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Lindsey Graham Defends Trump; White House Officials Meet With Republican Lawmakers. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired October 24, 2019 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: So, the vice president is meeting with House Republicans on Syria. We know the president has had lunch Republican senators.

Phil, what's going on?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, I think it's important to kind of contextualize what's going on right now.


MATTINGLY: The meeting with the vice president and House members, including House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, Liz Cheney, the number three in the House, was about Syria and Turkey and the cease- fire the vice president and the secretary of state worked through.

The meeting at the White House with the president and 10 Republican senators, it was in the Situation Room. It was also a briefing about Turkey.

And I want to explain why this kind of all connects together in some way, shape or form. Right now, the White House doesn't need enemies when it comes to the Republican Conference on Capitol Hill. It needs allies. It needs people like Lindsey Graham, introducing this resolution at this moment -- they just sent out the text of the resolution -- who are willing to fight for the president when it comes to impeachment, are willing to fight against Democrats, whether it's on process or if eventually they get to the issue of substance, to be there for him.

And that's why I think this outreach is really interesting. This is a blitz.

When you send the vice president to Capitol Hill to meet with senior Republicans in the House, when the president brings people into the Situation Room, and including some of the most staunchest critics from the Republican Party related to the Syria action, the withdrawal the president took, they understand that more needed to be done to assuage the concerns, at a time where they don't need Republicans upset about anything, whether it's impeachment or Syria.

So there's that element of that right now, recognizing that they need to do more to reach out. There's also the idea of the messaging factor. I have talked to a lot of Republicans, Brooke, over the course of this week, and there is extensive frustration about the lack of help, the lack of guidance they're getting from the White House related to how they're supposed to respond to impeachment.

One senator earlier today told me, basically, we are a one-man Twitter war room, and I don't think that's the best answer right now.


MATTINGLY: At the meeting at the White House, Senator Lindsey Graham, who just came back from that meeting, said that he spoke to Mick Mulvaney about something he said to me yesterday.

He was asked, do you feel the White House messaging on impeachment needs work? His answer was simply yes. And then he turned around and walked away.

Well, Mulvaney apparently saw that comment, brought it up to Graham specifically, and said, according to Graham, keep talking to us. We're working on this. We're going to get better on this and we're working through it on this.

So it's interesting kind of twofold. It seems like two totally separate issues. But it all comes together, to some degree. The White House is aware and senators and Republicans on the House side have made clear, they need more information, whether it's on Syria, or whether it's on impeachment.

And the White House is aware of that. And they're trying to address that. Now, you mentioned the Graham resolution. He's holding a press conference right now to talk about this. This is one of those avenues, less theatrical to some degree than the storming of the security complex from yesterday from House Republicans, where Republicans can show the president that they're trying to fight with him.

But underscoring all of this is this desire from Republicans to get more from the White House. I think today is a demonstration that the White House recognizes that. What they will do with that is an open question, because, obviously, as you noted, Democrats moving forward, another closed-door deposition on Saturday, public hearings likely in the next couple of weeks.

They're not stopping anytime soon. Republicans feel like they need to do more, Brooke.

BALDWIN: OK. Thank you for tying all these various threads together. And we will stand by for what Senator Graham is about to say.

Phil Mattingly, for now, thank you very much.

I have got two more voices I want to bring in.

Kurt Bardella is a former spokesman and senior adviser for Republicans to the House Oversight Committee for five years, including those Benghazi hearings, right? And in 2017, he left the Republican Party and later became a Democrat.

So welcome to you, Kurt.

And Karoun Demirjian is a "Washington Post" congressional reporter and a CNN political analyst.

And, Karoun, let me just piggyback off of a lot of the points that Phil was just making, right, and this outreach to Republicans in Congress from the White House. Do you think this is a sign of Trump and the White House trying to mend the fences, shall we say, with its party?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they have to be concerned about where the Republicans stand on this.

Certainly, there is a band of House Republicans that are very, very loyal to the president that are questioning the process of what's been going on in the impeachment probe. We saw that play out in a very dramatic way yesterday, when you had about 40 of them go and march into the secure facility where they conduct the interviews that are part of the probe.

