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DOJ Watchdog's Report on Russia to be Released; Trump Defends Saudis; Trump Allies Deny Facts; Putin to Meet Zelensky; Blown Calls Costly for Patriots; Sanders' Risky Strategy; Freweini Mebrahtu Named Hero of the Year. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired December 9, 2019 - 06:30   ET




ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We have some breaking news. At least five people confirmed dead after a volcano erupted three times on a popular tourist island off of New Zealand's east coast. You can see it happening right there and some of the aftermath. A search and rescue crew -- search and rescue crews, I should say, have rescued 23 people so far, but roughly 50 people were believed to be on or near the island at the time of the eruption. Police say the island is covered with ash and smoke making it difficult and dangerous for emergency crews to reach potential survivors.


All right, the much anticipated inspector general report on the Russia investigation is scheduled to be released today.

Laura Jarrett is back with us to break down what it's expected to say and it isn't what the president really was hoping for we understand.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, it is not. With a little over a year and a half in the making, we expect this report to debunk some of the most inflammatory claims made by President Trump and his allies about the FBI. But it won't be a complete, clean bill of health for the agency either.

First, the report should confirm that the FBI did not plant spies in the Trump campaign. We've heard that so much from the president and Bill Barr. But it did use informants who met with campaign officials. Horowitz, the inspector general's office, is also going to find sufficient justification to open the Russia investigation in the first place. And top officials, he's going to find, were not motivated by political bias despite all of those text messages we've heard so much about.

Having said all of that, Horowitz will sharply criticize the FBI's leadership for their handling of the investigation in some critical ways as he's discovered errors and omissions when FBI officials applied for that wiretap to monitor the former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor, Carter Page, including a damning, new revelation that an FBI lawyer actually doctored an email that was presented to the FISA court. So a mixed bag of conclusions, no doubt.

But Attorney General Bill Barr has told others that this report won't be the last word on the matter as the inspector general was constricted from gaining access to certain CIA files and so he's tapped -- Bill Barr, I should say, has tapped a U.S. attorney to continue a criminal investigation into all of this.

Alisyn. John.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh. Fascinating for this long -- these long, awaited results. And we'll see exactly what happens this afternoon.

Laura, thank you very much.

Also breaking overnight, Saudi state media reports that the crown prince and President Trump have spoken about the deadly shooting at a Florida naval base by a Saudi national. The FBI is investigating this as terrorism, but President Trump is defending the Saudis.

CNN's Brynn Gingras is live in Pensacola with the latest.

What's happening, Brynn?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Alisyn, the president has had at least two phone calls with the Saudi kingdom, one's from the king and one's from the crown prince. And he's really quickly passed long their condolences when talking about this shooting. Almost immediately he did that after the shooting happened early Friday morning, even before there was investigative details that were coming out. And then again he's done it when it's been very clear that there was an apparent hatred by this gunman of America. And it's obvious that he really does not want to fracture that relationship with that country.

This is a somewhat different tone that we've -- than we've been seeing from some of his Republican allies, like Congressman Matt Gaetz, who represents this district where the Naval base is, who went on morning talk shows and basically said -- and really made it clear that the Saudis cannot interfere with this investigation. Even went so far as to say that the program which trains Saudi nationals here on American soil should be halted until it is further investigated and the vetting process is, you know, cleared up and made sure it's working properly. The same was echoed really by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis yesterday in a press conference really saying the same thing.

Now, as far as the investigation goes, the FBI is still searching for a motive. They won't say this is a terrorist act, essentially saying that they're trying to determine if this gunman acted as a lone wolf or a part of a bigger terrorist organization or network. And essentially they're doing that by continuing to interview those Saudi nationals who we are told are restricted to stay on base and are cooperating with the investigation.

Now, this as the entire community is still trying to heal. We saw the dignified -- we saw the dignified transfer of the three airmen yesterday. And essentially this community is so sad that the -- they are not older than 23 years old. Three men killed in this horrific act.


BERMAN: An incredible tragedy, Brynn, and still so many questions about the person who carried it out. We're lucky to have you there reporting. Keep us posted.



BERMAN: A California man will be arraigned today, accused of rehearsing a mass shooting in what officials call distressing YouTube videos. San Diego Police arrested the man on gun and child endangerment charges. Authorities say the 30-year-old was taken into custody without incident last week after they executed a search warrant at his home.

CAMEROTA: Another prominent Republican is now spreading disinformation, trying to ease the heat on President Trump. And this Republican knows all about being on the receiving end of a conspiracy.


CAMEROTA: More of our special coverage of today's impeachment hearing. House Democrats moving closer to a vote on President Trump's impeachment.

Meanwhile, a growing number of Republicans appear to be willing to spread disinformation about Ukraine in defense of the president.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): On the evidence Russia clearly interfered in our election. But here's the game the media's playing, because Russia interfered, the media pretends nobody else did. Ukraine blatantly interfered in our election.



