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President Trump Seriously Considering Blocking $250 Million in Military Aid To Ukraine; Sources: President Trump Offered Pardons For Laws Broken To Build Border Wall By Election Day; Former Defense Secretary: "There Is A Period In Which I Owe By Silence, It's Not Going To Be Forever"; Lineup Set For September Democratic Debate; Wash. Post: Biden Conflated Details Of Several War Stories; States of Emergency in Effect in Florida and Georgia As Dorian is on Track to Strike As a Major Hurricane; DOJ Won't Prosecute Comey Over Handling of His Memos On President Trump Despite Finding He Broke FBI Rules; President Trump Seriously Considering Blocking $250 Million in Military Aid to Ukraine. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired August 29, 2019 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:09] JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: The deadliest track for a dangerous storm.

John Berman here, in for Anderson.

That combination is now a growing possibility for Hurricane Dorian, a path that maximizes both the number of people in harm's way and the fuel it feeds on. For that reason, we have live coverage from one of the highest risk areas tonight.

But we begin with new storm data from the National Hurricane Center just in, and CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar.

Allison, tell us the latest.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Right. So, let's look at what we've got. Current statistics with this storm, winds are 85 miles per hour, sustained. That forward movement is to the northwest at 13 miles per hour.

We had not one, but three different hurricane hunter planes out investigating this storm at one point in time. That first one has now finally begun to exit and head back home. It was actually an all- female pilot crew there.

That one was checking out the upper level environment. That helps us determine the steering. Where is the storm going to go? The two missions that are out there right now, those reconnaissance missions are taking a look at the center of the storm. Is it intensifying? Is it getting stronger? Those types of things.

That data should be in shortly. And that's really going to give us an idea whether or not the storm is actually getting stronger. Is it a category 2? Could it be getting even stronger than that? Here's a look at the track. We still expect this to be a major

hurricane, likely getting to that point in just about 24 hours from now. And, John, we are still looking at the potential for a category 4 at landfall in Florida.

BERMAN: In Florida, still looking at at Monday/Tuesday landfall? What's the timing there? And I know there is some difference in the models.

CHINCHAR: Right, there is. There is quite a discrepancy actually. So, let's take a look.

So, the different models we have shifted quite a bit. The American model was originally favoring further into north Florida. Now, it's begun a little bit of a shift further south.

So, let's take a look. The American model is on the left. The European model is on the right. Notice the landfall point -- they're really starting to come together and where they think the landfall will be. Most likely, that south central portion of the state.

But look at the times, huge difference here, John. Monday at 8:00 p.m. versus Wednesday at 8:00 a.m., you're almost talking a 48-hour difference for the two models here in terms of landfall timing. And that could be substantial, too, because the longer it takes, the more likely it is to sit over Florida and be much slower to exit out of the region.

BERMAN: That's a huge difference in timing. I don't think I've ever seen that before.

So, Allison, a lot of times when we do talk about these storms, it's important not only what category they are, when they hit, but also how long it takes them to break up, as you were saying there. Do you have any idea what path the storm might take after it makes landfall?

CHINCHAR: Right. So what you tend to look at, then, is let's look at how much rain is going to drop. Does that start to move out pretty quick? Because we all know, we learned from Harvey, we learned from Florence, that a longer a storm can sit over the area, the more rain it can dump.

Here's a look at one of those models. Again, notice the stretch, the highest amount of your rain, you're talking in excess of 10 to 20 inches of rain. Notice how widespread this is. I mean, you're talking about an area from Fort Lauderdale, all the way up to Jacksonville. This really does signal to us that, yes, it does have the potential to sit here for an extended period of time before it can get picked up in some other atmospheric phenomenon and then finally take it out.

So, yes, it is not out of the question for this to make landfall and essentially sit in place for a little while before it finally exits.

BERMAN: All right. Allison Chinchar, thank you for that information. I know you're getting more data. Please keep us posted. This takes on even more resonance when you consider it was 14 years

ago today that Hurricane Katrina came ashore. And one legacy, one of the few positive things to come out of what was for so many people such a terrible experience is the idea that no hurricane should every be taken lightly.

A state of emergency is now in effect in all of Florida's 67 counties and preparations underway across the state, including in Port Canaveral along the space coast.

