Return to Transcripts main page


Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) On I.G. Report, Impeachment, And Judaism As A Nationality; Lessons On Impeachment From Clinton White House Insiders; Sen. Elizabeth Warren Shifts Strategy As Poll Numbers Stall. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired December 11, 2019 - 07:30   ET



SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): That is striking and it's a real disservice to law enforcement.

But the important point here is the results.

The attorney general of the United States is saying that the Russia investigation is a bogus narrative. He is helping to support the idea that Ukraine, not Russia, attacked the United States. That leads to complacency and a threat to national security. And that's why today, Mr. Horowitz has to incontrovertibly, clearly, explicitly rebut and debunk this kind of conspiracy theory.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Let me just ask you, though, because Horowitz also makes clear that the Carter Page FISA application process was a mess. I mean, there were errors in it, there is a criminal referral based on it.

What changes do you want to see made?

BLUMENTHAL: I have actually proposed changes going back to 2013 in the FISA warrant process to provide for greater scrutiny -- some adversarial process like we have in the rest of the criminal process so that the counterview is presented in seeking a FISA warrant and errors can be corrected.

But keep in mind, John, even here, the inspector general found no evidence -- none -- that those errors and admission -- omissions, serious as they may have been, had an impact on issuing the warrant. In other words, the warrants were still justified.

BERMAN: He did not weigh on -- he did not weigh in on that. He specifically noted that he would not weigh in on whether or not -- had it been done properly, whether the applications would have been approved. That was specifically in there.

I do want to shift gears because obviously, you're busy in the Senate today. But over in the House they're very busy with talking about the articles of impeachment, which should be approved by the House Judiciary Committee perhaps by tomorrow -- abuse of power, obstruction of Congress. President Trump, last night, was trying to diminish the importance of

those charges -- listen. We don't have that bite. The president called them the lightest, weakest impeachment charges ever -- abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Do you find those to be weak?

BLUMENTHAL: These are extraordinarily serious. They raise not only his abuse of power that threatens our democratic institution, he tried to undermine our past election. But also, to corrupt our future elections by soliciting a foreign power to interfere by soliciting a bribe -- some of value to him -- personal benefit in that investigation. But also, threatening our national security.

And the reason why I think these impeachment articles are so important is that they go to the future, not just the past. The threat is continuing. And abuse of power and obstruction of Congress go to the core of his constitutional responsibility and ours. It makes it absolutely mandatory that we pursue this impeachment proceeding.

BERMAN: And if I could ask you one more thing, which is on a vastly different subject.

Today, the president's going to sign an executive order, which effectively makes Judaism a nationality in regards to students at college and in protected college speech. What he's trying to do is crackdown on anti-Semitism -- some anti-Semitism on college campuses. And in doing that, in the 1964 civil rights law, you basically have to say that Judaism is a nationality.

There are some people who don't doubt the motivations here but that's precarious labeling in this case. The Soviet Union did that, for instance -- called Judaism a nation. It's a religion.

What's the risk-reward there? Is this something you support?

BLUMENTHAL: I am very, very wary, as a Jew, of labeling Judaism as a nationality. It smacks not only of what happened in the Soviet Union but also Nazi Germany that my own father escaped in 1935.

I'm an American. I am an American. My religion is Judaism and my allegiance is to the United States of America.

And I think there are other tools to fight discrimination. I've used them as a prosecutor and as a public official. There is no reason that we need to label Judaism as a nationality. I'm very wary of it.

BERMAN: Sen. Richard Blumenthal, thank you for joining us this morning. Appreciate your time.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

BERMAN: Alisyn.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: John, as you know, it's been two decades since the last presidential impeachment. So how has the country changed, how has Congress changed?

Well, Paul Begala and Joe Lockhart have some strong feelings about that and they would know. They're here, next.



CAMEROTA: December 19th, 1998 -- that was the day the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Bill Clinton. Two articles of impeachment passed the House.

Well, today, 21 years later, the House is poised to again vote on two articles of impeachment, this time against President Trump. So how will this time look different?

Joining us now, two veterans of the Clinton impeachment -- Joe Lockhart, former White House press secretary; and Paul Begala, who was a White House adviser. Gentlemen, there could be two no better guests about this.

So let's get in our time machine right now and go back to that fateful day in 1998 and hear what a younger but just as handsome Joe Lockhart had to say about that moment.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Livingston called on the president to resign.

