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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Impeachment Inquiry Report Due After Thanksgiving. Aired 4- 4:30p ET

Aired November 25, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:02]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Thank you so much for being with me these last two hours. We will see you back here tomorrow.

I'm Brooke Baldwin.

"THE LEAD" starts right now.

ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: The impeachment report could be here before you finish your leftovers.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Follow the e-mails. A new report claims to show the White House scrambling for damage control after President Trump decided to hold up military aid to Ukraine.

Turmoil at the Pentagon possibly stirred up by the commander in chief himself, the Navy secretary forced out over a case of military justice that President Trump just couldn't stay away from.

Plus, the first security cam video of a castle heist -- a billion dollars of diamonds, gemstones and treasure. Who is behind the biggest robbery since the Second World War?

Welcome to THE LEAD on this Monday. I'm Erica Hill, in for Jake.

And we begin today with the politics lead. New details this afternoon about the timing and Democrats' next moves in the impeachment inquiry.

In a letter to colleagues, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff says a report laying out the case against the president will come soon after Thanksgiving, this as a White House review of the president's decision to withhold critical military aid to Ukraine shows a coordinated effort to come up with a justification for the hold after the fact.

According to "The Washington Post," some of the documents containing -- quote -- "unflattering exchanges" that could look bad for President Trump.

Despite the Trump administration insisting everything was done on the up and up, as CNN's Sara Murray reports, that internal review is raising serious questions.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): It raises profound constitutional questions.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): House Democrats seizing today on a report that the White House went searching for a legal explanation to justify President Trump's decision to freeze nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine well after the freeze went into effect.

"The Washington Post" first broke the news that a confidential White House search turned up August e-mails between acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russ Vought.

In the e-mails, Mulvaney asks for an update on the legal justification for pausing the aid and how mu longer it could stay frozen.

QUESTION: Do you have confidence in Mick Mulvaney, Mr. President?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, I do. Yes, of course.

MURRAY: A source familiar with the situation said OMB decided in July that military could be legally paused temporarily. By August, administration officials were concerned that Trump may not release the money at all, prompting a flurry of conversations in August about whether it was legal to keep the money on hold.

RASKIN: The president's got to come to Congress if he's going to hold that money for any reason and explain why there's a public interest to do so. But they just went ahead and held this up for the president's personal political scheming.

MURRAY: The revelations come as House Democrats shift to the next phase of impeachment, preparing a report to serve as the basis for articles of impeachment, while leaving the door open for more public hearings.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: We don't foreclose the possibility more depositions, more hearings. We are in the process of getting more documents all the time. So that investigative work is going to go on.

MURRAY: House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff telling Jake on "STATE OF THE UNION" the House isn't waiting around, even for potentially explosive witnesses like former National Security Adviser John Bolton.

SCHIFF: If we subpoena him, they will sue us in court. Now, he will have to explain one day if that -- if he maintains that position, why he wanted to wait to put it in a book, instead of tell the American people what he knew when it really mattered to the country.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, in his letter to colleague, Schiff says that the report that they are working on is going to lay out instances where people have failed to comply with subpoenas, so that the House can determine whether there should be an article of impeachment based on obstruction -- Erica.

HILL: Sara Murray's latest -- Sara, thank you.

So, Keith, as we know this report now coming after Thanksgiving. We could see obstruction added to the articles of impeachment. Is there enough to make that case?

KEITH BOYKIN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, given the fact that the White House has refused to comply with any subpoenas, the entire executive branch has refused to comply with any subpoenas, we have evidence now from reporters that there was a concerted effort to conceal any sort -- to create a cover-up, a post hoc cover-up for what took place with the Ukraine scandal.

I don't think there's any reason that they -- any justification for not having articles of impeachment that include some element of obstruction of justice. Remember, this was a critical element in the Nixon impeachment investigation as well, and also, of course, in the Clinton impeachment.

So I don't think that obstruction of justice is unreasonable. I think it's entirely likely to happen and completely justified, considering the stonewalling that is taking place.

HILL: When we look at what else we saw in this letter from Adam Schiff, he says the evidence of wrongdoing and misconduct is not in dispute, adding: "The fact that the president has uniformly instructed all executive branch agencies and senior officials to obstruct the investigation further demonstrates," Elie, "consciousness of guilt on the part of the president."

[16:05:08]

There's a lot of strong language in this letter, perhaps not entirely unexpected, let's be clear.

