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Defeated GOP Governor Pardons Violent Criminals in Spree; Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) Discusses Impeachment; Giuliani's Ukraine Trip, Sanders Endorsing Controversial Cenk Uygur for Congressional Seat; Op- Ed: Trump Is Getting Played by China on Trade; First Lady Silent as Trump Bullies Thunberg Online. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired December 13, 2019 - 13:30   ET



NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: 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 that might not have known.

So this is really difficult. We heard from the mom of a girl who was raped and she said this is like a slap in the face, like we're living this trauma all over again.

I want to mention the prosecutor I spoke with in Kenton County said prosecutors across Kentucky have been trying to get a complete list of the people pardoned and whose sentences were commuted since Tuesday and they haven't been able to get that. So they had to file an open- records request to get the whole list to see who all has been pardoned.

And we know now that some state lawmakers have told the "Louisville Courier Journal" that they want to see an investigation from an independent prosecutor into at least one of these cases -- Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Natasha, thank you for following this story. We appreciate it.

It is an historic day here in Washington as the House Judiciary Committee moves articles of impeachment to the House floor for an expected vote next week. As Mitch McConnell says he's coordinating with the White House on the upcoming impeachment in the Senate.

Plus, President Trump says he's reached a trade deal with China, but is he getting played?



KEILAR: President Trump is now the fourth U.S. president to face an impeachment vote. Next week, when the full House votes on the two articles of impeachment against him, he's likely going to be the third to actually be impeached by the full House of Representatives.

We have Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna with us now.

Thank you so much for joining us.

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): Thank you for having me back on.

KEILAR: Of course.

You represent part of the bay, right --


KEILAR: -- in California. Your constituents would have a hard time if you didn't vote for impeachment?

KHANNA: They would. I got a loud round of applause when I came out for impeachment at the town hall.

KEILAR: So not a tough sell for you.

KHANNA: It's not.

KEILAR: There are more than two dozen of your Democratic colleagues who won in districts that President Trump won in the last cycle. I wonder what you say to them as it seems like at least a few of them are going to vote against the articles of impeachment. And there must be others who are incredibly worried about what this means and whether they're properly representing their constituents.

KHANNA: Many of them have spoken out in caucus meetings and they said they're comfortable voting against impeachment, most of them, because it has to do with our national security. The president shouldn't be compromising our national security for personal gain.

And they feel comfortable because it has to do with standing up for the rule of law and the Constitution. That is how I think most feel. There may be a few defections but I believe this vote is going to be overwhelming.

KEILAR: What do you say to those few who, it appears, may not stand with the rest of the caucus?

KHANNA: I say put ideology aside. Do you want to set a precedent that the president of the United States can ask foreign leaders to investigate American citizens and also political rivals? Why do you want to condone that, whether it's a Republican or a Democrat? Don't you want a system where we have checks on executive power?

Look at other countries. Sometimes you have far-left people in other countries running roughshod over the rule of law, and that doesn't help create stable, prosperous societies. That's what I would say.

KEILAR: Should they be willing to stake their job, their career, the possibility that maybe they're not representing uniformly their constituents on that decision? Would you say to them, yes, this may be a tough decision, you may pay for this personally, but you should?

KHANNA: I would say you should vote your conscience. It's not for me to go tell other members how they should vote on something this big.

But I would say this is something we're all going to be judged for in history. Vote for conscience, vote to up uphold the Constitution. And if you have that conviction, I don't think this will be a determining issue in 2020.

KEILAR: So if the House impeaches, which it appears that's where this is headed, then it goes on to the Senate, right? We're expected to see a trial there. The majority leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, said this on FOX News last night.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): The president's counsel may or may not decide they want to have witnesses. The case is so darn weak coming over from the House. We all know how it's going to end. There's no chance the president will be removed from office.


KEILAR: He is in consultation with White House lawyers. What's your reaction to that?

KHANNA: It's outrageous. The Constitution gives the Senate the independent authority to exercise checks on the presidency. These are supposed to be statesmen. Our founders said they have a six-year term because they would be independent.

And for McConnell to basically say the president is going to set the terms of the trial, that the president is going to get to decide the timetable and who is called? Our founders would be rolling over in their graves if they heard that.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about Rudy Giuliani, the president's pro bono lawyer, who was just in Ukraine. According to the "Wall Street Journal," his first call back before he was even off the plane was to President Trump. He was just at the White House this morning.