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, THEN-CLINTON WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president, as we said, is going to do what's in the best interest of this country. He's going to keep on pushing his agenda forward. And I think that it would be wrong to give in to this insidious politics of personal destruction, which seem so pervasive in this town now.



CAMEROTA: Joe, are you having bad flashbacks right now?

LOCKHART: Yes (laughing).

CAMEROTA: And what -- when you -- I mean, because you were so intimately involved, when you look back, what is different that day than this day?

LOCKHART: Well, I think the biggest difference is that the Republicans are frankly, just not taking it seriously. I think -- you know, people say that both of them were partisan impeachments and if you define it as most Democrats want it this way and most Republicans -- then you could say that that's true. But it really isn't true at all.

Democrats -- well, first off, the White House cooperated with the investigation.


LOCKHART: They got all the information the needed.

Secondly, the Democrats on the committees took it very seriously even before the Starr report came out.

Dick Gephardt, the minority leader of the House, suggested this might be impeachable. I mean, he did a series of interviews. He was on a conference call with his caucus before the Starr report, saying hey everybody, vote your conscience here. This is just -- this is important stuff.

And then I guess, thirdly, the president acknowledged what he did and then went on a tour of apologies culminating in the National Prayer Breakfast where he gave a soulful speech about what was wrong.

Republicans have just tried to burn the house down and they have mocked the entire process. And this is so much more serious than that. But even if they were of the same magnitude, there hasn't been a sense that the Republicans -- any Republican is willing to put their country and their oath of office ahead of their party and their somewhat curious allegiance to this president.

CAMEROTA: The Congressman Dick Gephardt example is so striking, Joe. That is such a difference than what we're hearing today.

OK, Paul Begala, your turn. Here's the time machine when we go back to a younger and almost as handsome Paul Begala that day.


PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST, THEN- SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: It has been, I think, bitterly partisan and not in a way that the framers of the Constitution probably would have admired.

When House Republicans, led by Speaker Gingrich, are rushing out grand jury material that was supposed to be secret straight out onto the Internet, straight into our living rooms and classrooms, when they release a report without even giving the president's lawyers a chance to even read it or review it, that's a harshly partisan process.


CAMEROTA: First of all, not that day -- sorry -- two months earlier. It was October 17th. But that sounds eerily similar to the things that we're hearing today, Paul. What are your impressions?

BEGALA: Yes. I think, actually, if you go back to Nixon, the famous question that Howard Baker, the senator from Tennessee asked, is what did the president know and when did he know it.

I think in this case it is Michael Gerhardt, the professor who testified, and he said if this is not impeachable, what is -- right? I wish someone had asked that question at Clinton time because that

was the whole question back then. It wasn't a factual question -- did he have an affair. He misled the country about it for a long time. But once he fessed up in August, it was clear he had an affair and that was obviously wrong.

The question became is this worthy of impeachment. And I think overwhelmingly, the country -- this wasn't 48-46 like today. Overwhelmingly, 70 percent of the country said well, no, it was bad personal conduct. It has nothing to do with his oath of office.

Today, the president's defenders don't have that option, right? They can't say gee, leaning on a foreign leader to interfere in our elections is just the president's personal life. And maybe that's, Joe, why they are -- they're in this cultive personality, which we did not have.

By the way, before I worked for Bill Clinton I worked on the Hill. You know who I worked for, Dick Gephardt, so it became really complicated. And there were a lot of Democrats back then who were appalled by the president's personal conduct but came to view the impeachment as far too much.

You don't have that today. It's a cultive personality around Trump. So anything the dear leader does must be wonderful. It must be perfect, in his words.

CAMEROTA: Joe, as you have said, back then the defense was he's a good man but he did a bad thing.


CAMEROTA: And that is not where we are today. The defense of President Trump is not he's a good man but he did a bad thing; it's completely different. It's the phone call was perfect.

LOCKHART: It was perfect, yes. No, no, that is the defense.

And I think just to draw a further distinction, some of the most harsh comments about the president during the Senate trial came from his own lawyers.

Charles Ruff stood up and talked about how appalled he was by the president's personal behavior.

Dale Bumpers, the president's friend of 25 years who was brought back to help defend the president, called it disgusting, irresponsible, outrageous.


CAMEROTA: With friends like that --

LOCKHART: Yes -- no, but with -- those friends helped him because they acknowledged what everybody in the country knew, that the president had made an egregious, unforgivable mistake and that he was doing everything he could to make up for it and to stay focused on his job.

