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Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) Interviewed on Upcoming Public House Impeachment Hearings; Israel Forces Kill Islamic Jihad Leader with Air Strike in Gaza; House GOP Lays Out Defense Strategy Ahead of Public Hearings. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired November 12, 2019 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[08:00:00]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- 8:00 in the east. Alisyn is away. Erica Hill joins me for the countdown.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm here for the countdown.

BERMAN: Twenty-four hours until history. One of the most perilous moments for the Trump presidency, and in the middle of it all, the White House is in the midst of a fierce battle with itself. "The Washington Post" reports that acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and the White House Counsel's Office are at each other's throats, and congressional Republicans are concerned the White House does not have a cohesive impeachment defense.

Also this morning, we're getting our first look at new excerpts from a book by an anonymous Trump administration official stating the president will, quote, abuse any power he is given. CNN has obtained exclusive excerpts and we'll bring you those in just a moment. And all this comes as we're getting new details about how tomorrow's historic public impeachment hearings will unfold before our eyes.

HILL: We also have breaking news ahead of those hearings. The Republican staff of three House panels involved in the impeachment inquiry sending a memo to its members detailing the defense they plan to use to make the case for President Trump.

BERMAN: So should the House vote to impeach President Trump, the 100 members of the Senate, they will effectively become jurors in a trial.

Joining us now is the number two Democrat in the Senate, Dick Durbin. He serves on the Judiciary Committee. Senator Durbin, thank you very much for being with us this morning. Tomorrow, the beginning of the public impeachment hearings, history. How will you be watching? You, someone who may get to vote ultimately on whether or not to remove the president, what will you be listening for tomorrow?

SEN. DICK DURBIN, (D-IL) SENATE MINORITY WHIP: Those of us, of course, in Congress and on the political scene follow this impeachment more closely than most Americans, but I think when we go to public testimony, it's going to change. More and more people across the United States will tune in. We can read the transcripts of Ambassador Taylor and others, and they have some obvious value. But hearing them testify and be cross-examined really puts some power behind those statements.

BERMAN: What do Democrats need to prove tomorrow in your mind?

DURBIN: Well, I don't know if it will be proved in one day. It could be accumulation of evidence, people who are credible and understand that the Republicans on the committee are going to be cross-examining each of these witnesses in terms of their credibility.

But I think it is up to the House of Representatives to make this decision as to whether to go forward in these articles of impeachment, and I think they have to establish an abuse of power by the president to do that.

BERMAN: So it's interesting, because the House Republicans put forward this 18-page memo. We just got our hands on it a couple hours ago. We've been going through it, looking for it. It's their defense of the president. And one of the things they are suggesting is that you need to look at the president's state of mind over the summer and when he made this phone call. Let me read to you what they're saying. "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 elections or Hunter Biden's involvement in Burisma, a notoriously corrupt company." What does the president's state of mind matter to you?

DURBIN: I can tell you, I think they are grasping at straws, because when you look at the memorandum of the transcript of the conversation of the president with President Zelensky of Ukraine, this was declassified by President Trump and distributed to us. And we took a close look. What did he refer to? It wasn't corruption in general. It was will you investigate my potential opponent Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden? Will you look into some bizarre FOX-inspired theory about undermining the last presidential election? It really wasn't about corruption in the ranks in Ukraine or whether even the $400 million from the United States would be well spent. It was for his own personal, political agenda.

BERMAN: I will read to you from that transcript. The president keeps on saying read the transcript. President Trump said to President Zelensky, there's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecutor and a lot of people want to find bought that. So whatever you can do with the attorney general, he's talking about William Barr, would be great. Biden went about bragging that he stopped the prosecution, so if you can look into it, it sounds horrible to me.

DURBIN: And of course, there's the bete noire in this whole process named Rudy Giuliani who is roaming all over Kiev and Ukraine with operatives trying to establish some political theory for the president. This isn't about corruption. It's about a political agenda of the White House.

BERMAN: And Rudy Giuliani, how much should it matter what Rudy Giuliani tweeted this week, which was everything I did, I did for the president, my client. I was working as his attorney, and that's it.

DURBIN: Well, of course he's going to try to find that defense to avoid any testimony. But I think everyone knows his role, and the president has been reluctant to continue to point to Rudy Giuliani as his operative on the street when it comes to the agenda in Ukraine.

[08:05:02]

BERMAN: So tomorrow, during these public historic impeachment hearings, the president of the United States will be meeting with the leader of Turkey, President Erdogan. This follows Turkey's invasion of the Kurdish areas of northern Syria. It comes a year after there was a skirmish with Turkish officials and Americans. Do you think it's appropriate for the president to be hosting the Turkish leader tomorrow?

