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House Panel Advances Impeachment Articles Against Trump; White House Further Limits Officials From Trump's Foreign Leader Calls; Defeated GOP Governor Pardons Violent Criminals In Spree. Aired 1- 1:30p ET

Aired December 13, 2019 - 13:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Thanks for joining us in Inside Politics. I hope to see you on Sunday morning. We'll be here at 8:00 a.m. Eastern.

Don't go anywhere. A very busy news day. Brianna Keilar starts Right Now. Have a great afternoon, a great weekend.

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

This is a historic day for America and with a vote that took just around six minutes. The House Judiciary Committee approved articles of impeachment against President Donald J. Trump, one for abuse of power, one for obstruction of Congress making President Trump the fourth U.S. president to face impeachment.


REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): Today is a solemn and sad day. For the third time in a little over a century-and-a-half, the House Judiciary Committee has voted articles of impeachment against the president for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The House will act expeditiously. Thank you.


KEILAR: CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju is live for us on Capitol Hill. Tell us, Manu, about this vote and then explain to us what comes next.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. A historic partisan vote after weeks of investigation and also several days of contentious fighting in the House Judiciary Committee, those articles approved along a party line basis by a vote of 23-17.

Both counts won on abuse of power alleging the president violated his oath of office in his handling with the relationship with Ukraine and pushing that country to open up investigations into his political rival, an accusation the president uses his office to do just that. And also a count on obstruction of Congress, alleging the president did not participate in the impeachment inquiry. He did not particularly in the impeachment inquiry, but Democrats say this was unprecedented stonewalling to have a co-equal branch of government. Those two counts approved now move to the House floor.

Now, that House vote is expected in the middle of next week. And that vote also expected to be quite partisan, very contentious, also historic, the third time in American history a president could get impeached by the House.

But also we are expecting Republicans to be in lock step with President Trump. We are not hearing of any Republican defections, even some of the handful of moderates remaining in the House Republican conference tell me that they are planning to vote against those articles. We do expect at least two Democrats to defect and vote also against those articles.

The question ultimately is will more Democrats ultimately decide that they cannot support the articles. But at the moment, Brianna, it is pretty clear a majority of the House does support impeaching the president, and that's going to happen in just a matter of days. Brianna?

KEILAR: All right. Manu, thank you so much.

President Trump is responding to today's vote, tweeting that he's done nothing wrong and telling reporters in the Oval Office the Democrats are, quote, trivializing impeachment.

Let's go to Kaitlan Collins. She is there at the White House covering this. Tell us what else the president had to say, Kaitlan.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, when he was saying Democrats are trivializing impeachment, that's part of this effort you've seen from him this week to downplay these articles against him, essentially saying it's not worthy of being impeached over, something we know privately the president is incredibly resistant to.

But listen to how he described this effort by Democrats today and also when he was asked by a reporter, does he want a trial that's going to be really long or a short one, whether or not he offered any clarity on that.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a scam. It's something that shouldn't be allowed and it's a very bad thing for our country. And you're trivializing impeachment. And I tell you what, someday there will be a Democratic president and there will be a Republican House, and I suspect they're going to remember it.

REPORTER: Mr. President, do you prefer a short process in the Senate or a more extended process? TRUMP: Well, I've heard Lindsey Graham, who is terrific, and I heard his statement and I like that. And I could also -- I could do -- I'll do whatever I want. Look, there is -- we did nothing wrong. So I'll do long or short.


COLLINS: So, Graham there that he was witnessing is the one who yesterday said that he doesn't believe there should be witnesses called in that Senate trial. Though, of course, that's going to come down to what the Senators, Mitch McConnell and company, decide. And McConnell said he's tracking that closely with the White House Counsel, Pat Cipollone.

Now, we should note that the president was speaking to reporters after we saw Rudy Giuliani arriving at the White House earlier. He seems undeterred by federal prosecutors who are probing his business. He still went to a trip to Ukraine in recent days despite all of that. And there you see him entering the White House today. That's the entrance to the west wing right over there where Rudy Giuliani was going in.

And this comes as The Wall Street Journal is reporting that upon Rudy Giuliani's return from Ukraine, Brianna, his plane was still taxiing down the runway when he says the president called him to ask him what he got while he says. And now he says he's compiling that into a 20- page report that he wants to brief members of Congress on.


