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President Trump Under Pressure from Congress: "Small Footprint" of U.S. Forces Will Remain in Southern Syria; Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) is Interviewed About Trump Threatening Sanctions on Turkey Over Syria Offensive, and Trump's Decision to Pull U.S. Troops; President Trump's Ex-Russia Adviser Wraps Up Testimony on Capitol Hill. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired October 14, 2019 - 20:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Erin, thanks very much.

Good evening from the Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, site of tomorrow's Democratic presidential debate.

There's new polling on the Democratic race. We'll have that, as well as a preview of tomorrow's debate coming up.

But we begin tonight with President Trump tried to spin a win on what people on both sides of the aisle are calling a colossal foreign policy mistake in Turkey and Syria, a mistake in which he is the sole author. The president appears to be scrambling to fix things after the major political backlash that he has experienced from both Democrats and Republicans alike.

President Trump spoke to Turkey's President Erdogan today about de- escalating the fight. He also announced sanctions against Turkey in response raising steel tariffs to 50 percent and halting a proposed $100 billion trade deal. President Trump also now says a small footprint of soldiers will remain in southern Syria.

And one more thing, Vice President Pence is now being sent to Turkey to try to broker the kind of deal to safeguard our allies or our one- time allies, the Kurds, and contain ISIS. The kind of deal we had already until last Sunday.

All of this began a week ago Sunday with a much different telephone call with Turkey's president. What was said remains unclear. But we do know the president agreed to pull out troops from the region, essentially giving the green light to the long-planned Turkish invasion of northern Syria.

This left our Kurdish allies, key allies, in the fight against ISIS who fought and contained ISIS alongside U.S. forces, left them stunned and surprised and then exposed to Turkish aggression. Republicans, never want to rock the boat, were vocal in their denunciations. The question is, did that bother the president? Well, it must have because two days later, he announced he was inviting Turkey's president to the White House which is not something you normally do with people that you are angry with. So, it didn't seem to bother him too much.

At the day, he tweeted in no way have we abandoned the Kurds and yet we had. And still the Republican denunciations kept coming, criticism particularly when it's overwhelming and bipartisan doesn't sit well with this president and thus began a period of alternately saying he would definitely do something and then criticized the Kurds with his favorite kind of accusation, the baseless kind.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, the Kurds are fighting for the land, just so you understand. They're fighting for their land.

And as somebody wrote in a very, very powerful article today, they didn't help us in the Second World War, they didn't help us with Normandy as an example. They mentioned names of different battles. They weren't there, but they're there to help us with their land and that's a different thing.


COOPER: Well, even this morning he was tweeting about the Kurds releasing ISIS fighters, which by -- which according to the official within the president's own Defense Department is not accurate. Over the weekend, the president said this was a "them" fight and not an "us" fight. But tonight, he seems to have changed his tune, perhaps due to the pressure he's receiving from within his own party.

I want to talk about it with Jim Acosta, who's at the White House for us tonight.

Jim, what is the latest on what the president is now proposing to kind of make up for what's happened?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Anderson, the president is calling on Turkey to impose a cease-fire in its operations in Syria at this point. It's not clear whether or not that's going to happen, but as you mentioned, they are imposing new sanctions on Turkey. They are sending the vice president along with the new national security advisor in the immediate future is how they're describing it to talk to the Turkish officials there, including President Erdogan presumably about just how to stop all of this. It is unclear whether any of that at this point is going to result in Turkey suspending this operation.

Keep in mind, the White House is saying, yes, they're going to keep some sort of small force in southern Syria but not the same force that was in northern Syria that was in part preventing all of this from occurring in the first place. And one other carrot that is still being dangled over President Erdogan of Turkey is the fact that he may still be able to come to Washington, Anderson, and meet with the president next month.

The president extended that invitation last week. Apparently, it was accepted and at this point the White House is not saying whether or not that is still going to take place. It hasn't been called off at this point and so, that seems to be sending another green light to Erdogan and that is that he hasn't at least yet paid a huge price for what's happened in Syria.

