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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Trump Heads to NATO Meeting; White House Refuses to Participate in Impeachment Hearing. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired December 2, 2019 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to a two-hour edition of THE LEAD: "White House in Crisis." I'm Jake Tapper in Washington.
President Trump today attacked Wednesday's House Judiciary Committee hearing on impeachment, calling it a -- quote -- "hoax." The White House announced the last night that it is refusing to participate in that hearing, rejecting the opportunity to send lawyers or questions.
And just moments ago, the head of the Judiciary Committee responded to the White House.
Let's get straight to CNN senior White House correspondent Pamela Brown.
Pamela, how did President Trump explain the White House decision?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, once again, the president of reiterated today as he was leaving for London that the impeachment inquiry is illegitimate.
And he cited the fact that the Judiciary Committee is holding its first hearing while the president is in London for NATO meetings as proof of that. Here's what the president had to say:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Why don't you send one your lawyers to represent your point of view before the House impeachment inquiry?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because the whole thing is a hoax. Everybody knows it.
All you have to do is look at the words of the Ukrainian president that he just issued, and you know it's a hoax. It's an absolute disgrace, what they're doing to our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: And he's talking about this interview that President Zelensky of Ukraine gave to "TIME" magazine, where he said he wasn't talking to President Trump from the position of quid pro quo, and that, as a strategic ally, aid should not have been blocked. But certainly the president and White House lawyers have been arguing
that they are not afforded the same rights as past presidents during impeachment probes. They cite the fact they haven't been able to weigh in on scheduling, that they haven't been able to provide the fact witnesses or know exactly who they are.
And so these are some of the issues that they are raising, Jake, arguing that that is why they're not participating in this first round of hearings.
The question is, will the White House participate moving forward? As one White House official said, I spoke with today, said, look, if we do participate, then we would only legitimize this proceeding that we have constantly argued is illegitimate.
And so that's where the quandary the White House is working with is.
TAPPER: And, Pamela, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler of New York, he just responded to the White House.
What did he have to say?
BROWN: Yes, that's right.
He called this decision by the White House to not participate in this first round of hearings as unfortunate. He went on to say: "The American people deserve transparency. If the president thinks the call was perfect, and there is nothing to hide, then he would turn over the thousands of pages of documents requested by Congress, allow witnesses to testify, instead of blocking testimony with baseless privilege claims, and provide any exculpatory information that refutes the overwhelming evidence of his abuse of power."
This is an argument Democrats have made repeatedly, that, if there is nothing to hide, if there is this exculpatory information, then why don't those in the president's inner circle participate?
TAPPER: All right, Pamela Brown, thanks so much.
In just a few hours, members of the House Intelligence Committee will get their first look at the report drafted by committee staff that lays out the case, as they see it, against President Trump in the Ukraine scandal, essentially the evidence to be used for his impeachment.
Tomorrow, members of that Intelligence Committee will vote on whether or not to forward the report to the House Judiciary Committee, which is holding its first public impeachment hearing on Wednesday.
CNN congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly is on Capitol Hill for us right now.
And, Phil, what do we know about this Intelligence Committee report and then what comes next?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, you can consider this week the starting gun of the final sprint to impeach President Trump.
This report, which members will get to review here in a couple hours, has been closely held. Only staff and certain members have been able to view it up to this point, but it's expected to be a lengthy narrative that essentially sets the backbone of the case for impeaching President Trump, a backbone that will serve as the basis for the Judiciary Committee, which will start its own action Wednesday to draft articles of impeachment.
At this point, members have been discussing articles related to potential obstruction, articles related to abuse of power, several different issues that they will be delving into in the weeks ahead.
But the endgame is now quite clear. Over the course of the next three weeks, Democrats will continue to build the case, whether the White House participates or not, based on evidence they believe is damning, evidence you saw in the past hearings up to this point, evidence that will be laid out in detail and in full in this report, and evidence that will be gone through in these House Judiciary Committee hearings over the course of the next couple of weeks, again, all ending likely before Christmas, in a full House vote to impeach President Trump.
TAPPER: And, Phil, we have learned that Congressman Mark Meadows, a Republican from North Carolina and a Trump ally, who's not on the House Intelligence Committee, Meadows has requested to see the report.
Is there any indication that he will be allowed to do that?
MATTINGLY: Yes, I would say that's unlikely, at best, at this point in time.
Look, it's an Intelligence Committee product. Intelligence Committee members will get to review it. And then, tomorrow night, Intelligence Committee members will be able to vote on it before it's released publicly.
One thing to keep in mind, though, Republicans have been working on their own version of a report, minority views, if you will, that will kind of set the stage of their view on things. Keep an eye out on that as well. That will likely lay out the backbone of the president's defense as this moves on to the next stage as well, Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill.