But the Senate's really where it matters. I mean, it seems like almost an inevitability at this point that the House Democrats will vote to impeach the president and send this over to the Senate. And, at that point, the Senate Republicans are the bigger part of that jury that is the Senate that's going to be deciding whether they believe that the merits are severe enough to recommend that the president is -- to push the president out of office.


DEMIRJIAN: So there's some tension right now over various things like Turkey, Syria, and the treatment of the Kurds and other issues as well that are -- it's not good timing to bring these things up, necessarily, if you're concerned about keeping everybody united.

And I think that it illustrates the reality of the situation, which is that there are tensions that have to be addressed if people are going to stick together on the GOP side of the aisle.

BALDWIN: Before we look ahead, Kurt, let's just -- a couple questions looking back, just first just to yesterday, when you had those 40 or so Republicans, House Republicans, marching into that SCIF.

Many of these Republicans you used to work with. When you saw that playing out, what were you thinking?

KURT BARDELLA, FORMER BREITBART NEWS SPOKESMAN: The first thing, Brooke, that occurred to me was, I remember during the Benghazi proceedings, when my former boss, Darrell Issa, tried to go to a closed-door deposition, and the chairman at the time, Republican Trey Gowdy, had to escort him out, because he wasn't a member of the committee.

[15:05:12] And Mr. Gowdy explained very publicly and very succinctly, we have rules. And if you're not a member of this proceeding, you don't get to be there.

That's true whether you're a Republican or a Democrat. So what I thought about yesterday was, where -- those Republicans didn't have a problem with that policy when they were running the show. It seems strange that now, all of a sudden, in the middle of this really -- this publicity stunt, that they have that selective amnesia.

BALDWIN: And let's just also remind people what Jim Jordan said back then. Roll the sound bite.


REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): The only path to the truth, the only path to the truth is through this committee, the Ways and Means Committee, the House of Representatives.

So we have got to pass this resolution. It's the only chance we have to give the American people an opportunity to get the truth about a fundamental right that was systematically attacked.


BALDWIN: Give the American people the opportunity to hear the truth.

So, Kurt, when you hear those same Republicans complaining about how the impeachment hearings, at least at this stage, are not public, how do you respond?

BARDELLA: It just really goes to show how far Republicans have gone in retreating from the standard of oversight and transparency that they tried to hold the Obama presidency to, and how they have a completely different set of standards for the Trump presidency.

I mean, these are people like Jim Jordan or Mark Meadows who very publicly repeatedly would talk about the American people's right to know what's going on in the government. They would talk about waste, fraud, abuse, mismanagement, taxpayer dollars.

And that was all fine and well they were having years of hearings about things like Fast and Furious or Benghazi or the IRS, when they were holding people in contempt of Congress for not cooperating with those investigations.

Now we have those same people turning the other way and defending the executive branch's complete ignorance and complete flagrantly violating any type of check and balance of the Congress. And it's mind-blowing, as someone who worked there, who worked with the people, and who heard them every day talk about oversight and Congress' authority, to now see them completely abandon that.

It's -- I really can't believe what I'm seeing every day.

BALDWIN: I -- we just so wanted to talk to you as you were entrenched with the Republican Party and just knew what they wanted and just how it's all playing out right.

The other point, Karoun, is, again, these Republicans are criticizing the process, not the substance of these allegations, right? So you have the South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who will be introducing this resolution to condemn the House impeachment inquiry. He says any vote based on the current process -- quote -- "should be dismissed in the Senate without a trial."

Mitch McConnell, you know, really important here that the Senate majority leader supports the resolution, but would -- realistically, would the majority of Senate Republicans actually back skipping a trial if impeachment happens in the House?

DEMIRJIAN: Well, I think the question is, if the majority of the Senate would do it, because they could. Ostensibly, there would probably a motion to dismiss everything before the impeachment trial would actually get started.

But it does appear that there are growing number of skeptical Republicans who would not necessarily be in a position where they are inclined to say, oh, forget it, there's nothing to see here, we're not even going to proceed to that process once it gets into our lap.

So -- and the number of Republicans who are expressing concern over what has been alleged by all the witnesses coming through the House's impeachment probe is growing, growing slowly, but it is increasing, not decreasing. And that is important when you consider about the idea that there's 53 Republicans, 47 Democrats.

