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House Judiciary to Hold Impeachment Hearing Tomorrow; Ex- Ukrainian Official: Ukraine Knew of Aid Freeze in July; Report: Barr Disagrees with Key Finding of DOJ Watchdog; Biden Criticizes Buttigieg, Warren During Iowa Bus Tour. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired December 3, 2019 - 12:30   ET



RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: -- of the Judiciary Committee tried to blow this whole impeachment hearing up. But basically tomorrow, they're going to take these facts and they're going to try to argue that what Trump did constitutes high crimes and misdemeanors, it is therefore impeachable. And so it's going to be a real rhetorical brawl and highly partisan.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: I want to come back to that, the process in a minute. But we just heard the president, the administration has refused to turn over documents, refused to let key witnesses go up. And then the Republicans say, well, the Democrats have nobody with firsthand knowledge. That's because it was Mick Mulvaney who was key to the withholding aid for example and Mick Mulvaney's deputies.

Is there any reason to take the president at his word that suddenly the stonewalling, whatever you want to call it or just refusal, he can say the process isn't fair, that when he gets to the Senate and it's a different process because Republicans are in the majority, he'll suddenly go say Mick Mulvaney, go testify, Mike Pompeo, go testify. Give them the documents. And oh, hey, John Bolton out there writing a book somewhere, you should testify too. I'm skeptical.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's unlikely but I actually wouldn't totally rule it out. I think that everything in terms of the White House is approaching and Rachael would know some of this better than I do.

But my sense is that the way the White House is approaching the Senate trial is they know it's a -- as you said it's a totally different ball game. They don't feel as if they're at a disadvantage. I think that they see it as an opportunity to call a number of their own witnesses. I don't know that they can call everybody who they want to.

You know, we have seen the president say for three years over the course of a number of investigations, I would love to do this but I just can't because of x, y, z. And I think that that relates here too but I do think you were going to see more of a bending by the White House on certain matters not across the board but on certain matters once this gets to the Senate.

KING: I think the unpredictability of that is what makes it fascinating.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: And it's also a television show in some respects and the president likes the idea of being involved in that. Look how much time he's spending today on television daytime. Most of these private meetings are usually private and, you know, just a quick photo op at the top. He enjoys being on television.

So I think the idea of the Senate trial going the entire month of January perhaps he might like the idea of getting his side of the story in there. We'll see if he does that himself or has others come in. But I don't rule it out, either. I mean, I don't think it's necessarily likely to pass this prologue but I wouldn't rule it out. Because this is a historic thing, he realizes that, and getting his voice and characters in might be tempting.

KING: Go ahead.

BADE: I was just going to say there are also key Senate Republicans who want to hear from these people.

ZELENY: Right.

BADE: I mean, because Susan Collins of Maine, Republicans who are up in 2020 who come from purple states who need to show that they're taking this seriously. The question is going to be, though, do Senate Republicans, you know, sort of bring in these key firsthand account witnesses, or do they try to totally change the topic and go after someone like their own colleague Joe Biden or his son Hunter Biden or the whistleblower?

KING: Right. Is it an argument about the facts as laid out by the Democrats or is it an alternative facts, if you will to bring up your term about something else? We'll see and I think that in part depends on what the Democrats do in the House. How broad is their case?

Tomorrow is the start, we can show you with four constitutional lawyers. This is not, you know, what did the president do, this is more about what is the standard for impeaching a president. You see the constitutional lawyers there. There will be questions about them, what is the historical precedent, what happened in Nixon, what happened in Clinton? What does the constitution say? What is high crimes and demeanors?

So this will be largely of more technical than a political conversation we think although that's what the witnesses are there for, that doesn't mean that's what the lawmakers do. But as the Democrats go through this, you make an important point that most Democrats want to get this done as quickly as possible. Some Democrats, even though they might share the let's keep this moving quickly, have a broader view.