CAMEROTA: Joining us now, Michael Smerconish, CNN political commentator and host of CNN's "SMERCONISH."

Michael, great to see you.

Remember when Sen. Ted Cruz used to be one -- considered one of the more intellectual people in Congress? And that was the most intellectually dishonest argument that he was trying to make on the Sunday shows.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You would think that with regard to the way the president -- the now-president went after Ted Cruz with those allegations about the Kennedy assassination that he of all people would not be one inclined to spread this sort of misinformation.

BERMAN: It's really staggering that that sentence exists, by the way, that you just said out loud, the president went after Ted Cruz tying his father to the Kennedy assassination. You would have thought Ted Cruz learned a lesson there.

But it is something we are now hearing from Ted Cruz and the Republicans in their defense -- and I put that in quotation marks, of the president, Michael, because what's notable is there hasn't been a single, coherent defense of the president up until this point as we head into impeachment. And one of the things that strikes me is they keep on saying, oh, we just haven't seen any evidence, there's no concrete evidence. Well, there's the transcript of the phone call and then there's the president of the United States on October 3rd saying things like this.


QUESTION: MR. President, what exactly did you hope Zelensky would do about the Bidens after your phone call? Exactly.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I would think that if they were honest about it, they'd start a major investigation into the Bidens.


BERMAN: He's being -- reiterating, in case we missed it in the transcript of the phone call, he was asking Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. That does seem like an important piece of evidence at this point, Michael.

SMERCONISH: We're pretty far down the road, right? We have this hearing which comes up at 9:00 Eastern this morning and then probably next week there'll be a vote of the House of Representatives to impeach the president.

And as I have said in a variety of conversations with both of you, I've been waiting for the presentation of the defense. Now I'm convinced we'll really never, ever see one.

I wondered, will it be, well, the call wasn't clean entirely but it wasn't exactly an impeachable offense. Will it be that the election is looming therefore why would we get rid of him now? Would it be the president ultimately owning, holding up access to the Oval Office, as well as the aid? Will it be a combination of all of those things? Instead, it's really a throw everything at the wall strategy and hope that somewhere in all of that smoke there's sufficient confusion to rally the American people for an idea that he deserves to be impeached.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I think that mission accomplished. I mean in terms of sufficient confusion, I definitely think that --

SMERCONISH: Right. CAMEROTA: That they've sowed confusion. But I guess that the Ted Cruz thing, in particular, confuses me because is he comfortable surrendering the role of Congress giving out taxpayer money. Congress decides, you know, how much money -- they authorized the $400 million. The secretary of state and the secretary of defense certified that Ukraine had passed all of the tests to prove that they were not corrupt. They could get that money. And the president unilaterally decided not to release it. And so Senator Ted Cruz is comfortable with that scenario, surrendering his power in Congress over to the president?

SMERCONISH: I don't think he's making the decision at that level. I think you're too far into the weeds, respectfully. I think, instead, it's a reflection of the strangle hold, the control that the president has on this incarnation of the Republican Party, even in Texas, right, which is increasingly purple. And that Ted Cruz, like a lot of his colleagues, is just concerned as to being on the wrong side of the fence.

Look, it was -- it was Senator Romney and it was actually Senator Rubio who really, I think, addressed specifically what this Ukraine business is all about, this op-ed that was written by a then ambassador. And what they both said is, don't confuse rooting for an outcome with undermining and intervening in the American election. There's a big difference between the two and that's what this is all about.

BERMAN: One was an intelligence operation, a top-down attack by, you know, an outcrop of the KGB on the United States election. It's --

CAMEROTA: The other was an op-ed.

BERMAN: The other was an op-ed.


BERMAN: Michael Smerconish, thank you for being with us. I know you, along with us, will be watching these hearings today. I think you'll be watching the lawyering very carefully because it will be very interesting to see how all these lawyers treat each other. We'll talk to you soon.


BERMAN: In just a few hours, one of the men at the center of the Trump impeachment inquiry, Ukrainian President Zelensky, will meet Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, for the first time.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is live in Paris where this will happen with a preview of what will be a remarkable and notable meeting, Nick.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yes, John, we are, in fact, just hearing from the French president, from the Elysee, that Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky will, in fact, before or after a key press conference this evening, have their first bilateral face-to-face meeting, a chance for the Kremlin strongman, really, to perhaps establish his (INAUDIBLE), test the mettle of the political novice now running Ukraine and caught up in the impeachment scandal.


But here is how high the stakes are for these peace talks.


