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THE SITUATION ROOM

Trump On Election Interference: "I Want No Help"; Trump Mulls Controversial Pick For Top Intel Job; Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) Is Interviewed About Donald Trump, Russia, DNI, Coronavirus; CDC Warns Disruption To U.S. Everyday Life "May Be Severe"; CDC: Coronavirus Spread Here Not A Question Of If But When; Rivals Turn Up Heat On Sanders Ahead Of Crucial Debate; Bernie Sanders Fends Off Attacks As Rivals Highlight History Of Praising Dictators. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 25, 2020 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:09]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, no help. President Trump says he isn't looking for campaign boost from Russia or any other country. Will the President keep his promise despite his history of soliciting foreign dirt?

Incoming intel chief. New details emerging now on a possible permanent replacement to fill the nation's top intelligence role. There's the President planning to tap a controversial congressman who already withdrew his nomination for the role once before.

Taking the stage. A crucial Democratic presidential debate in South Carolina is shaping up to be a major test for the frontrunner Bernie Sanders. His rivals are expected to hammer the self-described Democratic socialist for past praise of communist regimes.

And severe disruption. The CDC says Americans need to prepare for the coronavirus outbreak to have a major impact on their daily lives.

I'm Wolf Blitzer and you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Concerns over coronavirus are putting serious pressure on the global economy right now, the stock market taking another beating, and this time for the second straight day after a sharp new warning from the CDC.

Also tonight, President Trump says he does not need foreign help to get re-elected and insist he hasn't received assistance from Russia or other foreign countries. I'll speak with Senator Mazie Hirono, a key Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. And our correspondents and analyst will have full coverage of today's top stories,

Let's begin with our Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta. He's traveling -- been traveling with the President in India right now.

Jim, the President clearly is changing his tune on foreign election interference. JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. With the fears growing that Russia is going to interfere with the 2020 race, President Trump told me he doesn't want help from any country in the upcoming election. But that has not always been the case. He has asked for foreign assistance in the past.

The President was not just dancing around the Russia question, he was also predicting the coronavirus will be going to go away soon, even as the stock market is reeling amid worries the virus remains a global threat.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): After being impeached over accusations he pressured Ukraine to investigate a 2020 election rival, President Trump now claims he doesn't want any outside help.

(On camera): Can you pledge to the American people that you will not accept any foreign assistance in the upcoming election?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want no help from any country, and I haven't been given help from any country.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Pressed at the news conference in India about a recent intelligence briefing the law maker is indicating Russia has shown some preference to both Mr. Trump and Democrat Bernie Sanders, the President blast that leak from the House Intelligence Committee.

TRUMP: So I think it's terrible. They need to stop the leaking from Intelligence Committee. And if they don't stop, I cannot imagine that people are not going to go after them and find out what's happening.

ACOSTA: Still the President's comments were something of a shift from the past calls for foreign help. From last year when he asked Ukraine to investigate Former Vice President Joe Biden --

TRUMP: They should investigate the Bidens. By the way, likewise, China should start an investigation into the Bidens.

ACOSTA: To 2016 campaign.

TRUMP: Russia, if you are listening, I hope you are able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.

ACOSTA: The President also weighed in on the departure of the acting Director of Intelligence Joseph Maguire who abruptly left his post after the President learned of that Russian briefing.

(On Camera): Was he pushed out because he was not sufficiently loyal to you?

TRUMP: No, not at all. Not at all. He was pushed out because frankly -- he wasn't pushed out, he would have had to get out. On March 11 he would have had to leave.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But the President did admit the White House is caring out a purge, the administration staffers who are viewed as disloyal.

TRUMP: I don't think it's a big problem. I don't think it's very many people.

We want to have people that are good for the country, are loyal to our country, because that was a disgraceful situation.

ACOSTA: Earlier in the day, the President tried to assure the business leaders his administration has a handle on the fast spreading and lethal coronavirus virus as the global health scare is rattling the financial markets.

