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House GOP Memo Sets Up Trump Defense Strategy Ahead of Public Hearings; History of How America Became Politically Divided; Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) is Interviewed about Upcoming Impeachment Hearings. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired November 12, 2019 - 07:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- Taylor and George Kent are set to paint what the Democrats hope is a picture of the president knowingly exerting influence over a foreign government to investigate a political rival. They're going to testify that. And you can also, frankly, read the transcript of the phone read the transcript of the phone call where the president does that.


On Friday, the former ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, takes the stand. This comes as we learn new details from deposition transcript being released by the House committees.

And two officials say the Ukrainians knew military aid was being held up long before it was reported publicly, and that, of course, contradicts Republican arguments that there could not have been a quid pro quo.

There is also breaking news this morning ahead of the public hearings. The Republican staff of three House panels involved in the impeachment inquiry just sending a memo to members, detailing their defense strategy for President Trump. The goal: to undercut several key arguments made by Democrats about what the president did and when.

BERMAN: All right. Joining us now, Maggie Haberman, CNN political analyst and White House correspondent for "The New York Times" and CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

And Maggie, I want to start with you. You have some new reporting on infighting within the White House. I do want to get to that.

But first, what we did receive just an hour ago was this memo from House Republicans on how they plan to defend the president. One of the things they will discuss, broadly speaking, is the president's mind-set, his doubts and skepticism about Ukraine in general.

And then they have these four talking points, which I'm frankly surprised that this is what they're leading with here. Because they're fairly easy for Democrats to knock down. That the July 25 phone call shows no conditionality or evidence of pressure.

Well, the president says, Do me a favor, then brings up just the Bidens and the 2016 election. And also, there is witnesses saying that there's also kinds of conditionality around that call.

No. 2, Zelensky and Trump say there was no pressure on the call. Well, President Trump may not be the only important witness here, and President Zelensky is under an awful lot of pressure to lead his country.

The Ukrainian government was not aware of the hold on aid during the July 25 call. That may be so. There is new evidence, though, that they were aware much earlier than we thought, and that security assistance hold was lifted on September 11. Yes, that was a couple days after the White House knew about the whistle-blower complaint. Again, I'm surprised that these are the four points that Republicans are leading with here a little bit.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's the best they've got. There's two factors here. No. 1, there's a number of witnesses who have corroborated various aspects of this testimony. So the whistle-blower piece of it goes away. We know the president keeps talking about it, but at the end of the day, that becomes far less relevant.

The call itself has troubled a number of Republicans. Most of them won't say it publicly, but some have said that they don't think it's appropriate. So that becomes harder to defend.

So what you end up doing is basically doing a version of that's just how he talks in terms of the mindset piece that you're talking about. And we've heard that as a defense of the president's actions going well back to Mueller over and over again.

So I think that they're working with what they got after, you know, countless witnesses have spoken to the core details of this, not just the call, but what took place around withholding the aid and after the acting White House chief of staff went to the podium and said, yes, there was a quid pro quo.

I think what you're seeing is there's going to be a limit to how far out on a limb Republicans might be willing to go in issuing a defense. Because they just don't know what they don't know and what else could come out.

COLLINS: And we've been talking for weeks how the White House is unable to cobble together a defense for Republicans to use. This is evidence that they're just taking this into their own hands. This is what they're going to go with.

And maybe this isn't the best defense strategy. Maybe there are holes with this, and potentially ways Democrats can shut down some of these points, but this is the most detailed defense we've seen from Republicans since this got started with Nancy Pelosi in September.

HABERMAN: I think, to Kaitlan's point, too, it's important to remember that not only is it the most detailed. Part of it is the importance of having it on paper, because Republicans have been a bit all over the place and scattershot in terms of what they're saying. And that's been because the White House has not put out a consistent theme, to your point of not getting control of this. I don't think this is necessarily going to carry the day, but they're going with what they have.