But what do you make of the points that Adam Schiff is making specifically in this dear colleague letter?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: When I look at this letter, it seems clear to me that he will be pursuing an article of impeachment for obstruction of Congress, on the basis Keith just said, plus on the witness intimidation, and possibly even on the Don McGahn, Robert Mueller information he mentioned.

He alludes to that in this letter. Now, consciousness of guilt, the phrase that we just saw, that really is just the basic commonsense notion that you don't hold back witnesses, you don't hold back evidence unless you are hiding something. And if you are, then it tells us something about what's going on in your mind. HILL: So, as we look at all that, as Sara just mentioned, Schiff told

-- Chairman Schiff told Jake over the weekend, he said, listen, there's nobody else scheduled.

But as to whether he's ready to impeach, he was a little bit evasive. I just want to play that moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Do you think President Trump should be impeached?

SCHIFF: I want to discuss this with my constituents and my colleagues before I make a final judgment on it.

TAPPER: You have also said that what you have seen is -- quote -- "far more serious than what Nixon did."

Explain to me how you have not come to the conclusion that the president should be impeached.

SCHIFF: Well, I certainly think that the evidence that's been produced overwhelmingly shows serious misconduct by the president.

But I do want to hear more from my constituents, and I want to hear more from my colleagues.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: So he says in the letter, what's left now to decide is whether the constitutional process of impeachment is warranted.

Do you see a scenario where, in fact, impeachment is not pursued?

PHILIP BUMP, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I mean, I could certainly visualize that scenario, particularly given the fact that Republicans are so obstinate in opposition to this.

I think Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, wants very much to have this be a process that moves forward to have the vote include some Republican votes. I don't think it's likely that they won't pursue articles of impeachment, but I can certainly see why there may be some internal deliberation, saying, hey, do we want to go through with this thing?

It's going to be framed as being strictly Democrats against Republicans, which itself isn't a fair frame, mind you, because Justin Amash, who is a representative from Michigan, was basically forced out of the Republican Party because he supported impeachment over the summer.

So there is, I guess, some bipartisanship in that sense. But I certainly do think that it is important to Representative Schiff, to Speaker Pelosi to some extent as well, to sort of present this as being a we are still in the deliberative process period here.

And I think that's part of why you hear that from Schiff.

HILL: Right, because there is a political calculus, Alice.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Sure. There is.

And I think it was very telling in the interview that he did with Jake over the weekend. Jake gave him several opportunities to come out full force saying, yes, we are ready to impeach, it is absolutely going to happen, and he was very reserved on this.

I think it's really important to remember, if you look back at the Clinton impeachment, as well as the Nixon impeachment, that was bipartisan. There were Republicans that were calling for this as well. We don't have that here.

And first and foremost, Nancy Pelosi was very hesitant to proceed with going down this road, unless there was overwhelming and compelling, as well as bipartisan support for that. They don't have that. And it's not a matter of the fact that Republicans are holding back for the sake of being Republican.

It's because they haven't seen the evidence. If anyone was going to come out and break ranks and sever themselves from Republicans, it would have been Congressman Will Hurd, who has a lot of problems with the president. But he was very clear in his statements last week, saying that he -- that impeachment needs to be compelling and needs to be overwhelming.

And he himself says he has not seen the evidence to move forward with impeachment.

HILL: Keith, if Democrats do not pursue this, are they harmed, especially moving into 2020?

BOYKIN: If they don't pursue impeachment?

I don't see any chance that they won't pursue impeachment.

And responding to Alice, I mean, Will Hurd was a disappointment for sure. But he said that the president's conduct was inappropriate. He just said it wasn't -- it wasn't impeachable.

And I think what's happened is the Republicans have decided that they have changed so much as a party, they're willing to march lockstep with Donald Trump across the cliff.

You say that the president of the United States can encourage a foreign government to interfere in our nation's elections, and that is not impeachable conduct, it's just inappropriate, that's wildly unacceptable for a future precedent it sets for other presidents in our country.

I don't think that's the direction we want to go as a country, not to mention the fact that you have plenty of other Republicans who have expressed concerns about what took place. Some, like Justin Amash, who is a former Republican, he would be -- it would be bipartisan, but he had to leave the party because he realized that there was no room in the party for disagreement and dissent.

And he would have made that a bipartisan impeachment process.

STEWART: I think it's also important. I mean, Will Hurd is not alone. There are a lot of Republicans, myself included, who have said from day one this is inappropriate, this is ill-advised, but it does not rise to the level of impeachment.

I was ready to go into this hearing with both eyes wide open. If there was anything more, anything further compelling evidence, I was willing to change my mind. I didn't see it.