CNN's Leyla Santiago there for us now.

Leyla, how concerned are residents at this point? What are you hearing?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, of those that I've talked to, they are very quick to say, listen, it is still very early, but we are keeping a close eye. We are monitoring.

And often I've heard people say, I was here for Hurricane Irma, I remember it, and I don't want to see something like that again. So that tends to be the response from the residents and businesses.

Today, we spoke to one hotel manager who said that she was concerned over all the cancellations that she's already received. Said she'll take about $120,000 loss because it's Labor Day weekend. So, she was expecting a lot of folks to come in and stay at her hotel for the long weekend.

She was counting on this for her business.

[20:05:02] That is changing already. So, for businesses, especially here at the port where we are right now, they're already expecting to see changes in tourism.

BERMAN: How else is the community preparing? And I ask this, Leyla, because I was actually surprised to see video of long gas lines already.

SANTIAGO: Right. Well, the first thing I noticed when I got here was the fact that many stores are already limiting the amount of water that people can buy. I spoke to the folks over at the city of Cocoa Beach, and they tell me tomorrow, they're going to bring in two truckloads of sand so that folks can make their own sand bags and prepare. And I've also seen that they have waste management out and about picking up any tree branches or anything that could become dangerous debris should this storm make landfall here.

So people are already preparing. I do hear quite a few mentioning what I said earlier, that it's early, but every single person that I've asked, what is your biggest concern, they say a direct hit is the big concern.

BERMAN: And now is the time to get ready.

Leyla Santiago, thank you so much for being there for us. I appreciate it.

President Trump tweeted about the storm today and it was quite a contrast from his remarks when Puerto Rico was in harms way. He trashed the commonwealth, as you will recall. Here's what he said about Florida:

Hurricane Dorian looks like it will be hitting Florida late Sunday night. Be prepared and please follow state and federal instructions. It will be a very big hurricane, perhaps one of the biggest.

The president did cancel a trip to Poland so he could better monitor the storm.

Joining us now is Ben Malik. He's the mayor of Cocoa Beach, where Leyla mentioned they are now getting ready.

Mayor Malik, it was two years ago that Hurricane Irma slammed into Cocoa Beach causing a lot of damage to that community, even tearing the roof off your police department.

So what concerns you most about this storm?

MAYOR BEN MALIK, COCOA BEACH, FLORIDA: Well, obviously, the storm -- good evening -- is these things have a mind of their own. If you look at the models that are kind of all over the board (AUDIO GAP) for those of us that have been boarded up (AUDIO GAP) best to prepare for the worst and pray for the best.

BERMAN: That is the best course of action. Preparing now when you still have time, what is your community doing to get ready for Dorian?

MALIK: You bet, absolutely. Now is the time to get supplies, have your hurricane kit ready, you know, have some flashlights if you lose power, which is quite a good scenario. Floridians that have been here awhile are pretty well-versed in this drill.


BERMAN: All right, Mayor Malik, you know, we're having audio problems. We appreciate you trying to join us tonight. But I know the message you're trying to send to your people is get ready now. Use today, use tomorrow, get the supplies you need. And your experience in Hurricane Irma two years ago taught you that preparedness is the best course of action.

Mayor, thank you very much.

Next up for us, President Trump accused him of leaking classified information, of breaking the law. Now, the Justice Department's report on firing FBI Director James Comey is out and you'll want to see what it says about the president's allegation and Comey's conduct.

And later, will it be yet another present for Putin? We'll look at a possible new presidential move that seems to leave the country that Russia invaded high and dry. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:12:58] BERMAN: Former FBI Director James Comey bent or broke the rules, but did not break the law. That's the conclusion of a Justice Department inspector general's report on his handling of memos he wrote detailing what he said were attempts by President Trump to obstruct justice and extract a personal loyalty pledge from him. That's one key headline.

The other concern is the president's repeated claim that Director Comey broke the law.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz has been reporting on this really from the beginning. He joins us now with all the details.

So, Shimon, what exactly did the I.G. determine Comey did wrong here?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: He violated policy, right? That is that you don't circumvent the process, you don't go around the Department of Justice. You don't go around the FBI, and then on your own, unilaterally decide, OK, I'm going to release information because I want to see something done in this investigation.