BERMAN: The White House has not had a consistent theme, which brings me to some reporting I happened to read in "The New York Times" this morning, in an article written by you and Peter Baker. And "The Washington Post" has -- has a different version of this also, which is in-fighting. A battle inside the White House 24 hours before these public impeachment hearings begin. Explain what you're seeing.

HABERMAN: Sure, so there's a couple of things. In our story, we're actually talking about fights that are bursting into the open on a number of fronts that we've been told for years don't exist. You know, you guys are focusing on in-fighting in the White House. That's not true. Nikki Haley wrote a book about it that comes out today. Names, names. So that's one area.

Then you have Mick Mulvaney and John Bolton. Mick Mulvaney -- and this one, I think, is where you are seeing this burst out publicly. Mick Mulvaney tried joining a suit that related to Bolton. It wasn't Bolton specific, but related to him. And Bolton's lawyer, who represents the plaintiff in that suit, and he's also Bolton's lawyer, made clear I don't want you joining this suit, Mick Mulvaney.


I mean, Bolton's allies have made very clear that Bolton seems Mulvaney as completely complicit in what took place around this aid and he -- it being withheld from Ukraine. And he didn't want to give him that cover to say he was trying to be compliant with House Democrats and not testify.

Mick Mulvaney doesn't get his own lawyer and go outside of White House counsel if he trusts the White House counsel. And we have -- you've reported, we've reported for months now that Mick Mulvaney and Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, have been at odds on any number of fronts. But impeachment has thrown accelerant on it.

COLLINS: And it's an ugly fight. Essentially, Mick Mulvaney thinks Pat Cipollone is trying to take his job as chief of staff. He also thinks that he's being left out of legal matters that he feels, as chief of staff, he should be briefed on.

Pat Cipollone doesn't think he's making the right decisions, so they're essentially just going around him, because they don't think he needs to be briefed on all of those matters, because he's not an attorney serving the White House. So it really has created this ugly feud.

And that's a great point about Mulvaney getting his own attorney in this suit, which just not that long ago, he said he didn't need this person.

HABERMAN: Exactly.

COLLINS: And now, of course, he's going around Pat Cipollone and has his own attorney.

HILL: Is there a sense now that this is coming to a head?

COLLINS: The question will be how they move going forward and what they're going to do over these next few critical days, and whether or not they're going to put these grievances behind them or if it's going to just split further and create these issues inside the White House when the complaint is that the White House is not all on the same page. They can't get Republicans talking points here. They're not doing enough to defend the president.

And Republicans think if they did more, if the president was more ardent in his defense, they could actually survive this. If the White House doesn't step up, people are not so sure that they're going to be OK through this.

BERMAN: The problem continues to be the facts, though, and the evidence as we see it.

Take Condoleezza Rice, who was speaking overseas at an event. Condoleezza Rice was the secretary of state, national security adviser under George W. Bush, someone who hasn't necessarily been particularly critical of the Trump administration, and worked with them in the beginning to help get Robert Gates --

HABERMAN: Correct.

BERMAN: -- and other people inside the White House. This is one of the things that Secretary Rice said. She said, "What I see right now troubles me. I see a state of conflict between the foreign policy professionals and someone in Rudy Giuliani who says he was acting on behalf of the president. But frankly, I don't even know the degree to which that's the case. It's troubling. It's deeply troubling."

And she also criticized, on its face, the phone call between President Trump and the president of Ukraine.

HABERMAN: I think the more -- look, we know how President Trump will handle criticism from folks like Condi Rice, which is he's going to say these are -- these are Bushies. These are people who are against me. To your point, he did try -- She did try to help him early on in the administration.

I just think it becomes the more Republicans are openly saying there was a problem with this phone call -- the president doesn't want Republicans arguing process. We have heard this over and over from people in contact with him and people in Congress. He doesn't want the process argument that they've been making, which is they don't like how Democrats have handled the hearings. There were selective leaks about -- in their words, about details from these hearing transcripts.