All of this happening at the White House. It was pretty stunning as we see the committee voting to send articles of impeachment with this huge scandal that Rudy Giuliani is part of.

What do you make of all this that he's back at the White House talking to the president?


KHANNA: This is a consequence of the Republican Party not doing anything to hold the president accountable.

Think of it. Why would anybody be fielding phone calls with Rudy Giuliani at this point? Why would you be meeting with Rudy Giuliani? It's because this president feels totally above the law. He's lock step with the Republican Party. And Mitch McConnell isn't even going to have a fair trial.

The question for the country is, what is the check on this president.

KEILAR: I want to ask you, since I have you here -- you are the co- chair of the Bernie Sanders campaign.


KEILAR: He made a controversial endorsement for someone who is running for Katie Hill's seat in California, Cenk Uygur. He's running for congressman.

He's made, I'm sure you're aware at this point, several shocking and sexist comments. For instance, rating women on a scale of one to 10 as to whether men should be allowed to perform oral sex on them. We're talking really gross things.

What is your thought on endorsing Bernie Sanders for this person?

KHANNA: First, let me say, Katie Hill is extraordinary. I wish she were running for the seat. Everyone should read her "New York Times" op-ed. She should not have been asked to resign and she should not have resigned. She has a big future.

Cenk Uygur has made some unconscionable comments. My understanding is he has apologized for them. He has said they're clearly inappropriate, many of whom were disgusting. And he should apologize for them and he has.

Senator Sanders has endorsed him because of his platform on Medicare For All, on free public college, about reducing defense spending, and I believe that Cenk is running on a progressive platform. And has made it clear he's made mistakes and made horrendous comments that he shouldn't have.

KEILAR: He said, for instances, what I just said about ranking the women. That was in a 2013 episode of his show. He defended the Harvard University's men's soccer team.

The "L.A. Times" reported on quite a list of this. In 2016, for ranking the sex appeal of female students on a scale of one to 10. On a widely shared scouting report, basically dismissed it as, oh, this is sort of what happens.

This isn't ancient history. It's recent.

You also have, for instance, the president of California Young Democrats, which backs Bernie Sanders, saying, this is not who we want. We don't want Bernie Sanders supporting this person.

KHANNA: There are a lot of progressives who have supported Cenk Uygur because he has the "Young Turks." It has a broad following. People like Senator Warren have gone on his show. A lot of progressives have gone on his show. And he has been advocating for progressive values.

I think the important thing is for him to unequivocally, clearly condemn any of those past statements and say that they were wrong and that he has moved on and understood why they were wrong. I do think he has done that.

And if people acknowledge their mistakes, acknowledge when they have said something offensive or hurtful, I think they should be given a chance to still participate.

KEILAR: Congressman Ro Khanna, thank you so much.

KHANNA: Thank you.

KEILAR: Appreciate you coming into the studio.

KHANNA: Thank you.

KEILAR: President Trump says he has agreed to a deal with China. But did the self-proclaimed best deal maker get the short end of the stick here?

Plus, first lady, Melania Trump, silent after her husband bullies a teenager on Twitter. A reminder that one of her biggest initiatives is taking on cyberbullying.



KEILAR: Stocks are flat today despite the news that the Trump administration has reached what they call phase one of a trade deal with China.

The president tweeting, in part, that China has agreed to "structural changes and massive purchases of manufactured goods." And he said phase two negotiations will begin immediately.

An amazing deal for all is what he's calling that. But Josh Rogin disagrees. And he's a CNN political analyst and also a "Washington Post" columnist.

You say this is a concession.

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. There's two concessions. There's the immediate concession where Trump agreed to roll back tariffs on China, reducing our pressure, which makes it kind of unlikely that China will come back for a phase two deal. It's a small deal they struck today.

The biggest concession is it doesn't address all the big problems in the U.S.-China economic relationship, technology transfers, I.P. theft, economic espionage, predatory acquisitions, you name it.

The president says that's all going to be in phase two, but if you believe there's going to be a phase two, I've got a bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to sell you.

KEILAR: Because your point is he's taking away the incentive to come back and fix the things that the U.S. wants China to fix. Why did he approach it this way, as you understand it? ROGIN: Let's look back at the record. In May, they had this big deal

that China wouldn't sign. In October, they had a phase one deal better than this one that China wouldn't sign. So this is what President Trump had to do to get the Chinese government to sign on the dotted line.