BOYKIN: What would?

(CROSSTALK)

[16:10:02]

HILL: This discussion, we're going to have to leave.

(CROSSTALK)

HILL: But we have much more, don't you worry, coming up, including President Trump's Pentagon chief talking for the first time today, since this drama-filled weekend, which, of course, ended with the firing of the Navy secretary and a letter taking shots at the president.

Plus, our first look at the thieves who stole hundreds of priceless jewels and treasures in what could be the biggest museum heist since World War II.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:15:09]

HILL: In our national lead, today, the secretary of defense said it is time for the Navy to move on after a confusing and chaotic weekend that ended with the secretary of the navy being fired and a Navy SEAL found to have brought discredit to the armed services allowed to keep his SEAL status.

As CNN's Barbara Starr reports, this all comes after President Trump intervened in the controversial case despite warnings from some of his top military leaders.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump has now ordered the Pentagon to allow Eddie Gallagher to keep his status as a Navy SEAL

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's a great fighter. He was the -- one of the ultimate fighters. A tough guy.

STARR: The controversial case ended with a shocking firing of Navy Secretary Richard Spencer by Defense Secretary Mark Esper. Esper saying today that Spencer was conducting back-channel communications with the White House without telling him.

MARK ESPER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Secretary Spencer had proposed a deal whereby the president allowed the Navy to handle the case he could guarantee that Eddie Gallagher would be restored to rank, allowed to retain his Trident.

STARR: That would have meant a pre-cooked to deal for what was supposed to be an impartial process.

ESPER: We had no knowledge. We were flabbergasted by it.

STARR: Earlier this year, Gallagher was convicted of posing for a photo with the corpse of an ISIS fighter after being acquitted of premeditated murder and attempted murder. The president took a keen interest in the case repeatedly intervening on Gallagher's behalf, all of which could leave the Pentagon damaged.

DAVID LAPAN, FORMER PRESS SECRETARY & DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF MEDIA OPS, DHS: It makes it appear as if there is not accountability. That if people violate their oath or commit crimes, there is a way out. And they can be -- they can escape accountability if they get the president in their corner.

STARR: Spencer never acknowledged the backchannel talks in his forced resignation letter, writing: I no longer share the same understanding with the commander in chief who appointed me. I cannot in good conscious obey an order that I believe violates the sacred oath I took.

EDDIE GALLAGHER, NAVY SEAL: This is all about ego and retaliation. This has nothing to do with good order and discipline. They could have taken my trident at any time they wanted. Now, they're trying to take it after the president restored my rank.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: And now, Eddie Gallagher is expected to retire in just a few days at the end of the month with his SEAL status intact. Secretary Esper, the Pentagon chief, wants everybody to move on but it remains to be seen how long the very bad feelings will linger -- Erica.

HILL: Barbara Starr with the latest from the Pentagon -- Barbara, thank you.

Joining me now, Democratic Senator Gary Peters of Michigan. He's a former lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve and now serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

As you just heard senator, as you just heard Barbara say, Defense Secretary Esper says it's time to move on, to focus on the mission. You've said though that you believe this undermines the commanders.

What is your main concern? SEN. GARY PETERS (D-MI): Well, it does. The president's actions

undermine the commanders. Good order and discipline is absolutely critical in the military, particularly with the Navy SEALs. As you know, I'm ranking member of the sub-committee that actually oversees our special operations forces, these are incredible individuals that do incredible work but it's incumbent that we follow rule of law and the military code of justice and folks need to be held accountable if they are not within that code.

And we need to have that standard and that standard is important for the rest of the world to understand that the American military is the most professional force in the world because we uphold standards.

HILL: So following up on that, what precedent do you think this sets because it sounds as if you're saying the standards are being thrown out the window?

PETERS: Well, when you have the president engaged in this, there is a process that you go through. It's a military justice process. There are review boards. We're dealing right now actually in the SEAL community with a variety of issues that are a challenge to the culture.

I can tell you in the conversations with senior leaders of the U.S. Navy, it is something that has to be addressed. They are taking action. They're holding people accountable to standards that are not up to what you would expect of a U.S. Navy SEAL and they need to be allowed to do that.

And to have the president intervene for whatever political reason he thinks he needs to intervene really undermines what the Navy needs to do to maintain the professionalism that we are known for and is essential for our national security.

HILL: In terms of the professionalism, Richard Spencer in his letter wrote, quote: I no longer share the same understanding with the commander-in-chief who appointed me, in regards to the key principle of good order and discipline. He says, I cannot in good conscience obey an obey that I believe violates the sacred oath I took.

