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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Heads to NATO And Calls on Allies to Pay More; How Chief Justice Might Oversee Senate Impeachment Trial; Trump Praises GOP Senator for Pushing Debunked Claims about Ukraine Interference in U.S. Elections; GOP Report Rejects Allegations against Trump. Aired 3:30- 4p ET

Aired December 2, 2019 - 15:30   ET

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


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NILE GARDINER, FORMER AIDE TO PRIME MINISTER MARGARET THATCHER: --and I would argue that Trump's no-nonsense approach has actually been overall pretty effective in raising the level of pressure on NATO partners. And it's also important to point out, that many U.S. presidents have appealed for increased defense spending by NATO allies. I think only President Trump has really been successful in delivering that.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Well, it started I think in 2014 with Obama getting them to pledge 2 percent of GDP on defense budgets. But no question the last three years that number has gone up significantly and President Trump has been really pressing the case.

I want to ask you. The Trump administration has announced they want to cut the contribution from the U.S. to NATO from 22 percent down to about 16 percent. What do you make of that?

GARDINER: Well, so that is actually, basically a central fund for NATO management and operations. The big picture really is overall levels of defense spending as a percent of GDP by member states. And the United States spends about 3.42 percent of GDP on defense. The Germans spend 1.36 percent of GDP. There's a huge gulf there. And so President Trump's made an appeal for every single NATO partner to invest more in their defense and contribute more to overall military operations. And so far, you've seen many European countries failing actually to meet the minimum two percent -- agreed percentage of GDP on defense.

And I think that Trump's overall approach is to say to European allies, look, everyone has to basically bear the burden of NATO defense spending. And I think this is the right message to send. Every single NATO partner has to roll up their sleeves and invest what is necessary in order to sustain the alliance for another 70 years.

TAPPER: So now, the reason -- one of the reasons that French President Macron recently called NATO brain dead in that interview with "The Economist" in October was quote, you have no coordination whatsoever of strategic decision making between the United States and its NATO allies. None. You have an uncoordinated aggressive action by another NATO ally, Turkey in an area where our interests are at stake. There has been no NATO planning nor any coordination, unquote.

Macron clearly saying that President Trump's actions have been undermining this vital alliance. I know that there are a number of other leaders in NATO who disagree with the idea that it's brain dead. But do you have any issues with the way that President Trump's coordination with NATO allies has fallen short in Macron's view?

GARDINER: Well, I have to say actually that Emmanuel Macron's position and stance at the moment, is the single biggest threat to the future of the NATO alliance. Macron declared recently that Russia should no longer be viewed as the enemy of NATO. He's called the NATO alliance brain dead. Emmanuel Macron supports building a European Union army to challenge not only the Russians and the Chinese, but also the United States as well. And President Trump rightly described that as an insulting approach.

And the French also just spend just 1.86 percent of GDP on defense. They're not meeting the minimum two percent agreed as spending level. And Emmanuel Macron's role I think has been deeply unhelpful. And I think that Monsieur Macron is significantly undermining the NATO alliance at a critically important time. And you know his remarks are being condemned by many European allies including by Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has taken Mr. Macron to task for his comments.

So Emmanuel Macron needs to do more actually to strengthen the NATO alliance rather than undermine it.

TAPPER: All right now, Gardiner. Thank you so much for your time. It's good to see you as always.

Chief Justice John Roberts usually stays out of partisan politics. But up next he might be playing a crucial role in deciding the fate of the Trump presidency. Stay with us.

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to POLITICS LEAD. He is someone who strives to be above politics but could be thrown right into the middle of the biggest political fight of our time. I'm talking of course about John Roberts, the Chief Justice of the United States, and he would preside over an impeachment trial in the Senate just as his predecessor did in 1999. You're looking right here at Chief Justice William Rehnquist. His signature gold stripes on his robe. I think inspired by Gulliver and Sullivan. About the only pieces of flair we saw from Rehnquist then. After the trial Rehnquist said, I did nothing in particular and I did it very will, unquote.

John Roberts, biographer and CNN legal analyst Joan Biskupic joins me now. And Joan, Roberts clerked for Rehnquist, can we expect more of the same kind of subdued approach maybe even without the stripes?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Yes, that would be the goal. And I'm glad you brought up the Gilbert and Sullivan reference. You know that line about doing nothing in particular that also came from Gilbert and Sullivan. "Iolanthe," the comic opera to be specific.

So I don't think we're going to see that kind of levity with this Chief Justice. We won't see stripes and we will probably see a much more reserved manner. Now, he'll take his lead from Rehnquist, but it doesn't have to be that way. Now, Bill Rehnquist, when he was presiding over the Clinton impeachment trial deliberately minimized his role. But under the power a Chief has through the Constitution and also through Senate rules, he could wield much greater power.

