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Rep. Adam Smith (D-Washington's 9th Congressional District) On White House Review Showing Effort To Justify Trump's Decision to Block Ukraine Aid; Republicans Buy Into Trump Conspiracies To Blunt Impeachment; Lawyers Push Back On William Barr's Defense Of Presidential Powers. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired November 25, 2019 - 07:30   ET

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


[07:30:00]

REP. ADAM SMITH (D-WASHINGTON'S 9TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT): He released the aid after he got caught -- two days after it became clear that the whistleblower was out there. And if you've ever seen a CYA e-mail that's exactly what the president sent to Gordon Sondland.

Ooh, we're caught. Hey, gosh -- no, we're not doing this -- no quid pro quo. We didn't ask for anything. It never happened. We're going to run away from here.

And what's troubling to me as a member of Congress, I serve with these members and by and large, I like them and I work with them. They're lying to the American people and then they're coming to people like me and saying well, the public doesn't support this so how can we possibly go forward with impeachment.

Like, well maybe if you weren't lying to them on a day-in and day-out basis the public would be in a different place. Let's be honest with the American people and make the right choice.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Given that you will not be able to remove the president from office --

SMITH: Right.

BERMAN: -- unless something changes in the Senate, why then, as a Democratic chair, do you believe this is all worth it?

SMITH: Well, first of all, I want to work on it. I don't really want to be involved in impeachment.

We've got a -- I'm trying to pass a defense bill right now, which is an incredibly complicated process because I say it's -- I've got to get President Trump, Nancy Pelosi, and Mitch McConnell to agree. It's proving complicated. These are important issues.

But can we really, as members of Congress, say it's OK for the president to use taxpayer money to extort a foreign country to interfere in the election on his behalf? I just don't see how as a member of Congress I can say yeah, that's good. Let's let this president do it and hopefully, all future presidents will say this is the way you should use the power of the office. It's wrong and we as members of Congress have to make it clear.

And at a minimum, Republicans need to stop lying about what happened and then make a legitimate, honest argument. They can say look, I don't think it rises to the level of impeachment but the dishonesty in this process is deeply troubling.

BERMAN: Some are -- some are saying bad but not impeachable. But not all are saying that.

SMITH: But even the ones who are saying bad but not impeachable are clinging to stuff like well, you know, he released the aid. Well, it never happened, you know. He never got the -- he never -- he never got what supposedly he was promised.

So I'm really troubled by the way this is playing out.

BERMAN: Mr. Chairman, Adam Smith, thanks for being with us in the studio this morning. Have a safe trip back to Washington for Thanksgiving.

SMITH: Thank you.

BERMAN: Bianna --

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN ANCHOR: Congressman Smith just touched on this. The Republicans are buying into President Trump's conspiracies to try to blunt the impact of the impeachment hearings. We'll show you the latest baseless claim, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:36:33]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": 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's correct that Russia tried to interfere in 2016. Also, Ukrainians, themselves, tried to interfere also.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: That quote from John Kennedy, Senator from Louisiana, is stunning --

GOLODRYGA: Stunning.

BERMAN: -- is stunning. He went to Oxford. He knows -- he knows what the Intelligence Community says. He knows it was Russia that tried to meddle and did, in fact, attack the U.S. election in 2016.

Joining us now is Michael Smerconish, host of CNN's "SMERCONISH."

What's John Kennedy playing at there, Michael? He knows -- he knows what the Intelligence Community says, he knows what the facts are, and he knows what Vladimir Putin wants is for him to say maybe it was Ukraine.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN HOST, "SMERCONISH": I think this whole process has been a testament to the deep polarization in the country. As compelling as many of us find the evidence that was forthcoming from those hearings, I don't think they were a game changer.

The conservative media has remained lockstep in its support of the president. There hasn't been a bottom-up groundswell from the American people. And so, we probably are at the out -- at the conclusion of these hearings exactly -- we're at the outset and the testimony that was offered really has not moved the needle.

GOLODRYGA: But aside from what we just heard from Sen. Kennedy and how outrageous that was, we also know that many members of Congress were briefed by the Intelligence Community about Russia's role in trying to point the finger on Ukraine. They've been doing this for the past year or so gearing up for the 2020 election.

And I ask this with all sincerity. If they can't believe the Intelligence Community -- all 17 agencies -- what's the point of having an Intelligence Community?

SMERCONISH: Well, I think they probably do believe the Intelligence Committee (sic). I think that the senator knows better.

But the direction is coming from the president and where the president has made this a part of his defense narrative that there's still some confusion. That's why he, in the July 25 telephone conversation, was making that request of President Zelensky to look at CrowdStrike.

I think that they're afraid of him and they're afraid, specifically, of being primaried where he holds such sway over those type of Republican voters who come out in closed primaries. That's really the rub of this.