Is it right, if we're talking about standards, if we're talking about the way things are done, is it right for him to publicly rebuke his commander-in-chief?

[16:20:00]

PETERS: Well, I don't know the circumstances. I think we need to know more of exactly what happened. You know, you read that letter and we have something different from the secretary of defense. I think we need to have more facts as to what happened. This back and forth is confusing to everybody.

But I think the facts remains to have the president engaged in a disciplinary action that goes through the military justice process is simply a bad precedent to set and I think it damages the moral of the military as well. HILL: The president for his part just a short time ago in the oval

office this afternoon weighs in. Here is some of what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think what I'm doing is sticking up for our armed forces. And there has never been a president that is going to stick up for them and has like I have, including the fact that we spent $2.5 trillion on rebuilding our armed forces.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: I know you've talked about the process in place, but is this in any way a president -- do you see this as the president sticking up for the armed forces?

PETERS: Well, I don't see this. When you're dealing with the military justice system, you shouldn't intervene, which appears to be on a whim and perhaps motivated by something other than justice. I don't want to say what that may be because I don't know what that is. But we have a very comprehensive criminal justice system that holds people accountable when they are acting outside of the Uniform Court of Military Justice. And that is -- we need to stand for that. We've seen this president observe times believe that the rules don't apply to him and the laws don't apply to him and apparently he thinks he could extend that to other individuals in the military and I think that kind of breakdown of good order and discipline is not healthy for the military and it doesn't do anything to maintain the incredible professionalism that we are known for around the world.

HILL: Before we let you go, I just want to get your take on impeachment. You, of course, represent a state that the president won narrowly in 2016. A recent "New York Times" poll found more than half of voters in six battleground states including Michigan oppose impeaching President Trump and removing him from office.

Do you believe that this is worth the political risk for Democrats?

PETERS: Well, I think we have to see how it continues to play out. We're still -- the House is still finding facts. They're determining whether or not they will put articles of impeachment forward. They'll draft those. I think we need to see what is in the articles if they are passed.

And then, as you know, it comes to the Senate where a trial will be held. I will be a juror, along with my Senate colleagues and I just hope when it is all said and done that we're focused not on the politics, this is a very serious business put forward by our framers, our founders who thought it was important for Congress to have this power in order to be a check on the executive. They were particularly fearful of the abuse of power from the executive.

We have to treat those based on the facts and let the facts drive the discussion, because ultimately, whatever is decided, this could very well set a precedent for the behavior of future presidents and I think we need to be looking at this from a historical perspective and really understand how important it is to the future of our country.

HILL: Senator Gary Peters, appreciate your time today, thank you.

PETERS: Thank you.

HILL: Well, this is one we really haven't heard before. The new defense of President Trump which actually sounds a lot like what North Koreans call dictator, Kim Jong-un.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:28:14]

HILL: Never mind the consensus of the entire U.S. intelligence community or that top U.S. officials have said repeatedly it was Russia that interfered in the 2016 election, President Trump and now many of his allies want you to believe Ukraine was also up to the same dirty tricks.

As CNN's Boris Sanchez reports, the effort to sow doubt could impact what is next in the impeachment inquiry.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump today welcoming the prime minister of Bulgaria to the White House.

TRUMP: Well, we have a great friendship. They're great people.

SANCHEZ: While the president and allies continue to peddle debunked conspiracy theories about another Eastern European nation, making unfounded claims about Ukraine's involvement with Democrats during the 2016 election.

First, Trump went on Fox.

TRUMP: They gave the server to CrowdStrike or whatever it's called, which is a company-owned by a very wealthy Ukrainian and I still want to see that server. You know the FBI has never gotten that server.

STEVE DOOCY, FOX NEWS: Are you sure they gave it to Ukraine?

TRUMP: Well, that's what the word is.

SANCHEZ: Then this weekend his supporters in the Senate followed in his footsteps, Louisiana Senator John Kennedy casting doubt about Russia's meddling in 2016, contradicting not only the U.S. intelligence community but also the findings of his own colleagues on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST: Was it Russia or Ukraine?

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): I don't know. Nor do you. Nor do any of us. Ms. Hill is entitled to her --

WALLACE: Well, let me just interrupt to say the entire intelligence community says it was Russia.

KENNEDY: Right. But it could also be Ukraine. I'm not saying that I know one way or the other.

SANCHEZ: Another key Trump ally, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Devin Nunes now facing questions about his ties to Ukraine, an attorney for indicted Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas --

[16:30:00]