Sources say behind the scenes, the President has been ripping into administration officials over how they're handling the spread of the virus.

TRUMP: It looks like they're getting it under control more and more. They're getting it more and more under control. So, I think that's a problem that's going to go away.

ACOSTA: That's not how Democrats see it.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D) MINORITY LEADER: The administration has no plan to deal with the coronavirus, no plan. And seemingly no urgency to develop one.

ACOSTA: The President even spent some time lashing out at Supreme Court justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg saying that they should recuse themselves from cases that could impact his agenda.

[17:05:00]

Last week, Sotomayor criticize the administration for repeatedly asking the high court to allow his policies to go into effect, writing, "I fear that this disparity and treatment erodes the fair and balanced decision-making process that this court must strive to protect."

TRUMP: I just don't know how they cannot recuse themselves for anything having to do with Trump or Trump related.

Her statement was so inappropriate.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now the President says he's down town a handful of candidates for a permanent DNI to run the intelligence community which Trump told us today that person will have experience in the intelligence field.

Mr. Trump's and his acting DNI Rick Grenell who is quickly installed last week has come under some criticism for not having that intelligence experience. Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim, thank you. Jim Acosta reporting for us.

Let's get some more on the President's search for the next spy chief here in the United States. Our National Security Correspondent Kylie Atwood is joining us right now.

So, Kylie, what are you learning about who the President may potentially nominate?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, President Trump is revisiting an idea that he once had. He is considering putting Texas Congressman John Ratcliffe into this position as the permanent Director of National Intelligence. And this is someone that the President announced he intended to nominate for the position last year. But the congressman pulled his name, because there were reports questioning his experience, questioning his resume and things that he had put on that and what he had actually accomplished.

Another person that the President is considering is the current U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands, and that is Pete Hoekstra. His name has been circulating for this position a number of times over the past few years. But currently serving in this role as you were speaking about in the last report is acting -- in an acting capacity is the U.S. ambassador Rick Grenell. He's the current ambassador to Germany. And there's been a lot of criticism because he has very little experience when it comes to intelligence.

And one thing they found out when speaking with sources about the President's conversations is that he is trying to figure out who of these potential nominees would be loyal to him. And that is one thing that Rick Grenell is. He is a loyalist of President Trump. President Trump wants to nominate someone for this position who would continue being loyal to him.

And the other thing to consider is that President Trump said just today that this decision was soon, it could come in the next week or two, so this is something that we are keeping our eyes on.

BLITZER: And whoever he nominates has to be confirmed by the Senate.

ATWOOD: Exactly.

BLITZER: So that's an issue as well. Kylie, thanks very much. Good reporting.

We're joined now by Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii. She's a member of both the Judiciary and Armed Services committees.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI): Certainly.

BLITZER: Let me start quickly with the President's reaction to Russia's continued election interference here in the United States, that President says he doesn't want help from any foreign country. And he says hasn't gotten any help. But according to U.S. intelligence officials that simply not true, is it?

HIRONO: Well, the President is engaging in wishful thinking when he says that he has not received any help. We all know that he received help from the Russians. So there is that.

And it's very clear what the President cares about is his own re- election and everything is through that filter. So he has now decided that is better to say that he doesn't want any help. So there you go. He cares about himself for the most, and you can explain just about everything he does base on that acknowledgment.

BLITZER: The Senate Democratic leadership, a lot of your colleagues, they're now calling for a new sanctions on Russia, even potentially Putin, himself, for this election interference. Are any of the Republican colleagues, senator, as far as you know on board?

HIRONO: I doubt it, because when it became very clear during the Senate impeachment that the President in fact had asked the Ukrainian President to get dirt on his political opponent, using taxpayer money as a bribe, they didn't seem to be troubled by that. The facts were not particularly disputed. And in fact, the President's legal team basically said, yes he did it, so what. It's not impeachable. So, I doubt that they are terribly concerned, although they should be about any continuing interference by Russia in our 2020 elections.