KEILAR: Very interesting. Kaitlan, thank you so much for that report from the north lawn.

And let's discuss all of this now. We have Julian Epstein with us. He was chief counsel for House Judiciary Democrats during the Clinton impeachment, Elliot Williams, former counsel to Senate Judiciary Democrats, and he's a CNN Legal Analyst, and our Chief Political Correspondent, Dana Bash, with us.

I want to just take a moment to reflect on what we saw today, Dana. You watched all of this. How would you describe what you saw, this vote to go out the committee to the full House?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: As much as we expected to be exactly how it played out, it's a completely different thing, isn't it, when you're actually watching those members of Congress take those votes. And even the Republicans who were very vocal, screaming at times about their outrage about this, Democrats too about their outrage against the actions of the president took. We saw none of that. They met the history of the moment on both sides of this regardless of the way that they voted.

I was struck by the fact that Martha Roby, who is a member of Congress from Alabama, and she's retiring, and she had her young son in her lap. That kind of said it all.

KEILAR: Yes. You don't take your child to work all the time, right, unless it's a historic day.

The next step then is going to be a full House vote. Manu is reporting they seem to have the votes, there seems to be a majority to push this through the Senate, to a trial in the Senate. And that brings us to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who had this to say on Fox News last night.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Everything I do during this, I'm be coordinating with the White House Counsel.

We'll be working through this process hopefully in a fairly short period of time in total coordination with the White House Counsel's Office and the people who are representing the president and as well in the Senate.


KEILAR: OK. This is not an actual trial. That's clear, because this is not how it would work. But that said, is this how it's supposed to work, the majority is working with the White House?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Nothing is how it's supposed to work in the Trump administration. And, look, frankly, what you saw there is the president has broken the modern Republican Party. Let's be clear. It's almost like the pottery barn rule, you broke it, you bought it. His grip on the party is so strong that they are all acting in a manner where the fear of the angry tweet is driving their behavior, even on this incredibly consequential, historical conduct.

So now, we're in a position of essentially allowing future presidents to engage in the same conduct when the Senate acquits the president, which, come on, they know he will, or they will discuss (ph) the vote. What we will be saying to future Americans and history for eternity is it's now OK to invite foreign interference in American elections, and that is the whole truth (ph).

And, frankly, predates impeachment, this idea of Republicans not being willing to buck the president and they're twisting the rules here in a way that hasn't been done before, precariously (ph) how that happened under Clinton in Congress.

KEILAR: Yes. And I'm curious, Julian, when it comes to the Clinton impeachment, the fact that in the Senate, it wasn't. You didn't have Democrats fully in lock step with President Clinton. There was a question of is someone -- is one senator in particular may be going to flip on President Clinton. It wasn't as clear going in.

JULIAN EPSTEIN, FORMER CHIEF COUNSEL FOR HOUSE DEMOCRATS DURING CLINTON IMPEACHMENT: It was so different. I mean, this is so remarkably different from 1998. In 1998, we got along with our Republican counterparts. I got famously got along with the Republican chief counsel during that process. We actually liked each other, respected each other. The public opinion in 1998 was clearly on the side of Clinton, clearly on one side. Here, it's very, very split. One side now seems to be just totally ignoring and boycotting the rules. That was very, very different from what happened in 1998. So it's dramatically different. This almost has an Alice in Wonderland kind of quality to it.

On one hand, this is a very momentous day. It's a very momentous proceeding given the context of a president inviting foreign interference. On the other hand, this sort of starts to feel like, and this is the Republican strategy, like politics as usual, kind of impeachment starts to become politics by other means. The public is very divided on it. I think people are tuned in to this less than they were in 1998.

It sort of feels like this s emblematic of the political cold war that we are in, where the two sides are not listening to each other, they're just sort of contentious with each other. One side feels like it doesn't even have to listen or play by the rules anymore

And while it's important that I think the Democrats are doing what they're doing to defend the Constitution, there's something very disturbing about this one. One side feels like it doesn't even have to participate and play by the rules.

KEILAR: Well, speaking of impeachment as politics as usual, just look at somewhat recent history, right, back to the Clinton impeachment, that Nixon would have faced impeachment had he not resigned.


And you're seeing that three of the four presidents who were either being impeached or facing impeachment, it's happened here in recent decades.