That could be a short-term political win. The markets seem a little confused about it, frankly.

But in the end, we know what China got. They got tariff rollbacks. They got a reduction of pressure. What did we get? Some soybeans sales, maybe market access for U.S. financial firms that might be good for Wall Street. It's not really good for America.


Now that we have no more leverage, now that we have no more pressure, why would the Chinese come back to the table? The president looked at the election coming up, though he needed to make a deal, so he caved. That's where we are.

KEILAR: That's certainly not how he is selling it, right? Could this affect -- he's not telling it that way. How are voters, maybe going to see this? Could they feel some pain from this?

ROGIN: Two baskets. You have the people affected by the trade war. They get short-term relief. And the country at large, which looks at the economic problem on the horizon with China and says, well, we really need to do something about this.

While the soybeans sales might boost famers in the short term, what will this deal look like a year from now? By the time people actually go to the polls, will the Chinese have fulfilled these promises? Will they have come back for a phase two? Probably not.

While Trump can get a political boost short term, by next November, the deal will stink more than it does today.

KEILAR: Josh, thank you so much. We appreciate you being with us.

Adults should, quote, "choose their words wisely and speak with respect and compassion." That's from the first lady's anti-bullying campaign. Yet hours after her husband cyberbullied a teenager on Twitter, she remained silent.



KEILAR: Today, on "Home Front," our digital and television column where we try to bridge the civilian/military defined and bring you stories of military families, the controversial financial penalty on Gold Stars families is one step closer to being repealed.

This week, the House passed a bill ending the widows' tax that prevents spouses of servicemembers killed in action or from service- related illness from receiving benefits from both the Pentagon and the V.A.

The work-around for most spouses with children has been transferring one of the benefits to their kids. But when the 2017 tax reform inadvertently slapped these Gold Star children with huge taxes on those benefits this past tax season, the issue saw renewed attention.

The fix was included in the bill that funds the entire Defense Department. And after some holdups, that bill is expected to move through the Senate by early next week.

This is a huge victory for military spouses and families who have been lobbying for this for decades.

The funding bill also addresses the privatized military housing crisis, which has resulted in families living on military bases struggling with mold, rodent infestation, and even lead poisoning.

The measures are described by Congress as, quote, "the most substantial overhaul since on-base housing was privatized in the '90s."

If you have any comments, maybe story ideas for "Home Front," please, send me an e-mail at

It's been more than 24 hours since President Trump went after 16-year- old climate activist, Greta Thunberg, on Twitter after she was crowned "Time's" Person of the Year. He tweeted that she should work on her anger issues, that she should go to a movie and be normal and that she should chill.

That shocking attack has been met with silence from Melania Trump, who has made combating cyberbullying a primary focus since taking on her position as first lady.

And I'm joyed by CNN's Kate Bennett, who is out with a new book actually, "Free, Melania"

Kate, the president targeting a 16-year-old, a kid here. And this is someone who has been open about the fact she as Asperger's Syndrome. She calls it her superpower. But you can't help but read his tweet and think, in the way he's taking aim at her for that, these things coalesce too much.

How damaging is it for the first lady to stay silent here?

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: I think it's damaging for a couple reasons. One, just last week, a little more than a week ago, she tweeted about Barron Trump and involving a minor child in politics when one of the law professors testified on the Hill brought up his name, using as an analogy. The first lady went after that person for bringing up kids. So I think it's fair to discuss this.

And also I think it's fair because she has made cyberbully part of her platform. She's given a speech several times about stopping cyberbullying. She's visited with Microsoft, with Facebook, with Twitter talking about ways to be kind online. She's never addressed the president directly but she has said before last year, "It's not new or surprising to me the critics may have chosen to ridicule me for speaking out on this issue and that's OK."

She knows there's going to be criticism.

I think this is one instance where she should probably perhaps say something for the sake of Be Best and her initiative. This is a kid.

KEILAR: Quickly, what would happen if she did say something, took issue?

BENNETT: We would -- the story would come out against her husband and conflict with him. But you have to weigh here the message she's trying to moment and what's happening in real life.

And most things I don't think she should be responsible for what a spouse said. Nobody should. But I think this is one time she's taken it on. She tweeted about kids last week being in the political sphere. This is one of those times where people want to hear from her.


KEILAR: Kate, thank you so much. Kate Bennett.

That's it for me.

"NEWSROOM" with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.