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Trump Lies And Assaults Facts To Battle Impeachment Push; House Panel To Begin Debating Articles Of Impeachment Tonight. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired December 11, 2019 - 13:00   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN RIGHT NOW: I'm Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, another historic moment as the House begins debating the articles of impeachment against President Trump, beginning a crucial week for the fate of his presidency. And despite the serious charges against him, the president argues that abusing his power and obstructing Congress are, quote, not even a crime, calling it impeachment lite.

Plus, the president's dangerous assault on truth being enabled by his favorite network, his party and now the attorney general, and it comes as senators grill the Justice Department's watchdog who found that the investigation into the Trump campaign was unbiased and justified.

And that hearing will get underway again soon. More senators, including some 2020 presidential candidates, are going to get their chance to question the I.G. and we will bring that to you.

But, first, it is full steam ahead as the push for impeachment gets a primetime spot. Later this evening, the House Judiciary Committee will begin debating the two articles of impeachment against President Trump, one, abuse of power, the other, obstruction of Congress. And this public markup, which is this process by which the committee debates and then changes language in the bill starts at 7:00 Eastern tonight. And with 41 members, each allotted five minutes to make opening statements. This is shaping up to be a long and eventful night ahead with an eye certainly toward a vote tomorrow.

Rachael Bade is on Capitol Hill for us. And, Rachael, it is rare that a markup -- I mean, this is truly the sausage-making of Congress that is done maybe publicly but most people don't pay attention to it. It's just so weird that it's must see T.V. What are you expecting?

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, there's going to be a lot of political circus tonight. There's no doubt about it. I mean, we'll see a lot of what we saw for the past couple of weeks, Republicans saying the president didn't do anything wrong and trying to amend these articles of impeachment so that they can take away these charges, zero them out completely. Obviously, Democrats will be pointing to witnesses that we've heard from from the past couple weeks to say their case is solid.

It will be interesting to see how long this markup takes. I mean, technically Republicans can drag this out all day tomorrow if they want with a whole bunch of amendments. But I do think we're going to continue to hear a lot of the same arguments we've already heard.

I think the more interesting thing to be watching will actually be not happening at this hearing. It's going to be what are the moderates talking about privately. We have heard a little bit about some centrist Democrats who are having second thoughts, a little cold feet right now and this is a tough decision for them.

This is something they could see political blowback at home if they vote for these articles of impeachment, how will it affect them in 2020 with their re-election campaigns in Trump districts. And so I think that that is a key storyline as well although it won't be obviously on the big screen.

KEILAR: Sure. And some of them, they're worried enough that they want to do anything really not as severe as impeaching the president. They're talking about censuring him. What are you hearing about that?

BADE: Yes, there's been a couple of ideas floated. In a meeting a couple of days ago, about half a dozen to ten Democrats from these Trump districts started talking about censure. I think you talked to these guys. They know that that's not going to happen. The train has already left the station and there is no slowing down. But they did talk about that as something they would rather do. It doesn't really matter though at this point what they want. I mean, the leadership is not going to be backing down from impeachment. That would be pretty much the same as acquitting the president even if you did a censure vote, so that's unlikely.

They also have been talking a little bit about splitting for the vote, as in voting for one article but not another to show some sort of independence from the party. We heard a little bit about that yesterday. But, again, these Democrats, I mean, with that vote sort of voting for one and not the other, would that protect them from Republicans back at home saying that they're just going after the president. I'm not sure it will make much of a difference.

KEILAR: Yes. I mean, it's hard to see how voters would make that distinction. We'll keep an eye on this with you, Rachael. Thank you so much, Rachael Bade, live for us from Capitol Hill.

And in the meantime, it appears that President Trump is trying to survive impeachment the same way that he does almost every political scandal that he is engulfed in, that is by assaulting the facts and attacking his own intelligence community.

The president's rally in Pennsylvania last night really defied. Trump was downplaying the severity of the impeachment charges that he's facing and he also lied about a new report by the Justice Department's independent watchdog which found that the bureau displayed no bias as it began that investigation into the Trump campaign.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: The inspector general's shocking report proved that the Obama FBI obtained secret warrants to spy on my campaign.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: The inspector general found that the FBI did not use any human sources or undercover employees to go inside the campaign or to task them to report on the campaign.


