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THE SITUATION ROOM

Attorney General Barr Confirms Justice Department Has Been Getting Info From Rudy Giuliani About Dirt On Joe and Hunter Biden in Ukraine; Interview With Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ); Trump Revenge Tour?; Democratic Race Intensifies Ahead Of New Hampshire Primary; Sources Say, Impeachment Witnesses Were Planning Quiet Exit Before Trump Ordered Public Firings; One-Hundred-Plus U.S. Troops Diagnosed With Traumatic Brain Injuries From Iranian Missile Strike; Global Death Toll From Coronavirus Tops 1,000. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 10, 2020 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:20]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're following major stories, including a shakeup in the race for the White House on the eve of the New Hampshire primary. A new nationwide poll just out shows Bernie Sanders now at the front of the Democratic pack, taking the lead from Joe Biden, and New York Mayor -- look at this -- Michael Bloomberg nearly doubling his support to come in third.

Also this: The Attorney General, William Barr, has now confirmed that the Justice Department has been getting information from President Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, about his operation to dig up dirt on the former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter in Ukraine.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler has just sent Barr a formal letter expressing serious concern and demanding to know more about what Barr is calling an intake process for Giuliani's information.

We will talk about that and more with Senator Bob Menendez of the Foreign Relations Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's get straight to the White House.

Our White House Correspondent, Boris Sanchez, is joining us.

Boris, we now know that Rudy Giuliani does, in fact, have a channel to the Justice Department.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf.

And we learned that the attorney general, William Barr, has this review process that he's developed to try to verify some of the information that Giuliani has gathered in Ukraine, this supposed dirt on Joe and Hunter Biden that even the attorney general acknowledged today that he is skeptical about.

All of this happening as President Trump is still attacking those that he feels betrayed him during the impeachment saga.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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.

SANCHEZ: Barr explaining there is a process to try to verify that information.

BARR: But we have to be very careful with respect to any information coming from the Ukraine.

SANCHEZ: William Barr responding to Senator Lindsey Graham, who's 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: 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 may be 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: 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.

CLERK: Mr. Romney, guilty.

SANCHEZ: Trump today also ramping up criticism of those who turned on him during the impeachment trial.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: How's Mitt Romney? You keep him. We don't want him. (LAUGHTER)

SANCHEZ: Trump also tweeting angrily at Democratic Senator Joe Manchin multiple times and at one point saying -- quote -- "They are really mad at Senator Joe Munchkin in West Virginia."

Manchin, facing a tough reelection 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 I know -- it's not surprising.

I'm not going to call him names. I mean, I have heard the names that people respond back. I have respect for the president. I want my president to do well.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: Now, Wolf, we tried asking President Trump about all of this news as he departed the White House. He just landed in New Hampshire a short time ago.

Notably, his event tonight takes place just a few miles away from where Joe Biden is going to be campaigning as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Boris Sanchez at the White House for us, thank you.

[18:05:01]

Let's get some more on Rudy Giuliani.

Our senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez, is joining us.

Evan, so is this what they describe as a back channel to the Justice Department?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It's a channel that is as far away from Justice Department headquarters as Bill Barr can make it, Wolf.

Look, I think it's very clear that this is something that the president and Rudy Giuliani have been trying for the Justice Department to take a look at. And so now, according to the Justice Department, they have established a procedure whereby some of this information is going to be looked at out in the field away from headquarters.

I will read you, though, the concerns that are being raised by Chairman Nadler.

He says in his letter...

BLITZER: The chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

PEREZ: The chairman of Judiciary Committee to Bill Barr, in which he raises some concerns about this, this channel, as you pointed out.

He says -- quote -- "The department has formal established channels by which to receive information and begin investigations. This new channel for Mr. Giuliani would seem to be a significant departure from these traditional channels."

And he goes on to add that: "Any official relationship between Mr. Giuliani and the department raises serious questions about conflicts of interest."

Obviously, he's asking whether Bill Barr should recuse himself because of the fact that he is so involved in some of this.

BLITZER: It's interesting, because when he was asked about it earlier in the day, the attorney general, Bill Barr, seemed to downplay it, suggest that, you know what, you got to be very careful in anything that comes out of Ukraine, because there's so much disinformation.

PEREZ: Right, exactly.

And I think that's one reason why they have established a procedure that's away from the main headquarters of the Justice Department. It's very clear that the department and Bill Barr himself view this information very skeptically, Wolf.