I wonder, Elliot, if you think that's by coincidence or is that a sign of the times.

WILLIAMS: So, yes and no. Axios has some reporting this morning indicating that -- right, exactly the point you're making that it's more common. But let's break down the last couple of presidents. A lot of people -- there were people who believe that George W. Bush was a war criminal and wanted his head. 51 percent of Republicans believe Barack Obama was not born in the United States.

The last few presidents who had ample opportunities to be impeached by the other party, and they weren't because those calls of impeachment were not serious. The conduct of Bush and Obama never rose to this.

So the simple fact that more people are being impeached over time doesn't change the fact that President Trump's conduct simply is far beyond what we ever saw from Obama or Bush or -- not Clinton but -- or Reagan or any of the last presidents in recent history.

BASH: Can I give you my brief theory on that?

KEILAR: Yes, please. BASH: So my brief theory is if you go back, Nixon, the notion of televised hearings was a relatively new thing. And people who were with Nixon then said that if it not for the televised hearings, he probably wouldn't have resigned, OK? Then fast forward to Clinton, cable news was pretty new, and so people were more engaged in cable news. Fast forward to Trump, and it's all about Twitter and social media and the internet where people can engage and rile up the bases on both sides in a more direct, more --

EPSTEIN: I completely agree with Dana. I think that's right. And to just -- to tease it out a little bit, when John Dean testified in the summer of 1974, 80 million people tuned in. When we were going through the Clinton impeachment in 1998, we had about 30, 35 million people tuning in. Now, probably about 10 or 15 million people are tuning. We are Balkanized in the Twitter verse, in social media and in the culture wars.

And the question I think we have, is there a public square that's left? Is there a place where the country comes together, has a conversation about an important national issue, other than a national election every four years, has a conversation about an important national issue and makes a decision?

That certainly happened in 1974. It certainly happened in 1998 where the public, again, sided with Clinton, sided against Nixon in 1974. Here, it just seems to be if you're in the 45 percent of the public that likes Trump, you're against impeachment, if you're in the 47 percent that doesn't like Trump, you're for impeachment. And there's not a lot of persuading this --

WILLIAMS: Yes, changing political and cultural norms don't change the nature of President Trump's conduct. And you just can't compare it to, let's say, Obama and Bush. Let's keep Clinton out of this.

But, again, what we are talking about here is the inviting of foreign interference into American elections. This is different.

EPSTEIN: So you're making a constitutional argument, which I agree with, and I think the Democrats are doing the right thing. Dana and I are doing a different argument, which is a cultural thing about whether even when somebody transgresses what are such clear rules and norms, is there a place in which the country can come together and really have a debate and make a decision that this was wrong. They made a decision in Nixon it was wrong. They made a decision in Clinton that it was wrong. It was not impeachable.

Here, again, it starts to have -- and this is the Republican strategy which I lament, that it sort of starts to feel like this is just politics by other means.

BASH: And you know what else different now than ever before? It's a president who is going up for re-election in less than a year. So the public will decide in a very different way.

KEILAR: Dana, thank you so much, Elliot, Julian, I really appreciate your perspectives on this. And just in, the White House is now limiting access to the president's calls with foreign leaders in the wake of the Ukraine scandal.

Plus, the president announces phase one of a trade deal with China but is America getting played.

And outraged after the defeated Republican governor in Kentucky goes on a pardon spree, handing get-out-of-jail free cards to violent criminals.



KEILAR: This just in. CNN has learned that the White House is restricting the number of administration officials who are allowed to listen in on the president's phone calls with foreign leaders. The limited access has been in effect since revelations emerged from President Trump's July phone call with the Ukraine's leader, a conversation that has become the centerpiece of the impeachment inquiry. And this is according, we should say, to multiple White House sources.

We have CNN's Alex Marquardt with us and Pamela Brown as well. They broke the story and they're joining us to discuss this.

Pamela, not only are fewer people listening in but you've also learned that the transcripts have been limited to a much smaller group as well.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. This crackdown is happening on a number of different fronts, Brianna. Our team has learned the White House has further played (ph) down on the number of administration officials allowed to listen in to the president's calls with foreign leaders in the wake of the Ukraine controversy and transcripts of Trump's calls with world leaders are also disseminated to a far smaller group of people inside the White House, continuing an effort that began early in this administration to limit the number of people with inside and information about those conversations.