That's not that much of a gap to make up. You only need -- it's a 50- vote -- 51-vote majority to actually be able to get past any sort of motion to dismiss and on to the actual impeachment trial. And it seems that those numbers may very well be there.

But right now, yes, the argument that is being made is based on the process, that there isn't an exact precedent for this process, because in the past, you had done the investigative part -- the steps -- the Starr report had been done behind closed doors, but before it actually got into the stage where the congressional lawmakers were the ones who were doing these procedures.

So, basically, what the House is doing right now is mirroring steps that were taken in past impeachment proceedings, but were just done in a different way. So it's an easy target to attack the process, since it is being pulled together through existing rules, but a fairly unprecedented situation.

And I would just add that it's a more detailed argument that they can make than to just try to double down on this no quid pro quo, which is also what you're seeing Republican say in response to the substance of the allegations that are being brought up.

But, right now, it does seem, based on the reporting that we have done from what's going on in those closed-door interviews and depositions, and that what the witnesses are saying is less good for the -- it's not good for the president.


DEMIRJIAN: And so to make the argument based on pulling out the finer points of substance that they think could swing in their favor, on balance, it's not -- at this point, it does not appear to be a winning argument to argue over the substance of what those witnesses are saying.


BALDWIN: And, as you were reporting, as CNN is now also reporting, the doors will be swinging wide open, perhaps come mid-November, right? These hearings will be public.

And so, Kurt, in terms of a vote, like, looking ahead, the timetable has shifted somewhat for Democrats, vote on impeachment may be pushed until the end of the year.

So what do you think? What are the pros and cons of stretching this out until December, not just for Democrats, but for these Republicans you know and for Trump and the White House?

BARDELLA: Well, I think really, ultimately, like any good investigation, Brooke, the facts should dictate how long this process goes.

If people keep coming forward, if evidence keeps coming forward, if documents are eventually produced, then this will move pretty quickly. If the administration however, fights back, if they don't cooperate, if they don't send documents, well, then some of this is going to have to go to court.

And they're going to have to sue to try to get these administration people to come forward, people like the White House counsel, people like Secretary Pompeo, who's declared that the State Department will not cooperate with this until there's a vote on impeachment.

So I think a lot of this is unknown. I think it probably will stretch actually beyond even this year and probably into next year just because the administration has been so fervent in not cooperating.

And it would be, frankly, irresponsible to wrap something up so quickly without getting all the facts. I mean, that's what the important thing is here, is finding out exactly what happened, who did what, when, where, who directed money or who didn't.

And until we have all of those answers, you can't vote on this thing one way or the other.

BALDWIN: Right. No, facts are everything.


BALDWIN: Yes, go ahead. DEMIRJIAN: I would just interject that, based on my reporting, though, it does not seem that the Democrats are going to wait until they can overturn absolutely every stone under which they might find information.

You keep hearing leaders like Nancy Pelosi, like Adam Schiff saying, look, we're going to consider at a certain point that, if you don't agree to comply with the subpoenas we have sent out, that you are obstructing something, and that will help build our case of obstruction of Congress, obstruction of justice.

And so they're eying the political calendar as well. You can dip a little bit into December and into the beginning of next year for an impeachment trial.

BALDWIN: But then it's Iowa and...

DEMIRJIAN: But they don't want this to be a never-ending thing, like some people thought the Russia probe might end up being.


DEMIRJIAN: They're working on a very tight schedule. And that means certain things, because they feel like they have the transcript of that July 25 call and Mulvaney's words from last week on the podium at the White House and other pieces of testimony.

BALDWIN: Got it.

DEMIRJIAN: They're not going to wait for absolutely every last shred of information to surface.

BALDWIN: Got it.

Karoun, thank you for your reporting. Kurt, such an important voice to have on from all of this from years ago. Thank you both very, very much.

Still ahead here, I will talk to the author of this opinion piece who says we don't need any more testimony, that there is already enough to impeach the president. We will talk to Max Boot about why.

And competing new polls put Biden and Warren at the top of the 2020 pack, but we have learned Biden supporters think he may need outside help to raise campaign cash.

And, later, a rising star in the Democratic Party now under a House ethics investigation after accusations of an inappropriate relationship with a staffer. Hear how Congresswoman Katie Hill is responding to all of this.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We will be right back.