And so this kind of raises a little bit of an awkward situation for the attorney general, who, as you know, has been very vocal in certainly not trying to diverge from the White House's talking points from the president, and this puts him in sort of in a position of conflict, right, because he's now sort of doubting this information from Rudy Giuliani, where the president is saying you should investigate this, this is legitimate.

And it's clear that the Justice Department and the FBI don't view it that way.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Evan Perez, giving us some perspective.

Let's get some more on all of this.

Joining us now, Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey. He's the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

Let me get your response to this news that Rudy Giuliani is now feeding information from Ukraine, supposedly on the Bidens, to the Justice Department.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D-NJ): Well, look, I don't understand why Judy -- Judy -- I'm sorry -- Rudy Giuliani actually needs a special channel of any sort, whether it's close to the department, not close to the department.

It's still the department at the end of the day. Why does he need a channel of any sort to specifically vet what he has to say at the end of the day? I mean, this is the same Rudy Giuliani whose list of conflicts is as long in consistencies, is as long as his list of foreign clients that he has.

This is the same Rudy Giuliani who was peddling false information at the State Department against Ambassador Yovanovitch. So I don't understand why he rises to the level that he has a special channel at the Department of Justice to supply his dirt to be vetted at the end of the day.

BLITZER: You just heard this new letter that just has been released from the House Judiciary Committee chairman, Jerry Nadler, seeking answers from the attorney general about this arrangement with Giuliani.

Should the Senate -- that's the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee chairman -- but should the Senate be doing something about this as well?

MENENDEZ: Absolutely.

Listen, the Senate should be doing a whole host of things. Number one is that the political firings, the retribution against Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, who should be considered a patriot and should have gotten a promotion, not a firing, at the end of the day, is outrageous.

This is what I see in authoritarian countries in the world, Wolf that we try to promote democracy and human rights. That type of action that the president took is what I see in an authoritarian country.

It's not what I see in the United States of America. That is not the rule of law. That is not democracy, human rights. That is not what we promote throughout the world, but it happened here.

This is also the person, in the president of the United States, who, ultimately, all of his Republican enablers enabled him. All of those who have said he was going to learn a lesson, he learned a lesson, no.

From the prayer breakfast to the White House to what happened with Vindman and Ambassador Sondland, he has not learned any lesson. And so Republicans, particularly, everybody needs to, but Republicans particularly, those who have been his enablers, those who have been complicit in allowing him to act the way he's acted need to be speaking up.

[18:10:03]

And they need to be both pursuing the question at the Justice Department on Giuliani. They also should be pursuing the questions at the State Department.

BLITZER: Because you heard Republican Senator Cornyn of Texas say, we hope the president learned a lesson.

What you're suggesting is, you don't believe the president learned any lesson?

MENENDEZ: No.

Look, he comes out after his acquittal, and he goes to the National Prayer Breakfast, which is the annual event that brings people together across faiths across parties, and he's vicious and vindictive at the National Prayer Breakfast.

He then has a rally at the White House, at the taxpayers' expense. And it's not only what he said that's so bothersome. It's what the audience is applauding about, again, vicious and vindictive, and then the firing of Lieutenant Colonel Vindman -- or the removal of him from the National Security Council, along with his brother, who didn't testify, didn't do anything in this regard.

These are the things we see in dictatorships. They are not the things we see in democracies.

BLITZER: The attorney...

MENENDEZ: So, yes, my colleagues have enabled him, and, in my mind, they're complicit in what he's doing by enabling him to do so.

BLITZER: You heard the attorney general say that the Justice Department is taking the steps to ensure that Giuliani's information, in the attorney general's words, is carefully scrutinized.

Does that give you confidence?

MENENDEZ: No.

First of all, why does he need a special avenue? I assume that any citizen that has information -- if citizens have information about President Trump, they have a special venue at the Department of Justice to bring that information to the department's attention?

No. This was created for Giuliani, because the president insists upon it. And whatever veneer you want to put on it, whatever face you want to put on it about that, oh, we're going to do the impartial review to make sure that this is legitimate information, if it is legitimate at all, is ultimately exactly that, a veneer.

It's not what the Department of Justice should be in the midst of. It is not what should be going on. We already have a proven track record with Giuliani of him spreading false lies.

I don't know who -- first of all, who's his client? Who's paying him? I don't know. Shouldn't we know that before we allow him to peddle anything?