KEILAR: Kaitlan Collins is at the White House for us. You listened to what the president said there, Kaitlan. I mean, this just is not accurate as the president portrays this.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you heard the inspector general saying today, this is not a report that vindicates really anyone here on the claims that have been made by the president and his allies or by the people who have defended the FISA process so far, essentially saying that there were inaccuracies and omissions.

So, really, there are no winners here in this report coming out, but you're going to likely continue to see the president frame it the way he did last night, saying it's a vindication for him as he is looking ahead to that next report that's going to come out about this investigation.

Now, while all of this is going on, Brianna, the president is also downplaying these two articles of impeachment that were unveiled against yesterday, calling it during his rally last night flimsy, pathetic and ridiculous. Listen to how he was framing it to the voters in Pennsylvania.


TRUMP: You saw their so-called articles of impeachment today. People are saying they're not even a crime. What happened? All of these horrible things, remember, bribery and this and that. Where are they? They sent these two things. They're not even a crime. This is the lightest, weakest impeachment.

This is impeachment lite.


COLLINS: So, Brianna, you can hear there in the president's tone he sounds confident. He's trying to minimize these articles of impeachment. But what's notable is that, behind the scenes, our sources are still telling us that the president's view on this is still very much the same as it has been. He does not want to be impeached, he does view this seriously and he does not want to be this stain on his presidency, something he's talked about a lot. Because, of course, he's a president in the past who's brought up Bill Clinton repeatedly and said that the fact that people only remember him by the fact that he was impeached.

That is not something the president wants. He's been peppering aides about how impeachment is polling throughout the country. And while they are saying there's a lot of political advantages for you here, potentially, Mr. President, he still does not want to be impeached even though he sounds so confidence publicly.

But, of course, now the question is whether or not he has an option. They're going to begin debate on these articles of impeachment tonight, and it seems very likely that that is where he is headed.

KEILAR: All right. Kaitlan live for us from White House, thank you.

And joining me to discuss is former Trump transition adviser J.W. Verret.

As I said there, J.W., you were part of the transition. I suppose you're not really surprised that the president is not persuaded by the facts here and that he's misrepresenting what the I.G. has found. But what is this due to the people around him and to Republicans who are trying to defend him but he's coming out and saying up is down?

J.W. VERRET, FORMER ADVISER, TRUMP PRE-TRANSITION TEAM: Yes. I think the defenses are inconsistent. I mean, I think there's one level of argument that I will disagree with but at least it's a cogent argument that will say this is a terrible conduct that doesn't rise to the level of impeachment. But what he's doing is this sort of weird bizarre world of, I don't know, Russian T.V. style propaganda that's just clearly not true. I don't think it ultimately helps. I think that people see through something like that outside the context of a rally.

KEILAR: You heard Kaitlan's reporting there. No one wants to be impeached, right, and this president is no different in that regard. It's a complete distraction. It is a stain. But he's trying to show that it isn't getting under his skin. And this is part of what he said at his rally last night.


TRUMP: A regular president would have been under a table, thumb in the mouth, saying, take me home mommy, this is too tough for me. It's true. True. They know.


KEILAR: It's like he's saying, yes, obviously, it's awful but he's weathering this better than another president. Do you believe him that he's weathering this well, that it's not really that big of a deal as he handles it?

VERRET: No, I don't. I think what's going on now in Washington is a game of three-dimensional chess. You've got the impeachment, you've got the USMCA and you've got the spending fight that we haven't even started yet. All of those three interact in weird ways. So on the one hand, Nancy loses a little bit from passing USMCA because it gives Trump a win, but on the other hand, passing the trade deal limits his ability to attack her impeachment by saying that she's doing nothing.

So it's three-dimensional chess. She's been at it a long time, and he's the guy at the chess table saying, what does the horsey do again. I just don't think he's well suited for a game this high stakes and this intricate.

KEILAR: What does the horsey do again? Moves at Ls, right, L-shaped?

VERRET: That's absolutely right.

KEILAR: Okay. I'm just making sure I have that right. It's been a while since I have played chess myself.

Okay. The White House actually says that they were pleasantly surprised that there weren't more articles, that basically the Mueller report got left out of this.