COOPER: I mean, that would be extraordinary if allegedly the administration there's going to be tough sanctions against Turkey and yet, you're allowing the leader of Turkey who's just launched this incursion into northern Syria against the Kurds, you've abandoned our allies, the Kurds, lost 10,000 people in the fight against ISIS, a fight we have asked them to lead essentially.


ACOSTA: That's right.

COOPER: And Erdogan would still be invited to the White House?

ACOSTA: And, Anderson, at the same time the president is threatening to, he said this again today, destroy the Turkish economy if things continue to escalate. And so, it's a very strange -- it's a -- it is confusing mixture of messages that is being sent not only to Turkey and the Kurdish allies in Syria but Republicans on Capitol Hill who have been very concerned about all this from the very beginning.

Keep in mind, Anderson, Vice President Pence, and they're very sensitive to this criticism, Vice President Pence was saying, no, President Trump did not give Erdogan a green light in Syria, senior administration just have a conference call with reporters a short while ago and repeated the same talking point.

But, Anderson, keep in mind remember what the administration said at the beginning of all of this, about a week or so ago when it said that Turkey will now be carrying out this operation in northern Syria. It didn't say don't do this. It didn't draw a red line. It essentially did provide that green light.

It sounds as though the president is trying to make, you know, the green light to Syria in terms of what Turkey is doing in Syria not be his red line in Syria but it's not at all clear whether or not anybody accepts that conclusion here in Washington. At this point, the president is continuing to apply pressure. He says he's going to continue to talk to the Turkish president according to administration officials here.

One other thing we should point out, Anderson, during this conference call with reporters, and this has been a huge concern not only in Washington but Europe, administration officials were asked whether or not any ISIS fighters who had been detained had been released. And according to senior administration officials, talking to reporters just a short while ago, there is good evidence that some of those detainees have been released and are now at large, Anderson.

COOPER: Jim, thanks very much. Sounds very much like the president has painted himself into a corner.

Joining me here is former senior adviser to the Obama administration is CNN senior political commentator, David Axelrod, CNN senior political reporter, Nia-Malika Henderson, CNN's chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, and CNN political director David Chalian.

David Axelrod, I mean, the idea coming from the administration right now that the president didn't green light this Turkish incursion against the Kurds is --


COOPER: It's absurd.


COOPER: It was that phone call and he took out the special forces troops who had been essentially protecting the Kurds from the Turks all this time.

AXELROD: Either he didn't know what he was doing and opened the door to all of this because he didn't consult with his national security team, the Defense Department and so on, or he did know what he was doing and has opened the door to Bashar al Assad to stream back into that territory, to the Russians. This has been -- they have been the big winners in this.

COOPER: Right, Russia, Iran, obviously the Assad regime.

AXELROD: Yes. But I think those are the two choices. Either he willingly opened the door for them or he didn't know what he was doing. And it's not a very appetizing choice.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Or he was so vague, which would pit under the he didn't know what he was doing part. That he was so vague in his phone call, I think as "The New York Times" has reported, so vague in his phone call it wasn't clear what he was saying. And, of course, Erdogan took that as a green light.

COOPER: But, David Chalian, I mean, the idea that he didn't know what he was saying. I mean, he has said he wanted all troops out of Syria.


COOPER: He said that repeatedly. This is delivering on that and this is also the consequences.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, precisely. I think he campaigned on this. Not this specific issue necessarily but removing --


CHALIAN: -- the United States from the region. He didn't want to be involved there at all. This was part of his mission throughout the entire campaign.

So, for us to be surprised I think is surprising what he has been saying. I think what is surprising is he somehow didn't anticipate perhaps the backlash from his own party which is why I think we see some scrambling right now from the White House. He's trying to at least get his own party back with him in some way which you say --


CHALIAN: I don't know if that's going to happen just yet.

AXELROD: And I think in his own mind, and he may not be wrong about this one, he says we're tired of the endless wars, this is their problem, they have to resolve it and so on, there's an audience out there for that.


AXELROD: And I think he felt some confidence that even -- he said the other day, well, you know, the people in Washington may not like this, but there are a lot of people out there who know what I'm saying.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, and he clearly was trying to sell that message over and over again, sort of a contradictory fact was that they were sending troops, right, into Saudi Arabia, 2,000 or so. So, the idea that we're withdrawing all troops just didn't help.