This president -- Paul's right about a cult. And, you know, in that cult it's not the traditional cult of people being brainwashed. These are congressmen in the Republican Party who are so obsessed with their own personal fortunes that they can't see what their constituents and country wants.

So, you know, it is very different and there are a lot -- we could talk for hours here about why in the last 20 years our politics have changed, but they are fundamentally different today than they were 20 years ago.

CAMEROTA: Paul, we only have a few seconds left.

But one of the things I was struck by was that you pointed out that last time around President Clinton paid an enormous price for lying. That was the misdemeanor -- the lying -- the crime. And this time around it's just different.

Your final thoughts?

BEGALA: Yes, I just -- I wonder if President Trump has figured out a sort of bed of nails defense. You know, if you sit on one nail, by golly you're going to feel it. But if there's 10,000 nails and they're close enough, you don't even feel it.

And it may be that his constant -- he lies like I breathe. He just -- he has to do it for -- it's Trump respiration. Oxygen comes in and lies come out.

And it may be that he's just oversaturated the market with lies. The problem is that's corrupting our discourse, it's corrupting his party.

You know, we had a life raft with President Clinton and it was that he was doing a very good job on an agenda that the American people supported, whether it was head start or health care or peace in the Middle East or Northern Ireland.

What's the Trump agenda, right? He's not -- it's not like --

President Reagan wanted lower taxes, and strong defense, and Christian family values, and take on the Russians.

There's no agenda with Trump. It is just worshipping this, I think, slightly flawed man.

CAMEROTA: Paul Begala, Joe Lockhart, just interesting to wax nostalgic with both of you. Really fascinating perspective. Thank you, both -- John.

BERMAN: Even more interesting to look at their old pictures. They haven't aged like a minute.


BERMAN: So, is Bill Barr the attorney general of the United States or the president's personal attorney? A CNN reality check, next.



BERMAN: Attorney General William Barr, a lawyer for the country or the president's personal attorney? His record makes the answer to that question kind of hard to figure out.

John Avlon has been through the record -- all of it -- and has a reality check.


Look, when President Trump tapped Bill Barr to replace the much-abused Jeff Sessions as attorney general there were sighs of relief in some corridors. He was seen as a safe pick. A mild-mannered conservative, an institutionalist who had served George H.W. Bush as attorney general before.

But 10 months into his tenure it is clear that Bill Barr is one of the most radical and partisan attorney generals in American history. In statement after statement, Barr has shown that he seems to believe the attorney general should function as the president's personal defense lawyer.

When the Mueller report was completed, for example, Barr beat it to the punch with his own principal conclusions, even cutting a critical sentence in half, hiding the first part that said Russia worked to secure a Trump presidency and the campaign expected it would benefit from their interference.

On Monday, after Barr's own inspector general concluded there was no spying on the Trump campaign, Barr slammed the report on the president's behalf --


WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: It was clearly spied upon. I mean, that's what electronic surveillance is.


AVLON: -- which led a cadre of conservative lawyers to say that he had grossly mischaracterized and subverted the I.G. report.

Now, Barr went further, telling NBC that the Obama administration was the real villain here, even more than the Russians.


BARR: The greatest danger to our free system is that the incumbent government used the apparatus of the state to spy on political opponents, but also to use them in a way that could affect the outcome of the election. As far as I'm aware, this is the first time in history that this has been done to a presidential campaign. (END VIDEO CLIP)

AVLON: But this is much more than simply doing the bosses bidding. A recent speech to The Federalist Society showed Barr to be less a people's lawyer than a hardcore partisan.


BARR: In waging a scorched-earth, no holds barred war of resistance against this administration, it is the left that is engaged in a systematic shredding of norms and undermining the rule of law.


AVLON: Deflect and project.

Now, given Barr's belief in a unitary chief executive you'd expect that his position would be consistent, right? Not so much.

In 1994 on CNN's "CROSSFIRE," Barr argued that Bill Clinton needed to be held accountable by any means necessary.


BARR: These cases are difficult. One has to blow through some roadblocks, maybe challenge privileges, maybe ask the president to come before a grand jury.


AVLON: And during the Clinton impeachment investigation, Barr blasted the idea that the president could cite attorney-client privilege to block his White House counsels from testifying, but then turned around to approve that same move for President Trump.