And that is that -- we know that Comey wanted a special counsel appointed in this case, and so, he has said so himself, that he put this out there, he leaked some of this information out there through his lawyer to try and get a special counsel appointed.

And the two key things here, as you said, John, was that for Comey, look, he did violate policy. I think he is fully aware that he did that. The thing, though, most important for him is that the inspector general found here he did not leak classified information. He didn't give any information to the media that is classified.

So, he did get something out of this, obviously violated policy is a big issue. The inspector general saying he put, basically, people in danger. You know, by doing something like this, you're sending a message that others can do this and that was really the biggest concern for the -- one of the biggest concerns, I think, for the inspector general in this report, in that they say he was supposed to safeguard this information. And instead, he did this to try and create public pressure for that special counsel to be appointed.

BERMAN: A little more detail if you can, Shimon, on the idea of the classified information. He found that Comey did not leak classified information?

[20:15:02] PROKUPECZ: That's right, that's what they found. They found that within the memos that did ultimately wind up in the press leaked to "The New York Times," there was no classified information. The memos themselves at some point, after the FBI takes a look at these memos, again, after it gets out there, they then start taking a look at this, the FBI does.

And they said, you know what, there are some things in here that are classified, some of the wording, some of the sentencing. It wasn't that all of it was classified, but there were parts of it that were classified. So, what they did was, as we've seen them do in other cases, they went back, they looked at it and said, OK, well, now, we're going to classify.

So, at the time that Comey had these memos, certainly the ones -- some of the information that got out there, that wasn't classified at the time. But then the FBI went back and they took a look at it. And they're like, OK, we're going to classify some of this. So, they did it retroactively.

BERMAN: OK. As for James Comey himself, how has he reacted to these findings today?

PROKUPECZ: Well, obviously, critical of the attacks. He has felt that he's taken in all of this by the accusations he leaked classified information. In a tweet, he says: I don't need a public apology from those who defamed me, but a quick message with a, quote, sorry we lied about you, would be nice.

And to all those who spent two years talking about me going to jail or being a liar and a leaker, ask yourselves why you still trust people who gave you bad info for so long. And then, of course he writes: including the president.

Obviously not holding back here. He feels that he has been attacked continuously, accusations made against him of leaking, that he should go to jail.

So, I think in the end here as you can see, he feels vindicated, but still tough words here from the inspector general who said that he violated policy. And I can tell you, John, just briefly, I think for people at the FBI, they're happy to see this part of it over.

There is still another part coming. Another inspector general report that's going to take a look at the entire Russia investigation and how that was handled. And that is expected to be tough on the FBI as well.

But for now, I think having this part behind them, for the FBI, I think they're thankful for it. A lot of them in the end do not agree with what Comey did here, even though supported him initially, now do not believe what he did was right.

More to come obviously. More inspector general reports that should drop soon.

BERMAN: All right. Shimon Prokupecz, thank you very much for your reporting.

More now on this report, the repercussions and the controversy surrounding it.

Joining us two CNN legal analysts: Elliot Williams who served as deputy assistant attorney general during the Obama administration. Also, former federal prosecutor and New Jersey attorney general, Anne Milgram.

Do you agree with what the I.G. found here, which is essentially James Comey didn't break the law, but he didn't cover himself in glory, he violated DOJ and FBI policy? Does that seem reasonable?


But here's the thing -- two things can be entirely true. Number one, that Director Comey violated DOJ policy and these guidelines with respect to information and how to safeguard them. But also that we're in remarkable times and that the president of the United States, senior law enforcement officials did not trust him to the point that a number of them around him needed to write memoranda, writing down every word he said because they didn't know he wouldn't lie.

Even the White House Counsel Don McGahn -- and this is in the Mueller report, there is an entire section on it. McGahn, whenever he was face to face with the president, would write memoranda afterward because he was president certain the president wouldn't lie afterward.

And so, those two things can be true. Yes, Comey might have behaved in a manner that wasn't entirely appropriate, but also the conduct of the president was so problematic that people behaved in a remarkable way.

BERMAN: Well, that's basically the argument that Comey's been making all along. Extraordinary times or alarming times, as he would say, calls for extraordinary measures, Anne. But the inspector general's report addresses this which says, there are systems to go through if you have problems with the way things are happening.