BLITZER: Well, we do know that one of his clients is the president of United States.

MENENDEZ: Well, he says it's his client. Sometimes, the president says he is his lawyer. Sometimes, he says he isn't his lawyer, but who's paying him? Is the president paying him? Is a campaign committee paying him? Or is

a foreign client paying him to do all of this Ukraine dirt, dirty work? We should know, because that goes to the truth and credibility of whatever he's trying to peddle.

BLITZER: Citing protocol, the FBI won't say whether it has actually opened an investigation into Joe or Hunter Biden. Does that concern you at all?

MENENDEZ: Well, look, the reality is, is that what concerns me is that it seems that Rudy Giuliani has a special track to bring his dirt and whatever fabricated information he has into the Department of Justice in the first instance.

That -- whether or not the department will confirm whether they have an investigation or not is not reassuring to me, especially when you have created a special track for Rudy Giuliani to bring his dirt into the Department of Justice. That can never be viewed as clean at the end of the day.

BLITZER: The Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, is now calling on all federal inspectors general to investigate witness retaliation in the aftermath of the firing of White House officials Friday night, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, Gordon Sondland, the former U.S. ambassador now to the E.U.

What power does the Senate have to protect those who speak out, those who are subpoenaed, come before Congress, testify honestly, as best as they can, but then have to pay a price?

MENENDEZ: Well, this is part of what I am doing.

I will be giving a speech later this week at Brookings about action that we need to take to guarantee that civil servants who honor the constitutional -- the Constitution of the United States, who honor a congressionally mandated subpoena, who follow the rule of law, who follow the procedures don't get retaliated against, and both at the State Department or the NSC or any other government official.

And I'm just afraid that, while the Whistle-Blower Act does have some protections for an individual who is designated as a whistle-blower, these other individuals were not whistle-blowers. Vindman is not the whistle-blower. He's just someone who righteously came forward and did what is patriotic to do, say, I see something wrong. I believe something is wrong, and I need to speak to it.

[18:15:03]

And that should be honored and protected, not crucified, as the president has.

BLITZER: Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, thanks, as usual, for joining us. Appreciate it.

MENENDEZ: Thank you.

BLITZER: All right, just ahead: a shakeup in the Democratic race for the White House.

A new national poll, a national poll, shows a new front-runner on the eve of the New Hampshire primary.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: All right, we're just hours away from the first votes being cast in the first primary of the 2020 presidential campaign.

And there's a new national poll just out tonight that shows Michael Bloomberg making some significant gains, while Bernie Sanders takes the lead from Joe Biden.

CNN's Ryan Nobles is in Durham, New Hampshire, for us right now.

[18:20:02]

Ryan, this poll shows a rather changing, changing race.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No doubt about that, Wolf.

It certainly shows some momentum behind the campaign of Bernie Sanders, especially after his strong performance in Iowa. Let's take a look at the top numbers here.

You see Sanders now surging to the lead for the first time nationally in this Quinnipiac poll at 25 percent, Joe Biden falling to second place with 17 percent. And you're right, that's a surprising number for Michael Bloomberg, doubling his support from the last time this survey was taken, at 15 percent, and Elizabeth Warren at 14 percent.

But there's no doubt that this is a good sign for Bernie Sanders. We're at an event that is set to take place here at the University of New Hampshire. A massive line of folks waiting to go in and see the senator speaking and also take in the popular band The Strokes that are going to perform here as well.

This all taking place on the eve of the big primary here in New Hampshire.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NOBLES (voice-over): The sprint is on in New Hampshire.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to have to bring our party together in order to beat Donald Trump.

NOBLES: The Democratic candidates in a mad dash across the state, making their final pitch to voters and opening new lines of attacks on their rivals.

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's a good guy. He's a great mayor. But guess what? He was a mayor.

NOBLES: Former Vice President Joe Biden downplaying the experience of former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. BIDEN: Come on, man. You think -- these guys -- this guy's not a Barack Obama.

NOBLES: Buttigieg quickly firing back on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION."

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, he's right. I'm not, and neither is he.

NOBLES: But it's not just Biden.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The message of this campaign is us, not me.

NOBLES: Senator Bernie Sanders is attempting to hold off a Buttigieg surge by knocking the wealthy donors funding the former mayor's campaign.