What was also I think surprising to a lot of folks who might not have been following Syria so closely, with how quickly things deteriorated, right? It was -- you know, the call was on Sunday, and then just immediate calamity there.

COOPER: Well, that -- it also emphasizes, I mean, if there were 100, you know, U.S. forces in support in northern Syria, or essentially in this area with the Kurds --



COOPER: -- it shows what just the presence of 100 forces --

HENDERSON: Yes, they were keeping --

COOPER: -- the difference that makes. This wasn't a withdrawal of 10,000 troops.

AXELROD: This was removing the brick from the wall.

BORGER: And that's why I think Trump was so surprise, even though his own national security advisers were saying no. This is the president -- it's more of Trump unbound, on the phone, sort of vamping, saying what he wanted to say unscripted. We've heard that before, say Ukraine, and then you have this calamity.

COOPER: But to say that he's surprised, A, it implies either that he cares or that he understands the problem enough to have been surprised by a different outcome that he expected. I mean, does anyone really believe he had sort of strategize the outcome or a ripple effect? CHALIAN: I don't believe so. When campaign rhetoric or rhetoric as

president that is just very simple meets up against very complicated and complex national security issues, I think you see exactly why the simplistic Trump line on things presents real world problems when it meets up against far more complex --

COOPER: Well, I mean, I think that's an interesting point because it also -- it kind of explains why people from the Homeland Security Department have left. Kirstjen Nielsen, you know, the latest from homeland security, again, when simplistic rhetoric meets reality on the ground, the people have to execute that reality and they end up leaving.

AXELROD: One of the reasons I always felt Donald Trump got elected was that Barack Obama was elected because people felt he understood the world. He got the complexity. He could deal with that complexity.

I think after eight years, they were tired of complexity. And here comes a guy that says, you know what, forget all that. I'll just take care of it.

And I think people bought into that. Certainly, the people who voted for him. But, you know, if you spend any time either covering the White House or working in the White House, you understand just how delicate all of this is and how easy it is for things to go sideways in a really tragic way.

COOPER: So, Nia, it's very -- it's understandable people would say, look, what are we doing in Syria to begin with? If ISIS is allegedly defeated 100 percent, which, you know, the caliphate is gone, as the president has continued to say, they're -- clearly, there's thousands of ISIS fighters still there in a prison. But it also has ripple effects in terms of other of our allies now wondering -- what -- I mean, if we betrayed the Kurds who spent 10,000 -- lost 10,000 lives, who won't we?

HENDERSON: Yes, and they've seen this president basically cuddled dictators and cuddled strong me and not do the same with our allies. I mean, that is part of this area figured, you know, essentially arguing that he can do it in a different way. He knows better than everyone else and better than sort of the approach that foreign -- that American presidents have taken to our allies.

So --

COOPER: If only the Kurds were able to dig up dirt on the Bidens --


COOPER: -- maybe there would have been a deal that was possible.

I'm going to talk to Senator Chris Coons who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee by what he believes needs to be done to rectify the situation.

And also breaking news on the mess that Rudy Giuliani is in with federal prosecutors in New York.



COOPER: More now on our breaking news. President Trump calling for new sanctions on Turkey and sending vice president -- the vice president there in hopes that he can work out a deal that his knee- jerk state craft blew up about a week ago.

Joining me now is Democratic Senator Coons, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator Coons, thanks for being with us.

To people who have been following this region closely, it is not stunning how quickly this situation has deteriorated after the president made the decision that he did.

When you hear people in the administration sort of pushing the idea that it was not the -- the president did not in effect green light Turkey's attack on the Kurds, do you buy that?

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): I don't buy that at all. Frankly, this is what happens when an untested, unconventional president who doesn't rely on the advice of his diplomats and military advisors wanders into a very complex region and engages in erratic and ill-informed foreign policy. Frankly, after this development, many of our enemies are encouraged and some of our closest allies alarmed.

