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GOP Embraces Debunked Conspiracy Theories That Benefit Russia; WAPO: Mulvaney Sought Legal Justification For Aid Freeze In Early August E-mail Exchanges; Today Judge Decides If White House Counsel Don McGahn Must Testify; Rick Perry: President Trump "God's Chosen One"; Rep. Devin Nunes Faces Possible Ethics Investigation. Aired 1:30-2p ET
Aired November 25, 2019 - 13:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN HOST: Two weeks of incriminating testimony in the House impeachment inquiry hasn't seemed to erode the strong bond between President Trump and his Republican supporters. If anything, it has driven some of them to conjure up conspiracies and disinformation to obscure the serious allegations leveled against the president.
One of the biggest conspiracy theories of all is that Ukraine was behind 2016 U.S. election attacks despite overwhelming evidence that Russia was to behind it.
As Fiona Hill, the president's own top Russia adviser, testified last week, the Ukraine conspiracy theory itself is Russian propaganda.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FIONA HILL, FORMER TOP RUSSIA EXPERT: Some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country and that, perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did. This is a fictional narrative that is being perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: And despite, two sitting Republican Senators went on television this weekend and said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST: Who do you believe was responsible for hacking the DNC and Clinton campaign computers, their e-mails? Was it Russia or Ukraine?
SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): I don't know. Nor do you. Nor do any of us.
WALLACE: The entire Intelligence Community says it was Russia.
KENNEDY: Right, but it could also be Ukraine.
SEN. ROGER WICKER, (R-MS): She is correct that Russia tried to interfere in 2016. Also, Ukrainians themselves tried to interfere also.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: Just makes you want to pull your hair out.
CNN's Oliver Darcy is with me.
Oliver, I said this morning that R.T. couldn't have been a better segment considering that they are questioning facts that our own Intelligence Communities have told us.
And these Senators know better. So why are they saying what they are saying? Is it just to protect the president?
OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: It is alarming to hear them basically refuse to accept the Intelligence Community's assessment that Russia was the one who meddled in the 2016 elections.
But it really does show how beholden they are to right wing media. They know their voters are getting information from the FOX News world, the talk radio world, the "Breitbarts" of the world. And in that world, you know, Ukraine I guess is now the one that meddled in the election.
And these GOP Senators don't want to contradict that. They can't because their voters are being fed this steady diet of conspiracy theories. So they are trying to take this narrative that has been constructed in the FOX News world and bringing it into reality.
And it falls apart when Chris Wallace pushes back and says but the Intelligence Community says this and they really have no good answers because there are no good answers.
GOLODRYGA: Right, I don't know and you don't know.
GOLODRYGA: How much damage is caused by the president, just hours after Fiona Hill testified that Russia was propagating this disinformation, goes on FOX News for an hour and spews that very same disinformation?
DARCY: And he even faced a little bit of pushback from the "FOX and Friends" hosts. This is the friendliest corner in the universe for the president. Even they are having trouble digesting some of the stuff he is trying to push on their air.
There's really no words to describe this behavior. I don't know what to make of it other than the president and his allies are trying to construct a reality that is beneficial to them and full of conspiracy theories. That is really the bottom line.
GOLODRYGA: It is beneficial to them and to Russia. And U.S. intelligence officials will say that we are not prepared to tackle this especially when you have sitting members of Congress and the president still questioning it.
GOLODRYGA: Oliver Darcy, great to see you. Thank you so much.
DARCY: Thank you.
GOLODRYGA: A search for legal justification after the fact. Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, reportedly looking for answers from his own Office of Management and Budget.
The "Washington Post" reports that e-mails show Mulvaney was trying to find a legal reason or, rather, a legal explanation for the president's decision to withhold aid from Ukraine.
Let me bring in Carrie Cordero, a CNN legal analyst and former counsel to the U.S. assistant attorney general.
Carrie, great to see you as always.
I want your reaction to the latest headlines from the "Washington Post" where it does appear that Mick Mulvaney and OMB officials were trying to find justification for withholding that aid. What does that tell you? And what does that mean legally?
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: What's interesting is, in a normal circumstance, it would not be uncommon for different agencies, inner agencies, the White House and an agency, others involved in the inner- agency process to have disagreements about whether something is legal, whether a particular appropriation or particular budget issue or decision could be justified.