SANDERS: You can see candidates conferring with their donors. You are my donors.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

SANDERS: We don't go to rich people's homes and get advice from millionaires and billionaires.

NOBLES: For his part, Buttigieg knocking Sanders for being too divisive.

BUTTIGIEG: This is a moment for bringing as many people as we can into the picture. But a picture where your only choices are between a revolution or the status quo is a picture where most of us don't see ourselves.

NOBLES: The Sanders-Buttigieg matchup here coming on the heels of their razor-thin contest in Iowa, where the final outcome remains unresolved.

The Iowa Democratic Party released results Sunday that show Buttigieg earning 14 national delegates to Sanders' 12. Today, both the Sanders and Buttigieg campaigns each filed a formal request with the state party for a partial recanvass of precincts they believe were calculated incorrectly.

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.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

NOBLES: And while the leading contenders battle it out, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, hoping to capitalize on her strong debate performance, raking in more than $3 million since Friday night.

KLOBUCHAR: If you are someone that has to make that decision about filling your refrigerator with food or filling a prescription, I know you and I will fight for you. (END VIDEOTAPE)

NOBLES: And while there's no doubt that Bernie Sanders feels like he's in a strong position here in New Hampshire, it is clear that they're worried about the surging momentum of Pete Buttigieg, the former South Bend mayor.

Repeatedly on the campaign trail over the last 48 hours, Sanders has made a specific point about the wealthy donors to the Buttigieg campaign, saying that's a big distinction between his campaign and his online army of fund-raisers. Sanders believes that is one of the big differences between he and Buttigieg as we go here into the final hours of the New Hampshire primary -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's getting sort of nasty among these Democratic candidates.

Ryan, I want you to stand by.

I want to bring in former Obama senior adviser and Senior Political Commentator for CNN right now David Axelrod.

This new poll, this Quinnipiac university poll, which is respected, shows Bernie Sanders in the lead, but Michael Bloomberg, look at this. He's up to 15 percent, Biden at 17 percent. What do you think of this?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think $300 million of television can buy you a...

BLITZER: Three hundred fifty. Three hundred fifty.

AXELROD: Three hundred fifty, OK.

BLITZER: Yes.

AXELROD: Bloomberg has done something no one's ever done before.

And we're testing the theory that media can vault you into the race. He's done that. But something else happened, which was Iowa and Joe Biden, who had been running as the guy who was best suited to take on Donald Trump, had a very bad night there. And I think it's hurt him. And you can see it in this poll.

It's less that Sanders has surged. I think he was at 24 percent in their last poll. He's at 25 percent in this poll, but Joe Biden has lost nine points in this poll.

BLITZER: Yes. He's only at 17 percent right now.

AXELROD: And, Wolf, one of the things that is most concerning for him, I would think, is his support among African-American voters, which he has considered his firewall, dropped by half in this poll.

That would be a number that would deeply concern me if I were over in the Biden headquarters, especially because he seems to be headed for another bad night tomorrow night.

BLITZER: So if he comes in third or fourth -- and some suggest he might even come in fifth...

AXELROD: Depending on Klobuchar, yes.

BLITZER: ... in New Hampshire, what will happen?

AXELROD: Well, I think the biggest immediate for him is, how do you raise the money?

[18:25:01]

He wants to get to South Carolina, where he thinks that black support will vault him to victory.

But it's hard to get there without the money that you need. I suspect he will go. But he's going to be crippled in terms of his fund- raising, which has been laggard to date as it is.

BLITZER: And, as you know, you need a ton of money for March 3, Super Tuesday, what, 14 states, including some of the biggest states, what, California and Texas. You need money to compete in those states.

AXELROD: And Mike Bloomberg clearly is taking some of those votes away from Joe Biden. You can see it.

He's almost even with Biden among African-American voters and with moderate voters. These are the base that Biden was counting on. And all that spending that Bloomberg is doing in those Super Tuesday states are going to make a big impact.

BLITZER: Let me go back to Ryan. He's covering Bernie Sanders out in New Hampshire right now.

So what does it look like, if you're a Sanders supporter, following Iowa, and presumably he is going to do well tomorrow in New Hampshire?

NOBLES: Well, I think, if you're a Bernie Sanders supporter, Wolf, the thing that you would take the most heart from in this poll is the increasing belief among Democratic primary voters that in a head-to- head matchup against Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders can win.