Joining me now is Elie Honig, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Elie, the White House argument is that they're not going to participate, because, one, they don't know who the witnesses are going to be, and, two, they don't know if President Trump will get a fair treatment.
Is that reasonable on legal grounds? Is it reasonable on political grounds? ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Jake, I think the White House really has a binary choice here.
Either they can engage on the merits the, facts, the substance,, or they can sit it out and claim to be the victims of an unfair procedure. And I think they have clearly chosen the latter point of view.
Now, that said, they do have a little bit of a point in the fact that Jerry Nadler has -- as of yesterday, when the deadline hit, has not specified who the witnesses will be on Wednesday, who are going -- who are these constitutional scholars going to be?
And I think that was an unforced error by Nadler. He left the door open there to allow the White House to complain that it's an unfair process. So Nadler, I think, needs to sharpen up his game a little bit here and not give the White House these openings to cry foul and to play the victim.
TAPPER: Elie, there certainly are conservative lawyers out there who argue on CNN and on FOX and other places that this is -- this does not rise to the level of impeachable.
Would President Trump theoretically strengthen his case by sending lawyers like that to the hearings?
HONIG: I think that's an important tactical consideration. And I think there is an argument to be made here that the conduct here does not rise to the level of impeachable.
I think there's also a strong argument the other way. Look, first of all, I think there's a good argument that what the president has done amounts to a federal crime. I think there's a good case for bribery, extortion and solicitation of foreign election aid.
Also, if you look at our history and precedent, impeachment does not require a specific federal crime. And I think we will hear that from the experts who testify on Wednesday. There is a counterargument to be made that, in our prior three presidential impeachments or near impeachments, including Nixon, there has been an abuse of power, but also some underlying crime.
So there's an argument that Trump's lawyers might be able to make if they were to attend. He's giving that up, though, by playing the victim.
TAPPER: You see Wednesday's hearing as both a risk and possible reward for Democrats. How so?
HONIG: So the risk is if the hearing ends up being super esoteric or academic or just sort of dry.
I think it's an opportunity, though, for Democrats to drive home a couple key points. Number one, you do not need a crime in order to impeach, as I just discussed. And, number two, they need to take some of the mystery and intrigue out of impeachment.
They need to counteract this idea that impeachment is a coup or a hostile takeover. They need to just drive home to the American public impeachment is part of our constitutional democracy. It's in the Constitution for a reason. It's the mechanism that the founders gave us to remove corrupt officials who abuse their power, straight and simple.
TAPPER: These hearings have focused on Ukraine. But behind the scenes, Democrats have been debating whether or not they should add a separate count or article of impeachment based on the obstruction of justice allegations outlined in the Mueller report.
Do you think that would be a mistake, or do you think that's wise?
HONIG: I think it's wise from the perspective of an American citizen. And I think it's wise from the perspective of history.
What Congress does in these next few weeks will go down in history. And I think it's hard to imagine that Donald Trump could have obstructed justice in 10 different respects, as laid out by Mueller, with zero consequence, with Congress doing nothing about it.
That said, as a tactical matter, it might make for a cleaner, stronger case for Congress to just leave it behind, or perhaps use it as background to the Ukraine story, because, as a prosecutor, we always used to say, look, lead with your strongest charge. And if you have weaker charges, leave them out, keep it nice and clean, keep it nice and easy and understandable for the jury.
So I might take the approach of, use the Mueller story as necessary background to Ukraine.
TAPPER: All right, Elie Honig, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
HONIG: Thanks, Jake. All right.
TAPPER: As President Trump heads to London, we're going to take a look inside his team's strategy to stay away from this week's impeachment hearing. Smart move?
TAPPER: Welcome back.
In our politics lead: In just a few hours, members of the House Select Committee on Intelligence will get their first look at the impeachment report, the first step in a blockbuster week on Capitol Hill.
Tomorrow, members are going to vote on that report and, theoretically, if they vote to do so, send it to the House Judiciary Committee, which has its first public impeachment hearings on Wednesday.
On Thursday, we should note, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will sit down for a CNN town hall about impeachment.
And the White House has until Friday -- that's their deadline -- to decide if they will participate in any future impeachment hearings.
Let's talk about all this.
And, Gloria, do you expect that the White House will ever agree to participate in any of this?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I would have to say that at this point it's not looking good. If you are complaining about the process, and you say the process is unfair and unjust, then you're kind of stuck if suddenly you decide to participate, after you decide not to participate at the beginning.
However, I would have to say that they had been offered the ability to call witnesses, they have been offered the ability to cross-examine witnesses, and...
