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Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) is Interviewed about Impeachment; Deadly Attack on Americans in Mexico; Trump Requests Review of War Crimes. Aired 9:30-10a ET
Aired November 6, 2019 - 09:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A tough night for Republicans statewide in Kentucky as the president and his party battle back in Washington the impeachment inquiry.
For more on all of this evolving news, I want to bring in Louisiana Republican Congressman Mike Johnson. He also serves on the House Judiciary Committee, of course, central to the inquiry going forward.
Congressman, we appreciate you taking the time this morning.
REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA): Hey, Jim. Glad to be with you.
SCIUTTO: First, let's start with politics. You know, you look at those Kentucky results and what was striking to our political analysts here was that it wasn't just tough results for Republicans in suburban and urban districts, but some of those rural districts that had voted for Trump in 2016 in Kentucky, particularly coal mining districts, they swung the other way here.
I wonder how concerned you are about what this says about Republican chances in 2020.
JOHNSON: We're not concerned at all. You know, some of those governors' races are very specific, very parochial and, of course, Governor Bevin was a controversial figure there because he took on a lot of big issues and made a lot of political enemies. That's how it works.
I'm down in Louisiana. The president is coming here tonight for our governor's race. A run-off that happens on November 16th. He'll return again before that run-off. We're going to win that race in Louisiana, and it will be largely because of the president's influence.
SCIUTTO: Well, you know, the president went to Kentucky and that doesn't appear to have gotten Bevin across the line here.
JOHNSON: Yes, but, you know, some of those governors races, as I said, are very specific to things going on, on the ground there. There's a lot of factors that are in play. And that was a tough race. I think Governor Bevin was down pretty significantly in the polls before the president got involved. So, clearly, his assistance helped and I don't think that one's fully decided yet. It sounds like Bevin may not have conceded, so there may be more to come.
SCIUTTO: Yes, about 5,000 votes. He did win by 9 percent the last cycle.
Let's talk about the impeachment inquiry.
As you know, the president's appointee as ambassador to the EU, a big donor to Trump's inauguration, Gordon Sondland, he revised his testimony on Tuesday. And he said, in his view, there was a quid pro quo, that U.S. military assistance was withheld from Ukraine in the middle of a war against Russia to force, in effect, an investigation of Biden, his son and other issues here.
Do you deny a quid pro quo took place here?
JOHNSON: Well, look, we reject the narrative that Sondland somehow said the president demanded x for y. There's nothing in the transcript that says that. And, clearly, what's happened here and what you can infer from reading all of his (INAUDIBLE) is that Sondland's actions were based on Sondland's assumptions. There are many assumptions about a lot of what he said and that was based on his ideas about what was happening, not necessarily about what the president said.
I will say this, Jim, when he asked the president point blank --
SCIUTTO: Well, Sondland -- Sondland -- I've heard that argument -- I've heard that argument, Congressman. This is a senior official in the Trump administration, an ambassador to the EU, appointed by the president, and he said in his statement that he assumed this was illegal to make this connection. By the way, and it wasn't just the transcript of the call because Sondland describes meetings weeks before that call, weeks after the call, where this explicit connection was made. So the transcript itself is not the only piece of evidence here.
JOHNSON: Yes, but he also said, and this is in the transcript, when he asked the president directly, point blank, what do you want from Ukraine, I have the quote right here, the president responded, quote, I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. I want Zelensky to do the right thing.
SCIUTTO: Why was the aid withheld then? Why was the aid withheld then in the middle of a war?
JOHNSON: Well, first of all, we don't know all those facts to be certain. We know there's a timeline problem because some of the actions that Sondland is describing is six weeks after the infamous phone call the president had with Zelensky.
And, again, everything that we're all talking about right now is conjecture. It's based on a transcript of what Sondland said based on his own assumptions and the fact that we don't have all the evidence is what we're really mostly concerned about. You have Adam Schiff in the basement doing these secret inquiries and he's releasing things by drip by drip.
So you and I -- look, I'm on the House Judiciary Committee. The committee with appropriate jurisdiction.
SCIUTTO: Well, as you -- as you know, Congressman, I've heard the talking point secret and I know you said that before.
JOHNSON: Go ahead.
SCIUTTO: As you know, and as the transcripts show, Republicans are in that room, dozens of them, and they had equal time with Democrats to ask questions. And, by the way, the transcripts clearly no longer secret because you and I are reading them. They're public.
