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Russia Working to Help Get Trump Reelected in 2020?; Interview With Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY); Trump Ally Roger Stone Sentenced To Three Years, Four Months In Prison; Bloomberg Tries To Regain Footing After Rough First Debate; Sources: Intel Officials Say Russia Trying to Get Trump Reelected. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 20, 2020 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: A source now tells CNN that U.S. intelligence officials warned members of Congress just last week that Russia is interfering in the 2020 presidential campaign to try to get President Trump reelected.

[18:00:05]

I will get reaction from Democratic Congresswoman Kathleen Rice, a member of the Homeland Security Committee. Our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

But, first, let's go to our national security correspondent, Vivian Salama.

Vivian, this is a major development. Officials went behind closed doors, briefed members of the House Intelligence Committee that Russia is interfering in the election with the hope of getting the president, President Trump, reelected.

VIVIAN SALAMA, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

We see a pattern now developing within this administration where a couple of things keep on happening, one, that the intelligence community releases an assessment that Russia interfered in our elections or is trying to do so again.

And then you have the president's skepticism towards that assessment, especially because he feels like it delegitimizes his own victory, and doesn't want that to happen again, and finally backlash against officials that sort of perpetuate that view.

And I recall, in 2018 especially, President Trump's second national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, had given a speech and talked about Russian interference in the elections, and immediately President Trump then went out and tweeted: "McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 elections were not impacted or changed by the Russians."

So he really looks closely to this. And he does not like it when any official in his administration buys into this notion, despite the fact that it's been overwhelmingly confirmed by the intelligence community. BLITZER: And, clearly, what irritated the president was this briefing

by members of the U.S. intelligence community. It was before the House Intelligence Committee, chaired by Adam Schiff, the Democrat who was the lead prosecutor in his impeachment.

And the president basically concluded, why are members of his intelligence community telling Adam Schiff anything?

SALAMA: That's right.

We have learned that, essentially, the president is so worried about any further ammunition that the Democrats could get in their hands, including any kind of doubt that he could win this election fair and square. And so he was furious about it. He did not want intelligence officials to go and brief the Democrats.

And there were repercussions, obviously. Now we see that Joseph Maguire, the acting DNI, is on his way out. We don't know if there's correlation between the two instances, but there are coincidences that are happening here for sure.

BLITZER: Yes, it's clear that Joseph Maguire, who was until yesterday the acting director of national intelligence, and presumably a front- runner to become the director of national intelligence, that he was dumped because of this briefing.

Word got back from the Republicans who were there, including the ranking Republican, Devin Nunes, to the president. They weren't very happy with this U.S. intelligence community assessment.

SALAMA: That's right.

And so the president obviously now bringing in loyalists to take over this job, because he doesn't want to have this idea of someone going out there and spreading any kind of doubt toward his potential victory in 2020.

And so he was very, very angry about what happened and his actions sort of reflect that.

BLITZER: And it helps explains why Ambassador Ric Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, with virtually no intelligence background, is now the acting director of national intelligence overseeing 17 U.S. intelligence agencies, including the CIA.

All right, Vivian, stand by.

I want to go to the White House right now.

Our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is also working the story.

Jim, what are you learning?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I was told by a source familiar with this dust-up last week that, yes, the president was irate with the outgoing acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, over this briefing to House lawmakers last week about election interference and that the Russians are trying to interfere with the 2020 election.

This is significant, Wolf, because obviously the president for years now -- and we have been cataloging this -- it seems to flare up every several months -- where the president is pressed on whether or not he believes the Russians interfered in the 2016 election, and he has vacillated back and forth as to whether or not he believes in that, and famously and Helsinki, a couple of years ago, said that he took Putin's word over the U.S. intelligence community, a statement that he had to clean up.

Now, from what we understand about this briefing up on Capitol Hill, our colleagues Dana Bash and others up on Capitol Hill are essentially saying that when members of the administration briefed those lawmakers on this potential for Russian interference in 2020, that several of the president's House Republican defenders were essentially upset about what was being presented to them.

And so there appears to be at this moment tonight, Wolf, just great, great conflict over this threat that the Russians pose to our election process coming up here in November.

But, Wolf, I don't think you can underscore it enough. To have the president berating the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, over a briefing to lawmakers suggests that the president is just not over this, and is trying to have some impact over the intelligence gathering process and what's presented to lawmakers.