I am gravely concerned, Anderson, about what this means, not just for the Kurds who fought bravely alongside us in the efforts against ISIS but for the extent to which our allies in the region and the world view us as reliable. It was about I think six months ago that President Trump made this same tragically mistaken decision and as a result his secretary of defense, decorative former Marine Corps star, Jim Mattis, resigned in protest.

So, he had ample notice that if he made any move to withdraw our troops in northern Syria, that it would undermine our alliances, that it would encourage Erdogan and that it might very well result in chaos, we've seen that unfold faster than anyone might have expected.

COOPER: Well, also, I mean, if there's a deal with the Kurds and the Assad regime, then effectively, the Assad regime gets the 1/3 -- gets to retake the 1/3 of the country --

COONS: That's right.

COOPER: -- that has been out of its control, which is not only a victory for a dictatorial, you know, killer, it's also a victory for Russia and Iran who have been supporting the regime and, of course, for Turkey if they get this buffer zone.

COONS: That's right. And one of the things I'm most concerned about, Anderson, is that Hezbollah and other militias supported by Iran and the IRGC gain even more of a foothold in Syria, gain even more of a highway to send troops, and material and resources for Iran, across Iraq, through Syria, and into Lebanon.


Now, this destabilizes the region.

The winners here, frankly as you put it, Vladimir Putin of Russia, Bashar al Assad, the murderer of Baghdad -- excuse me, of Damascus, the dictator of Syria who has massacred huge numbers of his own civilians and Iran.

So, on balance, this is a tragic day for the United States. All of us are urging President Trump to reverse course and to take forceful action. Sanctions will not make enough of a difference soon enough. The only thing that will make a difference here is for President Trump to reverse himself on this tragic and ill-informed decision.

COOPER: The question is, is that even possible at this point? I mean, if the Kurds --

COONS: It's very difficult.

COOPER: -- have seen this face of the administration, if they can make a deal with Assad, and Assad gets that territory back, I mean, U.S. -- would they be welcomed? I mean, even if the U.S. wanted to send, you know, several hundred special forces back in, it's not clear that they would be allowed there.

COONS: In talking with some contacts, some friends who served in our Armed Forces, I heard that, you know, throughout what has been a long and difficult campaign, where 10,000 Kurdish fighters died in the work against ISIS, it was often a struggle to make sure that they trusted American troops who fought alongside them that we wouldn't withdraw, that we wouldn't abandon them given how hard Erdogan and Turkey have pressed for the United States to abandon the YPG and our other allies in the region who fought so hard alongside us. I heard this directly from a member of the Delaware National Guard.

I agree with you, Anderson, the premise of your question. Trump may very well have shattered any hope of our regaining their trust and of regaining this critical foothold in the region. Only direct and forceful engagement with Erdogan, a frankly clear threat that this would undo our relationship, our strategic partnership of many decades as a NATO ally, might be enough to stop the Turkish assault. But frankly in terms of Russia and Syria and Iran, gaining a critical foothold, and the Kurds losing all faith in us, that damage maybe irretrievable.

COOPER: Senator Coons, I appreciate it. Thank you for being with us tonight.

I'm going to get the reaction to new polling in the Democratic race for the White House coming up. First, multiple breaking news stories on Rudy Giuliani. A witness on Capitol Hill today testifies about Giuliani's role in shadow diplomacy. Also, "The Wall Street Journal" says federal prosecutors are now

examining Rudy Giuliani's business dealings in Ukraine and his banking records as well. That's next.



COOPER: There's more breaking news tonight. We're getting new reporting on that testimony that just wrapped up on Capitol Hill from the president's former top Russia adviser, a woman named Fiona Hill.

CNN's Lauren Fox joins us now.

So, what have you been learning? This has been going on for I think at least eight to ten hours, right?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, more than ten hours, Anderson. I just saw Fiona Hill leave Capitol Hill and one thing we have learned in the last few minutes is basically she was telling lawmakers about her concerns with Rudy Giuliani's sort of shadow foreign policy. That is one of her top concerns that she raised today.