The Mueller report was a turning point for you when you thought, am I for impeaching the president, should he be impeached, but it's not in these articles. I wonder what you think about that when you obviously considered it so important to your thinking on this.

VERRET: Yes, thanks for the question. I feel like the legal case is stronger with respect to obstruction and the Mueller report. Dangling pardons in front of witnesses, if anybody but the president did that, they'd be in jail right now wearing stripes. It's a clear crime.

On the other hand, the political case and the extent of witness testimony is a lot stronger with the Ukraine issue. It's probably good politics to focus on Ukraine. But, remember, in the articles, they have included options for Senate Democrats to focus on the report Mueller because they mentioned it as a prior pattern of conduct that the president has engaged in. So that option is in there for the Senate Democrats to build on that, but it's not its own articles.

KEILAR: Do you think that since the attorney general back when it was -- prior to it publicly being released in redacted form, that he basically came out and even though Mueller had shown many examples potentially of obstruction, the A.G. essentially said there's nothing to see here. Had he not done that, do you think, that maybe this could be different politically? Do you think that gave the president so much political cover, this can never really be in the articles?

VERRET: Yes. The lesson here and the lesson we all knew before, the number one rule of the White House press secretary is to get ahead of the story. We didn't know the A.G. was going to take on that role. But that's what he did and he was successful.

He wasn't able to do it with Ukraine? Why? Because the whistleblower got ahead of the story, the whistleblower was ahead of everything. KEILAR: The Mueller report and the testimony around it seemed to actually embolden this president. We saw the phone call with the Ukrainian president happen a day after. He did not seem deterred by what the Mueller report was looking at and what it found. Do you think that in this process where it's very likely that, yes, he gets impeached by the House but he's not convicted by the Senate, do you see him being emboldened again and potentially impeached again?

VERRET: It is interesting that he pretty much got away with it and he immediately went for the same playbook right away. I mean, I think that's a reasonable expectation. And if the Senate flips, I think we have a whole different calculus on actual impeachment, which could be more meaningful. We'll have to see. But I hold out hope that we'll get enough Republican senators at least willing to take the trial seriously, that the message gets out to voters in the New Year.

KEILAR: But not necessarily to change their minds. We're facing reality there.

VERRET: I don't really (INAUDIBLE) that that's going to happen. Though I think what the House should do is, in addition to impeachment, pass a censure resolution as well. And even if senators want to vote against impeachment, which I think is wrong, maybe they'll be willing to vote for censure.

KEILAR: All right. J.W. Verret, thank you so much, as always.

And as Democrats are preparing for tonight's impeachment debate, the Justice Department's watchdog grilled on Capitol Hill about his report that found the FBI did not spy on the Trump campaign. So what else is in there? We'll talk about that.

Plus, is Bill Barr acting like the attorney general or is he acting like the president's personal lawyer? His new remarks giving air to conspiracy theories that are stunning legal experts.



KEILAR: We're watching history happen today. In just a matter of hours, the House Judiciary Committee will take an important step as they publicly debate articles of impeachment.

We have Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego who is with us now. He serves on the House Armed Services Committee. Sir, thanks for being with us.

REP. RUBEN GALLEGO (D-AZ): Thank you for having me.

KEILAR: You said in one interview, quote, the record will show that this president was the most corrupt president in the United States. You're saying the record will show that. I wonder what you think though since it's so unlikely that this trial is going to end in conviction in the Senate. How do you make the objective of this process being anything other than kind of sending a political message? GALLEGO: When I said the record will show, at some point, this president is going to leave office and everything he has been hiding will come out. And at that point, I believe the record, as in like the life record, will show that this man was the most corrupt president in the history of the United States, more so than even Richard Nixon. Richard Nixon was corrupt but he wasn't a traitor. This president has betrayed the United States for some personal gain.

KEILAR: What does it say about -- when it comes to the impeachment process, what does it say, in your view, about what it was intended to be used for and how that fits in to just the bigger picture of American democracy when there's really no recourse here besides a public trial that essentially, in this case, has a foregone conclusion that will keep the president in power, it seems, no matter what?

GALLEGO: Well, look, when our founding fathers gave us the power of impeachment, they didn't do any special asterisk saying you can only do this if you have a Senate that's going to work with you or you have a Republican Party or a party that hasn't been wholly buttoned (ph) and owned by the executive.