The Constitution says that when a President is impeached, the Chief Justice presides. That's because normally the Vice President would preside and that would be a conflict on interest to have Vice President Pence in the chair for a Donald Trump trial. But that's all the Constitution says.

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Senate rules going back decades give us more elaboration on what the Chief can do. And one of those rules says that the Chief Justice, the presiding officer, can rule on all matters of evidence, its relevance, its materiality. And if the Senators don't like that ruling, they have to take a formal vote and they could overrule it. But it never came to that with Rehnquist. Rehnquist never pushed Senators in a direction that they might not have wanted to go.

So, the Chief would have lots of power. Will he use it? He's much more reserved as a person. He's already over on the other side of the street at the Court saying that he's only calling balls and strikes. He wants to -- he wants to be seen as a neutral presiding officer.

TAPPER: All right, great. Joining me now is CNN presidential historian Douglas Brinkley. Doug, thanks for joining us. The only modern model that Chief Justice Roberts has for this obviously is Rehnquist as Joan just discussed. What can he take away from the Rehnquist lesson that might guide him?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: That I think Roberts is going to adopt Rehnquist as his patron saint. He's going to want to kind of just do the least amount possible during the Senate trial. And he'll model himself off of Rehnquist in that regard. I mean, right now, Donald Trump and the GOP would love it if Roberts would just recuse himself, they don't even really want him there.

Meanwhile, the Democrats are going to be putting on heat saying, we must hear from John Bolton, or we must hear even as far back as issues -- if obstruction issues come with the Mueller report. It could go that far back. So there's going to be a lot of pressure on Roberts and I think he'll try to show that he might be a conservative, but he's not a partisan.

TAPPER: So Doug, you just heard Joan saying that per the Constitution or -- and the Senate rules, rather. Roberts might ultimately decide what's in evidence and what isn't. I mean as I interpret it, that means that he could say John Bolton, you have to testify. BRINKLEY: Yes. That's what I'm getting at, exactly right, Jake. And

that's the big thing the Democrats are hoping, that he says we've got to hear from Bolton. And if Bolton talks, it's all game starts all over again. That who knows what he might say and how incriminating it will be. So I do think Justice Roberts is the man of the moment. We pretty much know what's going to happen with the Democrats in Congress with impeachment. And GOP not going for it. The Senate trial, suddenly, Roberts becomes in the spotlight, because he could dictate the atmospherics and who talks and who doesn't talk during the trial.

TAPPER: And President Trump has attacked Chief Justice Roberts many times. Roberts one time contradicted something President Trump had said. President Trump had referred to an Obama judge and Roberts said something about there are no Obama judges or Trump judges, there are just American judges. What happens if Trump starts attacking Chief Justice Roberts on Twitter right in the middle of the trial?

BRINKLEY: It could very easily happen, you and I know that. It's going to be like a circus. And Roberts has the goal of trying to calm things down, control the environment, so it puts America's best foot forward. Impeachment is a serious event. And Roberts has to keep the temperatures cool in there, so it doesn't just become a shouting match.

But he's not going to please somebody -- it's going to be hard for him to seem to be down the middle, because Donald Trump doesn't take anything down the middle either you're with him or against him. So I imagine as I said, Roberts is right now having to just deal with what he thinks is best and stay focused and straight ahead and not listen to all the noise going on, on the right or the left.

TAPPER: CNN poll conducted after the first week of public hearings in the House found that 50 percent of the American people said President Trump should be impeached and removed from office, 43 percent said no. At this point in the impeachment investigation, what does that tell you? Do you think people are just kind of locked into their views?

BRINKLEY: I think people are locked into their views but, boy, 50 percent is high, against Donald Trump. I mean you know we've often talked about impeaching presidents in recent years. About 30 percent of the public wants to do it, that poll says 50 percent of the Americans want him removed from office. And he has to do that --- run in 2020. That's hard. He is going to have that big "I" of impeachment on his chest and he's going to have to carry it forward in 2020. It's not a badge of honor, impeachment is a badge of shame.

TAPPER: All right, CNN presidential historian Douglas Brinkley, thank you so much. Good to see you as always.

So which is it, the Republican Senator who cannot seem to make up his mind about spreading debunked Ukraine conspiracy theories, that's next.

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [15:50:00]

TAPPER: In politics President Trump today praising Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana for spreading what U.S. intelligence officials have called Russian propaganda. That's the idea that Ukraine interfered in the U.S. election in 2016 even though the intelligence community has said over and over, Russia interfered and they've had nothing to say about Ukraine.