TAPPER: In the House Judiciary Committee, or where in this?
BORGER: Eventually, they will -- they will be -- yes, yes.
TAPPER: Eventually, they will.
BORGER: No, but in the House Judiciary Committee, they have been offered the ability to do that.
BORGER: So they're not taking them up on an offer, they say, because they're not sure of the schedule and who's going to be there to testify.
For example, with the legal scholars, they're sending in a legal scholar that the Republicans like, and there will be nobody there from the White House to cross-examine that person.
TAPPER: In the Senate, though, the Republicans control the Senate. Likely, they will have rules that are more favorable to them.
Theoretically, I could see them participating in that process.
RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. If they don't -- I still think there's some chance maybe they will participate.
But I think the White House view is, any participation in the House is that it legitimizes the process that they have argued, is illegitimate. I'm not saying that's true, but that's their argument. So if they participate now, they have somehow legitimized his impeachment.
I think, if they don't -- but I always thought they would come around and participate. And I have been saying for a while, of course they will participate in the Senate trial, when it's an actual very solemn occasion.
And I believe...
BORGER: I believe they will in that.
LIZZA: ... when Trump is shown like video footage of the Clinton trial from 1999, he will want to cast, I always assumed, the characters that will defend him, right?
There's a whole kind of a legal dream team he will want to put together, one assumes. And there have been some names floating around, but who knows? We might be wrong about -- or I may be wrong about that. He might decide he's impeached, it goes to a Senate trial, that the best thing is just let the Democrats do it as a purely what he will argue is partisan exercise, and not participate at all.
TAPPER: So President Trump today defended his actions in part by saying, listen to the words of the Ukrainian president.
And we should note that the Ukrainian president, Zelensky, says in a new interview with "TIME" magazine: "Look, I never talked to the president, President Trump, from the position of a quid pro quo."
He then also goes on to say: "We're at war. If you're our strategic partner, then you can't go blocking anything for us. I think that's just about fairness. It's not about a quid pro quo. It just goes without saying."
So I don't know if that's completely the kind of full-throated defense President Trump's talking about.
BORGER: It may go without saying, but I think he just said it.
BORGER: Which is, he doesn't need to say it's a quid pro quo. We understand. And we also believe it would be unfair to block something such as military aid.
And so I think it's pretty obvious what he was doing, although Trump seemed to be pleased by it, but I think he kind of threw shade at the president there and said, well, it would have been unfair, but he never said it.
LIZZA: The president of Ukraine is in a terrible position. He needs to do and it's his responsibility to do only what is in Ukraine's interests and not get involved in U.S. domestic politics. And the most important thing to him is that military aid. And he
doesn't want to do anything that would jeopardize -- jeopardize that. And so I -- look, even if he believed it was a quid pro quo, even if he -- whatever the facts are, he's not going to get involved in that debate, right?
He just can't, because his first responsibility is the safety and security of Ukraine.
LIZZA: So I don't think we're ever going to get a clear answer from his perspective.
TAPPER: So President Trump has decided as of now, at least, to not participate in the House hearing.
But he also has a lot of defenders on the House Judiciary Committee. Take a listen to Congressman Doug Collins. He's the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee. He was asked who he wants to see testify. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA): First and foremost, the first person that needs to testifies is Adam Schiff.
Adam Schiff is the author of this report. If he chooses not to, then I really question his veracity and what he's putting in his report. I question his -- the motives of why he's doing it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: This is what Chairman Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told me last weekend when I asked him about President Trump wanting him to testify.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): There's nothing for me to testify about, Jake. And I think if the president or his allies in the Senate persist in this, it really means they're not serious about what they're doing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Will this be an effective line of attack for the Republicans to say, where's Adam Schiff?
BORGER: No, because the response to that would be, where is Mick Mulvaney? Where are any of the people from your administration? Where are Mike Pompeo?
Why don't you tell John Bolton that he ought to just get up there and testify, even though he no longer works for you? So, I think it -- I think it's showmanship. I think it's been a theatrics. And I think you're going to see a lot of theatrics at this committee.
Don't forget, this isn't the House Intelligence Committee. This is the Judiciary Committee that brought you the storming of the SCIF with Republicans going into the secure location.
This is Matt Gaetz. This is Jim Jordan. And so expect there to be a lot of theatrics, I think, regarding the process.
TAPPER: President Trump's also mocking Lisa Page on Twitter today.
She's the former FBI lawyer. Her text messages with Peter Strzok, with anti-Trump messages were released to Congress.
