking Joe Biden. And then as you mentioned, that surprising third place for Michael Bloomberg, again, a national poll but some trend lines we can read into there.

Back here on the ground in New Hampshire, we are one day away from primary day and the attacks are becoming increasingly direct.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DEAN (voice-over): One day before Tuesday's primary, the elbows are sharp in New Hampshire. JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This guy is not a Barack Obama.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, he is right. I am not and neither is he, neither is any of us running for president. And this isn't 2008, it's 2020.

DEAN (voice-over): On the heels of his strong showing in Iowa, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is taking heat from former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders. Biden targeting Buttigieg's experience releasing a blistering ad over the weekend.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When President Obama called on him, Joe Biden helped lead the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which gave health care to 20 million people. And when park goers called on Pete Buttigieg, he installed decorative lights under bridges giving citizens of South Bend colorfully illuminated rivers.

DEAN (voice-over): Biden telling reporters he went on the attack because he felt he had to respond.

BIDEN: Since we want to compare records, it's easy to do. I get it. He is a good guy. He is a great mayor.

DEAN (voice-over): Meantime, Senator Sanders has zeroed in on the fundraising differences between the mayor and himself.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Billionaires by the dozens are contributing to Pete Buttigieg campaign. Now, I like Pete. He's a smart guy. He is a nice guy, but if you are serious about political change in America, that change is not going to be coming from somebody who gets a lot of money from the CEO's of the pharmaceutical industry.

BUTTIGIEG: I respect Senator Sanders, but when I hear this message going out that you are either for a revolution or you got to be for the status quo, that is a vision of the country that doesn't have room for most of us.

DEAN (voice-over): Senator Amy Klobuchar who has also seen a rise in support in New Hampshire, also targeted Buttigieg, touting her experience as a senator.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have a newcomer in the White House and look where it got us. I think having some experience is a good thing.

DEAN (voice-over): So far, Senator Elizabeth Warren has sought to remain above the fray, keeping her focus on one thing.

SEN ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have one job in November, beat Donald Trump.

DEAN (voice-over): As New Hampshire prepares to vote, the results from last week's Iowa caucus still haven't been finalized. Both the Sanders and the Buttigieg campaign today requested a partial re-canvassing. If the current results are left unchanged, Buttigieg would be the winner with 14 delegates while Sanders would come in second with 12.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DEAN (on camera): Joe Biden is scheduled to be here at this church at 6:15. Just down the way, Donald Trump will hold his rally at 7:00 p.m. Wolf, two men who have talked so much about one another less than two miles apart tonight in the eve of the Democratic primary here in New Hampshire, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jessica, thank you very much. Let's go to CNN's Boris Sanchez. Right now he's over at the White House. Boris, the attorney general of the United States, William Barr, says the Justice Department has established what he is calling an intake process for information being passed along by the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. Give us the latest first of all on that.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that is right, Wolf. The Justice Department announcing of their setting up this process to try to verify some of these information gathered by Rudy Giuliani in Ukraine, some of the supposed dirt on the Bidens.

Information that Attorney General William Barr acknowledges could simply be bunk. All of these happening as President Trump continue to target those that he claims betrayed him during the impeachment saga.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[17:04:56]

SANCHEZ (voice-over): Tonight, Attorney General William Barr confirming the Justice Department has been receiving information from the president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, about his ongoing operation to dig up dirt on Joe and Hunter Biden's dealings in Ukraine.

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The DOJ has the obligation to have an open door to anybody who wishes to provide us information that they think is relevant, but as I did say to Senator Graham, and we have to be very careful with respect to any information coming from the Ukraine.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): Barr explaining there is a process to try to verify that information.

BARR: We can't take anything we received from the Ukraine at face value, and for that reason we had established an intake process in the field so that any information coming in about Ukraine could be carefully scrutinized.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): William Barr responding to Senator Lindsey Graham who is now distancing himself from Giuliani's claims saying it may just be Russian propaganda.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): All I can tell Rudy and anybody else, if you got some information connected to the Ukraine against anybody, go to the Intel Committee not me. Any documents coming out of the Ukraine against any American, Republican or Democrat need to be looked at by the intelligence services who has expertise I don't because Russia is playing us all like a fiddle.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): Graham also backing Trump's controversial decision to fire two key witnesses in his impeachment trial, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman and U.S. ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland, by insinuating they maybe members of the deep state, a term co-opted by Trump to describe those in and out of government who he deems disloyal.