Keep in mind you were just mentioning Ric Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany. I was told earlier today by a senior administration official, this official was reiterating that Ric Grenell is going to remain the ambassador to Germany, that he's going to become the acting director of national intelligence for just a brief period of time, until the administration finds a new director of national intelligence.

[18:05:15]

But, Wolf, what competent, serious-minded intelligence official in Washington is going to want to take on this job, which, after all, was created after 9/11 to make sure there isn't another 9/11, given what we know tonight, that the president was irate with the director of national intelligence just for having a briefing to lawmakers about a threat to American democracy, Wolf?

BLITZER: Stand by, because Maggie Haberman of "The New York Times," one of our CNN political analysts, is joining us on the phone. She's the co-author of "The New York Times"' report on this.

You guys broke the story just a little while ago, Maggie.

So, update our viewers on what exactly you and your team are learning.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure, Wolf.

The president berated, as Jim said, Joe Maguire, who is no longer the director of intelligence, last week after he had heard that officials from the intelligence community had briefed House Intelligence Committee members on election interference.

Part of the that briefing was a statement about Russia and ongoing activities to try to influence the 2020 election, that their interest is in seeing President Trump reelected. And the president was angry in large part for two reasons, and there might have been others that we're not aware of.

But what we know is he is upset because, you know, he continues to get angry when he hears about Russia in connection with his election or his reelection campaign, because he sees it as delegitimizing him, and he felt that Adam Schiff, who is the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, who just led the impeachment effort in the House, the inquiry there, that Schiff would use it to weaponize the information against him.

This was his argument to Maguire. Our reporting is a little different than some others on how big a factor this was in why Ric Grenell was brought in to take over for Maguire, because the president had never forged much of a relationship.

But it certainly adds to the consternation that the president has over the Intelligence Committee -- community and what comes out of it in terms of things he sees as relating to him.

BLITZER: In your report, you say that the intelligence official who briefed members of the House Intelligence Committee, Democrats and Republicans, Shelby Pierson, was rather blunt.

Was there an explanation provided why the Russians would prefer to see President Trump reelected?

HABERMAN: I don't know the answer to that, Wolf, and I don't want to speak beyond what our reporting is.

That said, the intelligence community has broadly determined that Russia tried to meddle in the 2016 election to try to benefit President Trump. That is who they'd prefer to see win over Hillary Clinton.

I don't think it's a -- would be shocking to anyone to hear that they would still prefer President Trump to anyone if you accept that declaration from the 2016 election. But we don't know whether they presented any other information related to it.

BLITZER: Yes, very important information.

Maggie, stand by.

Jim Sciutto is also working his sources for us right now.

Jim, what are you learning? JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I

have spoken to members of the Intelligence Committee.

And, of course, members cannot speak to the classified intelligence, but I will tell you that there is deep alarm from those members to the president's interference here.

I'm going to quote from Representative Mike Quigley, Democratic member of the House and also on the Intelligence Committee.

He says the following: "The president is interfering in what is meant to be an independent process. And that's dangerous because it has a chilling effect on the intelligence agencies and analysts. If we don't get the full truth, we're less safe."

That's the root of the concern here, Wolf, is that the president, because he views this as politically damaging to him, much like his reaction to intelligence on 2016 interference, will attempt to suppress it and therefore not address it.

And that's the real concern here. And we have seen this, Wolf, now. It fits a pattern with this president, and certainly just when speaking about election interference, but it goes beyond it. And that is the real concern, because here we are. We have got an election in nine months' time.

The evidence appears to be Russia attempting to interfere again, and if the president doesn't even want to hear the intelligence indicating that, then is the president going to protect the election, act to protect the country, its electoral process?

That's the concern. And from a member like Quigley here, he's saying, with this interference, the country is less safe.

The other point I would make is this, Wolf, when you speak of the DNI and the carry-on effect, the director of national intelligence, as you well know, having covered the run-up to the Iraq War, one of the reasons this position was created was to prevent the politicization of intelligence, which was a concern leading up to the Iraq War, so that politicians would not just hear or use the intelligence that supported their position.

[18:10:16]

But that you had someone who was unbiased, not political taking a look, and looking at it analytically, not politically, and here you have the president doing the opposite here. Right?