What is different about this situation is that Mick Mulvaney was in the unique position of knowing what was going on in the White House as chief of staff, in other words, the president's reasons, his real reasons for withholding the aid.
And then he was going back to the OMB, which he actually was the head of as well, to try to see if they could justify through the agency process a legal reason why the aid could be withheld.
So it is this issue again where you have one thing going on with the individuals who are closest to the president and one set of activities, and then you have them pressing on the agencies to try to use the regular levers of government to explain what is otherwise in- explainable.
GOLODRYGA: Carrie, let me switch gears and ask you about a decision that we're expecting today from a federal court judge on whether Don McGahn can testify. If this judge rules that he can testify, what does that mean going forward for others who these committee members have subpoenaed to testify as well, specifically John Bolton?
CORDERO: McGahn would be an interesting person for the court to rule because he was not just a White House official but he was a lawyer. And so of anybody who might be afforded the most levels of privileges, executive and attorney/client privilege, Don McGahn would be that person.
So I think a court decision that says that he could testify would be very significant. It certainly could be interpreted to free up other former or current White House officials, like Mick Mulvaney, who is under subpoena, like John Bolton, who has been unwilling to testify before Congress.
On the other hand, the White House will probably appeal a decision. So they might have some wiggle room to say, well, now we'll wait until the next court's decision.
GOLODRYGA: And Democrats said, they are not willing to play rope-a- dope as it is decided in the courts.
Carrie Cordero, appreciate you coming on.
CORDERO: Thank you.
GOLODRYGA: Thank you so much.
"God's chosen one" -- that is how Energy Secretary Rick Perry described President Trump in an interview this weekend. How a Catholic priest feels about that declaration.
Plus, why one of Trump's biggest defenders on the powerful House Intelligence Committee is facing a potential ethics investigation.
GOLODRYGA: Energy Secretary Rick Perry made an interesting declaration about President Trump and how he came to be president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICK PERRY, ENERGY SECRETARY: God has used imperfect people all through history. King David wasn't perfect. Saul wasn't perfect. Solomon wasn't perfect.
And I actually gave the president a little one pager on those the Old Testament kings about a month ago. And I shared it with him.
And I said, Mr. President, I know there are people that say -- you know, you said you were the chosen one. And I said, you were. I said, if you are a believing Christian, you understand God's plan for the people who rule and judge over us on this planet in our government. (END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: Perry also says that he and other evangelicals in the administration have tried to minister to the president in the White House.
Trump has also invited evangelical leaders to the White House for prayer as he tries to hang on to his crucial support from evangelical voters heading into the 2020 election.
I want to bring in Father Edward Beck, a Roman Catholic priest and CNN religion commentator, and old friend of mine.
Great to see you. Thank you so much for joining us.
FATHER EDWARD BECK, CNN RELIGION COMMENTATOR: Thank you.
GOLODRYGA: I want to get your reaction to Perry's comments.
BECK: Well, the interpretation of scripture is so faulty. Like many fundamentalists. You cannot literally interpret scripture. These are ancient texts written for an ancient situation by ancients.
So to lift it up and say, well, this is what happened then, this is how we understood God, and this is what God is doing now, just like King David, and it's just faulty theology and faulty interpretation.
GOLODRYGA: And Perry is not the only administration official and cabinet member who has compared the president to the chosen one and Messiah.
I want to play you a clip of what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said about him earlier this year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could it be that President Trump right now has been sort of raised for such a time as this, just like Netanyahu (ph) to help save the Jewish people from an Iranian menace?
MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: As a Christian I certainly believe that is possible.
I'm confident that the Lord is at work here.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think God calls all of us to fill different roles at different times. And I think that he wanted Donald Trump to become president and that is why he is there.
And I think that he has done a tremendous job in supporting a lot of the things that people of faith really care about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[13:45:12] GOLODRYGA: And where there seems to be a disconnect, and not that there's anything wrong with it, is that this president has never approached life through a Biblical lens. He's never been very religious. He's said that he has nothing to repent for.
So what do you make of those surrounding him constantly saying things that you just heard?