I mean, when you talk to Democratic voters -- and I have talked to a lot of Democratic voters over the past year -- they, for the most part, say they like Bernie Sanders, but they're just worried that when they get to November in that head-to-head matchup with Trump, he may fall short.

Now that we see Sanders starting to do much -- to do very well in these early primary states, it's clear that voters are now starting to believe that he can win. And that is reflected in this national poll.

And that's really been the big impediment to him capturing the Democratic votership. If he can convince him -- convince them that he's the strongest candidate to take on Donald Trump, that is overwhelmingly the number one priority of Democratic primary voters.

And it seems as though Bernie Sanders is starting to convince them that he can do it.

BLITZER: Let me get David Axelrod's reaction to what Democratic strategist James Carville has been saying over the past few days.

AXELROD: Yes.

BLITZER: He was very instrumental in helping Bill Clinton become the president back in 1992.

AXELROD: Yes.

BLITZER: Carville said this: "We got to decide what we want to be. Do we want to be an ideological cult, or do we want to have a majoritarian instinct to be a majority party?"

Yes, he's warning, basically, that if the Democrats nominate Bernie Sanders, it's over, Trump is easily going to be reelected.

AXELROD: Yes, that's what he's saying.

And there is a great deal of fear about what this application of socialist...

BLITZER: Democratic socialist.

AXELROD: Yes, he -- that's what Bernie Sanders would say. I'm not sure that -- I think the president will shorten it a bit. He will just use socialist.

BLITZER: The president basically will call him communist.

AXELROD: He will call all of the candidates that, but when you're the candidate describes themselves in that way -- self that way, then it becomes a problem.

But, as Ryan points out, in this poll, Bernie Sanders is actually just a notch better than Joe Biden in the race against Trump. He's beating him by eight points in this particular poll. That doesn't measure what happens when the president turns his machine on Sanders, but it will give some pushback to the argument that James is making.

BLITZER: Yes.

And you make an important point. This is one poll, this Quinnipiac University poll. Let's see what some other respected polls show as well.

AXELROD: Yes.

BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much.

Just ahead: Democratic lawmakers demand answers after the attorney general confirms Rudy Giuliani is feeding information about Ukraine to the Justice Department.

Plus, more than 1,000 deaths from the coronavirus now reported around the world. We're going to get the very latest on efforts to try to contain the outbreak.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:30:00]

BLITZER: Tonight, sources are telling CNN that the former U.S. ambassador to the E.U., Gordon Sondland, former National Security Council Ukraine Expert Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, were quietly, quietly planning to leave the administration on their own when the president publicly fired them Friday in the wake of the president's impeachment trial in the Senate and their testimony during the course of the investigation.

Let's get some more with our experts and analysts. Andrew McCabe is with us, former Deputy FBI Director. You were fired during the administration. What do you think the president's intention was to humiliate, for example, Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, escort him out? One of his close friends said on CNN today, he couldn't have a chance to say goodbye to his friends, his colleagues at the National Security Council.

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, it's disgraceful the way that he's been treated. But I think there are two things that the president is trying to accomplish here. First, he's sending a loud and clear message to everyone else still in his administration that if you stand up against the president, you will be punished. That is absolute.

The second thing he's doing is this president attacks personally those people who stand up and tell the truth, truth that is inconvenient or uncomfortable for him, because it gives him a way to undermine that truth. So it's not just enough to say I disagree with what people are saying. He'd rather be able to say, no, Andrew McCabe is a liar or Robert Mueller is a Democrat or Colonel Vindman is a politically- motivated person of questionable judgment, and therefore everything they've said is not true. This is a strategy that he employs to undermine the narrative.

BLITZER: It's not just one thing to tarnish someone's reputation but to also question the law enforcement community, the intelligence community, stuff like that.

MCCABE: That's right. He is --

[18:35:00]

BLITZER: Suggested there's a deep state working against him.

MCCABE: That's right. He uses this strategy of personal humiliation to tar the entire community, be it law enforcement or intelligence because, he knows those are places that are likely to tell a truth in way that is not productive for him.

BLITZER: Do you worry, Laura, that now that he's been acquitted in the impeachment trial in the Senate, this is just the beginning of what some call vindictive action by the president? LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think he feels totally emboldened and entitled to conduct himself in this way. He has always believed this is a witch hunt against him. This is an example of it. And, of course, it's true that Vindman and Sondland do serve at the pleasure of the president. Well, let's remember, neither Sondland nor Vindman were serving at the pleasure of Congress. They were compelled via a subpoena to appear.