[15:17:25] BALDWIN: All right want to come back out.

And here is South Carolina Republican senator Lindsey Graham now answering questions on Capitol Hill.


QUESTION: ... the White House has changed course multiple times. At this point, are you ...

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Have you noticed?


QUESTION: At this point, are you confident that you guys are on the same page? And is it the Hill now leading this messaging strategy?

GRAHAM: So I talked to the Chief of Staff Mulvaney. I think they're working on getting a messaging team together.

I was involved in impeachment of President Clinton. I know this sounds weird, but, Clinton, look what he did. What he did is, he had a team that was organized, had legal minds that could understand what was being said vs. the legal proceedings in question.

And they were on message every day. The president, Clinton, defended himself, but he never stopped being president. And I think one of the reasons that he survived is that the public may not have liked what the president had done, but believed that he was still able to do his job.

And as he governed during impeachment, I think that was probably the single best thing he did, quite frankly, to avoid it.

QUESTION: Have you made that case to the president?

GRAHAM: I'm hoping that will become the model here.

QUESTION: You refer to (OFF-MIKE) investigation (OFF-MIKE) Starr's investigation.


QUESTION: There is no prosecutor looking into the allegations that combined (OFF-MIKE).

You were a prosecutor, sir. Would you ever have conducted an investigation when -- in which your witnesses were allowed to speak in public and give other witnesses the opportunity...


GRAHAM: That's actually a very good point.

I mean, during the whole Mueller investigation, I backed off of calling a lot of the key witnesses, because I didn't want to get in his lane.

Now, I'm being asked by Republican folks out in the Republican world, why don't you call Adam Schiff? Well, I think that would do a lot of damage to the country for a senator to call a member of the House. You have a speech and debate problem.


But if you think Adam Schiff is a fact witness, why isn't Donald Trump a fact witness?

The point is, that's not a process that I think will withstand scrutiny. Durham is looking at potential misconduct about things that happened in 2016, particularly involving the Ukraine...

QUESTION: But this isn't about 2016, Senator. This is about what the president has been doing with Ukraine, along with his personal lawyer.

And the Justice Department declined to investigate that. So, what -- I mean, there's no prosecutor looking into it, and so the House has to do the job of prosecutor.


GRAHAM: Well, here's what I would say.

Are you suggesting there needs to be a special counsel for Ukraine? I think that's...


GRAHAM: Well, here's what I -- I have been trying to get a special counsel to look at all things 2016 from our side.

Mueller gave the Trump campaign a pretty good...


GRAHAM: It is to me.

Here's the process. Why did I support Mueller? To me, there was a conflict at the Justice Department. Why did I introduce legislation that you can only fire Mueller for cause?

Because I thought it was important for the country for somebody outside politics to look at this. I think somebody outside politics should look at the things that I'm concerned about in 2016.

You may not be, but I think the FISA warrant application could be considered a fraud on the court. We will see from Horowitz. I'm not a prosecutor. So when it comes to whether or not somebody other than the House should look at Ukraine, I want to look at all things, yes.

QUESTION: Senator, you say this is a secret and illegitimate process.

GRAHAM: That's my view. QUESTION: And so what do you say to the argument that 47 of your

House Republicans who serve on these committees, they have the right to be in there? It's not secret. It's not one party. It's bipartisan.

GRAHAM: I -- I would -- I would say that, if we pulled this stunt, you would be eating us alive.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

GRAHAM: Well, let me finish and let me tell you why.

How many people have asked me about Bill Taylor's opening statement? All I can say is, if we had Rudy Giuliani's opening statement, and he said, I did nothing wrong, I doubt if you would accept that.

So 47 Republican House members feel like it's not working for them. They feel like that Volker's testimony has been selectively released. Ratcliffe's cross-examination of Taylor is not available to you.

So, the people named that you just are as upset as I am. And here's what I would say. There's a way to do it. Give President Trump these rights that every other president, Nixon...


OK, so you have been listening to Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who is introducing this resolution condemning this Democrat-led impeachment inquiry. Obviously, you hear how he feels about the whole thing, calling it secretive and illegitimate.