GRAHAM: We're not going to live in a world where the Department of Justice, the CIA and the FBI can cut corners, go after Trump and nobody gives a damn.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): Both Sondland and Vindman were quietly planning to leave the administration on their own, but sources tell CNN Trump wanted their exits to be anything but quiet and publicly fired them Friday while also dismissing Vindman's brother, that as advisers and several GOP senators warned the president about the optics of firing witnesses.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Romney, guilty.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): Trump today also ramping up criticism of those who turned on him during the impeachment trial.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: How is Mitt Romney?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have not talked to him.

TRUMP: You keep him. We don't want him.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): Trump also tweeting angrily at Democratic Senator Joe Manchin multiple times. At one point saying, "They are really mad at Senator Joe Munchkin in West Virginia." Manchin facing a tough re-election in a ruby red state telling CNN the criticism doesn't faze him.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): I don't know where he got the munchkin. I think I'm a little bit bigger than he is, taller. But anyway, I guess it's not surprising. I'm not going to call him names. I mean, I've heard the names of people who respond back. I have respect for the president. I want my president to do well.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ (on camera): Now, Wolf, we tried to ask the president about all of this news today as he was departing the White House for New Hampshire. He refused to take our questions. There are a number of growing Republican senators who were suggesting that the president should move on from all of this and stop attacking lawmakers.

We actually just heard from John Cornyn of Texas who says, "We got other things we need to do." He says he hopes the president doesn't carry this into the future. We'll see what he says tonight in Ne Hampshire, but all indications are that the president is going to use this to fuel his base even further going into November, Wolf. BLITZER: Boris Sanchez at the White House. Thank you. Let's discuss

the latest developments with Senator Richard Blumenthal. He is a key Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. Senator, thanks so much for coming in.

So, the attorney general confirmed what Lindsey Graham said, that the Justice Department is now accepting various tidbits information, whatever, from Rudy Giuliani. Does that raise concerns in your mind?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): It raises very, very deep concerns. It's deeply dangerous when our law enforcement agencies are in effect weaponized as political tools for the president. And as Margaret Brennan said when she was interviewing Senator Graham, it sounds a lot like taxpayer funded opposition research on a political rival, Joe Biden, and that really should alarm the American people.

BLITZER: But the Attorney General William Barr said, you know, you got to take everything that comes out of Ukraine with a huge grain of salt because so much disinformation is there. So he says they have a process over there at the Justice Department to review any of these things before they move on.

BLUMENTHAL: What we are seeing here though, Wolf, is as he called, an intake process in the field. That's what he called it. That's not the regular kind of acceptance of tips or information. It is a pipeline and a back channel for Rudy Giuliani.

[17:09:56]

BLITZER: So what should Barr do if Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York, a former U.S. attorney of the Southern District of New York says I've got information I'd like to share with you, what should Barr do?

BLUMENTHAL: He should do what Lindsey Graham suggested and direct Rudy Giuliani to intelligence officials. Lindsey Graham said that he should go to the intelligence committee, but not use it in effect to establish a special pipeline for Rudy Giuliani to create this kind of opposition research for the benefit of the president.

BLITZER: The deputy director of the FBI wouldn't say whether there is some sort of open investigation into the Bidens. That's protocol, but do you accept that when he refused to say whether or not there is any open investigation?

BLUMENTHA: His job and I had that responsibility when I was a federal law enforcement prosecutor as a United States attorney in Connecticut, is to neither confirm nor deny. But in this instance, I think that it's pretty clear that the reports about lawbreaking by the Bidens have been completely debunked and discredit and he should say so.

BLITZER: Do you expect more firings to come from the president? Now, 0we saw what happened Friday night with Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman and Gordon Sondland, the U.S ambassador to the E.U. Do you expect more individuals to be fired?

BLUMENTHAL: This president is pretty unpredictable in his personal vengeance which is what happened to Lieutenant Colonel Vindman and his brother. Lieutenant Colonel Vindman came forward in response to a congressional subpoena to tell the truth.

He is a decorated combat veteran, and he assured his father, if you remember in that very moving moment when he testified, "We're not in the Soviet Union dad, right matters here, truth matters here." But he was escorted in a highly humiliating way and really disgusting.

BLITZER: Yes. One of his friends said on CNN today, he wasn't even allowed to say goodbye to his friends, his colleagues that he has been working over at the National Security Council.

With Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, the minority leader is calling all federal inspectors general to investigate retaliation against witnesses who come before Congress who have been subpoenaed and then testified truthfully. You think that is a good idea?

BLUMENTHAL: I think the inspector generals should investigate any and every report of retaliation or revenge, which clearly was what happened when the president fired in effect Lieutenant Colonel Vindman or transferred him in that way.

But equally important, we need to strengthen the laws that protect whistleblowers and the kind of dedicated patriots who come forward with truth and speak it to power in a way that Lieutenant Colonel Vindman did.

BLITZER: You heard what Senator Lindsey Graham, your Republican colleague suggested. He's the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, accusing Vindman and other various officials at the CIA, the FBI, the Justice Department, of having this vendetta going after the president of the United States. What do you think?

BLUMENTHAL: There is no vendetta here. The attempt to link him to the deep state or to some kind of conspiracy theory is absolutely absurd. And I think that these kinds of theories linking patriots like Colonel Vindman are a disservice to the patriots who come forward.

But also to the brave public servants who work every day in those intelligence agency, put their lives on the line all across the globe so that we can be safer. And I believe, by the way, that there needs to be reform of the FISA court.

I advocated it under President Obama because there need to be checks and balances so it's not as if the system is totally flawless or perfect, but we need to approach it with a kind of respect for truth that Colonel Vindman demonstrated.

BLITZER: And let's not forget Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, a decorated Iraq war veteran who was wounded in Iraq, still has some shrapnel in his body for that. Thanks very much senator for coming in.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

BLITZER: Senator Blumenthal of Connecticut. UP next, the knives come out as the Democratic presidential candidates stump for votes just ahead of tomorrow's New Hampshire primary. And get this, there is a new national poll that shows a very dramatic shake-up in the Democratic race. We'll discuss all the developments with the chairman of the Democratic Party, there you see him, Tom Perez. He is standing by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(17:15:00)

BLITZER: On the eve of New Hampshire's first in the nation presidential primary, a new nationwide poll shows a dramatic shake-up in the Democratic presidential race. Let's got to our political director David Chalian -- he is on the ground for us in Manchester. David, this is one poll, but it does suggest there's been some major momentum shift in the race.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It is one poll and I'll be eager to see other national polls that come out, Wolf. But there is a new sheriff in town nationally in this race and it's Bernie Sanders, the guy who performed quite well in Iowa last week, who maybe on the precipice of a victory here in New Hampshire.

Take a look at the numbers and you will see he's at 25 percent in this poll. Joe Biden is no longer, according to this poll, the national frontrunner in this race.

And this is fascinating. Look who is in third place. It's Michael Bloomberg at 15 percent. This is what $350 million of advertising gets you. It's get you from going to zero in November when he gets in, to 15 percent now.

This is his second poll to qualify for that Nevada debate stage next week, perhaps he'll have a couple more and perhaps Michael Bloomberg will be joining the debate stage.

BLITZER: Well, we're going to talk about that with the chairman of the DNC shortly. But another part of this poll is eye catching that involves support among African-American voters. What are you seeing?

[17:19:57]

CHALIAN: Wolf, as you know, there is no path for anyone to the Democratic nomination without substantial support from African- Americans. It is the very base of the Democratic Party. And take a look, Joe Biden has really taken a dive here.

Just a month ago in January in this poll among African-Americans, he was up at like 49, 47 percent if you will. That has been sliced nearly in half. And it is because of Michael Bloomberg's appeal among African-Americans.

Take a look at these numbers. He is now at 22 percent, Michael Bloomberg is among African-Americans. Joe Biden went from 49 to 27 percent. So that is why you see Michael Bloomberg overall sitting at 15 percent nationally because he is carving a huge slice of Joe Biden's base of support with African-Americans into his own camp.

This one poll, and again, it is one poll. Let's see other polls and see if this is confirmed especially after we get results in New Hampshire here tomorrow night. But if this is indicative of the new shape of the race, this race is entirely reshuffled.

BLITZER: The Quinnipiac University poll is respected indeed, but you are absolutely right. Let's see what some other polls are showing. David Chalian in New Hampshie for us. Thank you.

Joining us now here in THE SITUATION ROOM Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez. Thanks so much -- can I call you Tom?

TOM PEREZ, CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Of course. Absolutely.