This is Pramila Jayapal of Washington State, listen to this, "One crime of this sort is enough but when there is a pattern, it's even stronger. If you show that this is not only real in what's happening with Ukraine but it's the exact same pattern that Mueller documented, to me, that strengthens the case."

This is an argument among Democrats. Do you do five, six, seven, eight articles of impeachment to bring in alleged obstruction during the Mueller investigation? Or do you do it about Ukraine, abuse of power, withholding aid, withholding an official act in a White House meeting, and then maybe some footnotes about we've seen this before but not try to broaden it out?

VIVIAN SALAMA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: This is a conflict among a lot of Democrats especially those from swing states who basically want to go home and show that maybe they fought for this but that they were also open to the idea that perhaps the president didn't do anything wrong. And so the idea of having multiple articles of impeachment for them is appealing because they can choose some and not others and then still go back and say, well, we focused on Ukraine and not on, say, the Mueller investigation and other broader issues of obstruction of justice.

KING: To me it's fascinating to see how much the Republicans try to just stir up dust. Look at Hunter Biden, look over here, there's nothing to see. And how much they actually try to refute the facts because as the facts come out, not our job to say at this table as an impeachable offense but the facts are pretty damning and it almost uncontested about what happened. Rudy Giuliani's role, withholding the aid, withholding the White House meeting.

And today in the New York Times, the former deputy foreign minister of Ukraine saying, "We had this information. It was definitely mentioned there were some issues. They're worried about this. They said, this is not the time for you to travel to D.C."

The context there being, Republicans have said, how can there be a quid pro quo, the Ukrainians didn't know the president withheld the aid.


Several of the witnesses from the administration perspective said yes they know. Now you have a former top minister in the Ukrainian government saying, yes, we know. That undermines the report they put out yesterday that you can read and what the White House has said consistently.

HABERMAN: Right. And we have reporting of our own even prior to this that the Ukrainians did know that this aid was being withheld. That does undercut the Republican argument. I guess I continue to go back to what we have seen repeatedly. We saw it through Mueller, we're going to see it here which is the fact that it undercuts the argument doesn't mean the argument is going to stop being made.

And it doesn't mean that there -- it won't be made in conjunction with other arguments, and it doesn't mean they'll try to shift the aperture. But I think Republicans have shown that they are going to essentially ignore the volume of testimony and things that were said, they are going to claim that the witnesses either were partisan or had reasons for saying what said, or as you said they don't have direct knowledge of what the president did. And that is similar to Mueller.

That's what we heard for the first volume of the Mueller report. There was nothing directly tying the president to a Russian intervention effort, and that was his strongest defense. And you're going to see that again here.

KING: Because he believes it work. He believes it worked last time and it will. We'll continue this conversation too.

But up next, new reports of disagreement possibly between the attorney general and the Justice Department watchdog. That disagreement over how the investigation into the Russia probe began in the first place.



KING: A reminder, we're still waiting the president of the United States to arrive for tea with Prince Charles in London. That part of a big NATO leaders meeting. We'll show images of that and listen in as soon as we can live in London.

But back here in Washington, reports of a big disagreement today between the Justice Department watchdog and the attorney general over an investigation, you might call a presidential obsession. President Trump has long said the FBI illegally spied on his 2016 campaign. Michael Horowitz is the Inspector general at the Justice Department who is investigating that assertion. His report due out next week, and reporting suggests it will reveal that claim by the president is in Horowitz's view without merit.

The (INAUDIBLE) report published today also say the attorney general has told associates he thinks Horowitz is wrong and that Attorney General Barr believes the FBI did not have enough information to justify launching that investigation back in July of 2016.

Amid everything else happening in Washington, the campaign gearing up, the impeachment debate gearing up, the need to fund the government, some other things. This is going to be a big deal. And the president has said it's devastating, it's terrible.

The early reporting is not so much, that Horowitz is going to detail some abuses by mid-level people at the FBI but say on the threshold question, did they have the right and the reason to do this. Yes which is not what the president wants.