First, Senator Kennedy went on Fox News and said Ukraine might have even hacked the DNC. Then on CNN he took it back then he went on NBC yesterday and said that in fact that Ukraine did interfere but it was in a different way than hacking. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK TODD, NBC HOST: Was it Russia or Ukraine?

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SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R- LA): I don't know. Nor do you. Nor do any of us.

TODD: The entire intelligence community says it was Russia.

KENNEDY: Right. But it could also be Ukraine.

I was wrong. The only evidence I have and I think it is overwhelming is that it was Russia who tried to hack the DNC computer. I've seen no indication that Ukraine tried to do it.

The Prime Minister of Ukraine, the interior minister, the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, the head of the Ukrainian anti- corruption league all meddled in the election on social media and otherwise. They worked with a DNC operative.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: all right, let's talk about this now. First of all, the big issue here, I think, is let's talk about where he landed which is where he was on NBC yesterday.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It is been a long journey.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Tortured

TAPPER: The idea that individual Ukrainians said things that were pro-Hillary or anti-Trump, is that considered to be, by election experts and intelligence and national security experts meddling or interfering in an election?

LIZZA: No. I mean, if you looked at any number of countries you could find comments by people with political positions who said something about one of the two candidates. What we talk about and what we mean by Russia meddling is a multi-faceted, multi-year long hacking and dumping campaign, a propaganda campaign on "RT" and a series of covert operations to impact the U.S. election and to favor by the end of it all Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.

TAPPER: And you can't compare that --

BORGER: No.

TAPPER: -- Gloria, to what the Russians did. But there is this move by Republicans, starting with President Trump, but then going through Rudy Giuliani and a number of House Republicans and now John Kennedy to suggest that it's the same thing or at least in the same neighborhood.

BORGER: It is an apple and an orange. It's people being critical of candidate Trump versus people meddling in the election. And I would refer everyone to the indictments that Mueller handed down. Saying, look at these indictments of the Russians and how they were trying to interfere in the election. I guarantee you that if Mueller had found that the Ukrainians were doing the same thing there would have been indictments against the Ukrainians but there was no such thing. So this is in a way of trying to muddy the waters and say, OK, OK, we admit the Russians did it but wait a minute maybe the Ukrainians did it as well.

TAPPER: It is not just a way to muddy the waters, it's a way to get praise from President Trump who tweeted, thank you to great Republican Senator John Kennedy for the job he did in representing both the Republican Party and myself. He goes on to insult our friend Chuck Todd which we won't repeat.

BORGER: No.

TAPPER: But the idea like this is what the Republican Party in many instances seems to be about is fealty to Trump.

LIZZA: It's fealty to Trump and what's so alarming about it is what they're missing is the Russian hacking and dumping campaign affected us. It affected our national security. So to just lump that in with some stray comments or an op-ed that some Ukrainian officials made, the American people -- it's important for elected officials to make it clear where the U.S. stands vis-a-vis different countries in the world, and how our relationship with Ukraine is not the same as our relationship with Russia. And there are major national security issues at stake. And when you lump them altogether, you're not being honest and your doing a disservice and frankly, it affects our security.

BORGER: So then I think the next question is would you be against aid to Ukraine if you believe that they had actively interfered in the election?

LIZZA: Right.

BORGER: And then the Republicans who were talking about this to use a Joe Biden phrase, malarkey, would then have to sort of make that decision. Well, if they actively interfered in the election should we be giving them military aid?

TAPPER; All right but --

BORGER: What would their answer be.

TAPPER: The Ukrainian President giving an interview about his infamous phone call with President Trump which Trump immediately used as a defense, but the President did forget one thing which is the context of it. We'll bring that to you. Stay with us.

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD, the White House in crisis, I'm Jake Tapper. We begin with breaking news in the POLITICS LEAD.

Tonight the House Intelligence Committee will allow its members to review the report that Democratic staffers have been writing detailing the President's role in the Ukraine scandal. Meaning tonight we're going to learn about the Committee's findings from this phase of inquiry but right now we're learning that Republican staffers have prepared a report of their own and CNN's Manu Raju has reviewed it. Manu, what can you tell us?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is 123- page report essentially rebutting the Democratic allegations that the President abused his office, engaged in bribery and his handling with Ukraine pushed and withheld foreign aid to military aid to Ukrainian, at the same time as pushing for this foreign power to investigate his political rival. Instead what the Republicans are saying that everything the President did had a reason.

They're saying the President was within his rights to push for Ukraine to do just that because of it's his concern about the history of corruption in the country. They say the President did nothing --

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