He heard intel from the DNI he didn't like, apparently pushed him out and put someone in there who he hopes, expects won't tell him information he doesn't like.

And, you know, that defies exactly what this position was created to do.

BLITZER: Yes, this position was created to make sure that all elements of the U.S. intelligence community were cooperating, working together, especially in the aftermath of 9/11 and the buildup to the Iraq War, that the left hand of the U.S. government knew what the right hand of the U.S. government was doing, because, before 9/11, there were elements of the FBI who weren't cooperating, informing elements of the CIA, for example,.

That's why they needed a director of national intelligence to oversee all of this.

Maggie, in your reporting right now, did the members of the intelligence community, when they briefed members of the House Intelligence Committee, did they appreciate potentially how angry the president would be once he hears this?

HABERMAN: I can't speak to what was in their heads, Wolf, but it shouldn't really be a surprise on two fronts.

It shouldn't be a surprise that the president is not going to want to listen to this. He has a pattern of not wanting to listen to this in terms of intelligence related to Russia. And it shouldn't be a surprise that he's going to be upset that Schiff was in the room for this, Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intel Committee, who was involved with the House impeachment inquiry.

And the president has a visceral reaction to Schiff. So, I don't think that should have been a surprise to anyone. I think, that said, whether the argument is that they should have done something differently or not, that is for other people to discuss.

But none of this should be surprising. It's a president who is often inconsistent, is also predictably -- predictably unpredictable, and that he was going to react to this angrily should not react should not have surprised anyone.

BLITZER: Yes, he reacted very angrily, apparently dumping the acting director of national intelligence, and, as a result, there's now an acting, a new acting director of national intelligence, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, Ric Grenell.

I want to bring in Congresswoman Kathleen Rice, a Democrat. She serves on the House Homeland Security Committee.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us. You have been following the breaking news as well.

So, what's your response to this reporting that U.S. intelligence officials warned your colleagues on the Intelligence Committee, Democrats and Republicans, that Russia is actively trying to get President Trump reelected?

REP. KATHLEEN RICE (D-NY): So this is a fact that most Americans already know.

I would say that it's shocking, except it's not, because this kind of behavior by this president is happening with increasingly -- it's happening all the time, I mean, increasing frequency. The really disturbing part of this, Wolf, is that it is so important

for us as lawmakers who are privy to this information, this intelligence, to get it openly and honestly, and then figure out what to do about it, and then communicate to the American people what they can believe and what they can't believe, where the Russians are acting, and what they're doing to try to influence this.

The fact that this president time and again puts his own personal and political future ahead of not just every other American, but now our national security, is just so outrageous, it's -- what is there to say?

BLITZER: Yes.

And so what, if anything, can you guys in the House of Representatives or in the Senate, for that matter, do about this?

RICE: So, Wolf, I want to ask. I am appealing to all of my good colleagues on the other side of the aisle, my Republican colleagues, stand up and speak truth to this out-of-control power once and for all.

Put the impeachment stuff behind us. We have another election in November. Put all of that stuff behind. Get a backbone. I know there are Republican colleagues of mine who have backbones. I know that. I see them walking around every day in Washington.

Get that back -- take that backbone and speak to this president and say, this is enough. It's enough. We haven't heard any Republican come out and say, this is outrageous, after the briefing that the Intel Committee got.

Where are they? When are they going to be heard? We can say -- I can get up here and say this is outrageous, this is outrageous, and try to bring the truth to the American people. But you're going to tell me, out of the hundreds of Republicans in Congress, not one of them is going to stand up and say, enough is enough?

[18:15:08]

That is the real travesty here too.

BLITZER: And, clearly, the president was furious that the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, allowed this briefing to go forward. For the U.S. intelligence...

RICE: But, Wolf, that's his job.

Keep that in mind, that that is his job. They have to come before Congress and the various committees and brief them on what's going on. So to act like they did something that -- they stepped out of their lane, and they did something that was totally inappropriate is wrong.

That is their job. There is a separation of powers. Congressional committees exist to have oversight, to get information from our intel agencies, and then figure out what to do with that. And what -- the president is trying to tell the American people that what they did was wrong. That is outrageous, and I'm going to call it a lie, because that's what it is. That's not true.

BLITZER: It's not only their job. It's the law, that the intelligence community...

RICE: Right.