BLITZER: We're both from Buffalo, New York.

PEREZ: Go Bills.

BLITZER: I'll call you Tom. What do you make of these polls especially the fact that Bloomberg is doing as well as he is?

PEREZ: Well, I think it's important to remember that this is a marathon, it's not a sprint. We have had one primary, one caucus, 41 delegates allocated. We will continue to see a lot of activity. What excites me is that the energy out there across America is very real.

People understand the need to defeat Donald Trump. They are organizing everywhere. I think we have a deep bench of candidates and what everybody understands is at the end of the day, only one person, the only poll that's going to count is at the end of this debate -- primary season when somebody gets to 1,991 national delegates.

And what we are doing is laying the foundation to make sure that everybody comes together behind the nominee whoever he or she is.

BLITZER: Bloomberg hasn't been in any of the debates, but you've changed the rules a bit that potentially could allow him to be in the next debate in Nevada in Las Vegas. Bernie Sanders not very happy with these rules change. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: I think it is an outrage. Look, rules are rule. Now, suddenly a guy comes in who does not campaign one bit in Iowa, New Hampshire, he's not on the ballot I guess in Nevada or South Carolina, but he is worth $55 billion. And I guess if you are worth $55 billion, you can get the rules changed for debate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Tell us why you changed the rules.

PEREZ: We were very clear, very transparent early on, as early as last fall. That once people start voting and people have started voting, the best proxies for who should be on the debate stage and our job to put the most viable candidates on the debate stage as evidenced by polling and as evidenced by how you've performed in the caucuses or the primaries.

And so that is exactly what we did. And we set a threshold of 10 percent or at least one delegate in the first two states. And if you look at history, Wolf, and we have, over the last 50 years, nobody under 10 percent has ever went on to win the nomination.

Nobody under 10 percent at this point in the process has ever went on to win the nomination and has ever really been, you know, competitive at the end. And so that is why we did what we did.

We're always looking to make sure we measure where we are at the moment. And our job is to allow voters to make informed judgments among the candidates who are polling or otherwise performing at the top.

BLITZER: But what Senator Sanders and bunch of others clearly don't like is that Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, he is a billionaire, has already spent $350 million of his own money in advertising.

PEREZ: Sure. Well here is the thing. First of all, I will fight like heck to make sure our Democratic party platform includes campaign finance reform, overturning citizens united, all of those things, the passage of HR-1 which was a great bill.

And to those who are concerned or object to have Senator Sanders' concern about people being able to self-fund, you have a remedy, get out there and vote. And on Super Tuesday, there is going to be 14 states out there voting, Wolf, and 40 percent of the delegates will be allocated. And prior to those days, I think it's really important for people to have the ability to size somebody up on the debate stage.

[17:24:58]

Candidates who have run before like Reverend Sharpton have said, if I can't match someone dollar for dollar, I want to get that person on the debate stage so that I can show people right there in front of their very eyes that I'm the guy that you should support. So, that's our job.

BLITZER: Let's' talk about Iowa. It's, you know, it was a disaster obviously. I was out there, you know, watching what was going on. But the Sanders' campaign and the Buttigieg campaign are now asking for at least a partial re-canvas of some of the precincts in Iowa. What is you sense? Have they fixed the problems there? Are the results fair, accurate, precise?

PEREZ: They are working -- the Iowa Democratic Party is working feverishly. There were 143 precincts, roughly 8 percent or so of the total precinct count. And I think they did absolutely the right thing in extending the deadline. I think they're doing the absolute right thing now in conducting these re-canvas. This is a surgical look at the tally sheets that are from each of these precincts. Our goal was to get it right and we know that we fell short there and I applaud Chairman Price for doing this re-canvas. They are working to do it promptly and effectively because our goal at the end of the day is to make sure that we have an accurate count.

BLITZER: What about tomorrow in New Hampshire?

PEREZ: I'm looking forward to tomorrow. I'm looking forward to --

BLITZER: I'm talking about the vote count. Is it going to be precise and accurate or we have another disaster like existed in Iowa?

PEREZ: Well, the election in New Hampshire is administered by the state. It's a primary election and I have every reason to believe, I have spoken with Chairman Buckley up in New Hampshire who is the chair of the Democratic Party there and an excellent chairperson.