BECK: Well, I don't think that they are seeing the man for who he is. If you look at what we were talking about before, he mentions, Rick Perry, King David and Solomon and Saul. David was an adulterer, who had the woman he lusted after her husband killed so he could marry her. That was the king of Israel.
But he eventually repents. He sees the fault of his ways, he asks for forgiveness, and God works through David.
But this is a president who has said, I have nothing to be forgiven for. Never says I'm sorry. Sees nothing wrong with his behavior.
So for me, if the hallmarks are not love, compassion, mercy, forgiveness -- that is where you know where God is and what God is ordaining -- and if you don't see that in a leader, I think that you can assume this leader is not of God.
So if others around him, to kind of shore this up, I think that again it is feeding the beast and it is feeding a very faulty interpretation of theology and scripture.
Which I think is a dangerous one. Therefore, you can say, well, we're in impeachment hearings, did God make a mistake by ordaining this president as he chosen one? So now maybe he'll be impeached so God has to say, I'm sorry, I was wrong. What kind of God is that, a capricious God? So if you go down this road, it is a dead end.
GOLODRYGA: Fascinating to get your perspective.
Father, great to see you again.
BECK: Thank you. Bianna.
GOLODRYGA: Appreciate it.
BECK: You, too.
GOLODRYGA: One of the president's biggest defenders could be facing a potential ethics probe. Why Devin Nunes is having to answer questions about his dealings in Ukraine.
GOLODRYGA: Democrats want more investigations into alleged meetings between the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee and a former Ukrainian prosecutor. A lawyer for an indicted associate of President Trump's personal
lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, told CNN his client is willing to tell Congress about meetings that Congressman Devin Nunes allegedly had last year in Vienna to discuss digging up dirt on Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden.
Nunes was asked about this over the weekend and here's what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARIA BARTIROMO, FOX BUSINESS HOST: Bottom line, were you in Vienna with Shokin?
REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA) (voice-over): Yes, so, look, Maria, I really want to answer all these questions and I promise you I will come back on the show to answer these questions. But because there is criminal activity here, we're working with the appropriate law enforcement agency. We're going to file all this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: CNN's Vicky Ward broke this story. She's joining me now on set.
Vicky, great to see you. Great reporting.
VICKY WARD, CNN SENIOR REPORTER: Thanks.
GOLODRYGA: That was not a no.
GOLODRYGA: He could have said no.
WARD: Yes. It's a very simple sentence to get out.
GOLODRYGA: What is your takeaway from what he said?
WARD: He's in an embarrassing difficult predicament, right? You have Democrats calling for an ethics investigation to this.
Look at the optics. He is the senior Republican presiding over impeachment hearings, investigating whether or not there was a shadow foreign policy in the Ukraine that was essentially to benefit the president personally. It was a political mission, not one done for national security.
It turns out, according to what Lev Parnas' lawyer is claiming, that Lev Parnas wants to tell Congress that Devin Nunes was a part of that, and he hasn't disclosed his role in. That is a conflict. Of course, he's now in a difficult position.
Just to go back. What his lawyer has told us that Parnas wants to testify to Congress is that Devin Nunes went to Vienna last September to meet with Viktor Shokin, the fired former prosecutor general of the Ukraine, who claims to have dirt on Joe Biden, who had a part in his firing.
And Devin Nunes did not disclose this trip to Congress, because he timed it deliberately to take place after the midterm elections and before the Democrats began the new session. At which point, he would have had to disclose the details.
Further, Parnas' lawyer said Parnas wants to testify that Devin Nunes and an aid to Devin Nunes actually recruited Parnas, working with Giuliani to be a part of their investigation.
This is messy.
GOLODRYGA: And their corroborating evidence that Shokin was, in fact, corrupt not only from the U.S. but also from the IMF and the E.U. as well.
GOLODRYGA: The guest is, will Democrats hear from him --
GOLODRYGA: -- hear from the lawyer or hear from Rudy Giuliani's associate, Lev Parnas, because he is a questionable figure as well?
You will stay on this case. And we appreciate it.
WARD: I certainly will.
GOLODRYGA: Thank you so much.
A manhunt underway after one of the biggest jewelry heists in modern history, involving a castle and a $1 billon-worth of jewelry.
Plus, a sheriff approaches a car over loud music and is shot to death allegedly by the son of a deputy. The chilling new developments straight ahead.