So we are only given a certain amount of tools, and that tool is impeachment to hold this president accountable. And more importantly, we have to do it because this president is continuously trying to undermine the 2020 elections.

Right now, his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, is still in Ukraine trying to drag up and fabricate stories about a political opponent. So the only choice we have is the one tool that we're given and that's impeachment. We can't indict the president. That's already been very clear. We don't have a Republican Party that's even going to work with us to actually hold them accountable. So this is what we have to do at this point.

KEILAR: I want to switch gears. You, as I mentioned, you served on the Armed Services Committee. You're also a combat veteran. And The Washington Post published this sweeping investigator piece that shows top U.S. officials repeatedly misled the public about the war in Afghanistan. What was your initial reaction to that report?

GALLEGO: It doesn't surprise me. I think there has been a whole operation done under both administrations to keep us in Afghanistan. There has been a lack of courage both by policymakers as well as the generals that are, quote, unquote, leading us in Afghanistan.

The one thing that they're not really thinking about is who is going to be the last man or woman that dies in Afghanistan because we decided not to get out. Right now, all we have, in my opinion, are policymakers, in general, is they're trying to find excuses to keep us in Afghanistan, not trying to find a way to get us out. And I think that is the hardest thing for me to accept.

I was in the quagmire of the direct war pre-surge. There was no plan. It felt horrible going door-to-door and fighting every day not knowing what my objective was. My only goal every day was just to keep myself alive and keep my men around me alive be, but that's not how we should be operating and that's certainly not in the best interest of the United States when we're stuck in a quagmire like Afghanistan.

KEILAR: What does this say about -- obviously, the war started under former President Bush but it continued through all eight years of the Obama administration. What does it say about President Obama that this report is painting a picture of how both Bush and Obama, quote, failed in their most important task as commander in chief to devise a clear strategy with concise, attainable objectives, because we've seen about 2,400 U.S. service members killed in Afghanistan, 20,000 injured.

This is just Americans, right? It's so hard to read this report and not think that not just the last person, as you said, but many of those deaths were in vain. What is your reaction to that and how do you view the Obama administration as well?

GALLEGO: Well, the Obama administration, the Bush administration, even now, the Trump administration, they just did not take the moral courage that they needed to actually get us out of Afghanistan.

I think they got a lot of pressure from war hawks or just Pentagon officials that did not want to be known as the general that lost Afghanistan or did not want to be known as the named adviser that was -- lost Afghanistan. So, instead, they just punted this to the next president and that's where we are right now.

We need clear plans to get us out. There is no strategy to win Afghanistan. You don't win or lose Afghanistan. All we're doing is losing men and women unnecessarily for a country that itself has not been governed in hundreds of years.

So President Obama did fail us. President Bush did fail us I'm hoping that President Trump will find a way to get us out of Afghanistan in a responsible manner and as soon as possible.

KEILAR: Is that your concern, because more than any other president, he seems to be really geared on not being a part of these conflicts? Would you give him credit for getting out, if he does?

GALLEGO: Yes, absolutely. Like the one thing I always caution, like what we need to do is pull out but don't do a sudden Syria pullout where we don't know -- we find out at last minute, because that's also very unsafe. But the president ran on getting us out of Afghanistan. President Obama also talked about winding down our actions in Afghanistan, so did President Bush.

So this is where the problem is. We can't be in perpetual wars. It's not good for our democracy. It's not healthy for the psyche of this country. It's not even in our best national interest because we're so focused in this quagmire that we're not actually able to take care of future threats such as a rising China and a resurgent Russia.

And so we're spending trillions of dollars against men that essentially have A.K.-47 and rocket-propelled grenades that are going to be there a lot longer than we will. And at this point, all we're wasting is time, energy and the youth of our country in those battlefields.


KEILAR: Congressman Ruben Gallego, thank you so much for joining us.

GALLEGO: Thank you for having me.

KEILAR: The DOJ's inspector general knocking down GOP conspiracy theories about the Russia investigation, and no political bias but there were serious errors made.

Plus, the attorney general disputing that report, even refusing to shut down a conspiracy theory on Ukraine. Is William Barr working for the American people or just the president?