ANNE MILGRAM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I think one of the fascinating things about this is that Comey definitely saw himself almost as a whistleblower here. But if you look at the way this went down, I understand the instinct that I think relates to what Elliot was talking about which was to take those documents and almost make sure an insurance policy, the president just fired me, something is going on, he's trying to impair a investigation. I'm going to take them with me.

It's the additional step I think of leaking them and making them public that I think it's fair for the inspector general to say, look, you shouldn't do that and there are other ways. And I think, again, in Comey's mind, he saw himself as a whistleblower and sort of ran to the media to get that outlet, but the inspector general is saying, look, there are other ways to think about doing these things and those weren't your documents to leak to the media.

BERMAN: And that's important because the inspector general has to think about the institution and forever. They can't send the message that every FBI official can take documents home and leak them when he or she thinks there's some kind of a crisis.

MILGRAM: Exactly. And that they get to choose. I think this is a problem so I get to leak it. And, obviously, you know, Comey -- definitely, I think he's sincere in

thinking it was absolutely a problem and that he was doing the right thing.

[20:15:03] But I do think the inspector general was right on that.

BERMAN: Now, the other big finding, Elliot, in this -- James Comey thinks is the most important finding here, is that he didn't leak classified information. Does that shut the door on this forever? Because I have a feeling the president is still going to accuse him of being a leaker.

WILLIAMS: Well, this is exactly Anne's point. He didn't leak classified information, but he acted in contravention of DOJ policy.

Now, not leaking information that he knew to be classified is what saves him from being criminally charged, because as we know now multiple times, including Donald Trump, Jr., and, frankly, Hillary Clinton and the president, meeting that criminal standard is very high and very difficult at times.

And so, certainly, no, he did not leak classified information, but this is the drum beat today and this is where -- you know, the report is frankly somewhat fair to Director Comey in that this is conduct that, if we wish to treat information as secure and protect the integrity of the investigation -- frankly, protect the safety of the DOJ personnel, you need to follow those -- the guidelines with respect to how to safeguard information.

BERMAN: Anne, what do you make of the decision not to prosecute? It seems you think that was fairly easy to make?

MILGRAM: Yes. I think here, there's no question that they made the right decision. There is absolutely no intent to leak classified information. And Elliot mentioned they classified the documents after.

But it's also important to note that Comey himself could classify information. He was the director of the FBI. He did mark two of the memos as classified. He did not take those.

And so, it's very clear that his intent was not to take any classified material and that he believed what he had and what he shared was not classified.

BERMAN: He had a consciousness of classification when he was doing what he was doing.

MILGRAM: He intentionally did not take that. And so, to try to argue that he intentionally did anything with regard to classification, I don't think the government could ever have proven that case.

BERMAN: Elliot, I'm not sure one could be done one way or the other to James Comey's reputation. It seems that people have views that are set in stone on him.

But what does this do for his legacy?

WILLIAMS: Well, look, you know, you heard the term Rorschach test before, and people are going to think about James Comey -- not the Rorschach -- the ink blot test that psychologists use.

People are going to think of James Comey and frankly the president of the United States what they are going to think. There are people who believe that, you know, James Comey was acting in the interest of the United States because of the point I was making earlier, the president's behavior was simply remarkable, regardless of what you think of the president. It's remarkable behavior when even the White House counsel doesn't trust him. There are also people that think that Jim Comey should be in jail.

So, no, I don't think anyone's view is changed right now, but again, this was a fair report. And he's not charged with a crime.

BERMAN: So, Anne, Shimon referred to the other inspector general's report, which is going to deal with the FISA application, specifically, and then there's the whole other investigation about the investigation to begin with, that William Barr is looking into here.

Does this report portend anything for that? If this inspector general, every time he's taking a look, he's found things that make him uncomfortable at the least, you know, upset at the most, does that mean the next ones are also going to be highly critical?

MILGRAM: I don't -- I don't assume not, but I would say you're right in how Michael Horowitz, who is the inspector general. He is a stickler for the rules for sure. And he has called out any single violation of the rule. He's been quick to say, you know, even under remarkable circumstances, here is a violation, here is a violation.