BLITZER: ... has to brief the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee. That's part of the law of the land.

Representative Kathleen Rice, thank you so much for joining us.

RICE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, the breaking news continues next.

We have much more on the Russian election interference that intelligence officials warn is already under way, with the goal of reelecting President Trump.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:20:37]

BLITZER: We're back with breaking news, a source telling CNN that a top intelligence official warned lawmakers last week during a classified briefing before the House Intelligence Committee that Russia is now taking steps to already interfere in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, with the goal of helping President Trump get reelected.

Let's get reaction from the former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. He's now a CNN national security analyst.

Thanks so much for coming in.

What's your reaction to this?

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, first of all, this -- the lead briefer here, as I understand it, was occupying a position that Dan Coats created to have a senior executive within the intelligence community on election security.

BLITZER: Dan Coats, the former director of national intelligence.

CLAPPER: Former director that preceded Joe Maguire, the erstwhile acting director of national intelligence.

And so, in the course of this briefing -- and I assume the briefing was given to both committees -- describing what is, for me, quite predictable, that the Russians, in the wake of their great success in the election of 2016, would attempt to do it again in 2020.

So this is not a big surprise, but it illustrates the tremendous challenge that the intelligence community has, where they're teeing up facts that our president doesn't want to hear, and with a result that the messenger got shot, in the form of Joe Maguire being asked to leave.

BLITZER: That he allowed a briefing like this to go on.

Apparently, the president was especially irritated that the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, was among those getting briefing.

CLAPPER: Well, the intelligence community doesn't get to pick who the members of the Oversight Committees are or who the chairman or ranking members are.

That's not the intelligence community's call. Institutionally, there is a requirement, as recounted in your last segment, that the intelligence communities, when summoned -- that the intelligence community, when summoned, must brief the Congress on threats confronting the country.

BLITZER: And the Democratic members and the Republican members.

CLAPPER: Exactly.

BLITZER: And, apparently, the president was so upset, he decided to dump the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, and bring in a new acting director, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, Ric Grenell, ho has basically no intelligence experience. What do you think about that?

CLAPPER: Well, obviously, as a former incumbent of the position and as a career intelligence officer, it's my belief that people that have experience in national security are best suited.

In fact, the law, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, says that.

BLITZER: Well, let me read. I have it right here.

"Any individual nominated for appointment as director of national intelligence shall have extensive national security expertise."

CLAPPER: Exactly.

BLITZER: Do you believe that Ambassador Grenell has extensive national security expertise?

CLAPPER: Well, that's obviously open to interpretation.

I don't think that his qualification certainly comply with the spirit, if not the letter of the law, in terms of his having a background to run the intelligence community.

BLITZER: He says, by the way, he's not going to be nominate. He's only going to be acting, and, at some point he will go back to being U.S. ambassador to Germany.

Potentially, at some point, we don't know when, the president will nominate someone else.

CLAPPER: And that brings up another dimension of this that I worry a lot about, is the impact on the intelligence community writ large and specifically the staff at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

So Ambassador Grenell will be now the fourth DNI or acting DNI since I left in January of 2017. So the turbulence and the turmoil that this creates, the lack of continuity and the lack of stability in running a major enterprise, global enterprise, is, for me, very bothersome.

BLITZER: Yes, and let's not forget the director of national intelligence oversees 17 U.S. intelligence agencies, including the CIA.

It's an enormous responsibility, and it was created after 9/11.

[18:25:00]

CLAPPER: Exactly.

And I would -- and the purpose was, of course, to foster and champion, advocate, integration and collaboration and coordination. That is not a natural act in the intelligence community. And it, in my view, is an important position to do that, is to promote the coordination and integration.

BLITZER: Critically important, especially in dealing with terror threats, among others.

Thanks so much for joining us.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, just ahead: Is it only a matter of time before President Trump pardons Roger Stone? Our legal experts are standing by for that.

Also, the Democratic race after fight night in Vegas. CNN is in Nevada with the presidential candidates assessing the damage from the first presidential debate, including Michael Bloomberg.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:30:00]

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on Russian interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Sources now tell CNN that U.S. intelligence officials warned U.S. lawmakers last week during a classified briefing that the Russians already are taking steps to try to get President Trump re-elected. We'll have much more on that just ahead.