And so to have now the track record would be somebody who is having to respond to a subpoena issued by Congress in this hearing is also now punished not because they were performing poorly at the job but because they did not demonstrate the level of loyalty.

And, of course, it's going to have a bit of a freezing effect, a chilling effect on others who come forward, a whistleblower, someone just says, I have to testify. I was asked a question. What do you say about those? And remember, the president is the head of the branch that's supposed to enforce the law. This is a problem.

BLITZER: And when you testify as a result of a subpoena, you go before Congress, you have to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Otherwise, you could wind up in jail.

Jeffrey Toobin, let's talk a little bit about Lindsey Graham, the chairman of Senate Judiciary Committee. I'll play a clip of what he said and then we'll discuss.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): 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 Justice lawyers, FBI agents have a political agenda and they acted on it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. What's your response to that?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, it's like right wing fantasy talk. I mean, the vast majority of FBI agents, CIA employees, Department of Justice employees have done nothing but their jobs. And taking a few text exchange between two FBI employees that the president obsesses about and turning that into a conspiracy of the deep state is just part of the story that you've been talking about with Laura and Andrew, that this is about sending the message that if you deviate from the Trump line on anything, your job is toast. That's the real message that the president sent with Vindman and Sondland. That's what Senator Graham is talking about. It's all part of the same story.

BLITZER: Are you surprised, Jeffrey, to hear this kind of talk from Senator Lindsey Graham?

TOOBIN: No, because he is part of the team. And it's just so obviously shocking and inappropriate that the next day these two witnesses who responded to subpoenas and told the truth got fired. I mean, it's just so obviously outrageous. The fact that it's being defended at all is really indicative of the hold the president has on his party far more than the ethics of this particular decision which are so obviously wrong.

BLITZER: Let me get Andrew McCabe's response. Go ahead.

MCCABE: Well, I mean, I completely agree with Jeff. It's absolutely outrageous what has happened to these two Americans who stood up and told the truth under penalty of subpoena that comes along with it. It's not surprising to see Senator Graham speak in this way but it's incredibly dispiriting.

It is once again watching him completely mischaracterize the results of the several now I.G. reports that investigations into the way the FBI did their business both in the Clinton email investigation and in the Russia investigation. It's just -- it's sickening but it is a repeated effort to construct the narrative that they prefer to live with.

TOOBIN: And let's not forget that they also fired Vindman's brother, which is North Korean style punishment of the whole family, which is particularly nauseating.

BLITZER: Yes, his twin brother, and also an U.S. officer, very serious. Let me get your thoughts.

COATES: Well, it's not shocking to me that Lindsey Graham continues but the turnabout when he was just about three or four years ago and how he viewed the president of the United States. What is shocking to me is the conflation of all these things, the Mueller report, the Peter Strzok, the Lisa Page, all of that, the idea witch hunt being brought into this new context. Remember, it was the president's July 25th phone call and the pressure campaign that launched all of these thousand ships. And to now suggest that it's all part of a pattern of behavior is just wrong.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody stick around. There's more news we're following, including this. The Pentagon now says dozens more U.S. troops have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries as a result of an Iranian ballistic missile attack.

[18:40:03]

Also, disturbing new numbers emerging right now in the coronavirus outbreak, the death toll now tops 1,000.

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BLITZER: Very disturbing development. We're following a dramatic increase in the number of U.S. troops diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries from last month's Iranian missile strike on an Iraqi base housing American troops. Our Pentagon Correspondent, Barbara Starr, is working the story for us.

[18:45:02]

Barbara, what, 109 troops have now been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries. What's going on?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Wolf.

That's exactly right. One hundred and nine American troops now diagnosed with what is believed to be mild traumatic brain injury following that Iranian missile attack back on January 8, over a month ago, again at the Al Asad base in Iraq where they were serving, 76 have been able, thankfully, to return to duty. The others all in various stages of being treated.

This all occurred when the Iranians launched ballistic missiles at the base, sending massive blast waves across the area, even though troops were in bunkers, the blast waves from these heavy ballistic missiles was so significant that basically their brains got jarred and moved around, essentially bruised in a way, and traumatic brain injury resulting.