That's been taken away now that the transcripts have been released, so what the president's left with tweeting repeatedly is these are doctored transcripts. No one has said that. Literally, no one has said that. The president wants people saying he did nothing wrong. This was all fine. And very few Republicans have been really that willing, except for a strong group of his backers in the House, have really been willing to do that.

COLLINS: And it's going to be so difficult for them to make that argument, the very few people who have, after these people are coming forward and people are watching what they're saying. Because not everyone has read the transcripts through and through.

But when these people who, some of them are hand-picked by the president are on camera under oath, talking about this, it's going to be harder for Republicans to make the argument that the call was perfect. They're going to be turning, more and more likely, to it wasn't perfect. It wasn't the most appropriate, but we're not going to remove this guy from office over it.

BERMAN: You know, one thing that struck me the last day and a half heading into tomorrow is Democrats have actually gone a little bit quiet previewing tomorrow's hearings.

HABERMAN: Usually, when you feel like your opponent is hurting themselves, you don't step in the way to save them. And I think that's what Democrats have basically done.

Also, I think Democrats are aware, they did over promise around the Bob Mueller testimony to a large degree. They over-promised, to a lesser degree, around the Corey Lewandowski testimony. So I think that twice burned, they are trying to just sit back and let it play out and underplay expectations.

COLLINS: Yes, I do think that that could play a factor in this. Because essentially, they're making these arguments, and if you read through this, you see that they may have an easier time with some of these, like one of the points that I was looking at in here is where they talk about where the president said, I would like you to do us a favor, though.

And they say, well, he wasn't talking about Joe Biden. And essentially, they're giving life to this conspiracy theory that the president has pushed, which is that Ukraine was behind interference in the election, which his own government has said firmly is not true.

But it is going to give you an indication of where the Democrats are going to go tomorrow, starting with points like this about what the president said.

BERMAN: Just -- we want to put one picture up on the screen of Daniel Goldman. This is a face you will see tomorrow. He is the counsel to the House Intelligence Committee. I think we have that picture of Daniel Goldman. You can see. We don't have the picture -- oh, there he is.

So Daniel Goldman is the counsel on the Intelligence Committee staff. Steve Castor may do some of the questioning for Republicans. But it's interesting. These are the two people who may be more important than the committee members themselves, which is what the Democrats want.


HABERMAN: Yes. I mean, Democrats discovered in those two other hearings that we talked about just the painful nature for what they were trying to do of having not just members of Congress ask these questions, who are notoriously, in both parties, not great at asking these kinds of question in hearings in terms of eliciting the answers they want.

But also, this five-minute rule that they had had in place about what time people could have, I think that they found it was stunting in terms of the information they could get. So I think you see them really trying to do this differently. I think they know that they've got one shot to sway public opinion beyond where it is now, and it's this week.

HILL: And it's important that it not look like a circus.

HABERMAN: It may still look like a circus, but at least, if they're actually getting information that people haven't heard, if they're making a compelling case, I think that's really where they're going.

COLLINS: And that has been the White House's complaint, is that they're not going to have an attorney in the room to help question these people. They are really putting their fate into these Republicans' hands. That's why the president has been so up on that, and who's going to be questioning what's going to be said this week. Because he knows it's up to them to defend him. It's not going to be his own attorneys doing any of the work in this portion of this.

BERMAN: He's got Jim Jordan and John Ratcliffe in there and the attorney. He's got people in there he trusts.

COLLINS: John Ratcliffe will be a really interesting person to keep an eye on --

HABERMAN: That's right.

COLLINS: Because he was nearly named as the director of national intelligence.

HABERMAN: That's right.

COLLINS: He's someone, if you've read these transcripts of the closed-door testimonies, he's probably been the most concise with the, you know, largest points of defense for the Republicans. He's someone to keep an eye on. I think people will be following his lead on these.

BERMAN: All right, Maggie, Kaitlan. Great to have you here, thank you very much.

So House Democrats, they are moving fast with impeachment. What are senators looking for as these hearings are about to go public? We'll ask next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BERMAN: This week we are examining the issue of polarization in this country and what can be done to fix it, it's a special series being called "Fractured States of America." But as John Avlon explains, it wasn't always that way -- John.