BERMAN: It is interesting because the bad but not impeachable argument is one thing. What we just heard from John Kennedy was another, which is the facts that were being told aren't, in fact, the facts.

And it does harken to a quote from a former Republican president, Michael, that I imagine you're fond of. Teddy Roosevelt said once -- I'm going to read the quote from Teddy Roosevelt. "To announce that there must be no criticism of the president or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile but is morally treasonable to the American public."

That's a pretty stark warning from the -- from the late president.

SMERCONISH: Yes, and it seems applicable to the times in which we live.

[07:40:00]

But look, it's frustrating. Facts don't appear to matter to a certain segment of our society and so no amount of presentation of data and evidence seems to reach some folks where they are so dug in and eager to believe the talking points that they are being provided by their leaders. And their leaders aren't necessarily members of Congress. Their leaders are largely men with microphones.

BERMAN: That's a really good point.

GOLODRYGA: Right.

And that also shows, once again, another victory for Vladimir Putin just to sow chaos, right, and distrust within the democracy here in the United States. It's just stunning what we continue to see on a daily basis.

And the fact that you say, point-blank, everybody knows better -- everybody knows. All of these Republican congressmen and senators who sit here and say I don't know, they do know that Russia was behind this and it's a huge disservice they're doing for their constituents and this country.

And another thing I'd like to point out because it speaks to who you say really stood out over these two weeks are the 12 diplomats and public servants that we heard from testifying one after another, saying that they are not partisan, that they are just fact witnesses. And all of these fact witnesses really seem to speak truth to power in many cases and, once again, pointing the finger at Russia.

SMERCONISH: I'm mindful of the fact that we're about a week away from an annual process where "Time" magazine determines who should be the person or group of the year, keeping in mind that the criteria -- the individual or individuals who most influenced the news events. So that's for better or worse. I mean, Stalin and Hitler were recipients in the past, as well as a whole host of good men and good women.

And I think that the right call this year is that the diplomats would be so recognized. Where would we be without these individuals who normally toil in obscurity but because of a sense of patriotism have been willing to come forward and tell a story where they think our government is really way off the tracks, and to do so at great peril?

I hope that "Time" takes into consideration what we've just witnessed in the last two weeks because I think it's a pretty obvious call.

GOLODRYGA: I think it's a great call.

BERMAN: Michael Smerconish's nomination as opposed to something "Time" often does, which is say you -- you are "Time's" person of the year or --

GOLODRYGA: Shadow figure, right?

BERMAN: Yes, exactly. Vegetables are "Time's" person of the year. You know, they always -- you know, can throw a curveball at you at the end.

Michael Smerconish, thanks so much for being with us.

GOLODRYGA: Thank you.

Fiona Hill has my vote.

Well, a stunning landslide victory and it truly was stunning for pro- democracy parties in Hong Kong's district council elections. Opposition candidates took nearly 90 percent of the seats that were up for grabs. Heading into Sunday's elections, all 18 district councils were controlled by pro-Beijing parties. All but one have now flipped to pro-democratic control.

The election puts more pressure on Hong Kong's leader, Carrie Lam, whose pro-China policies have caused months of violent protests. They had a 70 percent turnout.

BERMAN: South Korean police say they found a note in the living room of K-Pop star Goo Hara, who died in her home in Seoul on Sunday. Police presume it is a suicide note but have not commented on a cause of death.

Back in May, the 28-year-old singer and actress was found unconscious in her home after posting "goodbye" on Instagram. She recovered but the incident renewed the debate over pressure facing K-Pop stars. Two others have died in apparent suicides since 2017.

GOLODRYGA: A really sad headline this morning.

Well, the 49ers made a statement on Sunday night by dominating the Packers. Carolyn Manno has more in the "Bleacher Report." Good morning.

CAROLYN MANNO, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning.

The 9ers are good. They're really good. I don't know why nobody ever says that.

They've been proving to doubters all year. Are there any doubters left after last night?

San Francisco's dominant defense all over Aaron Rodgers. From the start, they forced a fumble on the opening drive, the first of five sacks on the night. Rodgers had one of the worst nights of his career. He threw for just 104 yards.

Meantime, Jimmy Garoppolo and his offense took control from there. Garoppolo, nearly perfect, hits a wide-open George Kittle -- 61-yard touchdown. Kittle's so tough, playing through injuries. San Francisco rolls 37 to eight.

Meantime, a rainy, nasty, windy Foxboro proving to be too much for the Cowboys. Special teams captain Matthew Slater so reliable. Huge blocked punt late in the first quarter.

BERMAN: That's amazing.

MANNO: It's just -- this is the moment of the game. He does it all the time -- gives Tom Brady and company a short field.