ZELENY: And that is not going to change the president's response. He knows what he believes on this and he is going to double down on his previous belief. I do not believe in any circumstance he is going to suddenly accept the report from the Inspector general.

Look, I mean, this is a bit of a, you know, a moment to look in the rearview mirror, but it's a topic the president likes to talk about. So happening at the same time as the ongoing impeachment thing, it actually, you know, could help the president by being a distracting forcer. But watching the attorney general, he is, you know, very close to the White House and the president but is not out there in the open talking all that much about this. So look how he responds to the IG's report here, but the president, regardless of what it says I think we know --

KING: If you're inclined to be suspicious, the summary that Bill Barr put out about the Mueller report was nowhere near accurate.

ZELENY: Right.

KING: Nowhere near. If you read the summary letter and read the Mueller report, they are two different planets. And so the Washington Post reporting say, "Attorney General William P. Barr has told associates he disagrees with the Justice Department's inspector general on one of the key findings in an upcoming report that the FBI had enough information in July 2016 to justify launching an investigation into members of the Trump campaign."

If the attorney general, if he disagrees with the inspector general, that's one thing. What does he do about it?

HABERMAN: We don't know. I mean, look, I tip my hat to the Washington Post. That was a clean scope and it was really important. And we have seen Barr emerge as, I think, frankly the single most important cabinet member of this administration both the first couple of years and now. What he says publicly is a big open question but even if he doesn't say it publicly, this is now out there. This is now in the public domain, you are going to see the president's allies seize on this even if Barr, let's say he demurs, he says nothing.

It's still an extraordinary possibility that you are going to have the attorney general disagree with the IG in this way. Attorneys general have disagreed with the IGs before, that's not anything new. But particularly on this matter, and it will matter what exactly he says, how he says it, does he say anything at all. So there's a lot of open questions. But this is now in the ether and the president is going to grab it.

SALAMA: Well, past attorney generals have actually disagreed with the IGs in terms of wanting them to go softer on an issue. But actually, if the reporting is accurate then actually the attorney general wants him to go harder on this issue. And it doesn't matter if he speaks openly because at the end of the day, the president still feels that Attorney General Barr is a defender of his interests.


We saw with former Attorney General Sessions that he recused himself from the Russia investigation. Just the fact that Bill Barr is willing to take an active role in this issue already makes the president a fan of his.

KING: And the president in London saying today, if what I read is correct, that would be a little disappointing. He has long said he expects this report to be a blockbuster to essentially blow out the deep state that hey are out to get me. We'll see. The report due next week, some Senate hearings on it. Up next, another loss for the president over his financial records.



KING: Topping our political radar today, another big court setback for the president. A federal appeals court in New York ruling the Democrat-controlled House can subpoena President Trump's bank records. The president's lawyer Jay Sekulow calls the subpoena, quote, invalid. And says the White House legal team may take this matter to the Supreme Court.

This is the latest setback in the president's effort to block Congress from obtaining his financial records. Federal appeals courts have previously ruled that House Democrats and the Manhattan grand jury can get the president's tax returns from his accounting firm. Those fights also expected to reach the Supreme Court.

And today on Capitol Hill, a rare bipartisan lunch in this hour for the retiring Republican Senator Johnny Isakson. Later this afternoon, he will deliver his farewell address on the Senate floor. The 74- year-old Georgia Republican has Parkinson's and he announced back in August he was stepping down at the end of the year, three years early because of his health challenges.

Georgia's governor will announce Isakson's successor tomorrow. He's expected to name business businesswoman Kelly Loeffler despite the President Trump's push to appoint Congressman Doug Collins.

Up next for us, Joe Biden boards a bus in Iowa and goes on the attack.



KING: Former Vice President Joe Biden on an eight-day bus tour in Iowa. He started off playing Iowa nice but getting tough in the last 24 hours. Last night on the bus, Pete Buttigieg came up. Buttigieg currently leads in the Iowa polls, Biden, quote, when asked whether he unintentionally set the stage for Buttigieg who is leading in the polls in Iowa, Biden grew animated. Set it up? He stole it. No, he doesn't have the enthusiasm and the moderate plan. It's the Biden plan, the former vice president said.