And he has been on it. And I think that everybody understands that we have to make sure we have a well-run election. We're working feverishly. We have people on the ground in Nevada, which will be the next round after New Hampshire tomorrow. We are working to make sure that we have a caucus that is both accessible and where we have an accurate count.

BLITZER: Is it time to do away with these caucuses?

PEREZ: Well, I think the experience in Iowa has taught us that we need to have a conversation about that. We did actually have a conversation about that in 2017/2018 in the DNC and we incentivized states to move from primaries to caucuses --

BLITZER: No, from caucuses to primary.

PEREZ: I'm sorry, from caucuses to primary, excuse me.

BLITZER: Right.

PEREZ: Fourteen states had caucuses four years ago. Seven moved caucuses to primaries. They took incentives.

BLITZER: Should the rest of them get away from the caucuses because the argument is they are not very Democratic of people who work, cannot show up for two to three hours, families, mothers, fathers who have to take care of kids, they cannot show up. In a primary, you just go into a voting booth and vote.

PEREZ: Well, that's the conversations we have to have. One of the challenges is that on order to move from a caucus to a primary, you to pass the state law. And in some states, it is unclear that a Republican governor is going to actually use taxpayer dollars to fund it.

So, while I think that we need to continue this conversation because I think that parties like the -- all of the state parties and the DNC, we should be in the business of winning election. We do that well. We've won elections at scale in 2017, 2018 and 2019. I think we should get out of the business of running elections and leave that to state officials who do it for a living.

BLITZER: Next time you come in we'll talk about the nature of some the early states. Are they diverse enough? Do they look like the west of America, but we'll leave that --

PEREZ: The conversation that we will certainly have at the DNC --

BLITZER: That's an important conversation as well

PEREZ: -- after this cycle is over, undeniably.

BLITZER: All right. We'll be watching that. Tom Perez, the chairman of the DNC. Thanks so much for coming in.

PEREZ: My pleasure.

BLITZER: You got your hands full right now. Appreciate it.

We're going to have much more ahead of the presidential race. Will New Hampshire voters begin to winnow down the Democratic field tomorrow?

[17:30:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Among the stories we're following right now, the Attorney General William Barr today confirming that the Justice Department is receiving information from Rudy Giuliani's visits to Ukraine. Let's discuss with our expert Susan Hennessey.

Is this the type of development that you see that originally resulted in the entire impeachment process? Rudy Giuliani getting involved in selective information from Ukraine, passing it along, and all of a sudden we saw what unfolded?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. So it's hard to know exactly what to make of this note that Bill Barr only took one question, and then sort of scurried off without taking any follow ups really being clear what he was talking about. On one hand, you know, it would be surprising for the Department of Justice to say we're not accepting any information from Rudy Giuliani.

The DOJ and FBI has a general policy of accepting, you know, tips. Anybody can pick up the phone and call the FBI and give a tip, and then it's vetted to see whether or not it's actionable or credible information. And so, it would be a little bit strange for them to say we're refusing to hear anything from Rudy Giuliani.

[17:35:02]

That said Bill Barr here to say something more. He said that there's a special process setup, essentially to collect information from Rudy Giuliani or about Ukraine specifically. And that really does raise concerns that having just been impeached for essentially using the Department of Justice attempting to use law enforcement as a tool against his political opponents, a deeply abusive, you know, not abuse of power, really grave abuse of power, that the President might be turning around and essentially asking DOJ to do it for him. And maybe this time to observe a little bit more sort of process, minimal process. So I do think there are more questions than answers on that right now.

COOPER: Because the question is, do you think this could lead the Justice Department to open a formal investigation into the Bidens?

DAVID SWERDICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, potentially, Wolf. I mean, a couple of things. One, Republicans still seem pretty hell-bent on doing something investigating the Bidens even though other than the unseemliness of Hunter Biden's sort of buckraking when he was in Ukraine. There's no indication of what illegality or impropriety they're actually looking for.

But if you go by comments that Senator Graham made over the weekend, if you go by the comments that the President has made, they still want to go through with this. And I think to your point, Susan, it seems like funneling this through the Justice Department in whatever process, instead of having Mayor Giuliani sort of back channel it, is a way to keep it going without risking going over that line again, where Democrats are going to want to further investigate.

BLITZER: You know, Mark, we've -- we saw what happened on Friday, the president got rid of Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the EU, what are you hearing? You're doing a lot of reporting on this. Should we brace for more of this?