But the proper question from the reporter was, well, how do you feel that way if you have 47, actually, 48, if you include Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, all part of the process?

So maybe we start there with you, Max Boot, CNN global affairs analyst who wrote this opinion piece: "If this isn't impeachable, nothing is."

So -- and by the way, I should also mentioned that Senator Graham was part of this group of Republicans who just was at the White House having lunch, just as a group of House Republicans were at the White House the day before prior to storming the Capitol.

What's going on here?

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I remember when Lindsey Graham still had credibility and respect in Washington. He has destroyed his credibility and respect by becoming this partisan attack dog.

And, of course, the same thing is going on with so many of these other House members who did this big stunt of showing up at the SCIF yesterday, but most of them never had any credibility or respect to begin with.

Lindsey Graham did. And so it's tragic to me to see what he has done. And he's really taking lessons from his master, Donald Trump, in shamelessness and hypocrisy, because I really couldn't believe my ears, Brooke, listening to Lindsey Graham holding up the 1998 impeachment of Bill Clinton as a model, which this one supposedly falls short of.

BALDWIN: As a model.

BOOT: Let's remind ourselves that the entire country basically laughed at the Republican attempts to impeach Bill Clinton for lying about sex.

There was never more than 35 percent approval in the country at large for impeaching and removing President Clinton. Right now, half the country or more supports the impeachment and removal of President Trump, because everybody, other than Lindsey Graham and rabid Republican partisans, understand the gravity of the charges against Trump, and they understand how convincing those charges are and how they have been proven in the last month by evidence after evidence.

And so Lindsey Graham is just grandstanding, essentially, like the other Republicans, to distract attention from the fact that the president of the United States used military aid appropriated by Congress to blackmail a foreign country into helping his reelection campaign.

That is the very definition of a high crime and misdemeanor.


BALDWIN: Which is why you write, if this isn't impeachable, nothing is.

BOOT: Exactly.

I mean, this is such a strong case. I mean, there are so many people in prison right now based on less evidence than has been presented against President Trump.

And I thought -- I wrote that piece right after the testimony of Ambassador Bill Taylor, which as I wrote, was not just the smoking gun. It's a smoking howitzer, because he establishes the quid pro quo. He establishes that Donald Trump held U.S. aid to Ukraine hostage to Ukraine helping him politically.

And, of course, Taylor is not out there isolated saying that. We saw that for ourselves in the transcript of Trump talking to Zelensky, saying, I would like you to do us a favor, though. That's the quid pro quo.

And, by the way, Mick Mulvaney, the White House chief of staff...

BALDWIN: Said it out loud.


BOOT: ... he admitted it last week, and then said, oh, I didn't really say what you heard me say, which is absurd.

BALDWIN: Whose job, by the way, is on shaky ground, according to Jamie Gangel.

BOOT: Right.


BALDWIN: So, I want to end on one of the quotes. You talked about the souls of Republicans.

You said -- you wrote: "Republican should forget about saving their seats and focus on saving their souls. They shouldn't worry what Trump will think of them. They should worry what their grandchildren will think of them."

You have been hearing from Republicans. I think of Senator Thune, for one, who said one thing yesterday. He's backtracking today.

Like, at what point will they feel like the facts are all there that there is the evidence for them to, to use your word, have a soul, be brave?

BOOT: Well, the evidence is there already.

It's -- I mean, it's clear beyond any reasonable doubt that Trump, in fact, misused his office and committed a high crime and misdemeanor. The question is whether Republicans will screw up the nerve to say so and to something about it.

And a lot of them will not. But I hope that some at least will look to the -- to think about what history will say about them, not just about what Trump will say about them, not just about what right-wing Web sites will say about them, but will think about their own history and want to be remembered in the way that Margaret Chase Smith or William Cohen or other Republicans were who stood up to great abuses of power in the past.

They have a chance to really be remembered as somebody who stood up for the Constitution. Or they can be remembered the way that Lindsey Graham is going to be remembered, as basically a ridiculous partisan attack dog.

BALDWIN: Mat Boot, thank you.

BOOT: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, the former deputy director of the FBI weighs in on this impeachment inquiry. We will talk to Andy McCabe about what he makes of Bill Taylor's testimony and whether he thinks the whistle-blower should be forced to testify.

We will be right back.