And then, of course, we know what Tom Brady knows what to do. He throws the only touchdown of the game to the rookie N'Keal Harry. He continues to prove himself through a couple of games. Pats defense coming through once again -- 13-9 the final as New England is now 10 and one.

And I love this. Thanksgiving starting early for this Bears fan miraculously managing to sneak -- that is an entire pumpkin pie and a can of whipped cream --

GOLODRYGA: Oh.

MANNO: -- into Soldier Field -- oh -- during the Giants game.

I understand this because the Bears are terrible. They're four and six. You need comfort food, right -- emotional eating.

[07:45:04]

But how did he get an aerosol can through security at Soldier Field?

GOLODRYGA: Maybe security gave it to him. Who knows?

MANNO: I hope -- I hope, by the way, that he cut off a slice of that and gave it to a Giants fan because they're two and nine, so --

BERMAN: Or maybe he brought no fork and that he pulled -- he was out of forks.

MANNO: Yes, eat it with his hands, right.

BERMAN: That would be impressive.

MANNO: I've not seen a fork doing the research. I have not seen a fork.

BERMAN: Soldier Field, you might see one.

Thanks, Carolyn. Appreciate it.

GOLODRYGA: Well, Uber is banned from operating in one of the world's largest cities. We'll tell you about that, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:50:38]

BERMAN: It is time for "CNN Business."

Uber has suffered a huge setback this morning in one of the world's most important cities.

Our chief business correspondent and star of "EARLY START" Christine Romans here with the breaking details -- Romans.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT, ANCHOR, "EARLY START": Good morning, you guys.

Uber just lost its license to operate in London. The region's transit and taxi regulator will not renew Uber's license when it expires tonight at midnight, finding Uber is, quote, "not fit and proper to hold a license."

The London Transport Authority said Uber allowed passengers to get into cars with drivers potentially unlicensed and uninsured. The regulator acknowledged Uber made some improvements but cited a pattern of failures that placed passenger safety and security at risk.

This is not the first time. The city declined Uber's license back in 2017, concerned by how Uber responded to serious crimes.

Now, Uber says it has audited every single London Uber driver in the past two months and called the decision extraordinary and wrong. Uber will appeal and it can keep operating in London through that appeal process.

Meantime at the U.S. box office --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLIP FROM DISNEY'S "FROZEN 2."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: -- "Frozen 2" buried its competition this weekend. Anna, Elsa, and Olaf nabbing another record for Disney. "Frozen 2" brought in an estimated $127 million at the weekend box office, the highest- grossing debut ever for an animated film.

It has been Disney's year, you guys, with five films raking in $1 billion, including "Avengers: Endgame," "Toy Story 4," and "The Lion King." "Frozen 2" is on its way to become maybe number six.

Its success comes at the perfect time. The North American box office, this year, is down roughly seven percent compared to last year.

Disney could get another record with this one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLIP FROM "STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" opens December 20th. May the force be with you, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Oh, and you, too. I can -- can I just say that I contributed to that record for "Frozen."

ROMANS: Did you?

GOLODRYGA: The family all saw it this weekend.

ROMANS: There you go.

GOLODRYGA: Absolutely right.

ROMANS: That you did.

GOLODRYGA: It was great. Thank you.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

GOLODRYGA: Well, Attorney General Bill Barr has proven to be a loyal defender of the president's actions in the White House, but a recent speech at the Federalist Society is drawing criticism from a group of conservative lawyers who say his view of presidential power is unsupported by history.

Joining me now, Paul Rosenzweig, former senior counsel to Ken Starr. And, Stuart Gerson, former adviser to President George H.W. Bush. They are both members of the group Checks and Balances. Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us.

And I want to begin with that letter and quoting from that.

You write, "In recent months, we have become concerned by the conduct of Attorney General William Barr. Barr rewrote history with the unsupported claim that his view of presidential power was shared by the founders. Barr's view of history, including his claim that the founders shared in any respect his vision of an unchecked president and his assertion that this view was dominant until it came under attack from courts and Congress a few decades ago, has no factual basis."

So, Paul, let me begin with you. Why do you believe that it has no factual basis?

PAUL ROSENZWEIG, FORMER SENIOR COUNSEL TO KEN STARR, SENIOR FELLOW, R STREET INSTITUTE: Well, because it doesn't. The very first Congress conducted oversight investigations of President George Washington. One of the very first courts ruled that it had authority as a judicial branch to oversee the executive and direct it not to follow unconstitutional laws.

To say that the assault on presidential authority is a novel thing is wrong. Plus -- I mean, just to finish it all off, that's why we fought a revolution against the unchecked authority of an executive branch.