BLITZER: The President, as you heard in Kylie's report, he is considering who to nominate to serve as the permanent Director of National Intelligence. Your colleague Senator Lindsey Graham says he thinks that position, by the way, is redundant and should be eliminated. Do you think he is right?

HIRONO: No, I do not, because this person is supposed to be the Director of National Intelligence. We have 17 intelligence agencies. I know that, I've served on the Intel Committee myself. So you need somebody who is -- they overall director. So it is not a redundant position at all. It was created after 9/11.

And one thing, Wolf, if we can't rely on our intelligence information, you know, to be told that what's what, then -- if even that agency, those agencies are politicized. I think that really compromises our national security.

[17:10:12]

BLITZER: Yes, it was created after 9/11 to make sure that the left hand of the U.S. government knew what the --

HIRONO: Yes.

BLITZER: -- right of the U.S. government was doing.

HIRONO: There is 17 intel agencies.

BLITZER: That they weren't -- they are holding thinks back from each other.

HIRONO: Yes.

BLITZER: Let's go to the coronavirus right now. You said your biggest takeaway from the briefing, you and your colleagues in the Senate had today is the need to develop a vaccine. Are you saying it maybe too late right now to contain the spread of the disease here in the united state?

HIRONO: We were told today that right now our country is focused on containment, but we're going to need to figure out a way to mitigate, which means that this virus is going to spread. It's very spreadable. And so there's only so much we can do to contain the virus. And it's going to come to our country. That is the fear and expectations, so we better be ready for it.

And one of the ways or several of the ways that we can get ready which this administration is not moving as fast enough is that we need to have the funds there and they've only asked for 1.2 billion in new funds to attack this possible pandemic in our country. We also need to do everything we can to support the creation of a vaccine and that takes anywhere from a year to a year and a half no matter how much you fast track. We also need to create a valid and reliable test on the blood samples that are taken and we don't have that either.

So for -- and the other thing that should happen is just as we did and during the Ebola crisis we should have a czar appointed so that somebody is in charge of everything. We have a lot of agencies that are involved. And just today we have our briefing with about seven different representatives from different agencies, from Department State to Department of Defense, to the Intel Community, to OMB, to CDC. So I think, and I'm not the only one who thinks that there should be a coronavirus czar.

BLITZER: As clearly, these experts should brief you and your colleagues. And this disagree with the President who suggested it's being contained right now. Clearly there's enormous concern.

HIRONO: That is definitely engaging in wishful thinking. And I would think that the President, first and foremost would care about the health of his own constituents, our citizens, but no, he's much interested in what the effect will be on the stock market and any negative effect that will have on his re-election.

BLITZER: The market has gone down 200 points in the last two days, a serious impact indeed.

Senator Hirono, thanks so much for joining us.

HIRONO: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, we'll take a closer look at tonight's crucial Democratic presidential debate. Will everyone pile on the new frontrunner Senator Bernie Sanders?

Also, more on the dire warnings of the possible impact of the coronavirus here in the United States. Officials are now say it spread is not a matter of if, but when.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:17:30] BLITZER: The stocks tumbled once again today over fears about the global economic impact of the coronavirus. The Dow Jones Industrials are down in the last two days, almost 2,000 points. There are new alarms coming also from top U.S. health officials. Let's bring in our Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, the CDC seems to believe a wider outbreak here in the United States. It's not a question of if, but when. How much worse could this get in the short term and the long term for Americans?

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think that, you know, since the beginning when they talk about all this various plants going into place and even the quarantines that we're hearing about in China, some of the largest quarantines in history, it was really all about delaying how quickly this little virus would spread around the world not trying to prevent it, not believing it could be prevented from traveling around the world.

Viruses don't respect boundaries and borders. So, I think when I talk to the head of the CDC last week, Wolf, I mean he said this thing -- this virus is likely to get a foothold here in the United States and start spreading through the communities. That's likely to happen. They've been able to delay that somewhat to sort of helped preparedness. But that's been sort of the thought I think for some time.