We also know that she raised concerns after Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, was reassigned from her position and we learned, while she was not on the July 25th phone call between President Trump and Ukraine's president, she did prepare for that call. She helped with preparations for it. So, those are just a few top line numbers that we're hearing today.

But I will tell you, this was a long testimony and there's a longer week ahead on Capitol Hill, Anderson.

COOPER: So, I understand. I mean, House Republicans really, some of them were not happy that the House Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena for Fiona Hill to testify day. Why is the committee -- why was the committee so intent on getting her to testify?

FOX: Well, one of the concerns that Democrats have had all along is basically they get to the night before these depositions or these closed door testimonies and then someone in the State Department or Trump administration tries to block them. That's what happened with Gordon Sondland last week.

So, this was basically a preemptive piece of a subpoena here. They were basically just trying to ensure that she would have the ability to testify today. So, that's what Democrats are saying, they're saying so many times in the past the Trump administration has tried to stop or limit what information what can be shared in this deposition. This was preemptive.

Now, Republicans have been complaining about this process, Anderson, for quite a while. It started with the fact that they wanted Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, to hold a formal vote to open this impeachment inquiry. That's something that Nancy Pelosi has said she's not required to do it by the Constitution or House rules. But this is part of Republicans finding back, of course, over what has been a very rapid slew of development, as Democrats have been trying to move forward with their impeachment inquiry -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. You mentioned the rest of the week. U.S. ambassador to the E.U., Gordon Sondland, is set to testify Thursday. He -- those text messages that were released. He's a big supporter of the president.

Do we know what he plans to say, in part?


FOX: Well, according to the Washington Post, he plans to tell lawmakers behind close doors, essentially that he called the President to get some guidance on what to text back. And one thing that we're hearing is that, that text message where he said there was no quit pro quo, was something that the President was guiding him to say.

Of course, there's a long gap in that text message chain. Nearly five hours, Anderson, between text messages when there was some concern about the fact that there had been nearly $400 million withheld in military aid to Ukraine. A state official wanted to know why that was happening and there was that five-hour gap.

So he's expected to talk more a little bit about what the President's guidance was there, Anderson.

COOPER: Yeah. Lauren, thank you very much. There's more on the Giuliani front as well. The Wall Street Journal reports that federal prosecutors in New York City are taking a look at Giuliani's business dealings in Ukraine and to examine his bank records, that's according to people familiar with the matter.

On the byline, joining me by phone is Journal Reporter Rebecca Ballhaus. Rebecca, thanks for being with us. This is not the first time that we've heard investigators are looking to Giuliani, but you have new details of what specifically is of interest to them.

REBECCA BALLHAUS, REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL (via phone): That's right. We've been hearing a lot in the last couple of days about what exactly investigators might be looking at, and there have been a lot of reports since two of Giuliani's associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were indicted last week that investigator were looking specifically at those two men's dealings with Giuliani.

The New York Times reported that investigators are looking at whether he might have violated foreign lobbying laws. And what we are hearing is that, they are looking specifically at his business dealings in Ukraine. So that includes his finances as they related to his work there, meetings he might have held there, and specifically work that he did for a mayor there is what we're told.

COOPER: Do you know who the government is talking to about all of this? I mean, are there potential witnesses? BALLHAUS: We do know that some witnesses have been questioned so far, were not yet able to report details of who exactly they're talking to. And I would say that, given the indictment came just last week of the two men that it seems like this investigation is only now starting to sort of come into the open. So we might expect some escalation of that in the next couple of weeks.

COOPER: And is Giuliani said anything about this?

BALLHAUS: Giuliani has denied wrongdoing. He said that he has not been informed of any investigation. And today he told us they can look at my Ukraine business all they want. So he is at least projecting that he's not concerned about any possible investigation.

COOPER: All right. Rebecca Ballhaus, appreciate it. Thanks very much.

Perspective now from former federal prosecutor and CNN Chief Legal Analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, and former Nixon White House Counsel and CNN Contributor, John Dean. Jeff, Giuliani certainly knows what goes into an investigation from the Southern District, should he be concerned?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: He should be very concerned. I mean, this is such a weird situation that the former US attorney in the Southern District is now being investigated by the Southern District. However, I do think it's important to point out that no one has accused him of any crime and the two associates of his who were indicted last week, they are charged with essentially illegal campaign contributions.