So, now, the question is really what comes next. You know, the symptoms can linger for weeks, if not months. So, they will be under observation, we are told. But what happens if the Iranians or other adversaries were to do this again. Well, the U.S. is trying to get the Iraqis to approve putting Patriot missile batteries into these areas and trying to figure out how to harden these bunkers so when troops are trying to shelter, they may actually have shelter from future missile attacks -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, very disturbing indeed.

All right. Barbara at the Pentagon, thank you.

Just ahead, the global death toll from the coronavirus virus outbreak tops 1,000. Why some experts say health officials aren't doing enough to halt the spread.

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[18:51:24]

BLITZER: The coronavirus infections around the world are rising as authorities struggle to try to contain the deadly outbreaks.

CNN's Will Ripley is in Japan, joining us now in Japan.

What, over 3,000 people, Will, are under quarantine aboard a luxury cruise ship where you are. Tell our viewers what you're learning.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, more than 3,500 people, Wolf, still on the ship and 135 of them are now off the ship but there are hospitals like this one here in Tokyo and sitting in the middle of a quiet residential neighborhood. You actually wouldn't know that coronavirus patients were here unless you saw what we did last night, when we saw an ambulance rolled by a team from Yokohama, from the port, bringing people into the quarantine ward here. And you can see the driver in the ambulance in full hazmat protective gear. People are in these kind of rooms that are sealed off with plastic. And yet, when we talk to people who are actually, you know, inside

experiencing all of this, they say in many cases it feels kind of like the flu or a cold. Not as bad as they expected.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KENT FRASURE, OREGON PASSENGER: So they just announced 66 more passengers being taken off the ship.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Tonight the number of coronavirus cases on a luxury cruise ship off Japan has nearly doubled in the last three days. At least 24 Americans now among 135 people infected aboard the Diamond Princess off Japan.

Among them, Rebecca Frasure. Rebecca and her husband Kent had been together, confined to their cabin on the ship but Friday, she tested positive and was taken to this Tokyo hospital.

(on camera): There she is. She's standing in the window right now. Rebecca, here we are. Hi.

(voice-over): She waived to us from her hospital window telling us she's doing well. Like other patients without symptoms, Rebecca says her time in the hospital quarantine does not include specific treatment for the coronavirus.

REBECCA FRASURE, CORONAVIRUS PATIENT: They have not given me any actual medication or any fluids or anything for the virus.

RIPLEY: So far, Rebecca's husband Kent is not showing any symptoms. He's been tested twice. Both times negative.

K. FRASURE: Here is a ton of activity going on today.

RIPLEY: Today, he took this new video from the balcony of his cabin. You can see rows upon rows of ambulances waiting to transport sick passengers to nearby hospitals and medical staff to help those on the ship. The Diamond Princess, in the middle of a 14-day quarantine at a harbor south of Tokyo. It now has the largest outbreak outside of mainland China.

Overall, the coronavirus has killed more than 1,000 people and infected more than 40,000 worldwide. Some experts believe health officials are not doing enough to halt the spread.

LAURIE GARRETT, AUTHOR, "THE COMING PLAGUE": I fear they're too late. Everybody is dragging their feet getting ready for this. I think this is going to really explode. It's out of control in China.

RIPLEY: In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says nearly 400 Americans are being monitored for the coronavirus in 37 states. Of those, 12 have tested positive.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: It could change because unless China gets their really rather difficult situation under control and not seed other countries, then it's going to be difficult to continue to keep cases out of the country.

RIPLEY: More than 3,000 people remain on the Diamond Princess, including Kent who keeps in contact with his wife and family by phone, text message and video chat.

Rebecca says she was told she would be at the hospital for at least 14 days. Kent is pushing for Japanese officials to be more proactive and get out ahead of the growing number of cases on board.

K. FRASURE: We need to start testing everybody.

[18:55:00]

We can't just sit here and wait day after day hoping that people self- report.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Will Ripley reporting for us. Will, thank you very much.

More news just ahead.

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BLITZER: There's a new baby boom right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We want to welcome Lincoln Michael Robert and Vivienne Louise Georgia into the world.

Lincoln is the first child of CNN's Jessica Schneider and her husband Adam. He was born 7 pounds 10 ounces.

Vivienne is the daughter of CNN's Pamela Brown and her husband also named Adam. She weighs in at just over 7 pounds and is getting a lot of love from her older brother, Benny.

We're told both families are doing very well and all of us at CNN share in their joy and wish them nothing but the very best.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

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