Also right now, the other big story we're following, the sentencing of the president's longtime friend and ally, Roger Stone. Our Political Correspondent, Sara Murray, is just outside the federal courthouse here in Washington.

Sara, Stone got a significant sentence and he also got a scolding by the federal judge.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And with all the controversy surrounding this case, it seems like everyone has weighed in on Stone's fate, and today, the judge had her day. And she said Stone deserves time behind bars, although not as much as prosecutors originally asked for.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: A federal judge sentenced Roger Stone to more than three years in prison and two years of probation today as she delivered a scathing condemnation of the actions of President Trump's longtime friend and political adviser.

ROGER STONE, TRUMP POLITICAL ADVISER: I am a fervent supporter of the president.

MURRAY: This case did not arise because Roger Stone was being pursued by his political enemies, Judge Amy Berman Jackson said, it rose because Roger Stone characteristically injected himself smack into the middle of one of the most significant issues of the day. Jackson said the dismay and disgust over Stone's behavior should transcend party lines. Stone was not prosecuted, Jackson said, for standing up for the president. He was prosecuted for covering up for the president.

Stone stood quietly, his hands in his pockets, slightly slouching, as Jackson delivered the sentence for the seven charges, obstructing a congressional proceeding, witness tampering and lying to Congress, including telling lies that protect the president.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everybody sort of knows Roger. And what happened to him is unbelievable. They say he lied. But other people lie too.

MURRAY: The case played out amid extraordinary political intervention as Trump called Stone's prosecution unfair and suggested the judge was biased. The judge and government prosecutors appeared determined to defend the judicial system in the face of Trump's attacks.

Prosecutors initially asked the government to sentence Stone to seven to nine years in prison but Attorney General William Barr overruled the recommendation in favor of a lesser sentence. In response, the four prosecutors resigned from the case.

The new government prosecutor named to the case, John Crabb, defended the original trial team. This prosecution is righteous, Crabb said. Jackson drove home the seriousness of Stone's crimes. Nothing about this case was a joke. It wasn't funny, she said, adding, this is not campaign high jinks. This is not just Roger being Roger. It has to send a message that witnesses do not get to decide themselves whether Congress is entitled to the facts.

Backed by two rows of supporters, Stone did not address the court. He flashed a smirk as he departed the courthouse.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, Roger Stone is not going to be detained immediately. He has put in a motion with the judge for a new trial claiming juror misconduct, and the judge has said she will consider that request before Stone has to start serving out his sentence. Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Sara, thank you very much, Sara Murray reporting.

Let's bring in our Chief Legal Analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, and former Deputy Attorney General, Donald Ayer. Jeffrey, you have reported extensively over the years on Roger Stone. You've interviewed him. Do you think he can realistically expect potentially a presidential pardon?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I think he can bet on it. I mean, just look at how the president has behaved in what he said, including yesterday, re-tweeting Tucker Carlson's plea for a pardon. Look at the string of pardons this week. I think this is as close to a sure bet as exists. When this pardon will come down whether it's before or after November, I can't say that for sure, but I don't think Roger Stone is going to serve anything near three years and four months.

BLITZER: Yes. The president said eventually he might be exonerated. He's going to wait a little bit and see what happens but I think no one would be surprised if eventually he does get a pardon.

You know, Donald Ayer, the attorney general just the other day pleaded with the president publicly in that ABC News interview, please stop making statements about the Justice Department, please stop tweeting about it. Today, in the aftermath of what happened to Roger Stone, the three-year, four month sentenced, the president spent 12 minutes before a camera publicly railing against the Justice Department the way they have treated not only Roger Stone but Michael Flynn and others.

[18:35:07]

DONALD AYER, FORMER DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, I think what the president did today dramatizes the effort to influence the work of the department, which in a variety of ways has been going on certainly since Bill Barr got there, and I think probably before. And it dramatizes a situation that I think had become unacceptable before the president made those statements.

And it makes further clear -- I mean, there are a bunch of reasons why Bill Barr needs to resign. One of them is he, in essence, is using the position to make the president essentially unaccountable and completely beyond the law. And he's also made real clear that he also can't function in the job because of the way the president is behaving.

And the specter that's created by all of this is a specter of totally improper influence being put forward on the department in a way that it is nonfunctional. And the real big problem is that Bill Barr is actually a party to that and he's doing everything he can in order to turn the department into a tool of the president who's got all the power (ph).