MARK MAZZETTI, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, if you're talking about the actual witnesses who testified during impeachment, there are only about a handful left that are still in government. Many have retired, many have just, as Lieutenant Colonel Vindman's case were pushed out. So you could certainly see that as being the case. They're eased out or directly pushed out.

But more broadly, in the president's mind, the entire impeachment saga confirmed one kind of conspiracy he's had, is that there is this deep state arrayed against him, people in government who are his enemies. And so what you might see going forward is beyond those who actually testified in the Ukraine matter, are people who are weeded out or seen as not with the team.

And there's a restructuring going on at the NSC, is part of what is really being billed as restructuring, actually an effort to get rid of people who are not seen as sufficiently loyal. So that's something that I think we're going to have to look at going forward because that might be some further effects down the road.

BLITZER: Well, let me get Chris Cillizza to weigh in on all of this. It looks like a mess right now, Chris, to put it bluntly.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Yes, it does. And I think Mark's point about loyalty and, you know, a loyalty test is really, really important just because of the context. This is not an isolated incident, the removal of Sondland and Vindman, and Vindman's twin brother on Friday, as well as Jennifer Williams leaving early and a number of other departures.

Look, H.R. McMaster, Rex Tillerson, Jim Mattis, I mean, there are many others. This has been studied, the amount of leaving, departure, in his senior staff, cabinet level and then senior staff of his administration, is well in above what we've seen from any past president, Republican or Democratic. And I do, I return to the point here.

Donald Trump only sees the world in one way. Are you loyal to Donald Trump or not? If you are, you rise in his estimation. I give you Mike Pompeo and Mike Pence. If you are not, you should polish up your resume because you're unlikely to be there for all that long.

BLITZER: Everybody standby. There's more news we're following right now. A very grim milestone as deaths from the coronavirus surpassed those from the SARS virus infections that surface nearly two decades ago. And is President Trump right when he says warmer weather will slow down the spread of the virus.

[17:38:58]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Worldwide deaths from the coronavirus now climbed to over 1, 000. They've passed the total fatalities from the SARS virus that surface nearly two decades ago.

Let's bring in our Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay, the fact that there are now more fatalities than SARS, what does this tell -- what does that tell us about where this virus is heading?

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, this is obviously disappointing news but not entirely surprising as we've been watching these numbers grow, certainly over the last few weeks. I think what it tells us is that, this is a -- it's a far more transmissible, easy to spread virus as compared to SARS. The number of deaths are -- have increased as well, but the number of cases have increased far more than the number of deaths have as compared to SARS.

So what you have is, you can a take a look at the numbers there, 40,000 plus infections and I think it's close to a thousands deaths now. But it's really the ratio of those two numbers that you should pay attention to, deaths to infections. On the left was SARS. It's closer to 10%. With this, it's closer to 2%, 2.5%.

And one thing, Wolf, and I know you've heard this as well, but researchers in Hong Kong are saying, look, there could be tens of thousands more than even these 40,000 people who are infected. And that might sound disappointing. But the reality is, if those other people who are infected are not showing any symptoms or only minimal symptoms, that would bring down the fatality ratio even. More, so there's possibly some good in there.

[17:45:00]

BLITZER: Do we know that's airborne, this coronavirus? In other words that you could get it through the air or you have to touch someone, you have to shake someone's hand. It's obviously much more dangerous if it's airborne.

GUPTA: When public health people talk about something being airborne, they usually referring to it being able to suspend in the air, travel longer distances in the air. And researchers in China are a little conflicted on this.

Right now, the wisdom is that it can spread via respiratory droplets. But that's a virus inside a droplet that is in the air just for a little bit. That can be, you know, that can be breathed in by somebody else, or those droplets get on surfaces and you touch them.

The idea that it would be suspended in the air and if I had it, for example, left the room, someone else came into the room sometime later, they could still get it. That doesn't seem to be the case.

But, Wolf, we are dealing with a novel virus and, you know, just worth stating again. This is a virus that humans have never seen before, so we're learning about this in real time as the days go on.

BLITZER: President Trump today predicted that warm weather this spring would soon help kill off this virus. Is he right?

GUPTA: Well, it's interesting when you think about these types of viruses and the way that they circulate. I want to show you a map, I think, and look at where these cases are around the world. They're mostly right now in the Northern Hemisphere, save Australia down there at the bottom, which the cases came in via travel from China.