There's no evidence anywhere that Giuliani has engaged in any sort of campaign contribution work. What he probably has to be more concerned about is the issue of failure to register as a lobbyist and all the work in connection with Ukraine, whether that is a violation of the law. But he hasn't been charged with anything and he may never be.

COOPER: John, first of all, I understand it is your birthday, so happy birthday. It's also birthday of one of our top producers, Kirk McDonald, so we wish him a happy birthday as well. I hope you got something lined up later that's more fun. I'm talking about Rudy Giuliani. But if investigators have exam at Giuliani's bank records, obviously the one from, you know, the movie version, the "President's Men," "Follow the Money."

Giuliani says he's not concerned. It seems his dealings in Ukraine do seem pretty complex though, and they go back many years.

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's true. It looks like to me, trying to read the tea leaves of the best reporting, I can find, including CNN's that there are three investigations going on.

One is his relationship with these two men, Lev and Igor, who have been charged around arrested. And that's like a general conspiracy to violate the campaign laws. There's also the possibility of the Foreign Registration Act. But when they get into his finances in Ukraine, that's just (inaudible) by the door. We don't know where that's going to go and it opens up all kinds of potentials.


So the fact that he has not been told he's a target of the investigation, the fact that he has not been interviewed by the FBI, suggest he might be a target So while I'm hopeful, I couldn't wish anybody to be in criminal trouble, it looks like he does have some trouble.

COOPER: Jeff, just on a legal front, is it possible that Lev and Igor are, I just really want to say their names, are -- could be potential witnesses? I mean, that they could flip if they have any information?

TOOBIN: Absolutely. I mean, you know, the, you know, Prosecution 101 is always to work your way up. And Rudy Giuliani is certainly a higher value target than these two formerly obscure businessmen.

Just one other point to mention about Giuliani, I mean, the big problem for Donald Trump is Giuliani's role as potentially running the shadow foreign policy. You know, was American foreign policy operating in the interest of the American people, or was it designed or operating to get dirt on the President's political opponents.

Rudy Giuliani is a key witness there, in an impeachment investigation. That doesn't have to be criminal. That doesn't have to be a crime in order to be impeachable, that's well-established constitutional law. So Giuliani's value as an investigative target is probably more important than the impeachment situation than it is for any possible exposure he has.

COOPER: Yes. David Axelrod, certainly that the whole idea of the sort of the shadow foreign policy by Rudy Giuliani and President Trump, I mean, it's bizarre and fascinating. And he obviously is a witness, folks in the House would love to talk to you if --

AXELROD: He is. And then, there's another element of the story, which may go to the foreign registration, at lobbying registration. And that is, that they were, the prosecutor in Ukraine wanted the ambassador removed because she was seen as an obstacle. And these two guys, Lev and Igor as we call them, they were actively pursuing her removal as well back here.

So there are a lot of different strands that sort of come together here, and this has to be not just unsettling for Rudy Giuliani but for the President himself.

BORGER: Well -- and don't forget, Rudy Giuliani was being paid by one of them. I'm not sure which one it was, but he was on their payroll. So I think if you're Congress and you want to investigate who was he -- why was he being paid, who was he really working for, was he working for them, was he working on behalf of the president of the United States, was he doing both.

And I were the Secretary Of State, I'm obviously not, I'd be asking those questions, because Mike Pompeo was not. COOPER: Well, I mean, he also, to you point, has had business dealings, you know, he tried to have a security contract with Klitschko who became the mayor of Kiev, you know, former boxer, ended up with another contract in another city.

So, I mean, he's got a lot of, you know, kind of --

BORGER: Balls in the air?


BORGER: And he's, by the way, is Rudy Giuliani using the president of the United States --

COOPER: Right. Yes, exactly.

BORGER: -- for his own personal --

COOPER: This is what is so fascinating.

HENDERSON: Yes. And this is why he couldn't be Secretary of State, right? This is what he initially wanted to do, but he had all of these foreign entanglements --

AXELROD: Apparently he was.