BLITZER: And so to remind our viewers, you were the deputy attorney general, the number two official at the Justice Department during the presidency of George H.W. Bush. So you speak with some authority on this. What do you expect now that the president has so publicly railed against what's going on? These are Justice Department prosecutors who are going after Roger Stone, Michael Flynn and these others.

AYER: Yes. Well, what I hope will happen is that there will continue to be uproar about all of this, and an uproar from the people about what has gone on. And that all of these factors together may, in fact, encourage Mr. Barr to leave. Everybody has said, including the folks who signed the letter of former prosecutors said, well, we call on him to leave but we don't really think he will.

Well, I think if enough people stand up and make an issue, there's a petition I'm aware of now, there's probably more than one. There's one by the citizens for responsibility and ethics in Washington, that's got 90,000 signatures and I think people need to speak out and demand that Bill Barr resign.

BLITZER: Let me just quickly --

TOOBIN: Bill Barr is not going --

BLITZER: Yes, go ahead, Jeffrey.

TOOBIN: He's not going anywhere because he's a toady, because was picked, because he didn't believe in the Mueller investigation. And look at what he has done. He has gone outside the normal course of business in the Justice Department and appointed special outside U.S. Attorneys to review the Ukraine investigation, you know, the special channel for Rudy Giuliani. He now has a special channel to investigate whether Michael Flynn was charged correctly. He has injected himself into the Roger Stone case, as we all know.

This is what he's doing because this is what Donald Trump wants him to do. That's not -- this is not a bug. This is a future of the --

AYER: No, no, it absolutely is, and it's what Bill Barr believes in, and I agree with you completely. And the question is, are we all going to stand for it? Are we going to sit and watch him do that? You're absolutely right.

I mean, Donald Trump was the greatest opportunity for Bill Barr that ever came along, because Donald Trump wants to be an autocrat, and George H.W. Bush had no interest in being an autocrat.

TOOBIN: Well, Don is a distinguished lawyer. I'm just some guy on cable. So I don't do anything about any -- you know, it's not any job to do something but I can see what's going on, and what's going on is that Bill Barr is doing Donald Trump's work, and that's what he was assigned to do. BLITZER: I see you as a distinguished lawyer indeed. Jeffrey Toobin, thanks very much, and Donald Ayer, thanks so much for joining us.

All right, just ahead, Michael Bloomberg back out there on the campaign trail tonight and trying to regain his footing after a rather rough debate debut.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:00]

BLITZER: You're looking at live pictures from the site of tonight's CNN presidential town hall, so Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren will be taking voters' questions amid the fallout from the most heated Democratic debate so far.

CNN's Ryan Nobles has the latest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So how was your night last night?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, Michael Bloomberg joking around, hoping to move past his lackluster debate performance even as his main on-stage foe, Elizabeth Warren, keeps piling on.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I bet he's reaching in his pocket and spending a hundred million dollars more on advertising to try to erase everyone's memory of what happened last night.

NOBLES: But at a campaign stop in the Super Tuesday State of Utah, Bloomberg is staying focused on the frontrunner.

BLOOMBERG: And if we choose a candidate who appeals to a small base, like Senator Sanders, it will be a fatal error.

NOBLES: While Bernie Sanders is taking aim at Bloomberg's wealth.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have more income wealth inequality today than any time in the last hundred years. Mr. Bloomberg himself is worth more as one person than the bottom 125 million Americans.

NOBLES: Sanders seemed to survive his first debate at the top of the polls with so much attention on the new guy on stage.

WARREN: Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think you look at Donald Trump and say, we need someone richer in the White House.

NOBLES: Not just Bloomberg's billions, his opponents also attacked his past, Vice President Joe Biden raising Bloomberg's previous support for New York City's controversial stop-and-frisk policing.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's the policy. The policy was abhorrent. And it was, in fact, a violation of every right people have.

[18:45:00]

NOBLES: While Warren challenged Bloomberg to release women who have alleged sexist and misogynistic behavior by Bloomberg and his company from nondisclosure agreements.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So, Mr. Mayor, are you willing to release all of those women from their nondisclosure agreements so we can hear their side of the story?

MIKE BLOOMBERG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have a very few nondisclosure agreements.

WARREN: How many is that?

BLOOMBERG: None of them accuse me of doing anything other than maybe they didn't like a joke I told.