And the reason is that the Northern Hemisphere is colder right now, people tend to stay indoors. And that clustering of people is one of the ways that these outbreaks can worsen, more people can get infected that way. We do see with lots of viruses, cold viruses, other viruses, that as the weather gets warmer, people are more likely to be outside. That it's not that the virus gets weaker, it's just that the likelihood of spread becomes diminished.

So it's possible that that's -- with the warmer weather, because of these reasons, we may see a slowdown of the cases. We saw that with SARS, Wolf, it was in 2002 November very similar time frame as with this new coronavirus. In November of 2002, we saw those cases of SARS start, and it was around March, as the weather started to get warmer, that we started to see the numbers come down. So it's possible this does the same thing.

But again, a novel virus means it's hard to predict.

BLITZER: Yes. The experts still don't know a lot about this virus but they're learning a lot, I suspect right now.

GUPTA: Yes.

BLITZER: Dr. Sanjay Gupta as usual, we rely on you. Thank you so much for your information.

Coming up. Will election officials in New Hampshire avoid the vote counting chaos that plague the Democrats in Iowa? Stay with us, we're getting new information. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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[17:52:32]

BLITZER: The caucus chaos in Iowa has anxious Democrats looking to New Hampshire for a quick and clean ballot count once a post's closed in tomorrow's primary. Our Brian Todd is joining us from Dixville Notch, New Hampshire where voters are preparing to cast the first ballots of the contest right at midnight.

Brian, is there any chance we see more trouble in New Hampshire?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, officials here are confident that there's little to any chance really that we're going to see the same kind of voting, vote reporting trouble in New Hampshire that we saw in Iowa. Still they acknowledge they are under pressure to get this right, and they're preparing for anything.

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TODD (VOICE-OVER): Tonight, increased pressure on New Hampshire officials to get tomorrow's primary results out quickly and fully, after Iowa's disastrous caucuses.

TOM TILLOTSON, TOWN MODERATOR, DIXVILLE NOTCH, NEW HAMPSHIRE: Well, I think the whole state is under a sort of a microscope that they haven't been before because of Iowa.

TODD: Tom Tillotson, moderator of tiny Dixville Notch since 2004, says towns like his have been delivering fast, reliable results for decades.

TILLOTSON: We'll have people counting the ballots by hand and it'll be a correct count, and it'll be available immediately.

TODD: Authorities like Tillotson tell us they don't have the same pitfalls Iowa did. They're not using an app to collect results. There's no change in procedure from previous elections. And it will be run by election officials, not by state parties.

RAY BUCKLEY, CHAIRMAN, NEW HAMPSHIRE, DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Everything's we've done exactly the same as if you're running for town election office or state or federal office.

TODD: New Hampshire uses all paper ballots counted by scanner or by hand.

HOWARD ALTSCHILLER, GENERAL MANAGER/EXECUTIVE EDITOR, SEACOAST MEDIA GROUP: People are going to go into a private voting booth. They're going to take out a pencil and they're going to fill in the dot or a checkmark next to their favorite candidate. The paper ballot is then fed into an AccuView scanner. And within minutes of the polls closing, I would say 15 minutes, we're going to get a printout. It looks like a grocery store receipt printout of the tally.

TODD: Each location will then publicly read the results aloud.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had 4,056 votes.

TODD: Any mix up or delay not only jeopardizes a state status of voting first, but can rob the winner of momentum and victory, and undermine confidence in the primary process.

AB STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR/COLUMNIST, REALCLEARPOLITICS: A scrub in New Hampshire would be cataclysmic for the Democratic Party, and would rob the victor and the number two and the number three finishers of their bragging rights. They would be conspiracy theories about sabotage. It would be an incredible blow to the Democratic Party.

[17:55:08]

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TODD: Now, New Hampshire's voting process could still be tested in a couple of different ways. Tomorrow, there are new voting residency requirements for college students and others that are going to be implemented for the first time. And there are questions as to whether the cyber defenses for voter registration files are going to be adequately protecting those files. So we're going to be keeping an eye on all of that tomorrow, Wolf, as the votes come in.

The voting starts right at this spot in about six hours. Wolf?

BLITZER: Well, that's open smooth indeed. All right, Brian Todd, thank you very much.

Coming up, the attorney general of United States confirms that the Justice Department is looking into Rudy Giuliani's claims about the Bidens in Ukraine.

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