COOPER: Right, yes. They're so naive that (inaudible).

Jeff Toobin, John Dean, thank you very much. Everyone else stick around.

Now, on the eve of tomorrow night's Democratic presidential debate right here in Ohio, there's new polling out tonight shows the Democratic presidential race tightening. We'll give you the numbers ahead.


COOPER: Well, this time tomorrow night a record 12 candidates will be on the stage right here in Westerville, Ohio, for the CNN-New York Times Democratic Debate.

On the eve of the crucial debate, there is polling from Quinnipiac University. Among potential Democratic voters, Elizabeth Warren leads with 30 percent support, while former Vice President Joe Biden is at 27 percent, given the polls margin of error that amounts basically to a tie. And Senator Bernie Sanders as fallen to 11 percent, and you see Buttigieg at 8 and Harris at 4. Back now with our political panel.

Do these polls mean much at this point?

Henderson: Well, listen, I think if you're Biden, your whole argument was electability. Your whole argument was that you were the one who could beat Trump. And I think over these last couple of polls we've seen it tightening. We've seen Elizabeth Warren obviously have this major surge. Kamala Harris seems to be slipping, she's at 4 percent in this poll.

You look into the numbers, Biden is still doing quite well to African American voters. I think he's something like 50 percent. Warren is at about 19 percent.

So I think it confirms what we've been seeing, these trends over these last couple of weeks, which is that Warren is surging and that Biden seems to have sort of plateaued if not taken a bit of a dip, but also seems not to be taking at least so far taking anything of a hit around the Ukraine stuff.

COOPER: Right. I mean, David, I guess the question I would have is, is Biden support -- is Warren support at the expense of Biden or it's coming from quarter of Biden?

AXELROD: It's mostly coming from others. It's coming from Bernie Sanders largely, but also from of the other candidates who have deflated a little bit here.

But we should put point out that national polls have value and they do detect trends and she she's certainly been on a rise. But what's, you know, this is sequential process and what's even more encouraging for her I think daunting for Biden is that, Elizabeth Warren is showing real strength in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two contests.

And to Nia's point, if he is the guy who can take Trump on but starts the race by losing the first two contests, perhaps the third in Nevada as well. Then, is he going to be viewed in those terms then?

So, you know, Elizabeth Warren steps on the stage tomorrow night at least as a co-frontrunner and perhaps the frontrunner in the race.

COOPER: And, Gloria, for Bernie Sanders, this is his first major campaign appearance since being hospitalized. How important is it for him too?


BORGER: It's important. It's very important. He has to show that he's OK, and that he is strong, and vigorous. Vigorous would be key here.

But also as David was saying, I think at some point he and Elizabeth Warren are going to have to get into it a little bit. And he did in an interview just today, yesterday where he said that, you know, that she says she's a capitalist.

AXELROD: Yes. He said capitalist to her bones.

BORGER: But he didn't finish the sentence about what he is because sort of Democratic socialist?

AXELROD: Right, yes. I'll tell you what, if -- I would pay her, I would pay him if I were her to say that again tomorrow night on the stage.

BORGER: Doing that. Yes.

AXELROD: It serves her political project to be moved just slightly towards the center.


CHALIAN: And, listen, you know, Bernie Sanders, I understand he may have said that line in an interview. He has not been about taking on Elizabeth Warren in some way, even though from the very beginning of the race she presented a real threat to his coalition of voters. Now, they don't have an identical coalition, but she clearly has dug in to some of his voters, especially young people which is a critical part of his coalition.

So he hasn't yet shown that he's really willing to sort of take her down a notch. I'd be is he surprised if that's what he showed up to do tomorrow night.

AXELROD: The real question with sanders, after this health problem and given his age, can he grow his support or do people see him more as a symbolic candidacy rather than a real threat to be the nominee. I think that's a real possibility.

HENDERSON: Because he was in trouble even before the (inaudible).

AXELROD: He was lose -- he was, yes.

HENDERSON: He was basically sort of losing support to Biden as well as Warren, and we've seen that. And so, it's hard to know where expands at this point.