Now I wanted to distinguish, Wolf, and I think it's really important when we talk about the pandemics, and epidemics, and outbreaks, that's really talking about how widespread something becomes, not necessarily how lethal something is. We do know out of some of the biggest studies in this virus that about 80 percent of people either have no symptoms or just minimal symptoms. So it is likely to continue to spread, but that doesn't mean that it's going to be some massive lethal pandemic either.

BLITZER: The CDC as you know, it is warning of potentially severe disruption to people's daily lives including here in the United States. So describe, what could that look like?

GUPTA: Well, you know, I think that the name of the game, if this is starts to spread, and again, it seems like it might, that there's certain communities where they're going to say, look, it is going to be all about social distancing. You got to keep yourself isolated from other people as much as possible. So cutting down on public gathers, kids maybe staying home from school, people working from home.

You have to ask yourself in this situations, if you were told for the next week or two you really couldn't leave the house, are you prepared to do that? Are you prepared to, you know, in all aspects of your life do that?

Supplies that you have, you know, taking care of your kids, whatever it maybe. But within hospitals, you know, they probably won't be doing elective medical procedures, things like that. They may have to build more surge capacity within hospitals to care for the increase number of patients that are coming into the hospital. [17:20:15]

So, this type of the preparedness for, you know, these epidemics really hits on just about every facet of our society. But I think for individuals, keep in mind most people will not get sick, but they will have to distance themselves from others so they continue to not get sick. And are you prepared to do that for a week or two, probably up to two weeks.

BLITZER: And it's not just the matter of shaking someone's hand, right? There are other ways you can catch it.

GUPTA: Yes. I mean, you know, this particular virus, there's two things that I think we've learned over the last couple of months. First of all, it is possible that someone who's not even symptomatic or has minimal symptoms can spread this virus. It doesn't happen. It's not as powerful a driver of the spread, but it can happen.

Typically it spread through respiratory droplets. So if you're around somebody who is sick and they cough or sneeze into the air, you could contract the virus that way. It can also happen from touching contaminated surfaces. So if someone contaminates the surface, the virus can live there for hours. Sometimes even up to days depending on the nature of the conditions outside. And you can catch it that way as well.

BLITZER: Really grateful that you're part of our team. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, as always, thank you so much for that update.

GUPTA: You got it, Wolf.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.

And this important note to our viewers, next hour I'll speak with Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health. He's an expert in all of this. We'll discuss the very latest information.

Coming up, will Democratic frontrunner Senator Bernie Sanders be able to handle all of the criticism sure to come his way later tonight in the Democratic presidential debate? And will Michael Bloomberg improve on his last performance? One of his campaign senior adviser is standing by. He'll take our questions.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:26:52]

BLITZER: The top Democratic presidential candidates have a crucial debate later tonight. The South Carolina primary is this Saturday and then Super Tuesday is a week from today.

Let's go to the Senior Washington Correspondent Jeff Zeleny is joining us from Charleston right now. It could be a rough night for the frontrunner Senator Bernie Sanders, right?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the spotlight is burning bright on Bernie Sanders, no question about that. And he's taking the incoming from all sides of his Democratic rivals.

From the price tag of his progressive policies to his old record on guns, even to the potential ramifications of the label Democratic socialist, and nothing to this is really new, he has heard this for, you know, more than a year as he's been running. But the new moment is that time is running out for his rivals to slow his momentum.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is a little bit funny to find myself as the so-called frontrunner.

ZELENY (voice-over): Tonight, that's exactly where Bernie Sanders finds himself at the front of the democratic primary fight and at the center of urgent scrutiny.

It's the 10th Democratic debate, but rivals are scrambling to shine a new light on Sanders' long record, including backlash over his partial phrase for Fidel Castro's Cuban regime.