Now, after a career staffer, Lt. Col. Alex Vindman, raised concerns about the president's call with Ukrainian leader and then later testified to Congress about it, the White House now excludes career staffers, and detail this, Brianna, whose roles included taking notes and providing edits to the eventual transcript of the conversations that meant to clarify what was said, now, only a handful, political officials listen in, these sources tell us.

And one source I spoke with, Brianna, jokingly called this extreme restriction the Vindman Rule, of course, referring there to Alex Vindman. The president actually spoke about Alex Vindman today in the Oval, seeming to mock him, saying he is another beauty. He also said that he was able to confirm that transcript. Now, we do know he did say it was substantially correct. Brianna?

KEILAR: And Alexander Vindman is a patriot, right? He's in the military. He has a Purple Heart. Just want to be clear as the president critiques him.

So, Alex, I wonder what the effect of this is, because when you look at the people who have testified, some of whom had access to this call or listened to this call, you wonder what is the effect of this. Does that mean that if something like that were to happen again that there would be no one there to attest to wrongdoing?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, essentially, this is an effort that reflects the fear and the paranoia in the White House, fear that there are leaks, paranoia about the so-called deep state. And what Pam hit on right there about the Vindman Rule, that basically sums it all up. They are stripping out the careerist, the policymakers. As one official told me, the resulting effect is a small circle of loyalists in all policymaking decisions.

So what you've now got are these phone calls where the people who, on a day-to-day basis, are talking to, dealing with, forming policy around this countries and these regions, they are no longer participating, and oftentimes they are no longer seeing these transcripts. So, essentially, you're setting up a situation where you can have the president and his inner circle who are pushing a position, pushing a policy, and then the day-to-day professionals, those mid-level careerists, they might be working --

KEILAR: In the more regular channel of policy.

MARQUARDT: Right. The Vindmans of the White House are working on other policies and essentially got these two hands that aren't talking to each other, so that sets up things for a very incoherent foreign policy, and that's exactly what we saw when it came to Ukraine.

KEILAR: It sounds like a disaster. This is great reporting. Alex and Pamela, thank you so very much.

We're back to our breaking news, the House Judiciary Committee voting to send the articles of impeachment to the House floor, setting up a vote next week. I'm going to speak with a lawmaker who will be voting.

Plus, outrage as the outgoing Kentucky governor pardons a slew of violent criminals, including convicted murderers and reportedly a child rapist.



KEILAR: An atrocity of justice, that is what a prosecutor is calling a series of pardons, 428 in all, by the defeated governor of Kentucky as he left office. It's not that unusual for governors to issue pardons, but it is very unusual as is the case here by Matt Bevan to pardon a man convicted of reckless homicide, a man who murdered his parents when he was 16, a woman who is serving a life sentence for murder after throwing her newborn in the trash after giving birth at a flea market and a convicted child rapist who, we're told, hadn't been in custody long enough to start sex offender treatment.

The Washington Post first reported this story. Natasha Chen is covering this for us.

And, Natasha, how is Bevan explaining this? And are prosecutors concerned that actually this could put people in danger?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, Brianna, I spoke with a prosecutor in Kenton County, Kentucky, and he does think that some of these pardons pose a threat to public safety. He mentioned one of the cases you just said, the rapist who had not spent enough time in custody to even begin sex offender treatment, eh said, that person now poses a threat to other children in the area.

He also told me about another case in Kenton County of someone who is impersonating a police officer, a man who had made traffic stops mostly on women. And prosecutor had been told that this man's interest in getting a pardon was to obtain guns again. So the combination of that notion and the previous traffic stops, the prosecutor said that he feels this man is a danger to the community.

As far as Bevan, we are trying to see if we can reach him of his former staff. Here's what we know, that he told The Washington Post this. He said, I'm a big believer in second chances. I think this is a nation that was founded on the concept of redemption and second chances and new pages in life.

So, Brianna, we are trying to figure out some more details about the specific cases, but right now a lot of victims' families are in shock.

KEILAR: Well, it's understandable they were in shock, right, because they didn't see this coming. They weren't actually told that these criminals were going to be pardoned?

CHEN: At least that's what we're hearing from another prosecutor in Kentucky who told The Washington Post that he saw these reports in the media and rushed to tell some of these families who may not have known yet.