BORGER: I don't think it raises age as an issue again. And that's something that Biden has going to have to deal with as well tomorrow night. I wouldn't be surprised and, of course, Biden is going to have to deal with Ukraine or Hunter.


BORGER: But, you know, Bernie Sanders is going to be important to watch tomorrow night and see how he reacts.

COOPER: I'm being very -- not saying anything because I'm involved in debate prep. You, Gloria, David and Nia are not, just for the record.

BORGER: Right, yes.


CHALIAN: But it is important to note, I mean, you mentioned you can -- his debate tomorrow night, Anderson, is taking place in a new political context. Impeachment is now this dominant political force in Washington. It's consuming so much of the oxygen.

This campaign, while totally engaged in the early states, in those sequential contest that David talked about. In terms of it sort of national presence, has been sidelined somewhat. And yet, it's a really crucial time in this campaign because we see that Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden are in a tier unto themselves in this race.

And it's a critical moment as voters are starting to pay more and more attention. We're just a few months away from the voting beginning, and yet there's this looming Trump storyline out there about impeachment and how the Democrats are handling that, that is just hanging over what otherwise was a race that was progressing somewhat normally.

COOPER: I want to thank everybody. The CNN-New York Times Democratic President Debate kicks off at 8:00 pm Eastern, tomorrow night right here on CNN.

Still to come tonight, an up close and pretty disturbing at times, look at those fighting for their lives in Syria.



COOPER: I want to check in with Chris to see what's he's working on for "Cuomo Primetime." Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Rudy Giuliani, Anderson, you know, a big political implications where you are very important. Rudy Giuliani is not about politics. This investigation is about law and fact, and it involves this president, involves abuse of power, but this is the closest to a road to ruin that we have seen in this administration and we will show you why tonight.

COOPER: All Right, Chris, look forward to that about seven minutes from now. See you then. We'll be right back. There's more news ahead.



COOPER: As we reported at the top of the hour, there's breaking news on the situation in Northern Syria with Turkish forces aggressively entering the country, fighting against the Kurds, a long time ally of the United States, with many as 10,000 Kurds have died in the fight against ISIS.

The President says now he wants to quell the violence and propose new sanctions and said there will be new sanctions on Turkey. There's also a plan now to send the vice president to the region.

Thursday will mark the 1,000th day of the Trump presidency. Obviously being free leader of the world is a very difficult job, and involves many competing forces and many difficult decisions. This is a decision clearly that was made without a great amount of forethought and we are seeing the results of that now.

We want to show you some images that we have been seeing coming out of Northern Syria tonight. The images are stark and disturbing, and some of them are tough to watch. Several videos, including this one, appear to show at least one man on a roadside whose lifeless body is being fired upon repeatedly. The man's hands appear to be tied. Now, CNN cannot independently verify the videos, partly because the situation in the area is so chaotic.

A media activist on the scene told the New York Times that two men who appeared in this video were both killed by a faction allied with the Turkish-backed FSA militia. The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are also blaming Turkish-backed militants for the killings.

That video was believed to be taken in the same area where Kurdish forces say, a prominent politician or driver, members of the Kurdish Security Forces and several civilians were found dead over the weekend that we reported tonight.

The President appears to be taking steps to try to stem the violence with new sanctions on Turkey. The fear is, it may be too little too late. Tens of thousands of civilians are already on the move according to the United Nations, and the fear is many lives will be lost tonight and in the days, weeks, and months to come. And the political ramifications for the region and for the United States are yet to be clear.

A reminder, don't miss "Full Circle," our digital news show. It's daily, you can catch it live stream at weekdays at 5:00 pm Eastern at circle, or you can watch it there anytime On Demand.

Again, tomorrow night the action takes place right here in Westerville, Ohio. It's going to be a historic night, 12 candidates is going to take the stage for the CNN-New York Times Democratic Debate. There's never been a debate with 12 candidates on the stage at once. We hope you tune in starting at 8:00 pm Eastern Time.

The news continues, and I want to hand it over to Chris for "Cuomo Primetime." Chris?