SANDERS: There's a lot of folks in Cuba at that point who are illiterate. And he formed the literacy brigade, he went out and they help people learn to read and write. You know what, I think teaching people to read and write is a good thing.

ZELENY: Sanders did not say Cubans were taught to read on Castro's propaganda, a point that Pete Buttigieg seized upon it Monday night in CNN town hall.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't want -- as a Democrat I don't want to be explaining why our nominee is encouraging people to look on the bright side of the Castro regime when we're going into the election of our lives. We need to stand unequivocally against dictatorships everywhere in the world.

ZELENY: Sanders is defending his record as unapologetic Democratic socialist, a label that his challenger say would be a political gift to President Trump if Sanders became the party's nominee.

Sanders has long declined to put a specific price tag on his list of expensive policy proposals, including Medicare for all.

On stage Monday night, he released what he called an outline for how to pay for his programs.

SANDERS: How does he pay for it, right? Did I read your mind on that one? OK. And the answer is, I'll tell you exactly how we pay for it. We pay for it through rival modest tax on Wall Street speculation. That is how we pay for that, all right?

ZELENY: His rival said the math doesn't add up, a point expected to be front and center tonight.

Meanwhile, Michael Bloomberg is hoping for a second look after a widely panned debate debut last week. The adviser said his complete focus

would be on Sanders in what he believes his policies would do to the economy.

Joe Biden also facing incredible pressure with new polls suddenly showing the former vice president in a tight race with Sanders here in South Carolina where black voters make up more than half of the Democratic electorate. The Biden campaign trying to soften Sanders rising support, suggesting in a new digital add that the Vermont senator once considered challenging Barack Obama for reelection in 2012.

SANDERS: I think it would be a good idea if President Obama face some primary opposition.

[17:30:00]

ZELENY: Sanders dismiss the idea saying it was untrue.

And tonight Elizabeth Warren signaling her intent to stay focus on Bloomberg, airing new ads in Super Tuesday states, she's calling out the former New York City mayor for supporting Republicans including challenger Scott Brown in her hard-fought 2012 Senate race.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Bloomberg endorsed the Republican, and he raised big money for him, could I beat him anyway?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

So of course, this is about the South Carolina primary on Saturday, no question. But it's also about Super Tuesday a week from today. And that is when 14 states across the country are going to pick a third of the delegates. This is the last debate before that day as well.

Early voting is already under way there, so tonight is a command performance for so many Democrats, who, Wolf, the challenge for all of them is they may all be going Bernie Sanders, but that is one of the reasons he's been rising. The others are dividing up the moderate lanes if you will, and he is riding alone in his. So tonight, of course, a critical night, he has a lot of debates under his belt, we'll see you how he holds up in this one, Wolf.

BLITZER: Right now, soon enough. Jeff Zeleny in Charleston for us, thank you very much.

Joining us now the Bloomberg Campaign Senior Adviser Tim O'Brien. Tim, thanks very much for joining us. And, as you just heard in Jeff's report, Bloomberg strategy, apparently tonight you could correct us if we're wrong, is to go after Senator Sanders.

After your candidate Bloomberg's disappointing performance in the first debate that he participated in, what exactly will tonight look like?

TIM O'BRIEN, SENIOR ADVISER, BLOOMBERG CAMPAIGN: Tonight, I think that you're going to see a Mike Bloomberg fully in-charge of the message, fully in-charge of himself, acute, sharp and strong-minded. And yes, we're going to Bernie Sanders, no question, but we're going to focus on Bernie Sanders' record. I think that there's a real risk for voters here because Bernie Sanders has not been fully vetted. He was not vetted on the debate stage prior to tonight. He hasn't been fully vetted by the media, and you can be assured that Donald Trump and the GOP would fully vet Bernie Sanders in a general election.

And that's not -- that risk is not baked into any of the polling yet, because he sort of skated along, much like Donald Trump did in 2016 until he had so much momentum he couldn't stop. And our view is to just take the facts to the voters. Bernie Sanders has not been the sponsor of much legislation in the Senate. Maybe I think seven bills, two of which got post offices to Vermont. He is not fully accounted for tens of trillions of dollars in social programs he wants to engineer as president.