DURBIN: There are at least a dozen good reasons why the president of the United States should not be meet with the leader of Turkey. I can go through the long litany, from their decision to acquire Russian missile defense systems, which we think really are inconsistent with Turkey's commitment to NATO, the complicity of the Turkish government in moving would-be terrorists around their territory, threatening the United States and its troops, the decision to move forward and to eradicate the Kurdish populations, a population that has been in strict alliance, close alliance with the United States for years and has seen many of their own killed in the process.

You put all these together and say, why in the world is this president sitting down with Erdogan at this moment? This is a situation where we should have a solid relationship with a country before we give their leader a treat and come to the United States for a meeting.

BERMAN: You have been a senator, among a bipartisan group that has worked on immigration reform for years. Very shortly the Supreme Court will hear arguments on DACA. This is the deferred action childhood program, this has to do with people who were brought to the United States through no fault of their own, through their parents, and now the president wants to rescind the DACA protections that were provided during the Obama administration. How significant is this case today, and if the court rules that the president's actions were lawful, will you work with Republicans to pass legislation to protect these individuals?

DURBIN: I can tell you at the outset, within the hour, I was out in front of the Supreme Court with those DACA recipients standing in the rain hoping to get a seat in the Supreme Court where their fate will be decided. These are wonderful young people, 790,000 of them. The president's decision was cruel. Most of his decisions on immigration are cruel, particularly when it comes to children. But they will not be able to break the spirit of these DACA young people. They are determined to be part of our future, and they should be. If the courts should happen to rule in the president's favor, then we can start to see deportations of these wonderful young people. What an opportunity for the United States that will be lost if that happens.

BERMAN: And Senator, if I can just wrap back around to impeachment again, because at this point, we're about 26 hours from these public hearings, what are the chances you think minds will be changed? Given the polarization in this country, what would it take to change minds?

DURBIN: I'm not sure what it takes, because we're talking about a narrow band of voters and political participants across America, narrower by the day, that really still have an open mind on this question of the future of Donald Trump as president of the United States. But I hope that everyone will listen to it carefully, as I will, as a potential member of the jury if the impeachment articles go forward. What's at stake here is a critical process under our Constitution. It is not a political exercise. It is a constitutional exercise.

BERMAN: Senator Dick Durbin from Illinois, thanks for being with us this morning. We appreciate your time.

DURBIN: Thank you.

BERMAN: Erica?

HILL: Breaking overnight, Jimmy Carter undergoing a procedure to relieve pressure on his brain. The former president was admitted to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta last night. Doctors say the pressure is being caused by bleeding from Mr. Carter's two recent falls in his Georgia home. Both incidents landed him in the hospital. The nation's 39th, and the oldest president to date, celebrating his 95th birthday last month.

BERMAN: Also breaking overnight, violence erupting along Israel's border with Gaza after an Israeli air raid killed a top Islamic Jihad commander. Gaza militants fired more than 100 rockets toward Israel, one just barely missing several cars on a road. You can see that right there. CNN's Oren Liebermann is live near the border with the latest. Oren?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Within the last hour, the Israeli military says they've carried out a second wave of strikes, an additional wave against what they say are Islamic Jihad terror targets inside of Gaza. Meanwhile, we've continued to receive the red alerts that warn of incoming rocket fire. The latest round over the course of the last 10 or 15 minutes or so south of our position right now, which is essentially just north of Gaza, north of the coastal enclave.

This all starts at about 4:00 this morning when Israel carried out a targeted assassination of a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Baha Abu al-Ata. Israel says he was responsible for not only planning attacks but carrying them out, and also carrying out attacks in the immediate future. They also say he was responsible for some of the isolated and errant rocket fire we've seen over the course of the last few months here that has shattered that tension and, once again, threatened to ignite what is always a tense border between Israel and Gaza.

[08:10:05]

After that targeted killing, there were a number of rockets fired, more than 100 at this point, from Gaza into Israel, and some of them more powerful, going 40 or 50 miles into Israel, not the less powerful rockets that we've seen that just target the Gaza periphery. In terms of injuries and deaths here, the Palestinian Ministry of Health says four have been killed in Gaza, two overnight, and two over the course of this afternoon, and there have been several injuries inside of Israel.

The key question, of course, is where does this go from here? And it's interesting to note that Israel squarely blames Islamic Jihad, and its strike in Gaza has only struck, to this point, Islamic Jihad targets. Hamas, who rules Gaza, the militant group there, has not yet entered the equation and that may provide an off ramp to de- escalation. The question Erica, and this is what we're waiting to see, how does Hamas respond if at all, and where does this go from here? It is still a volatile situation, and nothing at this point from de-escalation to a spiral into war is off the table.

HILL: Oren Liebermann with the latest for us. Oren, thank you.

We have now seen the GOP's plan to defend the president during public hearings. So will their arguments hold up? We discuss, next.

