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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Meets With Russian Foreign Minister in Oval Office; Deal on USMCA Reached; Trump Administration at War Internally Over I.G. Report on Russia Probe?; House Drafts Articles of Impeachment Against President Trump. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 10, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:02]

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And I would presume McConnell may have a lot of talking and persuading to do of President Trump in the future about what is best politically for both him and for Senate Republicans.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: But would a circus help President Trump, if it became this bizarre thing, with Hunter Biden and Joe Biden and -- I mean, would that even help the president?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, maybe.

TAPPER: Just by being a distraction?

CARPENTER: Yes.

I mean, don't you think it's probably President Trump's goal to turn the Senate trial into a massive campaign ad? Every camera will cover it. He could make it an opposition ad against the whole Biden family and then tell the story of his supposed triumph against the deep state.

You could have Rand Paul talking about FISA abuse. I mean, I can see how this would play out. But it really comes down to, what kind of leader is Mitch McConnell in a moment like this?

I'm not sure. I know Mitch McConnell's preference would probably be to get this over and be done quickly. But is he going to be able to stand up to the White House? Or is he going to try to find a way to make everybody happy and give Lindsey Graham a starring role here and Rand Paul a starring role here if it gets him enough votes?

TAPPER: And we have seen a number of Republicans in the Senate, not to mention the House, of course, willing to do the president's bidding, willing to repeat the things he says that are not true.

I mean, so I don't -- I mean, there are probably a lot of willing participants in the Senate trial.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There are.

The question is, will they do it, to the detriment of their institution, the Senate, and maybe even to themselves, or at least their colleagues, their majority? They do have several Republicans who are running for reelection in states the Democrats have targeted, including Susan Collins of Maine, Martha McSally in Arizona, Cory Gardner in Colorado.

If this looks like a circus, I think Amanda's right, the president benefits, also because he can say, look, that's the swamp. That's a circus.

But it's really bad for the Senate. Back in the Clinton days, I remember leaders in the Senate -- Republicans controlled it, so we didn't have a lot of influence. They were very concerned that the House had looked terribly partisan, also Republican.

Republicans running the Senate at the time, Trent Lott, they didn't want the Senate to be dragged down that way. And they had a very decorous -- it wasn't boring. Had a very decorous, formal, honorable proceeding in the Senate.

And I don't know which way they go. But either way, McConnell can't protect those vulnerable senators. I will say this. I was on the Hill last week. I saw a bunch of Senate Democrats. They're not afraid of this. They're just not.

Impeachment with Clinton redounded against the party that impeached him. Right now, it's not hurting the Democrats at all, including several I talked to from states Trump carried. They're not -- maybe they should be, but I'm just telling you, they're not afraid of Trump.

TAPPER: Mitt Romney, the senator, Republican senator from Utah, told Manu Raju that his mind is open about voting potentially to convict.

I mean, who knows what's ultimately going to happen.

Do you think that there actually are you -- I mean, do you believe Romney when he says that? And do you think there are Republicans who might actually vote to remove President Trump from office? It's a pretty bold vote.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It is.

I can't really say whether or not Romney would vote that way. In the past, he said that he's been open to things, and then has gone back to the party.

But I'm not sure that there are enough votes in the Senate from Senate Republicans to convict. I think that, even at the end of the day, if Gardner or McSally or others do feel nervous about their reelection campaigns, they might be more afraid of what parting with the president could do to them.

TAPPER: Yes. They need the base to turn out for them.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Exactly.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around. We got more to talk about.

President Trump's FBI director sticking to facts. And in this administration, you know what that means.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:38:00]

TAPPER: And we are back with our politics lead.

Today, House Democrats unveiled articles of impeachment and alleged President Trump abused his office by pressuring Ukraine to investigate conspiracy theories that Trump administration officials past and present have called false or debunked, one about the Bidens, the other about Ukraine interfering in the 2016 election, not Russia.

Now, one of the reasons the president is facing impeachment right now is because of this predilection for conspiracy theories and lies, ones told entirely in service to himself.

In that vein today, the president is taking issue with the facts asserted by his own FBI director, Christopher Wray.

Mr. Trump tweeting -- quote -- "I don't know what report current Director of the FBI Christopher Wray was reading, but it sure wasn't the one given to me" -- unquote.

The president there referring to the Justice Department inspector general report about, in part, the origins of the Russia investigation. The report did not support the president's wild conspiracy theory that there was some sort of deep state treasonous plot and coup against him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: The inspector general found that, in this particular instance, the investigation was opened with appropriate predication and authorization.

QUESTION: Do you have any evidence of the FBI targeted the Trump campaign unfairly?

WRAY: I don't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: What Wray said is at odds with what the president and his defenders increasingly rely upon, alternative facts, also known as lies.

Wray, in fact, debunked a different lie with this statement:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WRAY: We have no information that indicates that Ukraine interfered with the 2016 presidential election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That is, of course, despite the president insisting that the Ukrainian president investigate that very conspiracy theory, holding up military aid partly until the Ukrainians committed to doing so, according to the White House chief of staff.

And desperate allies, even ones who have felt firsthand the brunt of Mr. Trump's predilection to spread false conspiracy theories, well, they too continue to spread this lie.

[16:40:07]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Ukraine blatantly interfered in our election.

The sitting ambassador from Ukraine wrote an op-ed blasting Donald during the election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: An ambassador writing an op-ed in The Hill" newspaper criticizing candidate Trump's suggestion that Crimea should be part of Russia, that is not election interference, as national security officials consider it.

It is as, Senator Marco Rubio, Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN, not even in the same universe as the Russian government's massive and multifaceted operation to interfere in the 2016 election.

But muddying this all up to confuse the public, to confuse you, that's part of the defense. And the president's defenders now also increasingly want you to deny what you have seen with your own eyes and heard with your own ears.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: The president asked a leader of a foreign country to investigate his political rival. So, one simple question to start, is that appropriate?

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC): Well, one, he didn't do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: He did do that.

But don't take it from me. Just listen to what President Trump said when asked what he wanted from the Ukrainian president in that July 25 phone call

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I would think that, if they were honest about it, that would start a major investigation into the Bidens. It's a very simple answer.

They should investigate the Bidens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Facts.

Part of the reason why we are here today, at the brink of impeachment, is because there seem to no longer be any guardrails, no one around President Trump to stop him, because if, like FBI Director Christopher Wray, you dare to state facts, as your job requires, well, then your job is on the line.

Joining me now to talk about this, CNN's Evan Perez and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General Elliot Williams.

Evan, FBI Director Wray here is recounting what the I.G. found and just doing so in a factual manner, and it's putting him in trouble with President Trump, who has fired an FBI director before.

What more are you hearing about this?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right, exactly.

And I think one of the interesting parts of that tweet is the word currently, the current FBI director, sort of suggesting perhaps he may not be.

But, look, I think Chris Wray is somebody, having covered him for many years and knowing him, he jokes about that there's sometimes people don't know whether he has a pulse or not. And he says he doesn't get bothered by things like this.

But it is true that, look, the FBI director said that he ordered 40 corrective changes as a result of what this I.G. report says. But he doesn't shy away from the fact that it does not support the things that the president wants him to say it does. And he's not afraid to do that.

And that's where, in these times, for some reason, it does put you in really shaky ground.

TAPPER: Stating the facts.

PEREZ: Right, just stating the facts, because that's not what the president -- and, frankly, even the attorney general is sort of going along with what the president wants to say.

So, frankly, it's just one of those weird times in Washington where, if you're the FBI director, it's probably one of the toughest jobs that you ever would have.

TAPPER: The I.G. report completely destroyed President Trump's theory that this was a deep state anti-Trump coup.

You have said before that Christopher Wray is a dead man walking.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER DEPUTY U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yes, I said that on this network, in fact.

So I came into the Criminal Division at the Justice Department under Wray when he was the head of it. And I actually -- the thing -- it was a few months ago. I just don't see how he survives in the job.

And this is now the playbook from the president that we've seen.

TAPPER: You mean that as a compliment to him.

WILLIAMS: I mean that as a compliment to him, as someone with integrity and as a good career prosecutor.

Look, you get the nasty tweet. You get the articles in "The Washington Post" or whatever saying, people are souring, the president is salary on the FBI director, and then, ultimately, the resignation or the termination.

You saw it with Jeff Sessions, Rex Tillerson, Kirstjen Nielsen. You have seen it with Don McGahn. And it happens again and again and again. When anyone dares to step out of line and not essentially act as one of the president's stooges or cronies, they end up getting terminated.

And you're seeing it again playing it out with Chris Wray.

TAPPER: And Attorney General Barr, as you mentioned, he's out there. I mean, the whole point of having an inspector general is to have a neutral arbiter go into these things.

And so inspector general Horowitz does this. And Bill Barr comes out and just says it's wrong.

PEREZ: Right.

He issued a very incendiary statement yesterday, and then today in an interview with NBC and in another interview with "The Wall Street Journal," he doubled down on this idea that the FBI had nefarious reasons and motivations to go after the president's campaign, in his view, and spy on the president's campaign.

He's not abandoning that phrasing. Take a listen to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The core statement, in my opinion, by the I.G. is that these irregularities, these misstatements, these omissions were not satisfactorily explained.

[16:45:00] And I think that leaves open the possibility to infer bad faith. I think it's premature now to reach a judgment on that, but I think that further work has to be done. And that's what Durham is doing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PEREZ: And he's talking about John Durham, the prosecutor who he has appointed to take another look at exactly what Horowitz took a look at.

And one of -- just one quick thing I wanted to add to that. In the interview with NBC, he also is asked the question about the Ukraine conspiracy, and he says, you know, I just don't know, which is sort of really an astonishing thing.

TAPPER: Even though Wray the same day says, we have no information of anything like that.

PEREZ: Yes. Right.

TAPPER: And he used the word spying, a word for -- he's -- usually, that's used for foreign intelligence agents talking about spying.

But this is about the FBI. He said the FBI was spying on the Trump campaign.

WILLIAMS: And there was a question as to what -- when he used that word in a hearing a few months back, was it a slip of the tongue, and did he make a mistake in saying that? Because that's a legally very fraught and very loaded term.

But he doubled down today. And it is remarkable. The president sees the attorney general as his -- almost a personal attorney. And, unfortunately, Barr is giving him what he wants.

TAPPER: Yes, we heard Congresswoman Jayapal say earlier that -- some not-so-nice things about him.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: Evan Perez and Elliot Williams, thank you so much.

Just an hour after issuing the articles of impeachment, Democrats handed President Trump a big win. We will explain why next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:51:02]

TAPPER: The world lead now.

Only an hour after unveiling articles of impeachment against President Trump, Democrats delivered to him one of the biggest legislative victories of his presidency, a deal on North American trades.

CNN's Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill for us. Phil, today, Speaker Pelosi called the original proposal from the

Trump administration deeply flawed. So what's in this new USMCA that's so much better?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

And she also said this morning when she was talking behind closed doors to her caucus, according to one person in the room, "We ate their lunch" in the negotiations that followed, after she called it deeply flawed. And they were lengthy negotiations.

And among the things Democrats say they those won in those negotiations really centers on things like labor and environment.

I want to start with the labor issue.

One, they created new rules and enforcement through this -- the negotiations that they had. And that would go along with the strength in labor protections for workers. These are crucial issues for Democrats, crucial issues for the labor community, particularly as it pertains to Mexico.

They also added environmental rules and enforcement mechanisms related to those rules and reviews, which is something they have been pushing for several weeks.

And the final thing -- and this was a very big issue at the end -- they removed language that would have protected expensive biologic drugs from imitators over the course of 10 years. This was in the original deal. Democrats worked to remove it. It was a key issue that they had. They got it out.

Democrats feel good about this. There's a reason Jake, the AFL-CIO backed it. They feel good about the labor protections. And that's why you're seeing a lot of Democrats get behind the speaker on this.

TAPPER: Phil, this isn't, however, a complete overhaul of NAFTA, the previous trade agreement between Mexico, the U.S. and Canada. How is USMCA different?

MATTINGLY: Yes. And this is an important point.

I think, despite the hyperbole you may hear from the White House about what this actually is, it is in large part, large swathes, at least, are NAFTA. It is a bulkier NAFTA to some degree.

Now, what it does do, what the Trump administration worked very hard to achieve, it adds incentives for cars and parts to be made in North America. And part of the way they're doing that is kind of carrot- and-stick approach, by threatening tariffs, if you don't hit a certain percentage from the origin -- or country of origin.

It also implements rules to try and drive autoworker wages higher throughout the -- throughout North America, Canada, U.S. and Mexico, at the center of this deal. And one of the crucial kind of biggest fights in the original iteration of this deal that still remains, the U.S. was able to get broader access into Canadian dairy markets. It's one of the areas that has been closed off to U.S. dairy producers for a long period of time. They got an expanded access.

That's a big win for the Trump administration that Canada had been resisting for a long time. They secured it in this deal, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mattingly, thanks so much.

The last time this happened, President Trump shared classified information with Russia's foreign minister. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:58:05]

TAPPER: Also in our world today, President Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the Oval Office today behind closed doors.

You might remember the last time Trump had a private meeting in the Oval Office with Lavrov, May 2017. Sources telling CNN that the president claimed pressure was off him because he had just fired the previous FBI director.

He also shared highly classified information with Lavrov and the Russian ambassador, as CNN's Kylie Atwood reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER (voice-over): Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov standing shoulder to shoulder with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo today.

SERGEI LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): It's an open secret that we have different views on different things.

ATWOOD: Lavrov sought to distance Russia from the debunked theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election, or Russian narrative trumpeted by the president and his allies.

LAVROV (through translator): As for Ukraine and elections in the United States in 2016, it has nothing to do with us. That is an issue for two sovereign states.

ATWOOD: For his part, Pompeo did not mention the Ukraine theory, but instead stood firm, not letting Russia off the hook for interference which the U.S. intelligence community overwhelmingly concluded they committed.

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We think we have shared plenty of facts show what happened in the 2016 election with our Russian counterparts. We don't think there's any mistake about what really transpired there. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ATWOOD: Now, after meetings here at the State Department, Foreign Minister Lavrov went over to the White House, where he met with President Trump for about an hour today.

Jake, it is very noteworthy that the Russians got a White House meeting today, because that is the one thing that the Ukrainians had been pushing for ever since President Zelensky got into office earlier this year.

But they have still been denied that Oval Office meeting. It is one of the main things that is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Kylie Atwood at the State Department, thanks so much.

This just in: The House Judiciary Committee will begin debating articles of impeachment starting at 7:00 p.m. tomorrow. The committee will begin voting at 9:00 a.m. on Thursday.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @JakeTapper.

[17:00:00]