And so, you know, I think he's going to call it as he sees it. I don't think that this outcome necessarily speaks at all to the FISA and the beginning of the investigation. But as you say, it's sort of extraordinary all these inspector general and investigations that are happening.

BERMAN: Elliot, I can tell you from people I speak to who have been connected to the agency or still on the inside, they expect the next one to be critical. There is a sense out there that it's going to be tough.

I know you have some connections inside as well. Do you sense that same thing?

WILLIAMS: I do. And look, I overlapped with Michael Horowitz the second stint I was there. I think he's going to be fair.

But again, there is blame to be fair, on -- to quote the president, on all sides. So, we will see.

But, no, I think it's -- I would think it would be tough just given the, I guess, the complexity of the law here, but also the very hot feelings that many people have and many people who believe they were acting in the interest of the United States, but at times violating DOJ rules, and as we saw just today.

BERMAN: The next report, by the way, expected in September, which isn't that long away at this point.

Elliott Williams, Anne Milgram, thank you very much for being with us tonight.

So, the White House sending signals it wants to cut a significant military aid package to Ukraine, something that has critics wondering why the president appears to be favoring Moscow yet again. Coming up, I'm going to speak with a key member of Congress about this and other high profile issues facing Congress when it returns from summer recess.


[20:29:12] BERMAN: There are reports tonight that President Trump is seriously considering blocking $250 million in military assistance to Ukraine, something that would no doubt please Russian President Vladimir Putin. Supporters of the aid say it helps counter Russian influence and aggression in the region.

Nothing is final yet, but if the administration goes ahead, it is bound to draw considerable push back from Congress from both sides of the aisle. This as an administration official tells CNN the Pentagon has already said a hold on that aid should be lifted.

Joining me now is Virginia Democrat Gerry Connolly, a member of the House Oversight Committee and Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for being with us.

I wonder what message --

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA): Good to be with you, John.

BERMAN: I wonder what message you think this sends about whose side the U.S. is actually on here when it comes to Russia and Ukraine.

[20:30:02] REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA): You know, what a good question. There's nothing even subtle about this one. You know, Trump is sending up smokes signals bigger than mountains for Vladimir Putin. And for that matter, for those countries who are counting on U.S. assistance and support against Russian depredations. Remember, the Russians occupy parts of Georgia, Moldova, and the Ukraine, including the illegal annexation of Crimea. So this is a terrible signal to be sending, but a very clear one.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: I have to say to be fair, some Republicans have come forward already and condemned the notion of blocking this aid. But, you know, President Obama had ever seriously considered blocking military aid to Ukraine. Don't you think that every single Republican would be up in arms? Do you need to hear more from the other side of the aisle?

CONNOLLY: Absolutely. I mean, the double standards among my colleagues in the House and the Senate on the other side of the aisle are too numerous to retell. But there's no question that most of them choose silence or rationalization for policies that are frankly indefensible. But in this particular case, lives are at risk.

Remember, fighting is going on in Eastern Ukraine. Lives are being lost. The Ukrainian people are trying to recover their lost territory. And the United States ought to be standing side by side with our fellow Democratic nation and with, frankly, freedom fighters and freedom lovers in the Ukraine.

BERMAN: And this does come on the heels, by the way, of the President at the G-7 pushing for Russia to be readmitted. Do you see a connection there?

CONNOLLY: I think its all part of a pattern. None of us really can fathom this bromance between Donald J. Trump and Vladimir Putin. But now it's gone much further than that. This is enabling behavior. This is inviting Putin into the tent and turning a blind eye -- in fact, turning his back toward Russian, you know, malicious behavior, especially in Ukraine.

And I think it's something that ought to be roundly condemned by all members of Congress. And the Congress needs to reassert as quickly as possible. That $250 million that's been appropriated, it must be provided to the government of the Ukraine.

BERMAN: We'll see how Congress handles it when you all come back next week. I also want to ask you about the reporting that President Trump recently told aides he would pardon them if they committed illegal acts while fulfilling his demand to build a border wall by 2020.

Now, White House insiders tell us he was only joking when he said that, not clear. But some of the Democratic colleagues in Congress say if it is true, it would constitute an unconstitutional abuse of power. Do you agree and do you think it needs to be investigated?