BLITZER: So we're going to be hearing clearly a lot on that. I just want to point that we did, and other news organizations report extensively Senator Sanders during his 2016 run for the Democratic presidential nomination. We report extensively on him right now. But what do you say to your critics, the Bloomberg critics, who argue that Bloomberg has avoided scrutiny by skipping campaigning in the early states?

O'BRIEN: Well, I mean, we just got, you know, entered the race too late for us to set up shop competitively in the first four states. There's only 4% of the delegates had play there, Wolf. There is still 96% of the voters across the country to hear from. We are in 45 plus states, Mike has been campaigning on the ground. He's been in over 25 states. I think I have been in about 15 at this point. We have 2,100 people on the ground.

We haven't been avoiding anything. And I think when the other candidates come out of South Carolina on to the rest of the map, we will be waiting there with a very big efficient operation.

BLITZER: Let's talk about how the other candidates might take on Mike Bloomberg later tonight. In 2016, Bloomberg said his 2012 endorsement of President Obama in his words was backhanded. He thought maybe Mitt Romney would have done a better job. If that comes up, how will he address that?

O'BRIEN: Well, I think, at different moments, I think Mike felt critical of some aspects of President Obama's administration. But I think by and large, Mike is a deep admirer of President Obama. He was an amazing public servant, and I think that's highlighted especially now in the Trump Era when you have someone who is incompetent and dangerous in the White House.

Mike and President Obama partnered essentially on a program of outreach to vulnerable youths of color. President Obama modeled my brother's keeper on an initiative that Mike had set up in New York. So they've crossed and locked arms on policy in the past, and Mike admires him and he will continue to.

BLITZER: Another issue that Bloomberg may have to tackle later tonight is this comment from -- by his long time partner, Diana Taylor. She said people bothered by Bloomberg history of sexist comments years ago should "get over it." Does Mayor Bloomberg think people should just get over it?

[17:35:04]

O'BRIEN: No, that's not the position of the campaign or of Mike. As you know, we're tried to take this on as fully and as transparently as possible. I think Diana, saw her partner, her long time partner who she loves and admires. Sort of ruthlessly savage by Elizabeth Warren in the debate stage, in a way that was very smeary. Elizabeth Warren put words into Mike's mouth that I never said.

And she may -- she tried to imply that he was, you know, covering up his own sexual harassment problems, which couldn't further from the truth.

The full statement that Diana made was that Mike has been an advocate for women, throughout his entire career in the public and private stairs, and she's had a front row seat to that, and that's completely true. And we all know that.

Anyone familiar with Mike's record, whether it was backing female candidates in the 2018 midterms to help turn the House blue, or our focus on protecting reproductive rights, codifying Roe v. Wade and getting healthcare to maternal health care specifically, the low income women knows that Mike is somebody who cares deeply about women and their place in our society.

BLITZER: Tim O'Brien, thanks very much for joining us. Like you, like all of us, we'll be watching the debate later tonight. Appreciate it very much.

O'BRIEN: Thank you, wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, President Trump says he does not need help from Russia in this year's election, but he is picking a director of the national intelligence based on loyalty, and a recipe for trouble.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:41:08]

BLITZER: President Trump says he doesn't need or want foreign help in this year's presidential election. He also says he has a short list of candidates right now to be the next director of national intelligence. Let's get some insight from our analyst. Mike Rogers, listen to what the President said today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want no help from any country. And I haven't been given help from any country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You are the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, what do you think of what you just heard? MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean, I am glad that president is to talking like that. That's a great start for this president to start saying say he don't want it, don't need it. That's the right tone for the president to take -- this is a blind spot for the president about Russia's engagement in US elections. And I wish you'd get over it.