GOLODRYGA: And, Stuart, we know that the attorney general spoke at the Federalist Society last week to a round of applause from the audience there, and he basically asserted that the president never overstepped his authority. So how was he wrong?

STUART GERSON, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL, FORMER ADVISER TO GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Well, he has a categorical view of presidential authority that is, frankly, incorrect. He describes the unitary executive theory which I, myself, have argued in support of a president's war powers. But all that says is that the executive branch is one body and speaks with one voice that's the president's.

There are three co-equal branches and that's what the framers had in mind. It wasn't just an authoritarian that the -- that the framers wanted to ensure against; it was authoritarianism -- tyranny. And by setting up checks and balances that's exactly what happened.

[07:55:07]

A good example of a judge recognizing that recently is our case in Texas where the president, irrespective of his powers, attempted to reprogram money that was denied to him by the Congress. That's invading an Article I power. The president seems to think that Article II, and he's said so, lets him do anything that he wants. He's wrong, both actually in terms of the structural Constitution and his historically.

GOLODRYGA: And in terms of the impeachment investigation now, I was struck by an angle that the attorney general took in that speech at the Federalist Society, Paul, and I want to get your reaction to this. Because in the speech, he seemed to allude that those who are trying to go after the president in this impeachment inquiry are denying the right of voters, right?

And so, we're seeing this from many Republicans -- a talking point from Republicans in Congress and from the White House itself saying that they're trying to subvert an election. With an election year just around the corner, why go down the path of impeachment?

ROSENZWEIG: Well, as a political judgment, that might be something that the attorney general could advance as a reason for avoiding impeachment. But as a legal judgment it's just wrong and almost frivolously wrong.

The idea that an impeachment cannot happen in an election year is tantamount to saying that impeachment can't happen during a first term in office when a president might again face reelection. Quite to the contrary.

The framers actually considered whether or not the House should have an impeachment power and the Senate a trial power. And they even considered whether or not that would give the Legislature too much power. And they decided against it precisely because the maintenance of norms of behavior was too important an issue to let only be decided during election times. GOLODRYGA: And no surprise that the Justice Department has not responded to requests for comments to your letter.

I'm curious as to what finally led you to this point because many people have been questioning over the past few months the statements and the actions taken by the attorney general in terms of really upholding the power that he thinks lies in the executive office.

GERSON: Well, we're conservatives. We believe in the Constitution, we believe in the institutions of the country, and we see those being subverted.

And most of us, I think, have probably voted Republican in every election we've ever voted in. But it's important from the conservative side to speak to the values that we think are what makes America great not again, but always has made America great, and that we feel a moral and legal imperative to speak in favor of the rule of law.

GOLODRYGA: And why do you think, Paul, that we're not hearing more Republicans not just on this issue of the attorney general and his actions, but of the things we've heard from this White House and other members of Congress questioning whether Russia was really interfering in 2016, pointing the finger towards Ukraine as well?

Why do you think we are not hearing from more Republicans just in terms of speaking out if they disagree with something, conservative or not?

ROSENZWEIG: I think it has to be putting results over principle. We have a phrase for it -- it's called "But Gorsuch," right? Yes, he's terrible in pardoning war criminals, "But Gorsuch."

Yes -- and I think that kind of describes it. People like the result and so they're willing to swallow their principles.

GOLODRYGA: Does it bother you gentlemen -- both of you, I'll ask of this as we end this -- that the president refers to supporters as to whether or not they're never-Trumpers or those who support him that he narrows it down to just those labels?

GERSON: Well, I think many of our colleagues have buttons noting that we're legal scum in the eyes -- in the eyes -- in the eyes of the president. We feel honored by the apalasion (ph) that we're part of an honorable resistance and we're speaking for American values -- things that we hope are going to last and be restored long after this president is out of office, one way or another.

GOLODRYGA: It's an interesting time to be alive.

Gentlemen, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.

ROSENZWEIG: Thank you.

GOLODRYGA: John --

BERMAN: Thanks to our international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN NEWSROOM" with Max Foster is next.

For our U.S. viewers, controversy and confusion over the sudden firing of the Navy secretary. NEW DAY continues right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Navy Sec. Richard Spencer forced to resign for going outside the chain of command.

EDDIE GALLAGHER, U.S. NAVY SEAL SPECIAL WARFARE OPERATOR: They could have taken my Trident any time they wanted and now they're trying to take it after the president restored my rank.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: "The Washington Post" reports that an internal review shows an extensive effort by the White House to justify President Trump's decision to block Ukraine aid.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The Office of Management and Budget is denying that anything improper took place.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They didn't hear anybody say bribery, no; extortion, no; quid pro quo, no.

SCHIFF: It's really not contested what the president did. What is open to question is whether members of Congress are going to do their duty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

BERMAN: Good morning and welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Monday, November 25th.

END