CONNOLLY: I certainly think it needs to be investigated, John. Is it an abuse of power? Well, pardons are not a laughing matter and the abuse of the use of pardons, which is a pretty broad use provided in the constitution, is deeply troubling.

He promised, he says he was joking, his aides who expressed concern that some of what he was asking them to do was against the law. He said, well, I'll pardon you. Don't worry about it. Go ahead and do it anyhow.

If that is accurate, he is urging staff members to commit violations of law, crimes, in return for which he'll promise them a pardon. That is itself potentially criminal activity on the part of the President.

BERMAN: Potentially impeachable?

CONNOLLY: Absolutely. You know, we had a governor of, I think, Tennessee, you know, a number of years ago who went to jail for selling pardons, for offering pardons in exchange for something of value. And that's what President Trump is doing here if this story is accurate.

BERMAN: All right, Gerry Connelly, Democratic congressman from Virginia, thank you very much for being with us tonight. Do appreciate your time.

CONNOLLY: My pleasure.

BERMAN: Up next, reaction from a former intelligence insider to new remarks by former Defense Secretary James Mattis about his relationship with President Trump. James Clapper joins us next.


[20:38:16] BERMAN: More tonight from former Defense Secretary James Mattis who resigned abruptly last December after President Trump announced he would withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria. Mattis is speaking out about his time in the Trump administration as he promotes his new book out next week.

He told the Atlantic, "You don't endanger the company by attacking the elected commander in chief. I may not like a commander in chief one freaking bit, but our system puts the commander in chief in there, and to further weaken him when we're up against real threats. I mean, we could be at war on the Korean peninsula every time they start launching something."

Joining me now is retired Lieutenant General James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence and a CNN National Security Analyst. He's also the author of "Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence."

And, Director Clapper, I wonder if you agree with that point that Secretary Mattis made, that he owes the commander in chief silence. And I ask because your service in this country started in 1961, ended the day President Trump was inaugurated. But instead of entering private life silently, you ended up speaking out in some ways because you found some of what he was doing was dangerous.

LT. GEN. JAMES CLAPPER (RET.), CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, that's right, John, I did. Initially my objective was simply to defend the intelligence community, which at the time was and in some ways still is under attack by the President. And having just left it, I understood how difficult it is for those who were in it to speak up and felt I had to play that role.

And I sort of follow the model of Mike Hayden, who during our challenges in the Snowden -- with the Snowden revelations and Mike was very effective and sort of our unofficial public spokesman, and I thought I should follow that model.

[20:40:11] I will say this is a very individual personal decision. What Jim did is circumspect as he has been, is classic Jim Mattis. And I'll never forget the scene when he and the president-elect were standing on the doorstep there at Bedminster and I had two thoughts.

Thank God that Jim is going to take this job on as secretary of defense, but it won't last. Jim is a man of principle and he stayed as he said. He did as well as he could for as long as he could. And truth in advertising, he's a friend and someone I greatly admire.

BERMAN: On the subject of it won't last, in the same interview that we're talking about, General Mattis says, "There is a period in which I owe my silence. It's not eternal. It's not going to be forever." So when do you think this grace period might end for him?

CLAPPER: You know, I don't know, John. And I thought that statement was very intriguing. I think Jim is -- have been somewhat -- not to be an amateur psychologist here, but somewhat internally conflicted.

And I would be very surprised if he doesn't speak out more explicitly about the President as the election draws nigh. So I can't put it, you know, obviously a date and time. But I think we'll hear more from Jim and I hope we do.

BERMAN: Interesting, because that, of course, is the date that a lot of people are looking at right now. Will he speak more before the election?

I want to read one more passage from this article describing the meeting that led to Mattis resigning, because we've never really heard these details before. It reads, "Mattis made his case for keeping troops in Syria. Trump rejected his arguments. Thirty minutes into the conversation, Mattis told the President, 'You're going to have to get the next secretary of defense to lose to ISIS. I'm not going to do it.'"

Now, I should note, Jeffrey Goldberg who wrote this piece says that none of those details came from Mattis himself, but still a pretty remarkable scene, no?