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[08:15:19]

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: CNN has obtained an internal memo circulated by House Republicans which outlines the four main points the GOP plans to use to push to defend the president as Democrats make the impeachment inquiry, of course, public tomorrow.

Joining us now, John Avlon, CNN senior political analyst, Kaitlan Collins, CNN White House correspondent, and Bianna Golodryga, CNN senior global affairs analyst.

As we look at all of this, and we look at these talking points, John Avlon, what's remarkable is that you can really shoot through a number of them -- I mean, in terms of evidence. And the way it's laid out, it's fascinating to read the reasoning behind it in this document.

How are these going to hold up?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Not well. Look, these are zombie impeachment talking points. This is slavish devotion to Donald Trump's bar which is, I did nothing wrong, and they are going in sort of in search of brains because the arguments they're making are really easy to blow up.

They are focusing on the crowd strike conspiracy theory in places, trying to distract from the Biden inquiry. I mean, there are so many tells in this document. They are selectively cherry picking certain aspects of testimony, avoiding things in subsequent sentences. Also interestingly, John Solomon whose reporting in "The Hill" had

been the basis for conspiracy theories pushed by folks in the Trump orbit is entirely absent from this document. And that would seem to be a concession that his reporting is fundamentally compromised. But these are -- this is the best argument they got and it's not a terribly good one.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, and it's notable, but it is the first defense we've seen really strung together like this from Republicans who, as we've reported, have really struggled to stick on one message. A lot of that has to do with, they don't know what it is the White House wants them to say. They say one thing. The White House says don't say that and essentially they feel they're left without a lot.

One thing that I thought was interesting is how much they focus on saying the president was always deeply skeptical of Ukraine. Always thought they were corrupt. We reported the president had felt like that, which is why it surprised people when the president wanted to have a second phone call with Ukrainian president over the summer after he had already congratulated him on the elections.

An interesting part, though, is what we learned from a defense official who testified yesterday and her testimony came out. She said even though they've been insisting this is all about corruption, that the Department of Defense thought Ukraine was making progress on their anti-corruption and there were no reviews conducted from July, August or September on that -- on their corruption practices which you'd think they'd do if they were holding up the aid.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Every diplomat that's testified, and even reports of Rick Perry when he went there for the inauguration to meet with Zelensky, all of them reported back that they were very optimistic about a turn around in Ukraine, that finally there was a president who was there who not only ran on fighting corruption but was actually implementing changes as soon as he got into office.

So the fact that the president was stuck to this theory that Ukraine is corrupt, that leads back to many of his conversations as we now know with Vladimir Putin, with Orban, with Viktor Orban of Hungary as well. And one thing that also we're reading in the Republican talking points is the notion that, oh, the president and Zelensky said there was no corruption. They keep going back to Zelensky reporting. I said there was no corruption, no push on me, no pressure on me, there was no quid pro quo.

What is he supposed to say at that point? He is clearly the weaker of the two countries. He's in desperate need of that aid.

So this argument they're now quoting Zelensky. He never in a million years thought he'd be in this position. He needs this aid desperately, and if it will help save Ukrainian lives, it's something that we now know he is willing to do.

BERMAN: Just one last point on the four main bullet points Republicans are putting up here. Number four is that the security assistance ended up being authorized and flowing. It's number four on that list on September 11th.

They're saying, oh, it ended up being paid, so it doesn't matter after all. That was only after the whistle-blower report went public. It was days after. I don't think that's exculpatory. That's more incriminating.

GOLODRYGA: And, by the way, that money would have run out, right? It would have expired by the end of September and Congress would have had to reauthorize it. So, they were just weeks away from that money not being available.

BERMAN: And on the subject of corruption, if corruption was actually on the president's mind, if he had a long deep-seeded fear of Ukrainian corruption, how come the only things mentioned in this phone call are investigate CrowdStrike, this tin foil hat conspiracy theory about the 2016 election and investigate the Bidens. That's not corruption broadly speaking. That's two investigations on my political opponents that I want.

AVLON: And this is the castle made of sand and the argument they're advancing, because at the end of the day, the things the president was focused on had to do with self-interest, not national interest.

I started cracking up when Bianna mentioned, you know, the president being so concerned about corruption yet constantly talking to people like Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orban.

[08:20:00]

I mean, this is all selective issue and it's all through a prism of political self-interest, which is the heart of the Democrats' argument. You can try to side step it, but you can't credibly ignore it no matter how much you cherry pick the testimony. It's overwhelmingly clear.

BERMAN: Also, his lawyer is Rudy Giuliani who is working with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman who were under indictment right now. So, if you're concern about corruption, that's might be place to start.

I want to talk about the process tomorrow because this is going to be different, right? This is a hearing where staff attorneys get to do the bulk of the questions. So we can throw up pictures on the screen here so you can see them.