Look, morals, principles, and ethics are either applied consistently or they are counterfeit. But, Barr definitely considers himself a moralist, giving a stunning culture war speech at Notre Dame.


BARR: This is not decay, this is organized destruction. Secularists and their allies have marshaled all the forces of mass communication, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values.


AVLON: This demonization of secular Americans could have been written by a televangelist rather than a chief law enforcement officer in a constitutional republic founded on separation of church and state.

But there was another line in the speech that jumped out, too.


BARR: Men are subject to powerful passions and appetites and if unrestrained, are capable of ruthlessly riding roughshod over their neighbors and the community.


AVLON: That's true. It's why we have laws and a Constitution that constrains the power of the executive who, after all, the founders were primarily concerned could turn into a new kind of tyrant.

And that's your reality check.

CAMEROTA: Gosh, it's interesting to watch all of those many faces of Bill Barr, John. Thank you for that historical look.

OK, so 2020 Democratic hopeful Elizabeth Warren is shifting her campaign strategy as her poll numbers have somewhat stalled. Did her Medicare for All push hurt her?

CNN's MJ Lee takes a look.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I thought tonight, though, I might shake it up just a little.

MJ LEE, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Elizabeth Warren is mixing things up. She's testing out shorter speeches --

WARREN: So, I really appreciate the question.

LEE (voice-over): -- and longer Q&As with voters at campaign events. Her husband is hitting the stump solo for the first time. And after almost never calling out her rivals by name --

WARREN: I'm not here to criticize other Democrats.

LEE (voice-over): -- Warren has gone on offense, tussling with South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

WARREN: I think that Mayor Pete should open up the doors so that anyone can come in and report on what's being said.

LEE (voice-over): The Massachusetts Democrat appearing to try out some new strategies as her political momentum has stalled. While she's still polling in the double-digits nationally, she's significantly trailing former vice president Joe Biden.

This, after the Warren campaign wrestled with the fallout from its handling of Medicare for All. Warren fully backing Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' signature single-payer health care proposal --

WARREN: Yes, I'm with Bernie on Medicare for All.

LEE (voice-over): -- but getting heat for not having her own plan to pay for it.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), SOUTH BEND, INDIANA, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There is this gaping hole in the plan. I mean, she's got a plan for everything but not this.

LEE (voice-over): The senator eventually releasing proposals to respond to the critics.

WARREN: I have a plan to do something about it.

LEE (voice-over): But the weeks-long drubbing taking a toll with some voters expressing unease.

CINDEE ASHKAR, RESIDENT, SPARKS, NEVADA: I was glad to see her come off a little bit for Medicare for All. I just don't think she can get some of the centrist Democrats and Independents with just pushing Medicare for All right now.

LEE (voice-over): While Warren has taken a dip in the 2020 race, Buttigieg has been gaining, surging to the top of the field in Iowa for the first time last month.

The two candidates trading barbs over the last week on political transparency. Warren calling on Buttigieg to make his fundraisers open to the press and disclose his past consulting clients. Buttigieg demanding that Warren release more of her tax returns, going back decades to when she did legal work for corporate clients. Both candidates ultimately making new disclosures about their work in the private sector.

Warren reacting Tuesday night to Buttigieg revealing his client list.

LEE (on camera): One of those clients was Blue Cross Blue Shield in Michigan. What is your reaction to that?

WARREN: I am glad that the mayor has taken these steps. I think it is really important that as we go into the 2020 election that we have the best chance to win against Donald Trump.

LEE (voice-over): MJ Lee, CNN, Reno, Nevada.


BERMAN: So much going on in this 2020 race. We are at a pivotal moment. We're going to have much more on that in just a few minutes.

Thank you to our international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN NEWSROOM" with Max Foster is next.

For our U.S. viewers, a key moment in the impeachment process today. NEW DAY continues right now.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": The House Judiciary Committee will begin formal discussions on impeachment tonight. REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): Two articles of impeachment charging Donald Trump with committing high crimes and misdemeanors.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You saw their so-called articles of impeachment. People are saying they're not even a crime.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any president who is willing to jeopardize the national security of the American people must be held accountable.

REP. MARKWAYNE MULLIN (R-OK): From day one, they have been in search of a crime. President Trump hasn't committed a crime.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Why don't you just wait amounts to this. Why don't you just let him cheat in one more election?


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

CAMEROTA: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, December 11th, 8:00 now in the east.

And the House Judiciary Committee will begin debating the articles of impeachment against President Trump.