The president tweeted: "When Lisa Page, the lover of Peter Strzok, talks about being crushed and how innocent she is" -- this is referring to a new interview in The Daily Beast -- "ask her to read Peter's insurance policy text to her, just in case Hillary loses. Also, why were the lovers' text messages scrubbed after he left Mueller. Where are they, Lisa?"
It's strange to see President Trump, who has among his many scandals include cheating on the first lady with a Playboy Playmate of the year and a porn star and director, making fun of Lisa Page for her affair with Peter Strzok, at least in part.
LIZZA: Yes, I would encourage anyone who is not familiar with Lisa Page to read this very long interview in The Daily Beast, where you really just get a sense of what it is like to be on the other side of the Twitter cannon that the president has, as a private citizen no longer in government, and just the sort of abuse she's taken at the hands of the president.
I think that has happened so much in the last few years by people who are sort of big characters in this political drama that happens in Washington. Reading that piece this weekend just made you realize, like, my God, the president is attacking this poor woman without any facts.
And, obviously, it's had the opposite reaction from the president, who is just continuing to do it.
TAPPER: Yes. Thanks so much.
President Trump is set to arrive in London soon to meet with other NATO leaders. But there's one close friend who might stay away from President Trump this time. Who is it?
Stay with us.
TAPPER: With the impeachment inquiry still dominating his Twitter feed, President Trump arrived soon in London for the annual meeting of the NATO powers.
But before the president even got on the plane, he again called on participating countries to increase funding for the defense budgets as part of their commitment to the 70-year-old alliance. And the president took credit for many of them doing just that.
President Trump has continually questioned the value of NATO for the U.S.
And, as CNN's Max Foster reports for us, now other world leaders are beginning to publicly question how much they can rely on the U.S.
MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As President Trump to policies for the U.K. ahead of the meeting marking NATO's 70th anniversary, he didn't strike a celebratory tone.
TRUMP: Now we're going to London. And it will be NATO. And we're meeting with a lot of countries. And they're going to have to do a little more burden-sharing.
FOSTER: Trump's criticism of the transatlantic alliance, which has overseen the longest stretch of peace in Europe in centuries, is no secret.
He's publicly accused other members of not paying their fair share, and on more than one occasion suggested the U.S. withdraw altogether.
TRUMP: I will see NATO. And I'm going to tell NATO you got to start paying your bills. The United States is not going to take care of everything.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
FOSTER: That waning commitment from the U.S. to the alliance has left it brain-dead, according to French President Emmanuel Macron. The two leaders will meet for a no doubt testy bilateral meeting in London on Tuesday.
No one-to-one yet confirmed, though, between Trump and his host, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Trump and other leaders arrive as the U.K. is gripped by election fever. The last time the president was here, he spoke favorably about Boris Johnson.
TRUMP: So I know Boris. I like him. I have liked him for a long time. He's -- I think he would do a very good job.
FOSTER: This time, a senior administration official insists Trump is cognizant of not wading into other countries' elections.
And Johnson seems to be playing down his personal bond with his American counterpart too. A recent Pew survey found 70 percent of Brits had no confidence in Donald Trump.
BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Well, we have very close relationships and friendships with the United States at every level of government, but what it -- what we don't do, traditionally -- as loving allies and friends, what we don't do traditionally is get involved in each other's election campaigning.
FOSTER: A source tells CNN that NATO isn't calling this week's meeting a summit, in order to avoid putting out a communique at the end, which Trump may not sign, like he did at the G7 meeting last year.
FOSTER: The White House clear that the president does want one issue on the agenda. That is growing Chinese influence, Jake, particularly over international 5G networks.
TAPPER: All right, Max Foster in London for us, thank you so much.
I want to bring in Nile Gardiner also in London. He was a foreign policy researcher for former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Nile, good to see you, as always.
NILE GARDINER, FORMER ADVISER TO BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Great to see you, Jake.
TAPPER: President Trump has been a disrupter of NATO since taking office, as he promised he would be.
You have said that President Trump was a wakeup call for a complacent alliance. Do you think he's ever gone too far?
GARDINER: Well, I think that President Trump's leadership of the NATO alliance has actually been very effective.
If you look at overall levels of defense spending among all NATO partners, they have significantly increased actually over the past three years. And even the NATO secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, has been effusive in his praise, actually, of President Trump's leadership of the NATO alliance.
So, I say you have to really look at the big picture here. There are more U.S. troops on the ground now than there were under President Obama. You have got a far bigger U.S. presence now in Eastern Europe. And I think that President Trump's pressure certainly has significantly increased the willingness of NATO allies to spend more on defense.
Of course, a lot more needs to be done on that front, but we are making progress. And I would argue that Trump's no-nonsense approach has actually been overall pretty effective in raising the level of pressure