JOHNSON: This -- yes, this transcript has been leaked, but many of the others have not. And what Adam Schiff is doing with unilateral authority --
SCIUTTO: Not leaked. Released. Two a day this week. Not leaked. They're being released two a day in public. It's not a leak, it's being provided to the public.
JOHNSON: We want all of it to come out. This is -- this is my point, Jim, I'm not -- this is not a talking point, it's a fact. I'm on House Judiciary Committee. It's the committee with appropriate jurisdiction. I'm the ranking member on the Constitution subcommittee. And I, as a duly elected member of Congress, cannot -- I don't have access to all this evidence supposedly that they've been deriving down in the basement. This is a sham impeachment process. And that's what we're concerned about.
Ultimately, the American people lose faith in the institution if they can't trust the process. So on substance and on process, we have a lot of problems with this in the way it's proceeded.
SCIUTTO: To be fair now, everybody has access to those transcripts because they're posted on the website.
But I do want to ask you this. You voted against the rules for the inquiry, as did all Republicans and two Democrats. I just want -- and those rules for the inquiry going forward include public testimony from these witnesses with an opportunity for Republicans in public to cross-examine them and challenge them.
SCIUTTO: I just wonder if -- if your goal here is transparency, why not vote for those rules that would give you greater access but also your constituents and people at home can watch and make judgments themselves?
JOHNSON: Boy, how I wish we could achieve that end. And that's what we've been demanding from the beginning. But in addition to that -- SCIUTTO: A little Skype freeze there. Let's see if it comes back.
We've all been through this before in calls.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Oh.
SCIUTTO: We lost the Skype connection there.
Listen, we will give the congressman an opportunity to come back so he can complete the thought there. But our thanks to -- oh, he's back.
Congressman, sorry, we lost you midway and I know everybody at home has had a Skype call freeze before, but complete your point there. I want to give you a chance to explain.
JOHNSON: Thank you, Jim, I appreciate it.
The reason we voted against that resolution is because it did include some transparency, but the problem we had is that it gave Adam Schiff, and ultimately Chairman Jerry Nadler in Judiciary, total authority over the proceedings. They could decide almost everything. They have veto power over what evidence presented -- is presented and how it's heard and what charges are brought.
We want full transparency across the board. And that resolution didn't do anything to solve those concerns. It only reiterated what we've been saying from the beginning has been a sham.
This is a predetermined political outcome that they decided back in early 2017. The narrative has changed many times, but they're trying to take down Donald Trump and this is just the latest vehicle to do it.
SCIUTTO: Well, I should note that previous impeachment inquiries, Clinton and Nixon, the majority party did have veto power. That was a consistent thing in those committee investigations.
Congressman, we appreciate your time. Taking time from your home district to join us. And you're always welcome to come on the broadcast.
JOHNSON: Thank you, Jim. We'll be back. Appreciate it.
HARLOW: I think he'll be with the president tonight.
SCIUTTO: He will indeed. The president going down to Louisiana.
HARLOW: Heading there for that -- that big election next week.
OK, good to have him on.
Ahead, this tragic story out of Mexico. Officials in Mexico say they have made an arrest possibly connected to the brutal slaying of nine Americans. We'll have the latest for you ahead.
HARLOW: Authorities in Mexico say that they, this morning, have arrested a suspect, possibly connected to that brutal massacre of nine Americans from a Mormon community.
SCIUTTO: Just a horrible crime. Officials say the suspect was holding two bound and gagged hostages, had several rifles, large amount of ammunition. It is unknown if those hostages were related to the family.
CNN's Patrick Oppmann is following the story from Mexico City.
And, Patrick, early on there have been questions as to whether these were unwitting targets, mistaken targets. Do we now know if they were the intentional targets of this attack?
PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, despite all the horrible details coming out, we really don't know that much more. The family members have said very clearly that there was not a gunfight going on. They did not wander into a conflict between the cartels. They feel they were targeted.
And even the suspect that was arrested, the hostages apparently did not come from the family. They say they're not missing anybody at this point. And it may just be the fact that this is a lawless region where there are people with guns, that there are multiple cartels operating and the attorney general of Chihuahua state said that there's not been a direct contact. He was talking to a local media this morning. There's not been a direct contact made between this arrest and the shooting that has rocked this Mormon community.
So whether or not this is the first person they've arrested and they've tied to this terrible crime or it is just a coincidence that someone happened to be in the area with heavy duty rifles we're told and hostages. It may just be the fact this is a lawless area of Mexico.