CLAPPER: Well, yes. And, it is -- well, again, as you point out, John, it's not directly from Jim Mattis himself, but it is, I think, consistent. Jim -- and I saw this when he was commander of central command, placed a very high premium on relations with our allies. He's not one who believes that the United States can go it alone. That's why I figured that with this America first approach, that Jim's time as secretary of defense was limited.

And I think the straw that broke the camel's back was leaving Syria when ISIS had not been defeated and as well kind of leaving the Kurds high and dry who only did everything we asked them to do and did all the heavy lifting when it came to fighting and dying. And I think that was it for Jim.

BERMAN: You know, in the realm of supporting your allies, I do want to ask you about the news out today that the President is considering blocking military assistance to Ukraine, $250 million worth, Ukraine an ally of the United States. So what message would that send to the world and Vladimir Putin?

CLAPPER: Well, not a very good one in terms of the messaging to our friends and allies. And, of course, you know, this is a good day -- it's a happy face day for Vladimir Putin.

You know, we have -- I believe the United States has an ethical -- moral and ethical responsibility to help (INAUDIBLE) to support the Ukraine who is, of course, fighting against the separatists in the southeast part of the country and still dealing with the seizure of Crimea. And it's been a consistent policy since that happened to support them. And as well, your previous segment is germane here, there's kind of conflicts with the congressional will.

BERMAN: James Clapper, General, thank you so much for being with us tonight. Always appreciate it.

CLAPPER: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: When we come back, see why getting smaller is the biggest news possible about the next Democratic debate. Also, who is in and who is out.


[20:48:44] BERMAN: The September Democratic debate will be just one night. Just 10 presidential candidates managed to qualify for the third debase face-off. Here is the podium order with the highest polling candidates nearest the center from left to right.

You see Senator Amy Klobuchar, Senator Cory Booker, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senator Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Kamala Harris, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, former Congressman Beto O'Rourke, and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro. Ladies and gentlemen, your September Democratic debate.

Let's check in with Chris for more on what this all means and what he's working on for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris, when we last spoke on T.V., you couldn't hear me but I could hear you.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Yes, I know. That's what the opposite of how you want it to be. And also, I was faking it, I heard you the whole time. No, I'm kidding.

BERMAN: So, you know, Warren and Biden next to each other, that's the debate that a lot of people want to see.

CUOMO: 100 percent. I mean, I think that if Elizabeth Warren tunes Joe Biden up, what does that look like? It looks like him not wanting to engage with her, him being too deferential to the time clock, him not seeming to have the same passion and sense of purpose that she has.

See, I'm not mentioning ideas. I'm not mentioning policies, because I think that party right now is grossly overestimating their value in the upcoming battle they'll be in with this President.

[20:50:03] What does it mean other than what you and I are talking about? It doesn't mean that much. You know, there 100 and what, 56, 57 days before anybody casts a vote. You know, they're going to keep winnowing it down. They have to figure out what matters most to them, but it's always interesting to watch.

BERMAN: What do you have coming up on the show?

CUOMO: All right, I got Andrew Yang here. All right, for a little bit of this conversation that we're having right now, where is his place in the field? What does he feel about the place of his party right now? Is he agreeing with what I'm saying about where they are coming up into this?

We're going to get also into Dorian. We have one of the storm chasers up there in the plane, you know, one of the NOAA guys. How Dorian looks, what their concerns are, and what you and I will be heading into when we get in front of this thing.

BERMAN: Yes, there's that reason for serious concern. All right, Chris, thank you very much. We'll see you in a few minutes.

Up next, he said it was the God's truth, but a new report says Joe Biden may have been truly mistaken about the war story that he keeps telling on the campaign trail.


BERMAN: 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has a war story he likes to tell on the campaign trail. But a new report says the specifics of his latest version are mostly wrong.

CNN's Arlette Saenz traveling with the former vice president and joins us now with the story on the story. Arlette, what can you tell us about this?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Anderson, this all steams from a story that former Vice President Joe Biden told last Friday at an event in Hanover, New Hampshire. He was recounting the story of a war hero who had gone down a ravine to bring back the body of a comrade.

[20:55:07] He said that that person had told him at the time, as he awarded him a medal, that he did not want to receive that medal because he doesn't feel like he had actually deserved it.