And remember, at the end of the day, honestly, they don't like Trump, they don't like whoever. Bernie Sanders, as they said, that he was -- they were engaged in his campaign. They want division. They want neighbors to not like neighbors. They want chaos in our political system, and they want us to go at each other's throat.

That's what the Russian intension is. And, by the way, they've been doing this for 70 years, but because of social media and new techniques and tools, they've been much more effective. So the President needs to let the intelligence community deal with it.

BLITZER: He should. You know, Bianna Golodryga, the president clearly doesn't want to talk about this, doesn't like the notion that US Intelligence concluded that Russian were trying to help his campaign in 2016. If you are reading the Robert Mueller then special counsel indictment of these Russian entities, the Russians were interested in helping him and Bernie Sanders in 2016 in his bid against Hillary Clinton.

So what do you think of the new statement that the President is making?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, it's interesting because it appears the President is approaching this as a bystander, as opposed to the leader of the free world, and commander- in-chief. What he should be telling Americans, and I'm glad that he's saying he doesn't want help. I guess, that's kind of a step in a positive direction. But what he should be relying to Americans is what exactly is taking place to deter Russians from interfering once again in US elections, because it's clearly saying sanctions were not enough back in 2016.

So that's the big question as to why we're not hearing that from the President. And if you don't want to just focus on Russia, there are other countries that want to interfere too. You can talk about that. I'm not seeing that from this president.

BLITZER: You heard our report from Kylie Atwood, Mike Rogers, earlier this hour, that the President is considering at least two people whose names she's reported Texas Congressman John Ratcliffe, Texas congressman, Ambassador Pete Hoekstra, former member of the House of Representatives, now the US ambassador to The Netherlands. I assume you know both of them, what do you think?

ROGERS: I do. I think Pete Hoekstra has been chairman. He was actually one of the --

BLITZER: He was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

ROGERS: House Intelligence Committee. He was also one of the authors of the D&I, which I think is probably --

BLITZER: The creation of the Office Director of International Intelligence.

ROGERS: The creation of the Office Director of International Intelligence. So he has a good understanding of it. I, listen, I think the president is signals that he is going to try to go after the Office of Director of National Intelligence. I think, at least, a guy like Pete Hoekstra understand if they're go in and reform it, how to go about that. They do need some reform. I don't think they should eliminate it.

And the one thing I just want to say --

BLITZER: So you disagree with Lindsey Graham. He says it's redundant.

ROGERS: There are maybe parts of it that are redundant. My argument is, reform those pieces where it's burden-added, and empower the areas for big strategic thinking across the 16 intelligence agencies. And there's a lot to do their space, you know, there's other thing to do. The presidents' daily brief, I do think has been become a better product because you had somebody mediate all of the agencies, collect all of the information.

BLITZER: Let me let Bianna weigh-in. And what do you think, Bianna?

GOLODRYGA: Well, look, this was an organization that was created after the tragedy of the 9/11 attacks, and clearly, it has functioned in a way to where 17 agencies were able to siphon down to one organizational head.

[17:35:08]

And what we're now seeing, unfortunately, is intelligence that's politicized. We have not seen this in quite this form, I don't believe in modern history, and so, for an election cycle where we are, once again, dealing with election interference, and not talking about what's being done to prevent it, but instead arguing over who Russia supports.

The bigger question is what are we doing to prevent the world's 11th largest economy from infiltrating the largest economy once again, because I do think in the largest and most powerful country in world, that's where the attention needs to be.

BLITZER: Bianna and Mike, guys, thanks very much for that.

Coming up, Senator Bernie Sanders is getting a taste of life as the Democratic presidential front runner with new scrutiny of some old remarks, as rivals are taking direct aim at comments praising various communist regimes. We're about to take a closer look.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:35:56] BLITZER: Senator Bernie Sanders is now fending off fresh attacks over some old comments praising various communist dictators, and other authoritarian regimes. Brian Todd has been looking into all of this for us. Brian, what do you find out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we've dug up some archive footage of Bernie Sanders in the 1980s back when he was the mayor of Burlington Vermont. He is glowing in his praise of repressive regimes like Fidel Castro's and Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Now, in depending himself, Sanders is explaining his remarks but he is not really backing off of them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TODD (voice-over): Controversial compliments for Americas most bitter enemies.