WALSH (voice over): It is Europe's only hot war and it was almost forgotten until it suddenly was at the heart of President Trump's impeachment battle. But now possibly an uncomfortable peace might be nearing for Ukraine's five-year conflict with Russia. For the first time today, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will meet his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, to talk piece. It's another first, too, a former KGB agent with decades in power and a former TV comedian turned political novice together negotiating a war's end.

The two men's approach could not be more different. Zelensky making a trip to the front line to burnish his military mettle beforehand.

A few days ahead, a very important meeting, he says. It was very important for me to have a personal meeting with you, with soldiers who look into the enemy's eyes on a daily basis.

Putin has never visited his front line in eastern Ukraine as he still doesn't accept he's arming the separatists fighting there. But he's being distant, yet hopeful, about his new interlocketor (ph).

I've never met him, he says. We don't know each other. We've talked on the phone. I think he's a nice and honest person. I really believe he wants to change the situation for the better, including in Dombas (ph).

Even to get here to the Elysee, where talks will restart after a long pause, has been hard for Zelensky. He's had to concede that elections can be held in the separatist controlled areas in Ukraine that Russia- backed militia seized in 2014. And while both sides have released prisoners to rebuild trust and literally rebuild bridges between them, Ukraine wants control of all its eastern borders back. Everyone else at the Paris table have dwindling reasons to back Zelensky. He disparaged German and French aid during his fateful July phone call with President Trump. And President Macron is keen to reboot relations with Russia.

And Putin, well, he has little to lose with Trump support of Ukraine likely weakened by the impeachment probe. The fighting has slowed, but the stakes are again high. Fourteen thousand dead so far with dozens of explosions still along the front daily. And often when Russia talks peace, more conflict follows after. Reasons to fear new blood in this old war.


WALSH: And, Alisyn, I have to tell you, the timing here really is extremely curious that these peace talks stalled for years are picking up really at the height of the impeachment inquiry. But the Trump administration's love, you might argue, for those in power in Kiev is certainly on the rocks. And the Europeans, too, they have, as I say, dwindling reasons potentially to continue their former support for the Ukrainians, perhaps desperately seeking for some kind of solution to this. But, more importantly here is Vladimir Putin perhaps seizing this moment, the ultimate pragmatist.

We also have a sad history of Russia using diplomacy, using peace talks often as a means to advance its military aims. Many analysts say they're not really done in a final situation they'd be comfortable with in the separatist regions in Ukraine. We'll simply have to see whether today is about them beginning to get the measure of a new opponent or genuinely seeking a more permanent peace.


CAMEROTA: This meeting will be very interesting to watch. Thank you for all of your reporting, Nick.

So last night CNN named its newest hero of the year. And the winner will join us live, next.



BERMAN: So I'm supposed to read out loud here that some questionable calls led to the Patriots losing their first home game in more than two years. They weren't questionable, they were bad calls.

CAMEROTA: It's like you wrote that.

BERMAN: Bad calls.

Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report."

Hey, Andy.


ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: I was trying to be, you know, fair, you know, questionable, you know? But there were two big calls, definitely, John, that have Patriots fans like yourself just not very happy this morning. The first one was the third quarter. Travis Kelce with the Chiefs catches this ball and appears to clearly fumble it. If the Pats picked it up, would have likely scored a touchdown, but the ref said he was down. The Patriots challenged it. The call was overturned. But still probably cost the Patriots a touchdown.

Then, in the fourth quarter, N'Keal Harry dives for the end zone. Looks like a great touchdown, but the ref said he was down at the one. The Patriots had to settle for a field goal on that drive. They were down seven, fourth and goal. Tom Brady's pass here batted down. But the Chiefs get the win 23-16, snapping the Patriots' 21-game home winning streak.

All right, the Saints and 9ers, meanwhile, are playing an instant classic yesterday. Under a minute to go, Drew Brees going to find Tre'Quan Smith. He gets in from 18 yards out to give the Saints a one- point lead. Brees had five touchdown passes in the game. But check out George Kittle of the 9ers. He would not be denied. Catches this pass with 40 seconds left. Just bullies his way down the field. And after the face mask penalty, Robbie Gould, easy game-winning field goal for the 9ers. They win 48-46. They're 11-2 on the season.

All right, and, finally, some huge international sports news breaking this morning. The World Anti-Doping Agency has unanimously agreed to ban Russia from major international sporting competitions for four years over doping non-compliance. Russia was banned from the last two Olympics as well, but some athletes were allowed to compete under a neutral flag. So, guys, that means the Russian flag is not going to be at the summer Olympics games in Tokyo and the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics as well.

BERMAN: Yes, Andy Scholes, thanks so much for that. Put that to a larger context, right? This is an example of Russia cheating. Russia breaking the rules and then lying about it. Where have we seen that?

CAMEROTA: Heard that? I don't know. I'm having a strange deja vu.