And let me just point -- there's agreements between two parties that wanted to keep it quiet, and that's up to them.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOBLES: In one of the arguments against Bernie Sanders last night, he said he won't be able to unify the Democratic Party. Well, to that end, I asked Senator Sanders today if he's reached out to former President Barack Obama, he said the two have been in fairly regular contact and, Wolf, he has absolute confidence in he wins the nomination, Barack Obama will be at his side -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Ryan Nobles reporting. Thank you.

Just ahead, how will the news about Russian efforts to get President Trump reelected play in the 2020 race?

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[18:50:48]

BLITZER: A new jolt to the 2020 presidential race tonight. U.S. intelligence officials are now warning that Russia is already taking steps to try to get President Trump re-elected.

Let's bring in our experts to discuss.

David Chalian, you're out there in Las Vegas right now getting ready for the CNN town halls.

So, the president was especially upset, we're told that Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, was among those Democrats and Republicans who got this classified briefing from the U.S. intelligence community.

How is this going to play out?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, listen, this is not a very surprising development, right? The Congress, the country, the president has been warned for years now that the Russians were intending to do the interference efforts yet again in 2020, as the intelligence community briefed the president when he was president- elect. That they had done in 2016. So everyone knew this was coming.

What seems to have upset the president so much is that he thinks Adam Schiff now got a piece of information that he's going to use as a political weapon, and he did not want him to have that. This is the chairman of the House Intelligence committee. I understand he's a Democrat. I understand he may be the president's nemesis, but it's actually his job as an elected representative in the country and the position he holds to get this kind of briefing, and help actually protect the American electoral system.

That seems to not be Donald Trump's top priority here. Instead, he wanted to keep quiet, a potential political argument against him.

BLITZER: He's clearly -- the president furious that this briefing even occurred, Gloria.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure, he doesn't want to brief Democrats about it, first of all. Secondly, he doesn't believe it. You know, it's the same old thing that he said after the 2016 election, which is that it might in his own mind, he believes that any notion that Russia would be helping him, delegitimizes him and could delegitimize his future election.

So, he doesn't want to be talking about it. He doesn't want to be investigating it. This is not breaking news in a way, because, of course, it's completely in character for Donald Trump. And as David was saying, the last thing he wants to do is tell Adam Schiff, who deserves to know, who should be briefed by the intelligence community about this, but he doesn't want Schiff to weaponize this in anyway, because he believes that he would.

And that's a whole other story, because Schiff is the chairman of the committee.

BLITZER: I suspect, Abby, the Democratic presidential candidates last night were really going after each other, now we're going to have an opportunity to go after the president on this issue?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think for a long time, these Democratic candidates have been saying the same thing, which is that, they view Donald Trump as basically a national security threat, and that this election is sort of an existential threat to the nation and to the democracy at large. That's why the arguments that they're taking to voters to get Democrats in the right frame of mind for turnout reasons and to sort of make the case to their own party that this is an important election and they have to be there for them. But at the same time, I do think that this is all baked in the cake

for a lot of Democrats. They already feel like they know this about the president, it's going to add to what they know. But it's not going to be really a driving issue on the campaign trail, because nobody is surprised that President Trump used the intelligence community as a political apparatus. And that as reported, as "The Times" reported, even the Republican lawmakers in the room pushed back on this briefing, which goes to show just how far we've come, where even members of Congress don't believe that this intelligence is real.

BLITZER: You think it's going to be an issue on the campaign trail, David?

CHALIAN: I have no doubt about it. I have no doubt about it that it will be in the way that Abby described it. But it shouldn't jus -- this should not just be in the realm of politics, Wolf. That's the problem here.

The president is only viewing this information through a political lens. What helps me, what hurts me. This is his job as president to protect the very core exercise of what makes the United States a democracy, free and fair elections. His responsibility as the chief executive of the land here is to protect this election, Wolf.

[18:55:05]

BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stick around.

There's more news we're following. We'll take a quick break. We're counting down also to tonight's CNN presidential town hall events.

Stay with us.

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BLITZER: All right. Take a look at these. These are live pictures coming in from Las Vegas, where the crowd is already gathering for CNN's back to back Democratic presidential town halls later tonight featuring Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren. It all begins at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. You can always treat the show @CNNSitRoom.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.