Look, our country has been through far worse trials than we're dealing with today, the Civil War and the Great Depression. But the polarization we're suffering through right now is not normal. It's not healthy, and it wasn't always this way.

So how did we get here? Flash back under Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy. The greatest generation provided political ballast. There was broad consensus over the Cold War. And crucially, there was ideological diversity within the two parties, with conservative Democrats and progressive Republicans.

So divided government didn't always mean dysfunctional government. America was able to get big things done through bipartisan coalitions, from the Marshall Plan, interstate highway systems, landmark civil rights bills.

It didn't mean America was any kind of Eden. Only 40 years away from women getting the vote, and discrimination of all kinds was common. But our politics enabled unanimous decisions of the Supreme Court like Brown versus Board of Ed, while today we've been accustomed to these narrow 5-4 decisions from a politicized bench.

Backlash to the civil rights movement accelerated regional and racial polarization, as southern conservatives became Republicans while the Vietnam War shattered Cold War consensus.

But still, take a look at these congressional voting patterns in the 93rd Congress that provided over -- presided over Watergate. You'll see there were Republicans to the left of some Democrats and vice versa. And most importantly, the two parties are clustered towards the center.

Now, fast forward 20 years. The parties moving further from the center but very few folks on the extremes. The red state, blue state divide had deepened through the rigged system of redistricting, dramatically reducing the number of competitive elections.

So while there were 113 crossover members of Congress in '93 -- that's Democrats elected in predominantly Republican districts and vice versa -- two decades later, there were just 26. It's a 77 percent decline. And that means there's less and less political incentive to vote across party lines, while partisan media demonized even modest political differences.

So then take a look at this Tea Party class, the backlash to President Obama. The center totally hollowed out. But we also have asymmetric polarization. Republicans have moved further right than Democrats moved left. And that Tea Party Congress was determined to be the most polarized ever, going all the way back to reconstruction.

Things have only gotten more polarized under President Trump, the second Republican in 16 years to win the White House despite losing the popular vote, something that didn't happen once in the 20th Century. We've seen increasingly bitter personal divides, accompanied by decline in trust in the government, the media and each other. We see our polarized Congress unable to summon the will to address common problems, rooted in science, like the climate crisis, while ignoring obvious bipartisan compromises on immigration or infrastructure; failing to take action even when super majorities support things like expanding background checks amid rising gun violence.

So now we see a country facing its third impeachment inquiry since this period of polarization began, after only one other in our whole history before.

So no, none of this is normal, and healing these divides is going to take time. And we're going to need to remember some practical wisdom from President Eisenhower, who said, "The middle of the road is all the usable surface. The extremes, right and left, are in the gutters."

And that's your "Reality Check."

BERMAN: He gave us the interstate highway, so he knows. He knows about roads.

AVLON: He knows about roads.

BERMAN: All right, thank you very much. A really important "Reality Check."

Hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants with their futures hanging in the balance, today they are taking their fight for DACA all the way to the Supreme Court.



BERMAN: Just 24 hours from now, history, public televised impeachment hearings, just the third time the country has ever seen something like this over the air waves, just the fourth time this country has ever gone through this process at all.

If it is passed in the House, it moves to the Senate where senators will serve as the jury. What are they watching for?

Joining me now is Chris Murphy, a Democratic senator from the state of Connecticut.

Senator, thank you very much for being with us. How will you watch tomorrow? What is your checklist? What are you looking for? SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): Well, I think we already know what

happened, so this story has already become clear. The president of the United States wanted Ukraine to help him destroy his political rivals, and in exchange, he would give them security aid or access to the White House. That is absolutely unallowable in a democracy.

And so I guess what I'm looking for is that the witnesses this week are simply going to confirm the testimony that they have already given to the impeachment inquiry committee.


I don't actually think there's probably going to be a lot of drama this week. For the first time, Americans will see Bill Taylor and others in person and I think what they will see are patriots, are career public servants who have, really, no reason to tell this story other than their desire to get the truth out.

But I'm not sure we're going to see any bombshells. I think we already know what happened. We, I think, already know that it is something that is unacceptable in a country that governs itself by the rule of law. And it's really more of a question about what we're going to do about it, what the House is going to do and what the Senate's going to do.

BERMAN: Well, to that point, to that point, because we've seen the summary of the phone call between President Trump and President Zelensky. We have now read the witness deposition. We've seen what happened, really, in pretty vivid detail. The next part is, as you say, making the case that is bad, so bad that Democrats think it's impeachable. How do you make that case?

MURPHY: Well, ultimately, we'll have to wait in the Senate for the articles of impeachment to arrive before we make a decision as to whether this is impeachable conduct.

But I've made it pretty clear that, if you allow for a president of the United States to use the massive power that is given to him or her in their office to try to advance their own personal interests or their financial interests, then we really aren't a democracy any longer. We look much more like a tin-pot dictatorship.

And so I think we've got to make it clear to the American people that, if you allow this to happen without any consequence, then you're, you know, basically setting up every future president to be able to use taxpayer dollars as leverage to try to get themselves reelected. And we just can't allow that to become precedent in this country.

BERMAN: I want to read to you -- we just this morning got this 18- page document outlining how House Republicans plan to defend the president. And one of the things they will focus on is the president's state of mind, suggesting that he long was skeptical of Ukraine. Let me read this to you.

"To appropriately understand the events in question and, most importantly, assess the president's state of mind during his interaction with President Zelensky, context is necessary. This context shows that President Trump has a deep-seated, genuine and reasonable skepticism of Ukraine and U.S. taxpayer-funded foreign aid independent of and preceding any mention of potential investigations of Ukraine's interference in the 2016 election or Hunter Biden's involvement in Burisma, a notoriously corrupt company."

How important is the president's state of mind here?

MURPHY: Well, I've been involved in U.S./Ukraine policy for half a decade, and I'm skeptical about sending U.S. aid to Ukraine. President Obama was skeptical about sending U.S. aid to Ukraine.

That doesn't mean that either of us used our positions in order to try to extort a foreign country to benefit ourselves politically.

So of course, you go into a relationship with a country like Ukraine with your eyes wide open, but that doesn't give you permission to then try to use taxpayer dollars in order to destroy your political opponent.

So I just don't think that it matters whether President Trump or any president has a state of mind of skepticism about sending money to a foreign country.

BERMAN: And then another argument, which I know you have watched with concern is that being voiced by people like Mac Thornberry, Republican member of the House, who suggests he doesn't like the phone call at all, but it's just the way the president talks. Listen to this.


REP. MAC THORNBERRY (R-TX): There's not really anything that the president said in that phone call that's different than he says in public all the time. So is there some sort of abuse of power that rises to that threshold that is different than the American people have been hearing for three years? I don't hear that.


BERMAN: He says he doesn't hear that. What do you say to Mac Thornberry?

MURPHY: Yes, I mean, listen, Mac is a decent guy, but that is a really extraordinary argument, the idea that, well, the president's corrupt, and we all know he's corrupt, so you know, why do we really care about it any longer?

There's also been this attitude in the administration, where folks come to Congress and say, well, don't really listen to what the president says, because it doesn't really matter. Watch what we do as a State Department or a Department of Defense.

Well, here we've gotten to see exactly what President Zelensky was doing. President Zelensky was, in fact, bending over backwards to try to show that he was going to start an investigation into Joe Biden. And everybody that worked for President Trump, from Mick Mulvaney to Bill Taylor, to Kurt Volker, were all executing the orders the president gave to try to get the Ukrainian government to do the president's political bidding.

So in this case, the president gave an order. Everybody followed it through. The president of Ukraine was ready to engage in this act of corruption until the president got caught.

The only thing that stopped this extortion scheme from coming to fruition was the fact that the whistle-blower came forward that prompted all --