Meanwhile, less than two months to go before the Iowa caucuses and recent polls shows Bernie Sanders near the top of the pack. Now the Vermont senator is deploying a risky strategy to convince hundreds of voters who have never participated in the caucuses to come out and support him.

CNN's Ryan Nobles has the story.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): If the Bernie Sanders team is right --

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We believe in grassroots organizing.

NOBLES: This is where the Iowa caucus will be won.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello, my name is Denver (ph). I'm volunteering with the Bernie Sanders campaign.

NOBLES: On sidewalks, in the cold, with dedicated volunteers like Denver Foot (ph), one of the many foot soldiers in the 2020 version of the Sanders revolution.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He is for the people. He's by the people.

NOBLES: Sanders just wrapped a four-day swing in Iowa with his revamped strategy on full display. For the course of this campaign, he's still drawing big crowds at raucous rallies.

SANDERS: We have a number of challenges. NOBLES: His campaign, though, has a new, more targeted focus, highlighted by Sanders himself attending small issue-based forums and town halls, and his field staff organizing new caucus goers around specific issues like health care.

SALLY BENDA, IOWA VOTER: I've had cancer before and it -- health care is very important. I have a pre-existing condition basically.

NOBLES: The Sanders team is focusing on voters like Sally Benda, who may not traditionally been part of the Iowa caucus process, but have been inspired by the Sanders' message because of a personal experience.

It's not the first time a campaign has made turning out new caucus goers a key part of its Iowa strategy. It worked well for Barack Obama in 2008. But the Sanders campaign says its 2020 model is a political leap of faith.

NOBLES (on camera): Is it in anyway, though, a gamble for you to do it this way?

MISTY REBIK, SANDERS CAMPAIGN: If we're not willing to take risk and expand the electorate, then, you're right, it is a gamble. But, look, the senator has always been somebody who is willing to gamble a bit and do what was right.

JUDY DOWNS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, POLK COUNTY DEMOCRATIC PARTY: You just show up that day and register as a Democrat.


NOBLES (voice over): Caucus participation requires commitment. It means spending several hours on a specific night to publicly support a candidate, which is why campaigns traditionally place a premium on those who have reliably caucused in the past.

DOWNS: It's a big ask to bring new people into the system. But it's definitely a worthy cause. And if they can do it successful, they might win on caucus night.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is your name?

NOBLES: For the Sanders team, they say this is about more than a campaign. It's about the next step in a political movement.

REBIK: I don't know if that's risky. I think that's the right thing to do because, frankly, if we want a White House that represents all people, we got to talk to all people and they've got to get voted in by all people.


NOBLES: And while the Sanders campaign remains convinced that they can win here, they also don't view Iowa as a deal breaker. They think this Democratic primary could be a long, drawn out process. That's why they're investing their resources beyond the first four early states, including heavily investing in Super Tuesday, including that big prize of California.

John and Alisyn.

BERMAN: All right, Ryan Nobles for us in Iowa. Thanks so much.

So this morning we have a new hero, a new CNN Hero of the Year. Freweini Mebrahtu won the title at the annual ceremony in New York City late last night for designing and patenting a reusable menstrual pad to help reduce stigma and keep girls in school. Over the past decade, nearly 800,000 women and girls have benefitted from her work.

And Freweini Mebrahtu joins us now.

I have to say, it's such an honor to meet you. I was rooting for you last night.


BERMAN: What was that moment like when you won?

MEBRAHTU: Wow, that moment was amazing. That moment was every girl shining. It's freedom. It is somebody who cares. All the questions that she has, it's been answered. But, again, there's a lot of work that need to be done. But that moment was what's absolutely fantastic. Yes.

CAMEROTA: You know, I think that it's almost incomprehensible for us here in the U.S. to understand what girls in Ethiopia have to go through, the shame and silence around getting their periods. So much so that they miss school. They miss weeks and weeks of school. And sometimes they drop out altogether.

And so tell us what your winning this prize, the grand prize, which does bring a big infusion of cash, how that will change things there.

MEBRAHTU: My goodness. I mean since CNN made us top ten, the orders, the awareness just unbelievably, exponentially going crazy. And we're ready to expand. I mean we need to produce more pads. We can't possibly, you know, going on with the --


MEBRAHTU: The demand. We can't really fulfill. But -- so we're getting ready to start second shift, third shift. That means there's more machinery. So this money is going to be -- just going to be there immediately to -- to impact what we -- what we need to do.

And what you have created the -- it's unbelievable. And also we were getting ready to do a franchise. So hopefully that a lot of people are going to be helping us in spreading our work as fast as possible. We're talking about 35 million women and girls at this productive age. And out of that 90 percent have no access to sanitary pads. Though we are almost now at a million, but there's a lot of work that need to be done. So what that means is we also -- Ethiopia is -- we're facing, like any other developing countries, unemployment is skyrocketing.