Daniel Goldman is the House Intelligence Committee investigations chief. He might do a large part of the questioning for the Democrats.

Steve Castor is the House Oversight Chief. He works for Jim Jordan who is part of the Intelligence Committee. He might do the questioning there.

So this will look different on its face, Kaitlan. Why does that matter? COLLINS: It's going to look so much different than any of the

hearings we've seen so far -- the Corey Lewandowski, the Robert Mueller. It's not going to be these five-minute increments where you see lawmakers giving their take on everything, not really asking questions. That's when staff does the questioning.

Sometimes you see these hearings are much more effective at getting at the point because members of Congress on both sides are not especially talented at this. Some of them are, but not many.

AVLON: There's a little bit grandstanding.

COLLINS: Which the president himself has been frustrated by. And he's not just watching the points that the Democrats are making here, what the witnesses are saying. He's also watching the Republicans to see how they're defending him on this call.

So, it will be interesting what route they take here if they focus on the president, the procedure, it's going to look a lot different because it's going to be these large chunks of time with Adam Schiff having the option and Devin Nunes, the ranking member, taking his time as well.

So, it will look a lot different to viewers. The White House, though, is bracing for these hearings.

GOLODRYGA: They're very credible witnesses. Let's not forget that. These are witnesses who are not political by nature, especially given who we're hearing from tomorrow.

Look at Bill Taylor's record. He served this country in the military, right? He served both Republicans and Democrats.

Reading through his testimony, which most Americans do not have the time to do, they will finally get the chance to hear from him tomorrow. There's no agenda that he brought into this job. The only thing he says is that going into it, he was so concerned by Yovanovitch's firing and how she was treated that he already has skepticism about what the president's agenda was.

That having been said, he was very optimistic about Zelensky and what he could bring forward to Ukraine and getting rid of corruption there. So, hearing him lay out point by point, here is what the U.S. policy was towards Ukraine.

Here it was why it was in our self-interest. Here is why it worked towards making Ukraine safer and more pro-West and here's why that imploded. Really important.

AVLON: And the president is a TV guy. And that's why there's such palpable nervous about these proceedings being televised. Whatever, you know, defenses he throws out and 82 tweets on a particular weekend, the palpable anxiety is because the president, above all, understands the power of television, how it resonates with the American people. COLLINS: Which I think is why Democrats are nervous too because so --

there have been so many hearings throughout the Trump presidency that they thought were going to land.

AVLON: Yes.

COLLINS: And so far a lot of them have really landed with a thud. They've not been these powerful things that have broken through to the public. So they also have a lot of pressure resting on them for tomorrow.

BERMAN: So, Kaitlan, there's reporting in "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times" this morning about an internal battle in the White House, which is pretty bad timing for them given they're 24 hours from impeachment hearings, but a battle between the acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and the White House Counsel's Office with Pat Cipollone.

What's going on?

COLLINS: Yes, it's not just that there's infighting. It's the two figures that are really key to this. Not only Mulvaney because so many who have testified have put him in a central role in how this all unfolded. But also Pat Cipollone who is the one trying to make this argument that White House officials don't have to go testify. They have to comply with these summons, these requests to go to Capitol Hill.

There's a feud between the two of them. It's been going on for several months now. Essentially, Mick Mulvaney thinks Pat Cipollone wants this job. People close to Cipollone insists that's not true, he doesn't want to be chief of staff. But then Mick Mulvaney feels he's being left out a lot of the legal matters, the strategies they're taking here.

And so, it's really resulted in this feud between the two of them. What we're seeing play out now that Mulvaney is going to court attempting to decide whether or not he has to comply with the congressional subpoena, even though he played a role along with Cipollone in drafting that eight-page from the White House that said White House officials don't have to comply with any requests from Democrats.

Now even Mulvaney is not listening to that and is asking a court if he has to listen to the White House or House Democrats here.

AVLON: Well-oiled machine. Tone comes from the top.

BERMAN: All right. Bianna, Kaitlan, John, thank you for being here.

President Trump's former ambassador to the United Nations speaking just moments ago about two former Trump officials she accuses of trying to undermine the president. But the bigger issue here is that there are senior administration officials who thought that President Trump was a threat to the country.

[08:25:05]

What does this all mean, next.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIKKI HALEY, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: To undermine a president because you think that you know better than him is wrong. If you disagreed with getting out of the Iran deal, if you disagreed with moving our embassy or getting out of the Paris climate agreement, go tell the president. And if you still don't like it, quit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: That's former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, talking about her claims that Rex Tillerson and John Kelly tried to recruit her to undermine the president.

Tillerson has pushed back with a new statement. He says, quote: At no time did I nor to my direct knowledge did anyone else serving along with me take any actions.

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