But "The Washington Post" is now reporting that the facts, the details in that story were conflated, that they were actually drawn from multiple accounts and string it together into one incident.

But "The Washington Post" does acknowledge that the core of that story, that -- or one component of that story that Biden did tell where he said that there was a service member who said that he didn't feel like they deserved the award, that was true. They interviewed someone named Army Staff Sergeant Chad Workman, who is in Afghanistan and did get a medal pinned on him by the former vice president.

So right now, "The Washington Post" reporting that the former vice president conflated the details of this incident -- of three incidents into one. John?

BERMAN: So, Arlette, the former vice president I guess has commented now on this story and he seems to be pushing back, yes?

SAENZ: Yes, that's right, John. He did push back on this in a series of interviews today, one with the "Post and Courier," a local South Carolina newspaper. And in another interview with "The Washington Post," with Jonathan Capehart, take a listen to what he had to say there.


JOE BIDEN (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What is the gaffe when I said there was a young man I tried to pin a medal on him, he said, "I don't want it sir. He died. He died. He died" Now, it was a young man, my recollection was that in fact pulled a colleague of his out of a burning Humvee, and he risked his life doing it, and the young man died, that he tried to save.


SAENZ: Now, we tried on asked Biden about this as he was leaving his event here in Greenville, South Carolina, but he ignored the reporters' questions as he was leaving. He did not further elaborate on the details of the story that he told last week. John?

BERMAN: All right, Arlette Saenz, thank you very much for that.

Joining us now is CNN Political Commentator Jen Psaki, the former White House Communications Director in the Obama White House. So, Jen, as someone who knows the vice president and who worked with him in the administration, what do you make of all of this?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Vice President Biden has been telling this story in inaccurate version of it for several years. I mean, back to 2016 and even before. That doesn't make it right. I mean, you know, he should be telling the accurate version of the story.

But, really, what he's trying to, you know, convey is his connection with military veterans, the men and women who are serving as everyone knows his son served. He keeps kind of a record with him of the number of men and women who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and places of war with him on the trail every day. So, that's who he is and what he's trying to convey.

You know, I don't think that there is going to be big demarkation points against him for combining versions of stories that were accurate. You know, it's still -- he's still conveying that he cares about the men and women who serve him and that bears out by, you know, validation of people who have met him even that veteran who Arlette mentioned who had -- who's story he was trying to tell.

BERMAN: The details are just not accurate, though, according to "The Washington Post" version of this, which is why I think it was curious today how the vice president just pushed back completely and said, no, I didn't get it wrong or suggested if he did get it wrong, it didn't matter because the thrust of the story was right. I thought that was interesting and I'm wondering if that's part of the new world we're in. Has Donald Trump made it safe to say up is down in some cases?

PSAKI: Well, that's also -- that kind of pushing back is also what we've seen Joe Biden do, unrelated to Donald Trump over the past several months when, you know, some of the statements he's made have been questioned or they've been a little bit off or he's made comments that have been offensive at times, his initial gut is to not acknowledge that. That's who he is as well.

So in this case, I'm sure he's watching, I wish that he would have said, you know, I did have that experience with a veteran. I combine the details, but the point is that I care about the men and women who serve. Of course you wish that's what he would have that.

BERMAN: And we have about 30 seconds left. Of course, the other issue here is if he didn't remember the story accurately, does this play into the questions about his age?

PSAKI: Well, you know, I think, John, that gaffe in general, there's a lot of focus on them. I don't think they matter much unless they play into a perceived vulnerability. And there has been this chatter fair or unfair about him being -- whether he is up to the task or not. And this plays into that a lot. We haven't seen that bear out in polls at this point, even with gaffes that he's made on the trail. So it might be that people are forgiving and they don't care.

BERMAN: Again, it may just be part of this new era we're in where things like this don't matter as much as maybe they used to if they ever matter, but we're going to have to wait and see on that. Jen Psaki, great to have you on tonight at least tonight. I really appreciate it.

PSAKI: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: A lot more going on tonight with Hurricane Dorian bearing down. The news continues, so I'll now hand it over to Chris for "Cuomo Prime Time.

CUOMO: All right, thank you, J.B. I am Chris Cuomo and welcome to "Prime Time."