And then on Elizabeth warren, who has come closest to him in the national polls, Biden says this, quote, look at the polling everywhere, OK. Tell me. Tell me where this great enthusiasm is manifesting itself.

Candidates love bus tours. Sometimes they get in trouble when they talk to reporters. What is this? Is this a strategy, Joe Biden deciding we need to get tougher? We need to get tougher with the opposition or is this the candidate sort of freelancing because we know sometimes this is a compliment he gets his Irish up. But sometimes when he does, it gets him in trouble. ZELENY: I think it's a bit of both. I don't think it was planned by the campaign for him to go out there and say this, but he can see what's happening around him. I was out with him on Sunday, and one measure of enthusiasm is crowd size. It doesn't necessarily mean everything in the end, but he knows that Elizabeth Warren gets bigger crowds. Pete Buttigieg was in some of the same cities, in the same very building in Storm Lake, Iowa, had about three times as many people as Joe Biden. So he can see the enthusiasm but he wanted to knock them a little bit of a peg but he's a little bit wrong in the sense that Pete Buttigieg has been talking about Medicare for All who want it since February, but, of course, it is more of an extension of the Obama/Biden plan.

But look, Mayor Buttigieg had also had a couple different ways on healthcare. He initially thought that the winds were blowing from the left and Medicare for All was the way to be, but he benefited from not having to cast a vote on this. So look, I think Biden is trying to show that he's a fighter. He's trying to remind people that he is in this. So a bit of freelancing but he knows what he's doing.

KING: But what's interesting is, when you do something like this on day one then you get asked about it on day two. You might want to be talking about your rural plan, you might want to be talking about your healthcare plan but you get asked about this. Joe Biden just got asked about his attack on Elizabeth Warren.


JOE BIDEN (D-DE), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Sure, I think there's enthusiasm for her. The context of our discussion which is I'm not going to have these discussions with you all anymore in terms of, you know, I might be getting to the place of being a prognosticator. The point I was making was I don't think there is -- I don't think the bulk of the enthusiasm in the Democratic Party is for Medicare for All.

There is enthusiasm for people who support that, there's great enthusiasm for it. But I don't think there is -- that's where the center of the party is or where the left or the right of the party is. I think that's --


HABERMAN: There's your answer, John. That's not something that was planned. I mean, this is not -- that's not what you do if this was part of the plan the day before.

I think Jeff is right that I think Biden -- I think it is a little more visceral than, you know, looking at Buttigieg or Warren or specifics of where they were on Medicare for All. I think it's -- he feels like he's been knocked around and I think he is finally getting up off the mat. I think he has tried to run this Rose Garden campaign for a very long time. That's not working, he's doing something different. But he still has trouble on the fly, as we just saw.

KING: This has always been a challenge for him, always been in his past campaigns going way back. I was there for part of the first one. It's 62 days until the Iowa caucus so this matters. We are now in the crunch time.

BADE: Yes. No, I mean, he's clearly on the defensive. This is a guy who was vice president. I think he's got the credentials to be president more so than any other candidate. But look, he sort of knocks his people down and ignores them or, you know, accuses the media of putting him on a pedestal which he also did in some of these interviews at his own peril.

I mean, if he's not going to take them seriously, then that's his own problem. I think, you know, the point he tried to make about Pete Buttigieg stealing my plan was particularly interesting and funny, and as maybe he would call it even malarkey because, you know, you can -- he doesn't have a monopoly on concerns from Democrats that the far- left is going too far. I mean, a lot of Democrats are concerned, Pelosi is concerned, Obama is concerned. He's feeling concern and Buttigieg is one of those as well.

KING: What happens on the trail often always -- always sets up for the next debate, too and we have one of those just around the corner so you can be sure the vice president trying to guarantee he's part of the conversation, I guess. We'll see how it plays out.

Thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS --