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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Inspector General Testifies on Trump-Russia Probe Report; House Begins Debate on Trump Impeachment Articles; Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) is Interviewed About the DOJ Inspector General's Testimony. Aired 4- 4:30p ET

Aired December 11, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:01]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Thank you so much for being with me the last two hours.

Let's go Washington. "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Senator Lindsey Graham says Russia, not Ukraine, hacked the Democrats in 2016. Someone might want to tell his golf buddy, President Trump.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Just hours away from the first committee debate on articles of impeachment, as new CNN reporting reveals what the Senate trial might look like. And it is possible President Trump will not be happy about it.

Just the facts. Today, the Justice Department watchdog stood by his report showing no evidence of a deep state plot to launch that investigation into the Trump campaign, but a whole lot of evidence of serious FBI misconduct during that investigation.

Plus, new details on a wild, deadly, horrific shoot-out, a kosher market in New Jersey the target, anti-Semitism the apparent motive. A pipe bomb found at the scene. What else was behind this vile act of hate?

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin today with the politics lead.

In just under three hours from now, the House Judiciary Committee will begin the debate over and finalizing of the two articles of impeachment against President Donald J. Trump.

We know the charges, obstruction of Congress and abusing the power of his office. This is all in preparation for a historic vote tomorrow by the committee and then a final House floor vote next week.

Right now, it appears House Democrats do have the votes to impeach President Trump and then send the matter to the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate, where removing the president from office seems quite unlikely.

GOP senators are beginning to say that they're seeing the benefit in keeping the process short, potentially not even calling any witnesses.

Still, as CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports, Mr. Trump has privately expressed concern about the possibility of becoming just the third president in U.S. history to be impeached.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In just three hours, the House Judiciary Committee will begin debating two articles of impeachment against President Trump, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

REP. MADELEINE DEAN (D-PA): I have an obligation to uphold my oath and hold this president accountable.

COLLINS: Then, tomorrow, the committee will vote on whether to send the impeachment bill to the entire House, where it will need a simple majority to pass.

After that, the case goes to a trial in the Senate, where Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are at odds over what that trial should look like.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): A Senate trial will have to be our first item of business in January.

COLLINS: Democrats say impeaching the president isn't a decision they're making lightly.

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA): We're taking this action for future generations, not for this Congress.

COLLINS: But at his rally in Pennsylvania, Trump blasted Democrats for backing off accusing him of bribery.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All of these horrible things, remember, bribery and this and that. Where are they?

COLLINS: Trump claiming House Speaker Pelosi only cut a deal with him on trade because she's embarrassed by impeachment.

TRUMP: And she did it on the same day that they announced that they are going to impeach, because they're embarrassed by the impeachment, and our poll numbers have gone through the roof because of her stupid impeachment.

COLLINS: But while the president is downplaying the articles of impeachment...

TRUMP: This is the lightest impeachment in the history of our country by far.

COLLINS: ... sources say he is still privately agitated by it all. Trump has said privately he doesn't want to be remembered like he

thinks former Bill Clinton is, by his impeachment.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Jake, one Republican senator who spoke with our colleague Ted Barrett warned that the president's desire to have witnesses at his Senate trial could backfire, warning that witnesses can cut both ways and that Democrats are going to be able to call them too.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House for us, thanks so much.

So it is possible the Republicans in the Senate call no witnesses, but we are now also starting to hear two sources telling CNN that the whistle-blower's legal team is preparing for the possibility that lawmakers will call their client to testify in the Senate.

Let's chew over all of this with our team.

And, Laura, let me start with you.

What do you make of that? We don't know if the Senate is going to call witnesses or not. Ultimately, it is going to be up to a majority of the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans. If they call the whistle-blower, then what?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It is pretty unchartered territory at this point.

Up until now, because of the House being led by the Democrats, they have protected the identity of the whistle-blower, as is customary for any of the I.G. community members who have the whistle-blower protection.

But now they're having a Senate that is controlled by the Republicans, who may be going with the same talking point and saying, listen, let's shoot the messenger, figuratively speaking here, because if you look at the messenger, as opposed to the more than 17 people who have come forward to testify to corroborate aspects of the complaint that is already known, when -- it becomes kind of a circus atmosphere, as opposed to the substantive defense of the conduct or substantive attack of the conduct.

[16:05:10]

In any event, it would not be very productive. It would also undermine why we have the Protection Act in the first place.

TAPPER: All right, but let's step back, because I want to talk about the immediate future. We don't know what is going to happen.

And I wanted to ask you, Ron, bringing back memories, of course, of the Clinton impeachment, what are you expecting to see in the next hours as the House Judiciary Committee does the final edits, what is called a markup of the articles of impeachment? Then they will vote on it tomorrow.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

TAPPER: And then the process of marking it up or editing it starts tonight, and then, of course, a final floor vote next week.

BROWNSTEIN: Probably next week.

Well, the first thing, a lot of the lines have already been engraved. We have seen that the Republicans on both committees, Intelligence and Judiciary, really have shown no inclination to grapple with the underlying facts, rather to attack the process or attack Democrats as biased

I don't think that is going to change. I think the people -- the thing that people will be watching the most for is, are there any of the Democrats in the -- 31 Democrats in the districts that Trump carried in 2016 who are showing hesitation about going down the road of impeachment?

I think that will be the kind of the most newsworthy thing. Don't forget, in 1998, Republicans had two of their four articles of impeachment that were voted out of the Judiciary Committee were voted down on the floor, because they had so many defections from their own members.

And the two that passed ultimately had five Republicans vote against. So that may be kind of a gauge or a standard by which to measure the degree of unity that Democrats ultimately achieve on this.

TAPPER: One of the things that I heard this morning, an interview with, I think it was Joe Lockhart, President Clinton's former press secretary, saying that he thought one of the biggest differences about then and now is that, then, during the Clinton impeachment, there were a lot of House Democrats, including then Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, who were condemning Bill Clinton's behavior.

They were not -- they were saying it does not rise to impeachment, but they were condemning his behavior. And even Clinton's attorney on the floor of the Senate during the trial condemned President Clinton's behavior, whereas now, according to Joe Lockhart, very few Republicans are doing that and, in his view, they're not even taking it seriously.

What do you think? Do you agree?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think that's the right thing to do, is to say that this behavior is bad. Does it rise to the point of impeachment?

But they have thus far declined to make a substantive argument. It has been all process. And the idea of calling the whistle-blower, I just don't get it, because it seems like a moot point, because if you're going to shoot the messenger, the messenger is Trump, because he gave the transcript out.

Now, we're still left with the question of whether this rises to impeachable and removable. And I think the Democrats have a long way to go convincing a lot of independent and swing vote -- swing state voters that that is the case.

And I think political incentives have changed. And the Republican Party thinks that giving any ground on this is not going to get them anything. And, by the way, they're not being hurt in polling by this.

The numbers are moving away from impeachment for Democrats, despite them not addressing the substance, I think partly because independent voters are like, this seems like a bridge too far.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, but a couple things.

Number one, during Clinton, remember the outside pressure on a lot of those members was part of the reason that people decided to vote some of it down and keep it fairly straightforward,.

It was not a hard thing to say, I don't approve of the behavior, but this doesn't rise to the level of impeachment. In this case, we're talking about national security. We're talking about elections. So it's a totally different set of circumstances.

However, if you look at the way impeachment is playing out in races, not the national picture, it's a little bit different. And just because I may not think the president should be impeached does not mean I think he should be president again, does not mean I'm going to vote for him, doesn't mean I won't vote for you, Democratic House member, even though you're in a tough district.

BROWNSTEIN: And there is one calculation for Republicans that I think is worth noting.

I mean, yes, you can look at the polling now and say they don't have a lot of incentive, 90 percent of Republicans oppose impeachment and removal, 99 percent of people who approve of Trump's performance oppose it.

But one thing we know about President Trump, he is a student of power, he is a student of weakness. If every Republican in both chambers basically casts a vote to say they see nothing wrong here, they see nothing to sanction here, the one thing they are guaranteed is, they are going to get more of this kind of behavior or behavior that is perhaps even more egregious.

He goes until soon someone imposes a penalty and forces him to change direction. And I think Republicans who basically -- if they uniformly vote to say this is OK, they are signing themselves up to defend something that may be even more difficult to defend.

COATES: And remember, talking about students of power and weakness, impeachment is also about the power of Congress, even more so than perhaps about the power or abuse of power of president of the United States.

One of the articles is obstruction of Congress. If they allow that to take place, they make themselves impotent in every successive presidential term going forward. And they essentially say, we're handing you separation of powers, because you can thumb your nose at us. You can say, I'm not going to comply with your subpoenas.

And then suddenly, we, the lawmakers, become below you, the executive. That's above the law.

HAM: But there also is a third branch of government that is designated to adjudicate such things. And that is the process that we could go through, except Democrats don't actually want to go through it because that would lead them into January and 2020.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN: Way past January. And that's the problem. It may be way past January.

TAPPER: Into the summer.

(CROSSTALK)

HAM: Nonetheless, we have a process for this, which they do not want to observe. I don't see...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Let's stick around. We have a lot more to talk about.

[16:10:01]

The Justice Department's inspector general just finished defending his report on the Russia investigation and FISA abuses before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

We're going to talk to one of the senators who questioned him next.

Plus, new details emerging about the shooters and what they had with them as they carried out that deadly, horrific attack in Jersey City.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: And we're back with our politics lead today.

Right now, the Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz is finishing up his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, in which Horowitz defended his team's findings that the start of the Russia probe was justified.

[16:15:10]

It was not a deep state plot of Trump haters inappropriately launching an investigation.

But as Jessica Schneider reports, the inspector general also underlined that the various misconduct and abuses detailed in his report mean there is no vindication for the FBI.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The nonpartisan watchdog for the Department of Justice in the hot seat. Inspector General Michael Horowitz standing by his reports' conclusions and largely squashing conspiracy theories.

MICHAEL HOROWITZ, JUSTICE DEPARTMENT INSPECTOR GENERAL: We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that indicated political bias or improper motivation influencing his decision to open the investigation.

SCHNEIDER: But Horowitz also focused on the failures of the FBI when it came to the FISA warrant application and subsequent renewals on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

HOROWITZ: We found, and as we outlined here, are deeply concerned that so many basic and fundamental errors were made by three separate hand-picked investigative teams on one of the most sensitive FBI investigations.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Would you have submitted a warrant application as a lawyer?

HOROWITZ: Let me put it this way. I would not have submitted the one they put in. They certainly misled -- it was misleading to the court.

SCHNEIDER: Republicans pounced on the problems.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): This wasn't Jason Bourne. This is Beavis and Butthead.

SCHNEIDER: And Senate Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham called out former FBI Director James Comey who was at the top when the investigation began.

GRAHAM: Former FBI Director James Comey said this week that your report vindicates him. Is that a fair assessment of your report?

HOROWITZ: You know, I think the activities we found here don't vindicate anybody who touched this.

SCHNEIDER: Top Democrat Dianne Feinstein and her colleagues fought back, repeatedly working to spotlight the I.G.'s core finding.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): This was not a politically-motivated investigation. There is no deep state. Simply put, the FBI investigation was motivated by facts, not bias.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So we are clear, did your report uncover systematic political bias at FBI?

HOROWITZ: As to what we looked at, and the openings, we did not find documentary testimonial evidence to support a finding of bias. SCHNEIDER: Horowitz also pushed back on the criticism coming from

Attorney General Bill Barr and U.S. Attorney John Durham who is conducting his own DOJ-sanctioned investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation. Barr said in an interview on Tuesday that the FBI may have acted in bad faith. Horowitz saying he was given no evidence from Barr or Durham to prove that.

FEINSTEIN: Did either Barr or Durham present anything that altered your findings?

HOROWITZ: No.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: And with that, the focus now shifts to the Durham investigation. The results expected this spring or summer and whether the investigation will reveal new details about the origins of the Russia investigation or perhaps any bad faith by the FBI that the attorney general has alluded to.

And Jake, of course, the inspector general today, though, he was clear that neither Attorney General Barr nor Durham offered any evidence to him to change that conclusion that the FBI properly opened the probe back in July 2016 -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jessica Schneider, thanks so much.

Let's bring in Democratic Senator Chris Coons. He's on the Senate Judiciary Committee. He just finished questioning the inspector general today about his findings.

Senator Coons, thanks for joining us as always. We appreciate it.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): Thank you.

TAPPER: The inspector general said today that no one should feel vindicated by this report. What was your big takeaway from his testimony today?

COONS: Well, Jake, first, the inspector general conducted a strikingly broad investigation. They looked sat a million documents. They conducted interviews of over a hundred witnesses and they ultimately concluded that the FBI did not act with political bias, that they launched an investigation into the possible collusion between Russian intelligence and the Trump campaign with a solid and legal foundation.

They did identify some missteps, inadequacies in FBI procedure and behavior, but overarching the important conclusion the I.G. reached is those actions did not influence how that investigation was launched or the conclusions that it ultimately reached.

TAPPER: We live in a time of such division. There isn't even agreement within the leadership of this Justice Department on this. Take a listen to this exchange between the inspector general and your colleague, Senator Klobuchar. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KLOBUCHAR: Do you agree with Attorney General Barr that the investigation was predicated on the thinnest of suspicions?

HOROWITZ: Well, I'm not going to get into a comparison of what his view. He's free to have his opinion. We have our finding and as I said earlier, I stand by our conclusion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Presumably, from your first answer, you side with the inspector general, Mr. Horowitz?

[16:20:03]

COONS: That's right. And one of the things I did emphasize was that I'm grateful that the FBI Director Chris Wray, instead of continuing to support the conspiracy theories advanced by President Trump and frankly by Attorney General Bill Barr accepted the conclusions of the inspector general report, said he would promptly move to implement the recommendations for how to improve the FISA warrant process and agreed with the conclusions that the inspector general reached.

TAPPER: So, the bar was -- no pun intended -- the bar for launching an FBI investigation, counterterrorism or intelligence was lowered after 9/11.

COONS: Yes.

TAPPER: It sounds like you're saying that Attorney General Barr would not necessarily view the investigation as having been launched on the thinnest of suspicions if it had been an investigation of, say, your fellow Delawarean Joe Biden?

COONS: Well, I can't speak to what the attorney general would say in that circumstance but my broader concern is that there wasn't bipartisan agreement in that hearing that the inspector general reached the right result, and that result was that the FBI made its most important investigation decisions without political bias. That runs directly in the face of the repeated attacks on FBI as being a hoax or rich hunt or politically bias. And that's the important conclusion here, and I wish that all of us on the committee, Republican and Democrat, would have embraced that outcome today.

TAPPER: Now, you pressed Horowitz on whether the FISA application process was abused for political purposes, he did say he say evidence of it either way. Senator Graham, the chairman of the committee, seems to suggest that the lawyer's whose conduct is being referred for prosecution, who altered this email for a FISA reauthorization --

COONS: That's right.

TAPPER: -- that may have been acting out of bias based on anti-Trump text messages. So, in other words, the FBI investigation was launched OK but that it wasn't continued in a non-bias way. What do you make of that?

COONS: Well, the larger point I was making in my questioning today, Jake, was that the individual Carter Page, who's at issue here, there was a FISA warrant issued against him for surveillance on him, he ultimately was not the target of any of the indictments of this investigation. But if you put it in broader context, there were 37 indictments, convictions, guilty pleas.

The president's theory that this was a baseless witch hunt I think is disproven by the fact that the president's own national security adviser, deputy national security adviser, campaign manager, personal attorney, all stand convicted. They've either pled guilty or been convicted in court as a result of this investigation. That's the larger back drop.

And while there was this one instance that was pointed to over and over by Chairman Graham and others on the committee today, if you put it in a broader context, this was a well-founded and necessary investigation.

TAPPER: Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, thank you so much, sir. Appreciate it.

COONS: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Now and then. How the five remaining House Judiciary Committee members who are around during the Clinton's impeachment sound these days and how they sounded then.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:28:11]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOROWITZ: We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that indicated political bias or improper motivation influencing his decision to open the investigation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: We're back and continuing the conversation in the politics lead, the Justice Department inspector general defending his findings about the Russia probe before the Senate Judiciary Committee. And, Ron, the conclusion from the report, a lot of very serious issues with the FBI, but no deep state anti-Trump plot to launch the investigation.

BROWNSTEIN: Right. And another world earth two we talk about bipartisan FISA reform after -- you know, after this, after the problems they discovered. But right, at the bottom line, with all these Republicans pounding and the president saying there was a massive conspiracy against him, the inspector general very clearly rejects the idea that there was political motivation at the outset of this investigation, much less that Barack Obama was involved.

You know, by the way, if you look at what the FBI actually did in 2016, James Comey holding press conference in July and reopening the investigation and "The New York Times" headline on November 1st, investigating Donald Trump, FBI sees no clear link to Russia.

TAPPER: Uh-huh.

BROWNSTEIN: The actual things that happened as opposed to what was occurring, you know, kind of behind closed doors, it's very hard to make the case that their interventions were again -- hurt Donald Trump --

TAPPER: In 2016.

BROWNSTEIN: -- than Hillary Clinton.

TAPPER: But there's this other question. OK. So, the bias -- the alleged bias did not have impact on launching the investigation, but what about the continuing investigation? Was there any effect there?

And Horowitz was asked about that in the hearing today. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOROWITZ: It is unclear what the motivations were. On the one hand, gross incompetence and negligence, on the other hand, intentionality and where in between, we weren't in a position to -- with the evidence we had to make that conclusion. I'm not ruling it out.

SEN. MIKE LEE (R-UT): But my point is, your lack of evidence here is not evidence that there was no bias?

HOROWITZ: I'm solely basing it, correct, on the actual evidence that we have.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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