What is unusual, though, is how quickly this family has come out -- this large family -- speaking out against the crimes and they are now calling on the Mexican government to take the fight to the cartels.
OPPMANN (voice over): Mexican authorities announcing their first arrest in the ambush attack that killed nine Americans in northern Mexico.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was for the record. Nita and four of my grandchildren are burnt and shot up.
OPPMANN: The victims, three mothers and six children, including two infants, were all dual citizens of the United States and Mexico and members of the Mormon community. The family was traveling in a convoy of three vehicles when they were attacked.
Rhonita Miller was driving one of the cars with four of her children, including her nearly eight-month-old twins.
KENDRA MILLER, FAMILY MEMBER: Nita was one of the most vibrant, happy souls that I've ever met. She was -- just had so much spark and life in her.
OPPMANN: The car was shot at and set ablaze.
KENNETH MILLER, FAMILY MEMBER: None of my grandchildren made it out. They burnt to a crisp. And my daughter-in-law. And they're about as innocent as they come.
OPPMANN: The two other vehicles were attacked about ten miles down the road. Each riddled with bullet holes. Dawna Langford was killed in one of those cars, along with two of the nine children with her.
And Christina Johnson was killed while traveling with Faith, her seven-month old baby, who miraculously survived.
KENDRA MILLER: We don't know how she survived it because around the door in front of where she was, was full of bullet holes. Her car seat base had bullets. And somehow this baby escaped unscathed.
OPPMANN: Thirteen-year-old Devin Langford survived the attack and hid six siblings in brush on the side of the road. A family member tells CNN that he then walked 14 miles for six hours to find help. His nine- year-old sister also left the group to find help and went missing. Relatives and soldiers found the girl alive hours later.
Mexican authorities say the family may have been targeted after standing up to drug cartels in the past. Family members say they had been threatened recently.
KENDRA MILLER: Our family was picked to be the ones to stir up trouble and to start a war.
OPPMANN: And, Jim and Poppy, over 30,000 Mexicans died last year in this country's epidemic of drug-related violence. And these latest killings and apparently targeted women and children appear to be something of a tipping point. People are telling me they've just had enough. They want their government to do more.
HARLOW: My God, it is unbelievable.
Patrick, thank you so, so much.
HARLOW: We'll be right back.
SCIUTTO: New reports that President Trump has ordered a review of war crimes allegations against two service members and is now considering restoring the rank of a former Navy SEAL acquitted of murder in the death of a ISIS prisoner.
HARLOW: But military leaders, including Defense Secretary Mark Esper, are urging the president to reconsider on that front. One official says the president may not understand the gravity of these cases.
Let's got to the Pentagon. Our correspondent, Barbara Starr, joins us there now.
And there does seem to be a timeline to this because reportedly the president is expected to make some sort of announcement around this by Veteran's Day. Is that right?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's what the general thinking at the Pentagon is, that if he decides to go ahead, he would do it tied to the Veteran's Day holiday. Apparently all of this most recently emerging after a "Fox and Friends" report. And we know that is a show that the president watches very carefully. They reported that the president was likely to exonerate three service members involved in cases of alleged and potential war crimes.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper consult -- after consulting with Navy and Army leadership really taking the unusual step of directly saying, this is not a good idea, putting together the history of all these cases and ready to present it to the president, trying to convince him not to exonerate people that may have been involved in war crimes.
Let's go quickly through who these three service members are. Lieutenant Clint Lorance, found guilty of second degree murder for ordering his men to fire on men on a motorcycle in Afghanistan, Eddie Gallagher, a Navy SEAL demoted after he was acquitted of some charges but found guilty of posing with a corpse, which obviously is not allowed. His rank could potentially be restored by the president. And also Army Green Beret Matthew Golsteyn, charged with murder of an Afghan man.
These cases, in the eyes of the military, are very significant. They believe they have very strong cases and they believe very strongly a presidential intervention in war crimes sends a terrible signal to the world and undermines military discipline.
It's a matter of really serious concern around the Pentagon.
SCIUTTO: And we should note that in the Gallagher case, for instance, his own fellow sailors testified against him in that trial.
Barbara Starr, thanks very much.
SCIUTTO: As we speak, David Hale, the third highest official in the State Department, speaking under oath to impeachment inquiry investigators on Capitol Hill, telling them that politics were the reason the department did not publicly back a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. This, of course, part of the broader investigation.
Stay with us.