SANDERS: The Sandinista government has made some very significant improvements for the people of Nicaragua.

TODD: The remarks didn't caused a political blip at that time because of who is making them, an obscure young mayor of Burlington, Vermont speaking on a cable access channel. But Bernie Sanders is now on the defensive over his florid praise of communist dictatorships in the 1980s.

SANDERS: I have been extremely consistent and critical of all authoritarian regimes all over the world, including Cuba, including Nicaragua.

TODD: Sanders did mix in some criticism pf those regimes in the 1980s, but three times during that period when as mayor of Burlington he traveled to Nicaragua, to the Soviet Union and Cuba, he was complimentary of the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, which according to the New York Times the US branded as terrorists.

SANDERS: Most of the poor people and the working people I've talked to felt that the situation was much better now than it had been before. In terms of healthcare, in terms of education, in terms of land reform, nobody denies that they are making significant progress in those areas.

TODD: According to the Times, after a trip to Nicaragua in 1985, Sanders wrote a letter to the president of that country, Daniel Ortega, inviting Ortega to Burlington. And saying the American news media had not reflected fairly the goals and accomplishments of your administration.

In the late 1980s, Sanders took his honeymoon in the Soviet Union, was filmed shirtless after taking a sauna with some local officials. And he later gushed about life in Moscow.

SANDERS: It was the cleanest, most effective mass transit system that I've ever seen in my life. They put a lot of money into culture, they want people to enjoy it. They deserve credit for that.

TODD: And a visit to Cuba had Sanders fawning over Fidel Castro with some qualification.

SANDERS: He educated the kids, gave them healthcare, totally transformed a society, you know, not to say Fidel Castro or Cuba are perfect, they are certainly not.

TODD: Sanders was pressed on it by Anderson Cooper on "60 Minutes."

SANDERS: We're opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba. But, you know, it's unfair to simply say everything is bad. You know, when Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing?

TODD: And last year Sanders was asked why Wolf Blitzer why he wouldn't call Venezuela's socialist strong man, Nicolas Maduro, a dictator.

SANDERS: It's fair to say that the last election was undemocratic, but there are still Democratic operations taking place in that country.

TODD: But now his democratic rivals are pouncing on the issue and analysts say, even with Sander's defense of his comments, he'll be skewered for them if he's the Democratic nominee.

LISA LERER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: This is playing right into Donald Trump and the Republicans hands. They've already been attacking Bernie Sanders as a socialist. This will just give them another piece of ammunition.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Now, Bernie Sanders has maintained that the socialist countries he most admires are the prosperous democratic socialist countries of Scandinavia., not Cuba or Nicaragua. But analyst say for a front- runner who barely been challenged by his Democratic rivals on those issues in this campaign. Those old comments from the vault are still their best opportunity to slow Bernie Sanders roll. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian, Bernie Sanders isn't the only presidential candidate to be criticized for visiting communist countries, right?

TODD: No, Wolf. When Bill Clinton for president in 1992, he was questioned over a trip that he'd made to the Soviet Union in the 1960s. And in 2004, John Kerry was criticized for a trip he had made to Nicaragua in 1985, but neither Clinton nor Kerry as far as we know, were very complimentary of those regimes during or after their visits.

[17:55:05]

BLITZER: All right. Brian Todd reporting for us, thank you.

Coming up, will President Trump nominate a combative congressman to head the nation's intelligence agencies? Plus, a top US official at the CDC now warns the coronovirus outbreak, they mean severe disruption to every day life here in the United States.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Happening now, no foreign help. President Trump says he doesn't want help from any country in the upcoming election despite having asked Russia, China and Ukraine to intervene.